Testing solar panels is a fairly straightforward process, requiring few tools and little to no expertise. But one single false step or wrong connection can turn this ostensibly simple task into a stressful ordeal. You can end up damaging your panels, testing devices, or even getting shocked. Therefore, you’ll want to know how to test solar panels correctly.
To lend you a helping hand, we’ve compiled this guide that will take you through a step-by-step process of testing your solar panels. By the end of this guide, you’ll be equipped with everything you need to know to test a solar panel.
The blog post includes:
- Required tools
- Key electrical terms: Current (amp), Voltage (volt), and Power (watt)
- Standard Testing Conditions (STC)
- Testing the Open Circuit Voltage (Voc)
- Testing the Short Circuit Current (Isc)
- Testing the Charge Controller
- Other considerations
Already overwhelmed? Fret not! You can always skip to your desired section by clicking the relevant heading in the table of contents.
Before you begin to test a solar panel, we advise you to take the necessary precautions and follow these instructions:
- Closely observe the positive and negative terminals/polarities when connecting any device to the solar panel.
- Cover the front of the solar panel with an opaque sheet to block sunlight and prevent heat build-up. Uncover the panel only when you’re taking the measurements
- Solar panels are large & heavy and demand safe lifting techniques.
- Short circuit the panel only for testing purposes
- Limit the short circuit testing to less than five minutes
- Use gloves to avoid burns and unexpected electric shocks.
These instructions and precautionary measures will allow you to safely and accurately test solar panels.
Tools required for testing solar panels
To carry out solar panel tests, you will need these resources handy:
- A high-quality digital multimeter (DMM)
- Pair of wire to connect DMM with the solar panel’s terminals
- A small screwdriver (2.5mm)
- A spreadsheet or pen and paper to note down accurate reading
- A nice SUNNY day
Once you’ve gathered these tools, you’re all set to test a solar panel.
But before we lift the lid on the solar panel’s testing process, it’s necessary to understand the key electrical terms – current, voltage, and power – since these are the factors that we’ll evaluate during the test.
Key electrical terms
The performance of a solar panel depends on the current and voltage it produces. Once you understand these concepts, you can determine the solar panel amperage and voltage. Afterward, you can use the two values to calculate the solar power/efficiency of the system. Efficiency is equivalent to the amount of sunlight that the panels convert into electricity.
To understand the electrical terms, think of electricity as water in a tank. A higher water level would mean a higher voltage, i.e., there is more potential for water flow (current).
What Is Voltage?
Voltage (V) is defined as the difference in electric potential between two points in a circuit. The electric potential difference is measured in volts (V) and is responsible for the flow of current. For this test, we will calculate the open-circuit voltage (Voc) of the panel.
Voc of a solar panel is affected by several factors, including;
- The amount of sunlight: The more solar energy (irradiance) falls on the solar panels, the higher Voc will it produce
- Temperature: Higher temperatures have an adverse effect on the panel’s output wattage. Don’t be surprised to see maximum efficiency on a cold sunny day than on warmer days.
- Panel orientation: The pitch and azimuth of the solar panel also impact the voltage generated by the panel
What is Current?
Electric current is the flow of charged particles (usually electrons) through an electrical conductor. In our previous analogy, the water flowing through a pipe out of the water tank is analogous to the current flowing in the circuit. Electric current is denoted by “I” and is measured in amperes or simply amps.
What is Electric Power?
Electric power (P) is the rate at which energy is transferred in an electric circuit per unit of time. It’s measured in Watts (W) and is equivalent to the product of Voltage and Current.
Power (P) = Volts (V) x Amps (I)
Now that you understand the key terms, you can measure their values and compare them to the values calculated under standard testing conditions.
Standard Testing Conditions
Standard testing conditions, or shortly STC, are the industry standard conditions under which solar panels are tested. STC correspond to the following three conditions:
- Temperature: 77oF or 25oC (this refers to the temperature of the cell, not the surrounding)
- Solar irradiance: 1 kW/m2 (the power per unit area obtained from the sun)
- Air mass: 1.5 spectra
Under these conditions, a 200-watt solar panel will generate 200-watts of electricity. The values of Voc and Isc under STC are usually mentioned on the back of the panel.
