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What's Solar controller?

cindy / 2014-10-25
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A solar hot water systems controller is a device which ensures that the system works correctly. What a solar controller comprises, what it does and how some controllers can perform other functions as well.

 

Components

The simplest solar controller is a comparator with two temperature inputs and an output to control the pump. When the temperature of the solar panel's output is greater than the cold input to the consumer (heating system or thermal store) the pump is switched on to circulate the working fluid through the panel. Electronically this can be, and frequently has been, done with little more than a 741 op-amp IC and a relay. With only a handful more components, some hysteresis may be added to avoid short-cycling the pump (this would be wasteful, as it increases heat losses into cold pipework and may also be wasteful in a drainback solar panel).

 

A more typical approach for modern systems is to use the ubiquitous microprocessor. In a commercial product this is also likely to offer a simple LCD display (WS-C2430, WS-C2460, WS-C4860 with LCD Display) and a minimal user interface of a few pushbuttons. The same two inputs have temperature sensors: one for the hottest part of the solar panel and the other for the coolest part of the water store, which is at the bottom. The other two connections are power in and switched power out to the pump. The power can come in from a mains electric supply, in the case of low carbon solar technology. In the event of the latest innovation, a zero carbon controller, power is sourced wholly from a photovoltaic (PV) module which also acts as a power supply.

 

Other components beyond the basics mentioned above include extra temperature sensors for higher up on the water store, because it gets hotter the higher you go up it, and anLCD or other display. This display can tell the user things such as whether the pump is switched on, what temperature the water at the top of the store is at. This is the temperature of the water which will come out of the taps and therefore it is a useful temperature to know about.

 

Function

Its main function is to control when the solar panel's pump is switched on or off. The pump is usually switched off when the solar panel is colder than the bottom of the water store and it is switched on when the panel is hotter. Switching the pump on allows the heat in the panel to be transferred to the store. Switching it off prevents the export of bought-in energy. Every few seconds, the temperatures in the panel and the store are measured and compared in order to allow this on or off decision to happen.

 

In addition, certain fine tuning can take place, such as allowing an overrun time to ensure that heat energy is not left lying about underlivered in interconnecting pipes when the pump is turned from on to off. Another fine tuning is that of the on differential (which may be say 4-15 degrees Celsius) and the off differential which is usually a few degrees lower. The wider the difference between these differentials, the fewer pump on-off cycles will take place. These factors are usually set by the solar installer in relation to the particular installation. The controller may also control certain safety features such as by permitting heat export when the hot water exceed a preset temperature such as 65oC. This is a process of allowing the solar panel to export excess heat if it is not being used when the panel is cool, when light levels fall towards the end of a sunny day and is used in a range of solar thermal technnologies such as solartwin.

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