MPPT and PWM controllers are two main types of solar charge controllers.
When your battery is low and connected to a PWM controller, the voltage from the solar panel is adjusted down to match the battery’s level.
This allows for safe and steady charging, but it also means you’re not getting the maximum potential power output from your solar panel.
Let’s break it down with some numbers, using a 100W solar panel as an example:
Voltage Drop and Its Effect
- When the battery voltage is 13V:
The solar panel’s output is adjusted to 13V at 4.95A, which equates to 64.35W of power.
- When the battery is fully charged at 14.8V:
The solar panel’s output is 14.8V at 4.95A, giving you 73.26W of power.
As you can see, you’re missing out on potential energy output. At 13V, you’re only getting 64.35W, losing out on 35% of your panel’s maximum capability of 100W.
Even when the battery is fully charged at 14.8V, you’re still not reaching the panel’s full potential, falling short by around 27W or 27%.
What This Means
While PWM controllers are simpler and less expensive, their basic functionality often leads to less efficient use of your solar panels.
You won’t be harnessing the full power of your panels, particularly when the battery is at a lower state of charge.
This makes PWM less ideal for larger systems or those seeking energy efficiency.
What Is a PWM Solar Charge Controller?
PWM controllers are rated for specific voltage and current settings, and you must adhere to these when setting up your solar array.
On the budget side, PWM solar controllers and other less expensive models may suffice for casual users or infrequent applications like weekend camping trips.
However, for more regular or demanding use, investing in a more efficient and scalable option might be advisable.
Pros of PWM Solar Charge Controllers
PWM controllers are generally cheaper than MPPT controllers, making them a good fit for smaller solar systems or those on a budget.
- Simplicity and Reliability:
With fewer components and a straightforward design, PWM controllers are easy to use and less prone to malfunction.
The technology is robust and can withstand extreme conditions, such as high temperatures or harsh environments when built with adequate cooling mechanisms like fans or metal heat sinks.
Cons of PWM Solar Charge Controllers
- Limited Efficiency:
PWM controllers are less efficient in converting solar energy into usable electricity. This is especially noticeable when sunlight is less than optimal.
- Voltage Limitations:
These controllers don’t regulate input voltage from the solar panels, potentially wasting excess power as heat. You need to match the controller, panel, and battery voltages carefully to avoid inefficiencies.
- Not Ideal for High-Voltage Systems:
PWM controllers are less suitable for systems with higher voltage panels or multiple panels connected in series, limiting their scalability and design flexibility.
- Temperature Sensitivity:
Their efficiency can drop in colder conditions, unlike MPPT controllers, which can actually become more efficient as temperatures drop.
What Is an MPPT Solar Charge Controller?
MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) solar controllers offer a more sophisticated approach to solar energy management compared to PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) controllers.
Using intelligent software and microprocessors, MPPT controllers continually fine-tune the voltage and current to maximize the power output from your solar panels.
This adaptability makes them particularly efficient, avoiding the limitations of PWM controllers that directly link the solar panel’s voltage to the battery.
While MPPT controllers are more expensive than their PWM counterparts, their adaptability and efficiency often justify the cost, especially for larger systems or those where maximum power output is crucial.
They are less affected by temperature fluctuations and shading, making them a versatile choice for a wide range of solar installations.
More About MPPT Solar Charge Controller
- Efficiency Boost:
MPPT controllers can increase energy harvesting by around 30%, particularly in colder conditions. They accomplish this by continually adjusting the input voltage to maximize power output.
- Temperature Sensitivity:
Solar panels actually perform better in colder conditions, so an MPPT controller’s efficiency advantage is even more pronounced when it’s chilly. However, warmer conditions can affect the Maximum Power Voltage, slightly reducing the efficiency gains of an MPPT controller. This is generally not a concern if the system is appropriately sized, as the panel voltage will typically remain above the battery voltage.
- Adaptability to Shading:
Shading due to trees, clouds, or other obstructions can significantly reduce a panel’s output voltage. An MPPT controller can mitigate this loss by keeping the voltage higher than what a PWM controller would provide. However, when panels are connected in series, shading on one panel reduces the performance of all in the chain. In scenarios where shading is a concern, such as on a yacht, connecting panels in parallel is recommended.
Pros of MPPT Solar Charge Controllers
- Higher Efficiency: MPPT controllers are known for their high efficiency, which can be up to 30% greater than other types of controllers. They convert excess voltage into amperage, ensuring that your solar system operates at its maximum power point.
- Better Performance in Low Light: They perform exceptionally well in low-light or cloudy conditions, unlike PWM controllers, which may struggle in such situations.
- Scalability: MPPT controllers are well-suited for larger installations where you can truly see the benefit of their higher efficiency. They are ideal for systems with multiple solar panels.
- Flexibility: They allow for greater flexibility in the configuration of your solar setup. You can have a higher input voltage from your solar panel array, giving you the option to add more panels in series.
- Intelligent Monitoring: Many MPPT controllers come with monitoring software, which allows you to track the performance of your solar setup and make necessary adjustments.
- Better for Depleted Batteries: When batteries are running low, an MPPT controller is more efficient at converting available voltage to amperage, speeding up the recharging process.
Cons of MPPT Solar Charge Controllers
- Cost: The primary downside is the higher upfront cost compared to PWM controllers. However, this can often be justified by the long-term energy savings.
- Complexity: These controllers are more complex, meaning there may be a steeper learning curve when setting them up or troubleshooting issues.
- Size and Weight: MPPT controllers are generally larger and heavier than PWM controllers, which could be a consideration for smaller or portable systems.
- Heat Generation: Due to their complexity and power handling capabilities, they can generate more heat, which might require additional cooling or ventilation solutions.
- Overkill for Small Systems: For very small systems, the benefits of an MPPT controller might not justify the cost. A less expensive PWM controller might be sufficient for small, simple installations.
MPPT VS PWM: Which Is Better?
Choosing between MPPT and PWM solar charge controllers depends on your needs and budget.
If you have a big solar system with many panels or want the most power, MPPT is the way to go.
But they are more expensive.
PWM controllers are cheaper and good for small setups, but they aren’t as efficient or flexible for growing your system later.
So, think about what you need and maybe talk to an expert to decide the best fit for you.