24V vs 48V Solar Systems
It’s not every day that you see solar systems rated in voltage.
Most of the time a solar system would be characterized by its total wattage output but what does it mean if they have voltage in its name?
Better yet, between a 24V and a 48V solar system, which one works best for you?
We’re here to answer those questions as well as break down the differences between a 24V and 48V solar system.
But first, let’s make sure we understand the various measurements of power and what we use them for.
Table of Contents
Difference Between the Measurements of Power
Maneuvering your way around the different units of power can be tricky if you aren’t aware of their relationship.
The 3 main contenders when it comes to power are volts, amps, watts, and ohms. You use two units to obtain the value of another.
Voltage refers to the electrical potential flowing through systems and can also be described as the speed of electronics in a circuit.
Amps refer to the measure of electricity in a circuit but can also be interpreted as the number of electrons along a wire.
Watts, or wattage, is the amount of power that an appliance uses when powered. In other words, it’s the power it takes to do something.
Finally, we have ohms. This is the unit of measurement for resistance.
Now that we’ve covered the basics when it comes to measurements and units of power, let’s look at how to size the system.
What Size Works Best?
Before we can start breaking down the difference between a 24V solar system and a 48V solar system, we must know how to size our batteries as well as the solar system itself.
This can all be done using a solar calculator online. Typically, you’d be required to size the battery first and that requires you to enter your watt hours per day.
This value is retrieved by multiplying the wattage on your appliances by the number of hours want them to stay powered.
You then enter the number of days when you wouldn’t receive sun, as well as the lowest temperature that the batteries will operate under.
The calculator does its magic and you should be left with the recommended battery bank capacity in amp hours.
You could use this method to calculate the battery needed for any size solar system measured in any unit.
Whether it's a 200 amp solar system or a 200V solar system, this approach never fails.
Solar Panels and Inverters
When we speak about 24V or 48V solar systems, the voltage in the name can refer to many components.
In some cases, it can refer to the voltage of the solar panels, the voltage of the battery, or the voltage of the solar inverter generator.
Knowing which of the systems is best suited for you should be the one that matches, or comes close to matching, your solar needs.
To figure out the size of the solar panels that you need, the calculators tend to ask for the number of sun hours your area experiences.
This can be determined by using a solar map online.
Once that value is entered, the calculator will take your previous values and do some calculations.
That'll give you the watts and kilowatts needed in your system, the number, as well as the inverter size.
The higher your solar needs, the higher the wattage of a solar panel. So a 1,000W solar system and a 100W solar system are in different leagues.
The former can power an entire house as well as appliances for hours on end, whereas a 200W solar system can power a set of lights in an RV.
But how do we view voltage in a solar system? And does a solar system rated in volts have anything to do with the system’s overall output?
Let’s have a look at what a 24V solar system is truly made of.
24V Solar System
In the battle of the two solar systems, one has a lower voltage than the other.
A 24V solar system can power a good amount of appliances and devices. When you pair this voltage up with a hefty wattage in solar panels, you’re getting the real deal.
The voltage in the name of the system can be characterized by any of the components, but in this case, we’re going to refer to the batteries.
Such a system consists of a 24V battery bank, connecting four 12V 50AH batteries in series. However, you could use a string of batteries or a 24V solar battery.
The solar controller is connected to the batteries and altered according to the size of your solar system.
The purpose of the controller is to regulate voltage and current going in and out of the batteries to prevent overcharging and overheating.
These controllers are rated in amps and if you have a 24V system, you could easily make use of an inverter rated at half of that capacity.
Most charge controllers optimize themselves automatically according to the battery to ensure that your system runs at a stable voltage,
24V solar systems are affordable when it comes to wanting a good off-grid solar-powered system. The reason for this is due to the cost of wire used in these systems
You can make the most out of your 24v solar system when it comes to using solar panels.
Whether you want an 800W or a 1,200W solar system, the 24V capacity allows for most sizes.
Either way, you need a solar panel array that produces a voltage larger than the battery’s output. This means you can’t be using 12V solar panels in a 24V solar system.
We recommend using 60V or 80V solar panels when setting up your array for your solar system.
If you were wondering what the maximum system voltage of a solar panel is, it's around 1000V.
So as long as you don’t exceed that voltage and you’re using 60 or 80V panels, you’re good to go.
What Can It Power?
Regarding what a 24V solar system can power, voltage is our friend yet again.
