Small photovoltaic (PV) systems are the preferred method to power instruments operating at permanent locations away from the electric power grid. The low-power PV power system consists of a solar panel or small array of panels, lead-acid batteries, and a charge controller.
Even though the small PV power system is simple, the job of supplying power at a remote site can be very demanding. The equipment is often exposed to harsh conditions. The site may be inaccessible part of the year or difficult and expensive to reach at any time. Yet the system must provide uninterrupted power with minimum maintenance at low cost. This requires good design. Successful small PV systems often require modifications by a knowledgeable fieldworker to adapt to conditions at the site.
Much information is available in many places about solar panels, lead-acid batteries, and charging systems but very little of it applies directly to low power instrument sites. The discussion here aims to close some of the gap. Each of the major components is described in terms of this application with particular attention paid to batteries. Site problems are investigated. Finally, maintenance and test procedures are given.
This document assumes that the reader is engaged in planning or maintaining low-power PV sites and has basic electrical and electronic knowledge. The area covered by the discussion is broad. To help the reader with the many terms and acronyms used, they are shown in bold when first used and a glossary is provided at the end of the paper.