As part of my plan for the eventual expansion of my off-grid solar energy system, I recently added a new charge controller with Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT). Besides being much more efficient, this controller is capable of producing reams and reams of wondrous data, and is network-connected, meaning I can geek out on battery voltage and array current from anywhere in the house! The charge controller I had was great, but it wouldn’t handle anything beyond a few more small panels. Now I should be able to go all the way up to 750 watts of panels (my goal). So, thanks Santa!
While installing the controller, I also took the opportunity to install a breaker box, which should bring me closer to code, and upgrade to larger diameter battery cable, which should reduce efficiency losses.
The MPPT advantage
MPPT is a fancy way of saying the charge controller is able to send significantly more energy to the batteries from the same panels. How much more? After only a few days of testing, I estimate 40 – 60% more than the Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) controller on days when the battery is low. (If you want to know the details of how MPPT works, I found this explanation helpful.)
Here’s some actual data from my system which I think illustrates the MPPT advantage well:
The blue line is the amps, or current, coming from the panels. The red line shows the amps the controller is putting in to the battery. It’s higher! The magical MPPT doohicky converts excess voltage into amperage (remember, amps X volts = watts) so less of your panel’s potential is wasted. On this particular day, I estimate the charge controller may have been able to wring an extra 100 – 150 watt-hours from the panels.
There are other interesting things going on here, so here’s a little annotation:
Here’s the next day, when the battery starts out the day almost totally full. It was very sunny.
The controller limits the array current and current to the battery significantly because the battery is almost fulled charged. The gentle downward slope in the amperage is a function of battery charging called absorption. Less current is pushed into the battery as it reaches capacity.
I can track hundreds of days of watt-hour production, so I’ll do another update when I can show some seasonal changes. How I yearn for the days when the panels get more than 4 hours of sun per day!