One of the many questions that we receive regarding gate openers is “When does my gate opener system require a charge controller?” So we sat down and put together a quick video guide explaining your options.
Just as a reminder, the info in this post and video typically only applies for 12VDC systems from Apollo, Estate Swing, LiftMaster, GTO, and Mighty Mule. Typically 24VDC systems do not utilize solar power or batteries and so you will always have a charge controller in your system (if needed).
Most residential gate opener systems use solar panels between 5 and 30 watts. When you buy any 5 or 10 watt solar panel from GateCrafters they have a built in charging diode that prevent the battery from being discharged during the night. These panels can be directly mounted to the battery terminals on a group size 24 deep cycle battery. When you start using solar panels greater than 10 watts, you will need a charging control board. GateCrafters offers a very popular 12VDC charge controller that works with solar panels up to 30 watts and 1800mA A/C charging transformer.
Charging control boards are intended to extend the life of your batteries in your gate opener system. Most solar gate opener systems utilize group size 24 batteries, however some use smaller batteries such as, 7ah batteries. Systems with the smaller size batteries will always have to use charge controllers. This is due to the charging device (whether it is a solar panel or charging transformer) over powering the battery, therefore decreasing its useful life.
When working with commercial 12VDC gate opener systems, you will typically be using solar panels greater than 30 watts. GateCrafters sells solar panels up to 245 watts and has charge controllers to work with these higher wattage panels. If you are looking to add a commercial solar powered gate opener system please call the technicians at GateCrafters.com and they will be able to specially design a system based on your needs and unique solar zone.
Stay tuned for more helpful advice from the staff at GateCrafters.com
Solar gate openers in all actuality are simply very efficient battery operated gate openers. The incoming solar energy is collected and utilized to keep the battery charged for powering the gate opener. Having a very low draw gate opener, like the US Automatic Patriot or the Estate Swing E-S1000H, and a large high quality battery will allow your gate to operate long periods (with low usage we have experienced over a month) without an incoming charge. This fact is important for an out of the box gate opener solution.
We have worked with customers that are in remote areas with no power available near the gate area and terrible sunlight; a seemingly impossible scenario. Take Alaska for example, parts like Barrrow have 30 days of no sunlight. Other parts of Alaska get nearly unusable sun light for solar purposes because of the tilt of the earth’s axis. The sun is basically rotating around the horizon. Other gate opener scenarios that have required a work around have been camp grounds in heavily wooded area that need gates but have no opportunity for sunlight because of the tree and other remote areas such a parks or cabin homes.
Our suggestion for these instances is monthly battery rotation. If you purchase a very efficient gate opener, take the E-S 1000H or D for example, then you could do the following to have a solar and power free instillation:
Purchase two large Group 22 batteries and a high quality battery charger/tender. Keep one battery out in the gate opener and the other in the house on the charger. Put a reminder in your calender that once a month you should put the battery in your vehicle and as you drive through the gate open the box and swap batteries.
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.
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 Google.com 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.
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:
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.
The gate opener Apollo 1550 and the Apollo 1500 are now able to be paired to the new Italian NICE 1050 smart gate opener board. However because the 1050 smart board is so versatile to be paired with many gate openers we have had a few customers as use for quick guide wiring. Last weekend one of our tech made this on the fly for a customer and we thought we would share this with our other gate opener customers for assisting them in wiring.
Here is how solar panels and batteries work with driveway gate openers in regards to determining if you need more of one or the other or both:
The gate opener’s battery is the storage capacity for the power captured by the solar panel. The solar panel wattage is the speed in which the battery will be recharged. The gate opener runs off the battery and the solar panel is meant to bring the battery back up to full charge each day. So you need to make sure that you have enough battery to handle your gate opener’s power requirements. If the gate opener seems to run fine off the battery but after a month or so the battery goes dead that would mean you have a charging problem. That would mean that the battery is large enough to hold more power for the gate opener but the solar panel is refilling it too slowly. You can add another solar panel to make sure the battery becomes filled by the end of the day.
If your panel always brings the battery to full charge before the end of the day but at night or a single cloudy day makes the battery go dead this means your battery is too small. You would need to first get a larger battery and then monitor the charging. If the battery if becoming fully charged before the end of the day this means your solar panel would be able to further supply a battery more power if the battery was large enough to store it. However the solar panel’s power is being wasted because the battery is full. In this case you would need a bigger battery still if you wanted to capture 100% of the power the solar panel is providing.
So to sum up. The Wattage of the gate opener solar panel is the rate at which the battery will charge. The size of the battery is the storage capacity for powering the gate opener and capturing all of the solar panel’s output.