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What is a Charge Controller?

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  • Written By: M. McGee
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2016
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A charge controller regulates the electrical charge moving into and out of a battery. These devices are used to keep a battery operating longer and also to help prevent overloads. There are a huge number of different types of controllers available, from small integrated circuits to full add-on components with readout displays. The common charge controller simply provides a current in and out when required, but some systems are able to provide more specialized input and output.

In most batteries, a charge controller performs two functions: preventing overloads and regulating power in and out of the system. Preventing overloads is more of a side effect of the charge controller’s job. Since it keeps too much power from flowing into and out of the battery, it prevents overload damage to the battery or the device it’s powering.

Power regulation is vital to extending the life of a battery. If a battery continues to charge when it is fully powered, it can cause an overload and damage the system. On the other hand, if the battery drains so much it can’t be recharged, deep draining occurs. Power regulation applies to the device as well. Some devices require more power as activity increases, while some require a constant flow; the charge controller determines the amount of power the device may have at any given time.

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A charge controller comes in two basic styles, integrated or separate. An integrated controller is built directly into the battery or power system. This circuit will directly regulate power as it comes into or out of the system without any additional human assistance. While it is often located directly in the battery, some systems that only take a certain battery type, such as cellphones, have them as part of the internal systems of the device.

A separate charge controller exists outside the battery. These systems monitor power as it moves, not just at the battery level. An external system typically has a specialized function, such as one that works specifically on a high-end model plane or a solar panel system. Some of these systems operate on their own, like an integrated system, while other have a user interface for inputting settings and power levels.

The majority of charge controllers are quite simple. A standard controller will charge a battery when it needs it and stop when it doesn’t, all while sending power into a system whenever it requires it. All of this is done with a constant power flow.

A higher-end charge controller may have a different function such as pulse-width modulation. These controllers constantly provide a small charge in or out of the battery that increases and decreases depending on the situation. This improves the performance of the system and increases the life of the battery.

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