Portable Solar Panel Connectors (Everything You Need to Know)
Most, even the most experienced of us, likely experienced that “I messed up” moment in our solar journey.
For example, you bought a portable solar panel brand “X” with an MC4 connector, but it turned out that your portable solar generator requires round DC and Anderson ports.
Or you might have thought you “got a sweet solar panel deal” off Craigslist for your solar system expansion. But it turned out the solar panel is an old generation model with an H3 connector.
There’s nothing more frustrating than that feeling of wasted time, effort, and money—especially during these economically difficult times.
…the good thing is, you don’t have to! This article will help you avoid these frustrating situations. Read on.
Reasons to Learn About Solar Panel Connectors
Aside from solar panel efficiency, cost, and rating compatibility, one key area you should also watch out for is the physical connectivity of your panels with other components.
Being knowledgeable about solar panel connectors helps you become your own problem solver.
Knowing the basics will help you solve case-specific problems like:
- Wiring solar panels- Series, Parallel, or a combination of both (see figures below);
- Adding compatible solar panels to an existing system; or
- Choosing an appropriate portable solar panel for your solar generator
Solar Panels in Series connection
Solar Panels Connected in Parallel
Combinations of Series and Parallel Connection
What are Solar Panel Connectors?
But before we get into that, what are solar panel connectors to begin with?
Solar panel connectors are photovoltaic components that allow seamless connection and disconnection of solar panel systems regardless of size, design, and architecture while providing safety. In short, they connect the components of your solar panel system to ensure a safe and efficient flow of electricity.
As a result, solar installers can quickly install solar arrays and disconnect panels that are damaged or due for maintenance.
Solar Panel Connector Types
So what are the common types of solar panel connectors? Here is our list.
MC4 connector is the most common solar panel connector used by modern solar panels nowadays because it’s fast and simple. MC stands for Multi-Contact. The ‘4’ stands 4 mm – The length of the contact pin.
The MC4 connector has male and female couplers. It has a locking mechanism and can only be unlocked using a special tool. It allows a wide range of cable sizes.
Female and male MC4 couplers
Since solar panels are exposed to the elements, the connectors should also have a degree of protection. The MC4 connector is IP68 (IP means ingress protection). This means that it has complete protection against dust over an extended time and is protected against short periods of immersion in water while under pressure.
MC3 is the older version of MC4. The ‘3’ stands for 3 mm. It has a lower protection rating because it has no locking mechanism and is mostly obsolete. Production was eventually discontinued because the National Electric Code requires a positive locking mechanism.
Female and male MC3 couplers
MC3 has an IP rating of IP65 which means it is lower than that of the MC4 connector.
Some of these may still be in use in older solar systems.
H4 is similar to the MC4 connector. It has an easy snap-lock mechanism and has resistance against long-term UV and ozone exposure.
Radox is a solar panel connector that uses copper-beryllium contacts. This is not a common connector and was mainly used in Europe.
Anderson connectors are modern ports commonly found nowadays in solar generators. They provide flexibility, reliability, and safety compared to the traditional two-wire connectors but require a professional touch to be utilized properly.
And in case you bought a solar generator without an MC4 adapter, MC4 to Anderson adapters are available either in your local hardware store or on e-commerce sites.
An MC4 to Anderson Adapter
Selecting Solar Panel Connectors
If you are planning to DIY a solar setup, here are the things you need to consider when selecting solar panel connectors.
We recommend using the latest brand that guarantees maximum protection and reliability when selecting solar panel connectors. Take note that your solar system installation is only as good as the weakest link. In this case, the terminal connections between solar panels are crucial.
For a solar panel MC4 connector, the female connector is usually considered the positive lead (with a red marking), and the male connector is the negative lead.
Here are the things you need to consider when installing solar panel connectors:
- Check compatibility between different solar panel connector types
- Make sure that the length of the bare wire cut is enough. The rule of thumb is half an inch.
- All elements should go inside the wire in reverse order. That is, the part with the pin is the last.
- Wrong crimping could result in less produced electricity, so make sure that you use the correct slot in the correct tool before finally crimping the solar panel connector.
Portable Solar Panel Connectors
While it is common to think of roof-mounted solar panels when it comes to solar panel connectors, these are also applicable to portable solar panels.
So, if you are one of the type of person that enjoys electricity on the go, know that these concepts you learned are also relevant to portable solar setups. Some if not most portable solar panels use MC4 connectors for compatibility with third-party portable power stations but, as we said, some solar generators have already transitioned to Anderson. Adapters might be needed.
Similar to the MC4 connector, industry-standard portable solar panels have a high IP rating of IP67.
It means that it is completely protected not only against dust over an extended time, but also against high-pressure water jets.
There you have it, a cram session on solar panel connector essentials.
Remember: solar panel connectors are also an important consideration in your purchases to avoid those minor inconveniences we mentioned earlier.
If done right, solar panel connectors will help you create a flexible and reliable solar system setup that can last you decades.