In recent times, solar panels have become a great renewable energy source. One of the most common things you can do with a solar panel is to charge batteries with it. Sounds easy right? It’s natural to think you can connect your panel to the battery and boom, the battery is charged. But the question is, can you?
You should use a solar charge controller when connecting Solar Panels to batteries. It is not recommended that you connect batteries and panels directly which can cause various problems. A Solar charge controller is very cheap and solves many of your issues.
You technically can connect the panel directly to a battery and charge it. But it requires specific conditions; for example, small power rating panels or synchronizing the voltage of the panel and battery.
That’s why it is highly recommended that you use a solar charge controller instead, especially if you are a beginner. Otherwise, you can end up frying your battery in the worst-case scenario.
Therefore the key thing you need to keep in mind is the voltage of the battery, the voltage output, and the size of the panel. Luckily Solar Charge Controller is there to optimize it for you and you don’t have to worry about this.
In this article, we will discuss both the conditions in which you can connect the panel and battery directly and in which you should never try to attempt this. In addition, we will look into the recommended way of doing things and the reasons why you should do that. Hopefully, this will answer your queries.
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Situations When You Can Connect Panel and Battery Directly
Probably the most important question if you want to connect a solar panel directly to a battery. Well, it depends on the design of the panel.
A low power rating solar panel is a must for this case. For example, there are some low-wattage solar panels that you can connect directly to car batteries. Those work okay because they are low-powered. When you connect them to the battery their operating voltage reduces to just above the battery voltage.
And you don’t have to worry about the battery being full. The panel’s voltage is not much higher than the battery voltage. So they will not overcharge and fry the battery.
Another case is if the voltage of the panel and the battery synchronizes. In simple words, the voltage output of the panel and voltage needed to charge the battery should be nearly the same. Also, the PowerPoint of the panel should be 14 volt – 16 volt.
Be sure to get an ammeter and make sure the current doesn’t exceed the value of C (C rating of Battery) divided by 20 for the battery. Also, the panel should ideally have a reverse blocking diode. And don’t forget to put in a fuse or other protection system.
Also, two things you need to be careful of are:
- Overcharge: Your battery can be damaged by overcharging so you need to be careful while charging. The Charge controller easily fixes this.
- Backfeed: Battery can discharge into the panel at night or in bad weather. A diode or switch or other mechanism can easily fix it.
Why You Shouldn’t Connect Solar Panel to Battery Directly
The short answer is: in most cases, it can overcharge and fry your battery. Let’s take a 12 Volt lead-acid battery. It needs 13.5 to 14 volts to charge properly. Now you have your good old 12-volt solar panel. And you decide to connect it directly. In full sunlight, that panel would produce 17 volt – 23 volt. That’s enough to boil your battery dry and damage it permanently.
Also here are some cons for connecting them directly:
- Your battery life will shorten and soon it will become unusable.
- Bad Weather or Night can cause discharge into the panel causing the battery to drain.
- Bad Optimization can lead to Undercharging or Overcharging conditions which will hamper the battery
- The Liquid in the Battery Cell can drop.
- There is a small chance of an electrical accident.
To be honest, connecting a battery directly to the Solar Panel is strongly discouraged for beginners and those who are looking for a safe and efficient method.
Not only is the method tedious but it has severe limitations. Connecting both directly is also used in extremely niche cases like car batteries or RV batteries. Using this method in your day-to-day solar products will hamper it in the long run.
What can you do instead of Connecting Battery Directly?
Solar Charge Controllers are the most efficient and cost-effective solution. So what is a Solar Charge Controller? In simple words, it regulates the voltage and current of a solar panel. And there goes your worry about overcharging and frying your battery.
So how does a Solar Charge Controller work in this case? Imagine the same scenario as the previous one. You connect your 12-volt battery to your 12-volt solar panel. This time the charge controller will ensure that the solar panel voltage doesn’t exceed the maximum charge voltage of 14.4 volts.
Before you go ahead and buy a charge controller. Here is some neat info. It is a common fact that there is two types of solar charge controller:
- MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) Charge Regulator (Better productivity but more cost)
- PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) Charge Regulator (Cost-effective)
PWM Charge Controllers in one word will hover the charging voltage around 14.4 volts. If you are simply trying out solar products this is a very good choice. They will provide enough power to charge your battery and will safeguard it pretty well.
The MPPT Charge Controller on the other hand is more productive and effective than the PWM ones but costs more. For example, MPPT is 30% more powerful than its PWM counterpart.
The MPPT Chargers have a three-step process, which finishes by dropping the charge voltage around 13.5 volts. It is just above the ‘surface charge’ voltage of the battery. What this does is to hold the battery in a fully charged condition and over that it doesn’t try to add any charge to it.
Once you use some power from the battery, the charge controller will change to one of its other routines and charge the battery back to full. Be sure that enough sunlight is provided.
In one word, choose PWM if money is your concern, otherwise, choose MPPT if you value productivity and quality above all.
The benefit of using solar charge controllers outweighs anything else. It saves your battery; you don’t have to worry about bad conditions, accidents, problems, manual optimizations, and constant fear of battery overcharging. Also, you can charge the battery with any solar panel if you use a charge controller, unlike the direct method which has many restrictions.
Above all else, Solar Charge Controllers are cheap, like 15 to 20$. There is no reason to shy away from it if you are an owner of solar products.
Tips Regarding Solar Charge Controllers
Since you’ll probably be using Solar Charge Controllers after reading this (Which I hope you do), here are some neat little tips that will hopefully help you in the long run:
- Consider the LVD (Low Voltage Disconnect) and LRV (Load Reconnect feature on your charge controller). It’s very important for charging the battery. For 12-Volt batteries LRV is generally 1 volt higher than LVD.
- Try to get a solar charge controller with an interactive display instead of a read only display. It will allow you to program and customize its mechanism related to voltage, lighting, etc.
- Your solar charge controller should be able to indicate or alert short circuit, low battery, high temperature and other problems.
- It should have wide operating temperature ranges so it doesn’t fail during a particular season.
- It should possess automatic recovery without fuses.
- For cold condition it should have low temperature fold back for protecting batteries
- Be informative about the various certifications of your solar charge controller. For example: CE, UL1741, IEC62109 etc.
Battery charging is a common task solar panels do nowadays. Solar Charge Controller is the best safety mechanism for that task. Yes, you can charge a battery directly from a Solar Panel. But it has strong requirements and management.
If you are feeling adventurous and not serious about this go ahead and try to charge a battery by connecting it directly to the panel. Follow all the restrictions and fulfill the conditions. Try charging RV or Car batteries. Be sure to optimize voltage, put safety mechanisms and pick the right sized solar panel.
In the Worst case, your battery will get fried. But if you are serious and want a good and efficient way, a Solar Charge controller is a must for charging batteries with your trusty solar panel.
To wrap it up: Yes, Solar panels can be directly connected to a battery. But it’s very tedious and inefficient. Therefore a Solar Charge Controller is highly recommended.