Most times setting up a solar system for your RV, cabin, or otherwise
You have connected a solar panel to a charge controller or directly to a battery and you have monitored the battery voltage for some time and there is no significant change.
You are frustrated and wondering what might be the problem and what you can do to fix it.
Setting up an off-grid solar system for your cabin or RV can appear straightforward especially if it is in a kit form with all the instructions.
After all, there are 3 main components, the solar panel, charge controller, and battery.
Whereas most times the connection and setup of your solar system will go smoothly, from time to time or if it is your first time, you may be faced with a problem – where your solar pane is not charging your battery.
Maybe you have connected a solar panel to a charge controller or directly to a battery and you have monitored the battery voltage for some time and there is no change or no significant change.
What could be the problem?
So in this guide, I go over a list of checks to help you identify the problem and get your solar panel charging the battery again.
Some of them seem seemingly obvious but you cannot imagine how many people spend a lot of unnecessary time instead of checking the first things first. So read on.
How to do you know if a solar panel is charging the battery | Signs a solar panel is charging the battery
The easiest way to check if the solar panel is charging the battery, depending on the design of the charge controller is to check the solar charge controller status.
Charge controllers usually have an LED(s) that indicates whether the battery is charging or not.
Better still, they might have an LCD screen that displays a symbol of current flow from the solar panel into the battery when the battery is charging and the amount of current flowing into the battery at any one time.
You can consult your solar charge controller owner’s manual for how to confirm if the solar panel is charging the battery for your particular type of charge controller.
Why Your Solar Panel May Fail to Charge the Battery (Checks+Solutions)
There are 3 basic components that may stop a solar panel from charging the battery – solar panel, charge controller, and the battery.
Let us look at each one in turn.
# 1. Solar panel: Your solar panel may be shaded, full of debris, damaged, or have loose or cut cabling
- Inspect the solar panels and confirm that they receive direct sunlight without any shadows.
- Remove any dust or debris that may be blocking the solar panel surface from receiving light.
Use a good quality multimeter to measure the output voltage of the solar panel and compare it with the expected voltage of the solar panel.
If there is a discrepancy – voltage is zero volts or less than the rated voltage, then you probably have a problem with either the cabling, connections, or the solar panel is damaged.
- Check that the solar panel cables are firmly fixed, make good clean contact with the solar panel terminals
# 2. Charge controller: Your charge controller may have loose solar panel or battery cables, may be faulty, or depending on the charge controller may have a blown fuse or need resetting.
- Check the polarity of the wires connections. Confirm that you have matched the positive wire from the solar panel to the terminal of the charge controller marked (positive solar).
- Check that the wire from the solar panel (negative terminal) is connected to the charge controller terminal labelled (negative solar).
Similarly, confirm that the wire from the charge controller labeled (battery negative) connects to the battery’s negative terminal.
While the wire from the charge controller terminal labeled (battery positive) connects to the (positive battery terminal).
- Use a good quality multimeter to measure the output voltage of the charge controller at the battery terminals.
If it reads zero volts or less than 12V or 24V depending on the battery bank voltage then you may have a problem with the wiring, fuse, or the controller itself.
# 3. Battery: The battery voltage may be extremely low or dead, terminals corroded or loose.
- Make sure the battery terminals are clean, firm and make good contact.
If the battery voltage is low, less than 10V, use an external charger to charge it and check if the charge controller powers up and the charging starts.
If not, the battery may need servicing or need to be replaced.
# 4. Does your solar panel have the capacity to fully charge a drained battery or is it a trickle charger?
Some solar panels are meant to keep the battery topped up and are not able to charge a drained battery to full charge.
You might think there is a problem with the solar panel when you are unable to charge a drained battery to full charge yet is designed as a trickle charger.
Therefore consult the owner’s manual if this is the case or otherwise.
If your solar panel is not charging your battery and you confirm that it is receiving direct and restricted light and it is not designed for trickle charging.
Check that your cable connections are not reversed, that they are firm, and make good clean contact from the solar panel, charge controller and battery.
Lastly, make sure that the battery has sufficient voltage to power the charge controller.