Charge Controllers

A charge controller is an electronic voltage regulator used in systems with battery banks to keep the voltage to the battery within acceptable limits. The charge controller automatically tapers, stops, or diverts power when batteries become fully charged. Charge controller capacities range from 4 to 80 A and multiple charge controllers can be used in parallel for larger systems. Some charge controllers offer additional features, like charge status display, datalogging, automatic battery equalization charging, generator starting and even lighting controls.

The simplest charge controllers cut the power when the battery reaches a set voltage, and turn it on when a low voltage set point is reached.

Pulse width modulated (PWM) charge controllers turn on and off very rapidly, maintaining the batteries at full charge with whatever power is available. Maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controllers optimize the voltage of the PV array to maximize total power output then convert that to the correct voltage to charge the battery. This process significantly increases the power from a solar array, particularly in low temperatures when battery voltage is significantly below the PV array voltage. Most MPPT charge controllers work with higher array voltages, enabling the use of larger solar modules, which can be more economical on a cost per watt basis. A higher voltage solar array also minimizes the required wire size between the array and the charge controller. While more expensive than PWM controllers, MPPT charge controllers can boost system performance by up to 30%.

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