Since we’re using 24V worth of batteries, we don’t want to fry the system and start using appliances triple their voltage.
You can pair this system up with 1,200W worth of solar panels to ensure that you’re always powered.
As long as you bear in mind what the voltage of your batteries is and don’t decide to overpower it by running 4 deep freezers simultaneously, you’ll be fine.
Since we’re working with a system requiring a smaller battery, you can purchase these components individually.
However, no matter the size of your solar system, you’re always going to save more money purchasing a solar kit.
You can get a 600W 24V solar panel kit for around $1,300, which is more affordable if you were to purchase individual components,
48V Solar System
Increasing the voltage of the system doesn’t always mean you’re going to be breaking the bank.
However, you are increasing the power which has a domino effect on the danger of the system.
Having a higher voltage system makes your components more efficient.
The reason for this is that everything in your system will heat up more when you have a lower voltage. This leads to components wearing out and overheating.
48V solar systems tend to be all-in-one meaning the components are stored in a single unit without having an excessive amount of wires.
A good size wire for such a system would be the 10 gauge copper ones as they supply both small and large panels with sufficient power in these systems.
The only danger to a 48V solar system is the battery. When a 48V LiFeP04 battery is fully charged, it can max out above 50V, which can be extremely dangerous if not handled with care,
If you accidentally touch both battery terminals when a 48V battery is fully charged, you can be hospitalized and possibly killed.
The batteries in a 48V solar system must be handled with extreme caution.
If you follow the protocols and procedures for assembling a solar system of this size, you won’t have to worry about touching 48V conductors.
However, if you don’t know how to work with 48V batteries and would prefer someone to come in to set up and maintain your system, it's best to keep away.
The batteries used in such a system tend to be server rack batteries that are mounted to a wall and can be stacked should you require more power.
You want to have a 48V inverter matching the 48V battery.
The purpose of the inverter is to convert the direct current coming into the solar panels into usable alternating current.
This conversion process is what allows you to power your devices connected to the system.
It’s important you connect the cables to the inverter first and not the battery.
The reason for this is that if you switch the battery on and something goes wrong, you could have loose conductors which can be dangerous.
So you always want to connect the conductors to the load first and then to the batteries.
Essentially, you’re only going to have two sets of wiring coming from the inverter to the battery.
The solar panels are probably the most dangerous part of a 48V solar system. Solar panels can’t be turned off like the battery or inverter.
Your solar panels must be properly connected to ensure that you never have to touch a high-voltage material.
This is where your MC4 cables come into play, allowing you to connect any solar array that you wish safely.
If you’re wanting a smaller system, you can set up 6 solar panels in a single series string to allow for simplicity when it comes to maintenance and efficiency.
However, you can have a larger system too, but in this case, you’d want a parallel configuration by using a combiner box. These are easy to obtain and set up.
Extra Safety Components
Since the voltage of this system is significantly higher than our 24V solar system, you want to take extra precautions when using the system.
The final component we suggest incorporating into your solar system is a disconnect box. This acts as a switch between the solar panels and the system itself.
This gives you a way to safely disconnect the connection between the panels and the system, making them less dangerous to work with.
The solar panels should be connected to the input of the disconnect box and you should ensure that the switch is off when connecting everything.
What Can It Power?
As with most voltage-rated solar systems, you don’t want to exceed the voltage by using a voltage-heavy appliance.
If you use an appliance that has a higher voltage than the system, you could blow the inverter and the batteries.
You can make a solar system large enough to power a house or barn with ease, as long as you have the necessary tools and equipment.
Building a solar system of this magnitude can be pretty expensive if you’re purchasing individual components.
The best route to take when wanting a 48V solar system is to purchase home solar panel kits.
These include all the necessary solar components needed in your system at a cheaper price.
You can get a 6,000W, 48V DC solar system with a 10-year warranty for around $8700.
When looking at the prices of the individual components, you’re getting one hell of a bargain.
Which Solar System Voltage Is Right for You?
Your voltage is entirely dependent on the size of your system. And the size of your system is dependent on your solar needs.
For smaller loads, a lower voltage is usually sufficient and more cost-effective in the long run.
There would be limitations if a small voltage was used for a large solar array.
A high current to a lower voltage results in energy loss as well as damaging the equipment.
A higher voltage can handle more current resulting in more usable energy but an increased danger if not handled with care.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your needs and safety. Each system has its own set of pros and cons, so whichever one suits your needs, that’s your best bet.
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