Product FAQs

Charge Controllers: Definitions, Settings & Features

What are the key differences between PWM and MPPT charge controllers and which is best for my application?

PWM (pulse width modulation) charge controllers are simpler charge controllers compared to MPPT controllers. A PWM controller uses very fast switching, many times per second, to control the current flow from a PV panel to a battery for charging. PWM controllers work best when the nominal voltage of a solar array matches the nominal voltage of a battery bank.

MPPT (maximum power point tracking) controllers use conversion technology for charging. An MPPT controller does not require the solar panels to be of the same nominal voltage as the battery bank. It can convert PV power at a high voltage to charge power at a lower voltage for a battery bank. MPPT controllers can be up to 30% more efficient than PWM, but they are often more expensive and unnecessary for small systems.

Read our document “Comparing PWM & MPPT Charge Controllers” to learn more.

What is low voltage disconnect (LVD)?
The LVD feature on a charge controller turns off the load of a system automatically when the load drains the battery bank to a low voltage. LVD protects your batteries from reaching a depth of discharge that may damage them and reduce their lifespan.

Phocos has developed three types of LVD to protect your batteries. One type is voltage controlled LVD. When the load drains the battery to a specific voltage, the controller switches off the load within a few minutes. Another type is SOC controlled LVD. The controller considers the battery state of charge and load current to dynamically determine when to switch off the load. The controller typically takes about half an hour to switch off the load. A third type is emergency LVD, or undervoltage protection. This is a very fast acting LVD usually triggered due to errors or fault conditions when the battery voltage suddenly drops to an extremely low level.

What are the differences between 'middle of night' and 'dusk to dawn' settings in CIS and CX controllers?

The difference is reference points for load or dimming timers to give you more options save energy and improve user experience.

CIS family and CX family controllers intelligently detect day and night using the PV array voltage. Night is detected when PV voltage drops below a low level during dusk, and day is detected when PV voltage rises above that low level during dawn. For example, CIS family controllers in 12V systems detect night when PV voltage drops below 8V, and they detect day when PV voltage rises above 9.5V. Two slightly different levels ensures a smooth transition during cloudy weather.

These Phocos controllers also intelligently calculate the middle of the night as halfway between night detection and day detection. This is updated each night for high accuracy throughout the seasons. There is no real-time clock so there may be variation between true midnight and what the controller measures as the middle of the night.

When “dusk to dawn” is selected as a reference, the load timers can be set to turn the load on (or dim) for a selectable number of hours after dusk and a selectable number of hours before dawn. Alternatively, the load can be on the entire night.

When “middle of the night” is selected as a reference, the load timers can be set to turn the load off (or dim) for a selectable number of hours before the middle of the night and a selectable number of hours after the middle of the night.

For example, in a CIS controller, if evening hours are set as “3” and morning hours as “2” with a “middle of the night” reference, the controller will turn the load off three hours before the middle of the night and back on two hours after the middle of the night. (see screenshot of CISCOM setting below).

Even if the hours selected exceed the length of night, the controller will still shut off the load at dawn and turn on the load at dusk.

How do I adjust the settings on my charge controller, such as the low voltage disconnect (LVD) threshold or dusk to dawn hours?
With CIS controllers, use CIS-CU remote or MXI-IR with CISCOM software. For CXN, use CXI with CXCOM, CXM, or the onboard button and LCD. The MPM system settings can be changed through MCU with MXI and MODCOM as well as DIP switches. With other Phocos charge controllers such as the ECO series, settings cannot be changed.

Check the datasheet or user manual for more information, or contact Phocos technical support.

Are AGM, flooded or gel batteries my only energy storage options compatible with a Phocos charge controller?
Most Phocos controllers are designed specifically for lead acid batteries such as AGM, flooded, or gel batteries. Sometimes programmable Phocos controllers can be made compatible with other chemistries such as lithium ion. If you would like to use a battery chemistry other than lead acid, please contact Phocos technical support with a datasheet for the battery you want to use.
What do the load terminals on my charge controller power?
The load terminals on a charge controller power connected DC devices. The DC device must be compatible with the battery nominal voltage, and the battery bank capacity should be appropriately sized for the load. Loads can be many things from a DC refrigerator to an LED light.

Some loads should not be connected to the controller’s load terminals and instead connected directly to the battery. Highly inductive loads with high inrush currents may damage the controller’s load terminals. DC motors and inverters are examples.

Are Phocos charge controllers protected against lightning?
Phocos charge controllers are CE certified which includes rigorous surge protection. Phocos charge controllers have internal surge arrestors which will guard the PV output and battery input, but not from a direct lightning strike. The controller may withstand indirect strikes that occur nearby.
Is there any other equipment or hardware that I need to purchase for safety within the charge control area of the PV system?
For safety purposes, it is highly recommended that the user places a fast acting fuse or DC breaker between the ungrounded lead of the charge controller to the corresponding battery terminal as close as possible to the battery terminal. This will protect the conductor, device, and user from overcurrent. Aside from this, it is recommended that installers use electrically insulated tools when wiring a system and follow applicable laws for the installation region.

