If you’ve just started reading about solar energy and solar-powered products, it’s very possible that you may get a little confused after reading up on solar panel wiring. Going green and using renewable energy sources is an excellent idea. You might start off by buying only one solar panel. But, if you ever wish to increase the voltage and power output, you can always buy additional panels.
If you’ve contacted a professional solar panel installer, he probably informed you that there are several ways to wire solar panels. At first, it might seem to you that it doesn’t matter how they’re wired at all as long as they produce enough energy to power your home.
There are two main ways to connect non-portable or portable solar panels. You can either choose series or parallel combinations. This might seem like a daunting task, but, with a little thought, the entire process isn’t that difficult and it’s well-worth the effort. The hardest task is choosing a connection combination that will provide the most energy-efficient configuration for your homestead needs.
The way you wire solar panels impacts the overall performance of your solar system. As long as you understand the basics of solar panel wiring and how each wiring method works, you will be able to wire your panels properly. So, if you want to know more about all the different ways to wire solar panels, keep reading.
Different Ways to Wire Solar Panels
There are three different ways of wiring solar panels together. Each solar panel wiring method is designed for a different purpose. For example, you can choose the connection method based on whether you want to produce more output voltage or more current. Solar panels can be wired in a parallel or series combination to increase the amperage or the voltage respectively. In addition, panels can be wired together in both series and parallel to increase both the voltage and current output and produce a higher wattage array.
Wiring solar panels in series means wiring one solar panel to the next. By doing so, a string circuit is created. This means that the wire running from one panel’s negative terminal is connected to the positive terminal of another panel and so forth. This enables the creation of a continuous and closed loop.
Besides wiring panels in series, you can also wire them in parallel. The main difference between these two types of wiring is the amperage and voltage . For example, if you connect solar panels in a series circuit, you basically sum the voltage of every panel to get the total voltage of the array. But, the amperage of the circuit remains the same.
Wiring Solar Panels in Series
Connecting solar panels in series refers to wiring one solar panel to the next. This method is used to increase the total voltage of the system. Usually, this method of wiring is used when you have a grid-connected inverter or charge controller that requires at least 24 volts. In order to wire the solar panels in series, you need to connect the positive terminal to the negative terminal of each panel until only one single positive and negative connection remains.
If you decide to wire your solar panels in series, then the voltage produced by each panel will be summed to get the overall voltage of the array. However, amperage remains the same.
Wiring Solar Panels in Parallel
Using the parallel combination to connect your solar panels might be a bit more complicated. The main difference is that you connect each panel to a centralized wire that comes from your roof instead of connecting panels to each other. One wire is used to connect the wires from all the positive terminals and another is used for the negative terminals. Once you wire solar panels by using the parallel wiring method, the total voltage output of the circuit remains just like the voltage of each individual panel. However, the amperage of the overall circuit is equal to the sum of each panel’s amperage.
Difference Between Series & Parallel Wired Solar Panels
It’s perfectly fine if you feel a bit confused after reading everything here about solar panel wiring. In order to make things a bit easier to you, we will compare solar panels to Christmas lights. Sometimes, when a bulb breaks or burns out, the entire string might not light up. This happens when the lights are wired in series. In order to resolve this issue, you will have to find the faulty bulb and replace it to make the lights work again. However, nowadays, the majority of Christmas lights use a form of parallel connection that allows them to work even when one problematic bulb exists in the string.
Solar panels wired in series work almost the same, and will power your portable solar generator just as well. If there’s a problem with the wiring of one of the solar panels, the entire circuit fails. On the other hand, once you connect your solar panels in parallel, one malfunctioning panel or wire won’t prevent the entire system from operating.
How to Wire Solar Panels – Parallel or Series
Deciding how to wire solar panels might seem a bit difficult now that you’ve found out so many new facts. In general, choosing the parallel combination is a better choice for various electrical purposes because it will enable stable operation of those panels that aren’t malfunctioning. However, this doesn’t mean it’s always the better choice. Your installer might inform you that using the series connection method is better for your home or he might go for the hybrid approach; wiring certain panels in series and others in parallel.
If you’re considering wiring solar panels on your own, keep in mind that you should strive to achieve a balance of amperage and voltage. This is the reason mixing series circuits with parallel circuit turns out to be very beneficial.
Once you wire solar panels in series, the amperage remains the same but the voltage is additive. For example, if you have four panels that are 12 volts and 5 amps each, an array that is series wired would have 48 volts and 5 amps. However, if you decided to parallel wire these panels, then the voltage stays the same whereas the amperage is additive. As a result, you would have 12 volts and 20 amps.
Keep in mind that there is also a third option: combining both wiring methods that we mentioned. However, this connection method is not as common and is mostly used when you need to get a higher current and a higher voltage.
Adding Extra Solar Panels to Your Home
Going solar might seem to be pricey initially but it definitely pays off in the long run. However, some people decide to buy only one or two solar panels at first, thinking that they can always expand their system later. It’s recommended to go with a full solar installation from the very start. If you’re not sure how much this might cost, you can always use a solar calculator to find out your power needs and decide how many panels you should get.
However, if you’re on a limited budget, you might be considering buying additional panels at some point in the future. Even though this is not impossible, it’s a bit problematic since most solar power systems for the home will require reconfiguring as you expand. It could be more worthwhile for you to commit to a reasonable number of panels and install them all at once. An oversized power inverter could accommodate your future solar panel expansion and improve your chances of success. However, besides the inverter, you might also need to upgrade the components of your old system so they comply with the latest standards.
Another problem you may encounter is matching new solar panel models to your old ones and not only for the sake of aesthetics. For example, if your existing solar panels are wired in series, then the existing string might not allow expansion since its maximum circuit voltage limits the number of panels.
If you were unsure how to wire solar panels before, hopefully this article has helped you get a grip on the basics and clear some of your uncertainties. It’s recommended that you consult a professional so you can decide more easily what method of wiring is the best for your home. Investing in solar panels might seem quite expensive at first. However, a well-designed solar power system is likely to pay itself off in about 4-7 years. After that, your solar panel wiring will be saving you even more money, year after year. (Looking for more solar articles? Check out our piece on the best solar inverters available.)