Maximum Power Point Tracking, frequently referred to as MPPT, is an electronic system that operates the Photovoltaic (PV) modules in a manner that allows the modules to produce all the power they are capable of. MPPT is not a mechanical tracking system that "physically moves" the modules to make them point more directly at the sun. MPPT is a fully electronic system that varies the electrical operating point of the modules so that the modules are able to deliver maximum available power. Additional power extracted from the modules is then made available as increased battery charge current. MPPT can be used in conjunction with a mechanical tracking system, but the two systems are completely different.

To understand how MPPT works, let's first consider the operation of a conventional (non-MPPT) charge controller. When a conventional controller is charging a discharged battery, it simply connects the modules directly to the battery. This forces the modules to operate at battery voltage, typically not the ideal operating voltage at which the modules are able to produce maximum power. The PV module Power/Voltage/Current graph at shows the traditional Current/Voltage curve for a typical 75W module at standard test conditions. Additionally, this graph also shows PV module power delivered vs module voltage. For the example shown, the conventional controller simply connects the module to the battery and therefore forces the module to operate at 12V. By forcing the 75W module to operate at 12V the conventional controller artificially limits power production to "53W.

Rather than simply connecting the module to the battery, a Solar Boost™ MPPT charge controller calculates the voltage at which the module is able to produce maximum power. In this example the maximum power voltage is 17V. The MPPT system then operates the modules at 17V to extract the full 75W, regardless of present battery voltage. A high efficiency DC-to-DC converter reduces the 17V module voltage at the input to battery voltage at the output. If the whole system wiring and all was 100% efficient, battery charge current in this example would be VMODULE ¸ VBATTERY x IMODULE, or 17V ¸ 12V x 4.45A = 6.30A. A charge current increase of 1.85A or 42% would be achieved by extracting module power that would have been left behind by a conventional controller and turning it into useable charge current. But, nothing is 100% efficient and actual charge current increase will be somewhat lower as some power is lost in wiring, fuses, circuit breakers, and in the Solar Boost charge controller.

Actual charge current increase varies with operating conditions. As shown above, the greater the difference between PV module maximum power voltage (VMP) and battery voltage, the greater the charge current increase will be. Cooler PV module cell temperatures tend to produce greater charge current increase. This is because VMP and available power increase as cell temperature decreases as shown on the PV temperature performance graph. Modules with a higher 25ēC VMP specification will also tend to produce more increase. A highly discharged battery will also increase charge current since battery voltage is lower and output to the battery during MPPT is "constant power".

What most people see in cool comfortable temperatures with typical battery conditions is between 10 - 25% increase. Cooler temperatures and highly discharged batteries can produce increases in excess of 30%. Customers in cold climates have reported charge current increases in excess of 40%. What this means is that current increase tends to be greatest when it is needed most; in cooler conditions when days are short, sun is low on the horizon, and batteries may be more highly discharged. In conditions where extra power is not available (highly charged battery and hot PV's) a Solar Boost charge controller will perform as a conventional PWM type controller.

Richard A. Cullen
President
RV Power Products

Home Power Magazine has presented RV Power Products with two Things-That-Work articles; Solar Boost 2000 HP#73 Oct./Nov. 1999 [HP-ttw-SB2000.pdf], and Solar Boost 50 HP#77 June/July 2000 [HP-ttw-SB50.pdf].