When we test solar panels in our own backyard, the conditions are nowhere near standard. It may be windy, the weather may be hot, and the sunlight may not fall optimally on the solar cell. But STC numbers provide a good standard against which we can assess a solar panel’s actual performance. As far as how well solar panels may perform in practical scenarios, you can find it out by conducting these tests.
Open Circuit Voltage Test (Voc) for a Solar Panel
To find Voc of a solar panel, here are the steps you need to follow:
- Locate the converter box: To begin this test, first locate the converter box, which is mounted on the back of the panel. Remove the screws and detach the cover from the box.
- Locate positive and negative connections: After removing the converter box, you’ll see connections with various energy setups. Locate the positive and negative connections and turn on your multimeter
- Set up the multimeter: At this point, configure the multimeter so that it measures DC volts. You need to ensure that the multimeter’s energy level is set higher than what the panel is approved for. This will ensure that you take an accurate reading. You can find the approved Voc level in the converter box.
- Connect the alligator clips: After setting up the multimeter, it’s time to attach the alligator clips to the solar panel. Connect the positive lead of the multimeter to the red terminal and the negative lead to the panel’s black terminal. The digital multimeter should now measure the dc voltage that the solar panel produces. Note down the reading and check it against the one mentioned on the back of the panel.
- Switch off the multimeter and disconnect the leads
Short Circuit Current Test (Isc)
The procedure to measure the current of the panel is similar to the volt test. However, there’s a slight difference in the preparation process. When testing solar panels for dc amp, it is a good idea to cover the panel temporarily. With solar energy striking the panel, the terminals and leads of the multimeter can produce sparks and damage the panel’s multimeter or panel.
Attach the positive lead to the red terminal and the negative lead to the black terminal, similar to the volts test. You’re now ready to measure dc amps by following these steps.
- Set your multimeter to measure amp so that you can measure the output dc amps coming from the solar panel
- Move the red lead on the multimeter to the 10ADC port and set the range to 10 amps or higher.
- Connect the solar panel to the multimeter (red probe to the positive cable and black probe to the negative) and expose the panel to the sun
The multimeter will now show an accurate reading of Isc.
How to Test a Solar Output Wattage?
Unlike the previous tests, the wattage measurement doesn’t require using a multimeter. Multiply the results of the Isc and Voc tests, and you’ll get the output wattage.
P = Voc (volts) * Isc (amps)
Testing the Charge Controller
For the charge controller test, make sure that the battery isn’t full. If it’s full, the charge controller will not pass any current to the battery; thus resulting in zero reading. Here are the steps you need to follow to test the efficiency of your charge controller.
- Connect the solar panel to the charge controller and the controller to the battery
- Disconnect the positive terminal between the battery and the charge controller
- Measure the current by connecting the positive lead of the multimeter to the positive port from the controller and the negative lead of the meter to the battery’s positive terminal.
- Remove the regulator now and connect the panel directly to the battery.
- Measure the amps by wiring the positive lead of the meter to the positive cable from the controller and the negative lead of the meter to the positive terminal of the battery
If there was no current in the presence of the regulator, but there is some now, then these possibilities may exist:
- There is a loose cable connection. Go back and check all the connections.
- The regulator is faulty and needs repair or replacement.
Apart from these tests, you should also regularly conduct strength tests to inspect any damage to the panels’ physical structure. When testing solar panels for mechanical strength, check the solar panel frame and see if it wobbles. If the panel feels unsteady, use a screwdriver and tighten the frame. All these tests, including the solar strength inspection, should be conducted after every extreme weather event.
We hope that this guide provides a clear picture of the solar panel testing process. Armed with the knowledge shared in this article, you can move forward and test a solar panel on your own. If you still have got questions, feel free to ask us in the comments.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?