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5
Charge Controller Information: 

Charge controllers perform two functions: the first is to limit the power going
into a battery to prevent overcharging which can boil out the liquid electrolyte (or
in a sealed battery, allow pressure to build up and damage the case) and damage
the battery(s).
The second is to prevent power from going to the photovoltaic modules at night
and draining the battery(s.)
NOTE: a solar (photovoltaic) cell is basically a large light emitting diode.
Don't look for solar panels to glow at night when used without a controller,
you won't see anything.
We recommend using a remote temperature sensor if your controller accepts one.
The sensor attaches on or near the batteries.
This allows the controller to adjust output based on the battery temperature.
When the batteries are cold the charge current will be higher than when they
are hot.
This extends the life and increases the performance of the battery bank. 
There are basically three kinds of charge controllers: the first is a voltage
limiter which adjusts the incoming power as the battery voltage increases.
They also disconnect the array when the battery voltage is higher than the
incoming power at night.
The better units of this type have stages or steps of incoming power to maintain
the battery at, or near, full capacity.
The second type uses a diversion technique.
When the battery reaches full capacity (voltage), power is drained off of the battery
and sent to another load to consume the excess.
This load is usually a water or air heating element.
It cannot be another battery or a load which can fail (like a motor or light.)
 Without a working load there is no place for the incoming power to go but into the battery.
This type of controller is also used with wind and some hydroelectric generators.
These alternative energy sources must have a place for excess power to be used (except for some of the more advanced units.)
Most windmills, when disconnected from a battery or load, will overspeed and
damage themselves.
The load actually keeps the units from running wild.
Please click onto  31 Water and Air Heating Diversion Loads for Charge Controllers  to see our stock of diversion loads.
NOTE: when using a some diversion only type charge controllers you must use
a blocking diode (a one way electrical valve) to prevent power from going back
into the array at night since the battery is connected directly to the array.
We suggest,and use, Schotky diodes as they waste the least amount of power
coming from the array to the battery. Most have a heat sink to dissipate the heat
that is produced (forward bias) by the power going through them.
The third type is a PWM or pulse width modulation controller.
This is the most popular of the currently available units.
In short, it uses voltage spikes (pulses) to charge the battery.
The wider the spike (time), or the taller the spike (voltage), the more power
comes through.
NOTE: some electronic equipment will pick up interference when placed near
a PWM charge controller.
Morningstar Corp. has a new series of controllers which are shielded against these broadcasts.
The PWM controllers have advantages in that the voltages can be held higher
coming in than an on/off style controller.
This will bring the battery charge state up quicker and maintain it higher.
It also, through the voltage spiking effect, reduces sulfation (crystals forming on the battery plates which can shorten lifespan.)
There are also some hybrids, like the Trace C series controllers, which use PWM charging techniques but can also send excess power to a diversion load.
This can be very useful for air or water heating.
Why not use all the power available?
There is also a new breed of charge controllers on the scene which uses MPP TRACKING (maximum power point) similar to the inverters used in photovoltaic
utility grid-tie systens.
These units "fool" the photovoltaic arrays into producing a higher voltage,
sometimes near open circuit (the highest rated for the module.)
This can increase useable power delivered to the batteries by up to 30%.
An advantage of the MPPT controller is that most of them allow you to use a
higher array voltage (24, 48 or more volts d.c.) than the battery system voltage -
this allows you to place the array some distance from the controller with minimal
voltage drop due to wire losses.  
One thing that is very important to many people, and that includes us, is reliability.
Our 700 watt array has been using the same Burkhardt diversion controller with an
air heater load since 1988 and the 70 watt array has used a simple SCI controller
for years.

One of our stand-alone systems uses Solarex "48 volt" photovoltaic
modules with an open circuit voltage of 103 volts d.c.
It has about a 100 foot wiring run to a Solar Converters MPPT charge
controller which drops the voltage down to charge a 24 volt battery
bank.
This could not be done without using an MPPT type of charge controller.  

There are controllers, like the models from Seeleye Flexcharge, that can accept
the output from two different charging sources.
These controllers monitor the battery state of charge and through a heavy duty
switching circuit connect or disconnect the charging source with the battery.   
Interference: some electronic equipment, radios and television for example, can
pick up interference generated by a PWM type of charge controller.
Quite often all that is needed to correct this is to properly ground your system
(which should be done in the first place).
Sometimes, relocating the controller will correct the problem.
If this does not work, some controllers like the ProStar models can have the
PWM disconnected while retaining the other attributes of the controller.

 
SIZING A CHARGE CONTROLLER TO HANDLE THE ARRAY OUTPUT:
When choosing a charge controller you should de-rate the controller.
What does this double talk mean?
By code and for SAFETY'S SAKE, take the rated array output and
add 25%.
This will determine what size of charge controller you will need.
Why do this?
The module outputs are rated on a standard day (1000 watts per square
meter of isolation {sunlight}) at a given temperature.)
There is a fairly common occurance called edge of cloud enhancement.
This is when, on a sunny day, clouds that are not between your panels
and the sun, reflect sunlight onto the array.
This actually increases the sunlight falling onto the array and can boost
the output by up to 25%.
Also as the cell temperature in the module goes down, the power output
goes up.
If the controller is not sized properly it will either shut itself down (as many
are designed to do) or overheat.
NOTE: the Morningstar Pro-Star controllers already have the 25% factor
built-in and do not require de-rating.

copyright by John Drake Services, Inc.
Without trying to sound like a broken record, if your system must be code compliant, please use a UL listed controller.
There are some great charge controllers out there, and I have used many,
that are not.
Most systems are not set up to be code compliant, but if yours is, please
use the proper equipment.