 System Design & Sizing

Why am I getting less power than expected from my PV system?
This can be due to several factors. First, your battery bank may not need it. If your battery bank is full or nearly full, the controller must limit PV power to prevent overcharging.

Second, standard test conditions (STC) don’t always match actual environmental conditions at the install site. Thermal effects, atmospheric conditions, and irradiance change PV performance. Check if your module manufacturer lists “NOCT” data on the datasheet. For many installations, NOCT data is closer to actual performance than STC data.

Also, your PV array and controller may be mismatched. If you have a PWM controller, the nominal voltage of your panel should match the nominal voltage of your battery bank. If it’s higher, the PWM controller is essentially “throwing away” the extra voltage it cannot use. For example, if you have a 12V battery bank, choose a 36 cell module. The Vmp will typically be 17 to 18V.

Other causes of power losses include loose wiring connections, module mismatch, module soiling, and orientation of the module to the sun.

What is the optimal distance for wiring between my charge controller and my battery? When does a significant voltage drop occur?
It is highly recommended that the charge controller be within one meter (approximately 3.25ft) of the battery bank and in the same room or enclosure.

Significant voltage drops occur not only with excessive distance but with improper wire size. Check the back page of the Phocos catalog to view a quick guide for wire sizing available at www.phocos.com.

Measure the voltage at the controller, and measure the voltage at the battery terminals. If there is a 0.5V difference or more, reduce the wiring distance or decrease the wire gauge.

Can I use a high voltage panel (commonly used for grid-tied applications) with my battery bank?
High voltage panels, or 60 cell modules, can be used with MPPT controllers. Be sure to check that your panel is within the other specifications of the controller you are using. These specs include max power input, max voltage input, and max current input.
How do I know that I’m receiving enough sunlight on my PV module to adequately charge my batteries?
Check the battery voltage. If the voltage is at a target charging voltage, then the module is adequately charging your batteries. For example, if you measure 13.7V on a 12V battery, then it has reached the Float charging voltage, and the battery is being adequately charged. Remember that the target voltages may higher in cold weather and lower in hot weather due to temperature compensation.

Check the battery voltage over several minutes. If the voltage is increasing, the battery is being charged. If the voltage is increasing very slowly, then the module may not be receiving enough sunlight or another problem might be to blame. Check the terminal connections and any wiring connections of the PV module to the charge controller and the charge controller to the battery bank. Clean your panels and remove any obstacles causing shading, no matter how small.

Use a controller accessory with current measurement (if applicable) or a digital multimeter to measure the module current. Compare the measured value to the module datasheet. Check the battery manufacturer datasheet or user guides for recommended charge current or charge rates (C-rates).

 LS Series Solar Home Kits

What are the key differences between the LS4000 and LS7000 kits?
The battery pack capacity and accessories are what separate the LS4000 from the LS7000. Both have lithium ion batteries which are rated for 1500-2000 full cycles. The LS4000 battery is rated at 4 amp-hours (Ah), or 51 Watt-hours (Wh), while the LS7000 is rated for 7Ah, or 89Wh. The LS7000 battery pack is approximately 2.5” taller in height. The LS Kit 7000 also comes with more accessories such as a 0.25W mini SFL LED lamp, 3W TL LED tube lamp, a second 10W solar panel, an additional 3W SFL LED lamp, panel mounting hardware, 3-1 panel combiner/distributor, tube lamp extension wire, cigarette lighter socket, and a 1-2 USB splitter.
When should the clock displaying load run time be on?
When most loads/lights are attached to the kit and turned on, a count-down clock will appear on the LCD display showing the remaining time (measured in hours) that the battery can supply power to the load. This is the only time it should appear, and only 3 dashes should be displayed when there is no powered-on load. Very low power loads such as the 0.25W USB light do not draw enough power to trigger the clock.
Why does the clock display an inaccurate value when I have a small load connected to the LS Kit and it's powered on?
This is due to the current draw of the load being so small (less than or equal to 3W) that the controller electronics cannot accurately calculate the time remaining in the battery. Time readings on the display may fluctuate over a given period. A much more accurate reading is possible with a larger load or multiple lights connected to the battery pack.
Can I connect a charging source other than a small solar panel to my battery pack when there are poor irradiance conditions?
Some laptop chargers can be used rather than a solar panel. The chargers must have a 5.5/2.5 mm barrel connector. They should provide between 18 and 20 VDC, up to 2 ADC, and up to 40W. A higher power input could damage the electronics over time. If you would like to use a laptop charger with other specifications, please contact Phocos North America Technical Support at tech.na@phocos.com.
Can I put the battery pack back into sleep mode for shipping?
The battery pack cannot return to sleep mode except at the factory. Opening the LS kit battery pack will void the warranty of the unit. Do not turn the battery pack on before shipping it.
Are the LED lamps that come with the kit water resistant or capable of being used outdoors?
The SFL LED lamps are IP 50 rated, meaning that they are protected from some ingress of dust, but not protected against ingress of water. It is recommended that the kits are used indoors only.