Solar gate openers and ambient lighting

Solar gate openers are extremely popular for DIY gate installations. As more people are realizing the reliability of solar gates and ease of wireless gate opener installations we are finding that there is a common misconception about how solar panels collect power which we are going to address here.

Our number one issue we run into is improper positioning of the solar panel. It is misunderstood the type of light a solar panel must have. Ambient light does not create energy with a solar panel and leads to systems that have batteries that loose their charge. On a fully sunny day, the brightness of an open area is what misleads people’s perception of the sunlight that is being received by the gate opener’s solar panel. It could seem that a panel facing East, West or even North is getting direct sun light. This is the brightness and the way our eyes take in the light is misleading us. Take a look at this illustration of the sun shining on a ball and the position of the solar panel. The right side the panel is facing South, the panel is getting direct sunlight. The left hand picture the panel is facing East and the panel is not receiving direct sunlight. In real life the look is not so dramatic but the effects of the position of the earth in regard to the sun is exactly this dramatic.


solar panel example facing east
Facing east the solar panel will not get direct light and will not charge sufficiently.
gate opener solar panel model facing south
Facing south the solar panel will get direct needed to charge the gate opener battery.

Most of our customers are installing in the Northern Hemisphere. This means that earth is positioned so the sun is coming in at an angle from the south of the property.  The solar panel should be positioned facing the south at an angle to compensate for the curvature of the earth. The angle can be calculated using this formula: (Your Latitude x 0.9) + 29 Degrees= # of degrees your panel should be angled towards true South from the horizontal position (laying flat pointing directly up). Search latitude and the address of your gate opener installation in to find your latitude.

Another issue that comes up is very light shading. Some customers have trees that cast faint shadows because of their distance. The belief is that because it is not a solid dark shadow there is sun light that is getting through and the gate opener solar panel will charge the battery. This is not the case, this will also lead to a discharged battery. The solar panel should be in the clear direct path of the sun light for the entire day.

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Gate openers that are linear actuators on column mounted driveway gates

Gate openers that are linear actuators* are attractive options for many due to price and quality you get for the price, but a concern for driveway gates on columns is pivot point location.
The pics below show the details.
In this driveway gate opener example there is a concern a linear actuator style gate opener may not fit in the 3-4 inches between our stone pillars and the driveway gate when open. Also the rear edge of the pillar 15 inches away. This was the question posed to us by a customer of ours.
Linear actutor example on a large column (will not work without alternate usage)
This is an example of how a linear actuator gate opener will not work with a large column
 Here are the solutions possible in this scenario.
A gate opener that is a linear actuator will not fit in a standard pull to open installation. The required setback alone needs to be placed inside the pillar, which is not physically possible without major modifications to the column like notching out a deep block on the same vertical plane as the gate opener. Placing the rear pivot point on the rear of the column won’t work either, the stroke of the linear gate openers are too short and won’t be able to open the gate all the way.
To use a gate opener that is a linear actuator you would either have to offset the gate hinge  mounting 3 inches from the rear of the column. Or if the gates can swing toward the road you could do push to open and then the setback wouldn’t matter. Or lastly you could place the motors on the outside of the gate and use a push to open operation to swing the gate in toward the property.
If none of those options will work then you should use a articulating gate opener* like the Apollo 3600
or if it is 17 inches or less from the hinge to the rear of the column, the NH-H12  with large bracket
or if it is 12 inches or less to from the hinge of the gate to the rear of the column, the E-SC 1600
*Linear Actuator: A linear actuator is a gate opener that retracts and extends on a linear path in order to open the gate. Basically the piston extends out and retracts in. The gate opener has two pivot points, as the gate opener retracts it pulls these two pivot points toward each other. As it extends out it pushes them away from each other. Because he gate can pivot on its hinges and the actuator can pivot on the rear and front this action will open and close eh gate. The linear actuators have very specific locations for the pivot points in regard to their relation to the hinge of the gate, this is to ensure there is enough leverage to move the gate and the gate can open a full 90 degrees.
* Articulating Gate Opener: An articulating gate opener has two bars that join at an “elbow” and pivot in three places to open the gate. Because of this elbow shape it can conform to reaching around a corner to attach to the gate and pull it open. The first pivot point is on the drive shaft of the motor which is behind the column, the second is at the elbow, and the third is at the gate.
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Solar gate opener is safest choice for future adaptation

When choosing a gate opener one thing we get questions on is how can the system they are looking at be used in possible changes to their application. For example the house may currently be a vacation home but in 5 years will become a main residence. Or the driveway gate is currently in a remote location but in the future power will be run to the area and the entryway upgraded. Or individuals that plan on moving and taking their customized driveway gate with them (because it says their last name on the gate or something of that nature) and take the gate opener as well. Our customers want to know they are buying a system that will not have to be replaced because of changes to the driveway gate entrance area before the life of the gate opener has expired.

Gate openers that are going to be used in these scenarios are best to be 12V DC large deep cycle battery solar gate openers. Here is a list of these gate openers:

Swing gate: Estate Swing 1000 series solar gate opener (be sure to chose solar option) or E-S Allegiant

Swing and slide gate: Apollo gate opener systems

Swing and slide gate: US Automatic gate opener systems

The reason for this is how these systems work. All of the above systems run off a deep cycle marine battery. Solar charging is there simply to keep the battery maintained. This means that the solar panel can be replaced later with a battery float charger for heavy usage if power is present. Also because they run off of a deep cycle marine battery they have the battery capacity to be used at a high number of cycles if being used with a float charger. Also the deep cycle marine battery will offer insulation from cold weather issues that smaller battery operated systems have to contend with. So these gate opener systems with the large deep cycle marine batteries can be used solar or with a direct powered float charger without changing the circuit board or how the system operates or is wired; they can work for high number of cycles; and they can work in colder weather. This makes this collection of gate automation great for almost all residential / light commercial applications.

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