How Do I Know If My Solar Panel Is Working – As you may know, this page contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking once, I can earn you a small commission for free.
These tutorials will show you through videos step-by-step a skill needed to build a DIY solar system: how to connect a solar panel to a battery.
How Do I Know If My Solar Panel Is Working
NOTE: I list the sizes I used and link to the exact material I purchased for my setup or is compatible with it. Please copy my setup. Components, on the other hand, are based on the amount of current flowing through the system.
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I don’t have ready-made battery cables lying around. So I decided to save some money and do it myself.
Cut the two wires to your desired length and strip off the ends. (I shorted one to allow the fuse I was connecting to it.)
Place the fuse in the fuse holder. Use our fuse sizing tool to find the right fuse size.
Connect a wire from the fuse holder to the shorter battery cable using the wire connector of your choice. (I used 12-10 gauge butt-to-head connectors.)
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Then bend the battery terminals to the battery cable and shrink the membrane that covers the connectors. Check the battery terminals to see what size connector should be used. Mine uses a 1/4″ ring terminal.
Note: I’m wearing gloves and goggles at this time because places like Advanced Auto Parts recommend wearing them when on batteries.
Follow the instructions in the charge controller manual to connect it to the battery. I will show you how to connect the Renogy Wanderer, the charge controller I use:
Connect the negative cable of the unused battery to the “-” battery terminal on the charge controller.
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Connect the fused positive battery cable to the “+” battery terminal. (Renogy recommends connecting the battery cables to the charge controller before connecting them to the battery.)
Connect the battery cables to the battery terminals – first the negative terminal, then the positive terminal. I like to touch it to the positive terminal of the battery before connecting the positive cable, as it can sometimes create a small spark.
Your charge controller will turn on or light up, indicating that the battery is properly connected. For example, mine has the lights on.
At this point, your manual will probably tell you how to set up the charge controller for battery type, voltage, etc.
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Mine has a button that I can press to indicate the battery type. It defaults to sealed lead acid, which is what I’m using. So I just left it at factory settings.
Most solar panel cables have a pre-mounted MC4 connector. To connect the solar panel to the charge controller, you need an MC4 solar adapter cable.
(This is basically a piece of solar PV wire with an MC4 connector on one end and stripped away. For the setup, I made my own by assembling the male and female MC4 connectors. I also did purchase MC4 solar extension cable. Extension cable is optional, depending on the distance between your solar panel and charge controller.)
For board positive cable, connect MC4 inline fuse, positive extension cable (if used), then connect MC4 adapter cable.
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For the console negative cable, connect the negative extension cable (if used), then connect the MC4 adapter cable.
Follow the instructions in the charge controller manual to connect it to the solar panel. I’ll show you how I connect mine:
Connect the negative solar cable to the charge controller first, then the positive. Your charge controller should turn on or light up, indicating that the console is properly connected.
Place your solar panels in direct sunlight at the best tilt angle for your position (easily done with my $11 DIY solar panel stand).
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When done, your charge controller will indicate that the battery is being charged. My light is blinking when the battery is charging normally.
Sit back and let the panels collect all the free solar energy. The charge controller will stop charging when the battery is fully charged.
According to our calculator, it takes about 4.5 hours in maximum sunlight to fully charge the battery with this setup.
But changing any part of the setup — such as swapping out a 50W solar panel, lithium battery, or MPPT charge controller — will make a difference in charging time.
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Now that you’ve passed that milestone, here are some other projects that I think you’ll be interested in building:
By connecting a solar panel to a 12V battery, you have essentially created a 12V solar battery charger. Car batteries are 12V batteries, so you can easily charge your car battery using the system you just created (or an almost identical system described in this guide).
These solar powered LED lights basically use the same system you just built. All you need to do now is connect some LED strips to your battery and you are good to go.
You can build a modified version of the solar charging system you just created to charge your e-bike with solar energy. Alternatively, simply connect the inverter to a 12 volt battery, then plug in the e-bike charger as usual.
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Hi, I’m Alex. I am a DIY solar enthusiast learning how to generate electricity from the sun. Footprint Hero is where I share what I’ve learned — and (many) mistakes I’ve made along the way. As you know, this page contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking once, I can earn you a small commission for free.
Find the open circuit voltage (Voc) on the specification label on the back of the solar panel. Remember this number for later use.
Have a multimeter ready to measure DC voltage. To do this, plug the black probe into the COM end of the multimeter. Insert the red probe into the voltage terminal.
Set the multimeter to the DC voltage setting (or to the correct voltage range if your multimeter doesn’t change automatically). It is represented by a solid line above the dotted line next to the letter V.
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Take your solar panels outside and place them in direct sunlight. For best results, point it towards the sun.
Locate the positive and negative cables of the solar panel. The positive cable is usually a cable with a male MC4 connector with a red band around it.
Determine which cables on the solar panel are positive and which are negative. The positive cable is usually a cable with a male MC4 connector.
Touch the red probe of the multimeter to the metal pin inside the positive MC4 connector. Touch the black probe to the metal pin inside the negative MC4 connector.
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Read the voltage on the multimeter and compare it to the open circuit voltage (Voc) listed on the back of the panel. (If your voltage reading is negative, invert the probe and measure again.)
I measured Voc on the panel as 19.85V. The panel claims a Voc of 19.83V, so we’re pretty accurate.
The voltage you measure with a multimeter should be close to the open circuit voltage listed on the back of the panel. It’s not quite the same, though.
If they are the same, your console seems to be in good shape so far. You can proceed to the next step – measure the short circuit current.
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Find the short circuit current (Isc) on the specification label on the back of the control panel. Remember this number for later use.
Have a multimeter ready to measure amperage. To do this, move the red probe to the amperage terminal. Set your multimeter to the amplifier setting (A) and if your meter doesn’t change automatically, choose the correct limit.
WARNING: Make sure the multimeter fuse rating is greater than the panel short circuit current. The fuse size is usually listed above the amperage terminals. For example, my multimeter has a fuse size of 10A and my panel’s Isc is 6.56A, so I’m fine.
Read the current on the multimeter and compare it to the short circuit current (Isc) listed on the back of the panel.
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The short circuit current you measure should be close to the value listed on the back of the panel. However, it is not necessarily the same.
For example, I only measured 6.08A, but the published Isc on my panel is 6.56A. However, the sky was a bit cloudy when I tested it and it was 11am in November, so I’m happy with these results. On a bright summer day at noon, I would expect it to be quite similar to Isc.
If your measurements are similar to the Isc listed on the back of the panel, great! Your dashboard is working fine.
For most people, simply measuring the open circuit voltage and short circuit current will check if your solar panel is working properly. You can stop the test if you want.
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But if you want to stick with it, there are more ways to test solar panels with and without a multimeter. Read on to find out how.
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