Understanding Solar Power For Automatic Gate Openers

Solar Power Zones

So you're interested in solar panels, but want to learn more about the benefits of owning one? If you own a home and purchase a solar powered/solar charged USAutomatic gate operator manufactured by USAutomatic, LTD. after Dec. 31, 2008, you may receive a 30-percent tax credit. This tax credit is available for the installed cost of your solar gate operator on your Federal tax return. Learn more about the Federal Solar Tax Credit.

Click Here for USAutomatic's Solar Certification

About Solar Charged Gate Operators

The system design and the accessories recommended are all Solar Friendly meaning that they require the least amount of energy possible to perform the job they were designed to do. The solar option allows you to install the gate operator in remote areas or in applications where you prefer the system to be solar charged. Solar charging does provide isolation from lightning that might damage the unit via the AC power needed for the transformer.

Understanding AC Charged Systems

USAutomatic AC charged gate operators come with a low voltage transformer that plugs into the charge controller and can easily provide 575 cycles of operation a day without decreasing the battery charge. In the event that AC power goes out, the operator will operate for weeks on the battery (if cycles per day are below 20) before needing service. Again, accessories connected to the opener are critical. Always use Solar Friendly accessories to help avoid premature battery failure in cases of power outages.

Understanding Solar Charged Systems

USAutomatic solar charged gate operators are designed to provide enough cycles a day for most installations without needing more than one solar panel. Care must be taken to ensure the solar panel has full sun throughout the day; the partial sun will give partial results. If no sun is present then a solar system is not practical no matter how many panels might be installed. Solar panels must be kept clean and in full sunlight. The design of the system must pay particular attention to any accessories that might be added - use only Solar Friendly accessories to help avoid premature battery failure. For a complete list of accessories please visit our Accessories page.

How well will a solar-powered gate work in my area of the country?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) have updated the National Solar Radiation Database (NSRDB). The 1991-2005 NSRDB contains hourly solar radiation (including global, direct, and diffuse) and meteorological data for 1,454 stations. This update builds on the 1961-1990 NSRDB, which contains data for 239 stations. The update includes the conventional time series for NSRDB ground stations as well as a one-tenth-degree gridded data set that contains hourly solar records for 8 years (1998-2005) for the United States.

Region 1 covers the area of the country receiving the least amount of solar radiation. On average, the amount of charge time is 1.5 hours in region 1 and 3 hours in region 2 and 5 hours in region 3. These are conservative numbers and the USAutomatic Patriot opener should have no problem performing as stated in the chart above. See the map above to determine cycles that can be expected. These numbers are based on a basic system and adding solar friendly accessories will not have any great effect on the numbers stated.

Click Here to Read More about the NREL

Gate Cycles Per Day (Solar Charged System - Optional Solar Kit)

Solar charged systems should not exceed the cycles listed in the chart above. These numbers are based on a single 6-watt solar panel installation. Use the Region Map to determine the area of the country in which you live to determine cycles that can be expected. If additional panels are installed, additional cycles will be available. Solar charged gate operators are easy to install because no electrical power is needed. They are also the most challenging to design correctly. Incorrectly designed installations can lead to premature battery drain, creating intermittent problems and operational failure. The Solar Friendly Manufacturers Association evaluates gate operator accessories and identifies those which meet the associations’ requirements. The primary requirements include stand by current draw, product reliability, and customer service. If a product meets these requirements it may be recommended by the association for use on solar-charged gate operators. A recommendation by the association does not limit the product to purely solar-charged operators, but it does recognize the product as being the best for solar-charged installation.

Solar friendly accessories typically require less than 5 minutes of sunshine a day (using 6 watt panel) to perform a specific function, compared to non-solar friendly accessories which can need up to 2 hours of sunshine a day to perform the same function. Utilizing solar friendly accessories is critical in the system design.

I want a solar-powered gate operator, but why purchase one from USAutomatic?

To put it simply, USAutomatic is the leader in solar charged gate operators. The most common problem when installing a solar charged system is improper design, which incorporates accessories that require more energy from the battery than the battery can provide and remain charged. We offer design assistance to all of our customers to help ensure that you get the most out of your solar panel. USAutomatic has designed all of its operators to support a full complement of accessories without adding additional solar panels. The 6-watt solar panel supplied with all our operators is sufficient for most areas of the country. See the solar region map for the expected number of cycles per day in your area.

We only sell a 6-watt panel. While other leading brands sell panels that are 10-watt, 20-watt, 40-watt or higher, you will see that with a USAutomatic system the higher watts are not needed. Every accessory we sell is made to work with the 6-watt panel, and no other panels should be needed in the lifespan of your gate operator. The unique design of USAutomatic control boards is a major reason why our solar-charged operators provide more cycles per day than any other product on the market. Compare cycles per day and the ability to support a full complement of accessories, without adding more expensive solar panels. The truth is that only one company can do this, and we have been doing it for over 10 years!

Companies do not sell or install accessories such as photo eyes, wired keypads, 7 day timer, loop detectors, free exit probes and free exit loops because over the years either by experience or because they were told by manufacturers that premature battery drain would occur. USAutomatic operators were designed to support all of these accessories without adding additional solar panels, saving you a ton of money. Many companies simply install additional solar panels without actually determining if they are needed. This practice increases the cost of the installation and does not guarantee the battery will not be prematurely drained. Every installation needs to be designed, not guessed at, and that is what we do.

Solar-charged gate operator battery selection

Battery selection for a solar charged gate operator will vary in certain parts of the country. If the installation is in region 2 it is recommended that a battery with larger reserve capacity be used. Region 2 only receives on average 3 hours of solar radiation per day, meaning that many days have no useful sunshine. In these installations, a higher reserve capacity is desired.

The recommended battery for any USAutomatic gate operator is a Group U-1 sealed maintenance free battery (typically 30 to 35 amp-hours). This type of battery delivers enough reserve capacity for weeks of operation in case of power outages when AC charged or on cloudy days when solar charged. The group U-1 battery offers a temperature range that will not require heaters to prevent freezing and add drain on the battery.

Is a Deep Cycle Battery Required? When the system is designed correctly, the battery does not need to be a deep cycle marine battery. The primary purpose of a deep cycle battery is that it can be discharged and charged more times than a typical battery. To recommend this type of battery is to recommend that the gate opener work until battery is discharged and then recharge the battery until it drains again. USAutomatic believes that the battery should remain charged so that the gate operator works when it needs to, thereby eliminating the need for a deep cycle battery.