Charge controllers are devices that limit, regulate, and control the voltage that is produced by a charging source (panels, hydroelectric and wind turbines) and used to charge a battery bank. It secondarily limits the total amount of charge so that battery fluids do not boil from overcharging, which will reduce battery life. Secondarily, charge controllers prevent charged batteries from dissipating charge at night through solar panels.
Charge controller sizing is wholly dependent on the number and specifications of the panels used and are rated in terms of their amperage, which varies as a function of solar panel type and the array wiring.
In its essential function, a charge controller diverts a charging source once the batteries reach their desired maximum charge. The diverted energy is burned off as heat on an onboard heat sink for solar controllers or diverted to heating elements in water in the case of hydroelectric and wind turbine generators.
Maximum power point tracker (MPPT) technology is presently favored somewhat over the competing Pulse-width modulation (PWM) technology. Supplemental onboard accessories in some cases provide full readout of system variables whereas others provide simple dummy lights to indicate status.
Charge controllers can range in price from $65 Morningstars to $750 Outback controllers. Xantrax produces a fine intermediate range quality controller as well.
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