Charger Controller Types

Charge controls come in 3 general types (with some overlap):

Simple 1 or 2 stage controls which rely on relays or shunt transistors to control the voltage in one or two steps. These essentially just short or disconnect the solar panel when a certain voltage is reached. For all practical purposes these are dinosaurs, but you still see a few on old systems. Their only real claim to fame is their reliability - they have so few components, there is not much to break.

3-stage and/or PWM such Morningstar, Xantrex, Blue Sky, Steca, and many others. These are pretty much the industry standard now, but you will occasionally still see some of the older shunt/relay types around, such as in the very cheap systems offered by discounters and mass marketers.

Maximum power point tracking (MPPT), such as those made by Xantrex, Outback Power, Morningstar and others. These are the ultimate in controllers, with prices to match - but with efficiencies in the 94% to 98% range, they can save considerable money on larger systems since they provide 15 to 30% more power to the battery. For more information, see our article on MPPT.

Most controllers come with some kind of indicator, either a simple LED, a series of LED's, or digital meters. Some newer ones, such as the Outback FM60/80 and others now have built in computer interfaces for monitoring and control. The simplest usually have only a couple of small LED lamps, which show that you have power and that you are getting some kind of charge. Most of those with meters will show both voltage and the current coming from the panels and the battery voltage. Some also show how much current is being pulled from the LOAD terminals.

All of the charge controllers that we stock are 3 or 4-stage PWM types, including the MPPT units. (in reality, "4-stage" is somewhat advertising hype - it used to be called equalize, but someone decided that 4 stage was better than 3). And now we even see one that is advertised as "5-stage"....

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