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How to Use a Multimeter to Test Solar Panels

If you own a solar energy generating system or are planning on purchasing either new or used solar panels, then you need to know how to use a multimeter to check the voltage of your solar panels. This is especially important for those who are seeking a DIY solar system.

Most do it yourselfers will probably be purchasing used or surplus solar panels, and therefore it is extremely important to know that the panels you are purchasing are capable of generating enough electricity to be worth your time. Knowing how to use a multimeter is not that difficult, but it is still important to read more about how to use a multimeter before you just start connecting diodes and attempting to test the voltage of your solar panels. 

If you do not know how to use a multimeter properly, then there is a chance that you could damage your panels, and you also might find yourself getting ripped off because you purchased inferior or defective solar panels and were not able to use the multimeter correctly to determine that they were not producing enough voltage. Below you will find complete instructions on using a multimeter to check the output of solar panels. 

These instructions were created using the Klein Tools MM200 Auto Ranging Multimeter. This is a decent quality multimeter that should be sufficient for checking the voltage of your solar panels, and it won’t set you back several hundred dollars like many of the other brands on the market- you should be able to purchase the Klein Tools MM200 for around $35-55. 

how to use a multimeterThis meter isn’t the most accurate on the market, but you probably won’t be able to find a more accurate one without spending at least triple the amount of money. The only drawback to this particular multimeter is that it only comes with banana leads, and to make testing your solar panels much easier, it is recommended that you also purchase a lead that will connect from the banana to an alligator clip

This way you can clip the lead directly onto the wires coming from your solar panel. Overall, the Klein Tools MM200 is a decent multimeter and good value for your money. Unless you need a multimeter for testing more than your solar panels, then this product should be sufficient for your needs.

Using a Multimeter to Test Your Solar Panels

 
There are two different readings which you should check to ensure that your solar panel is functioning properly and to see the amount of energy it is generating. You will want to check both the volts and the amps being produced by your panel. Luckily both of these can be tested with one multimeter and the process for testing them is almost identical. 
 

Using a Multimeter to Test Voltage

how to use a multimeterThe first thing you will need to do is to locate the converter box on the back of the solar panel. After locating the box you will need to remove its cover, thereby exposing the connections inside. You will want to pay close attention and note which connection is the positive ( + ) and which is the negative connection ( - ). Now you will want to ensure that the solar panel is fully exposed to the sunlight, so it will probably be necessary to tilt the panel in order to receive the most possible sunlight. 

Next you will need to turn your multimeter on and set it to read DC volts

You want to make sure that the level you are measuring in is much higher than the volts your panel is rated to create. This means that if you have a panel rated for 20 volts, you should set the multimeter to read up to 200 volts to ensure that you receive an accurate reading. The panel’s voltage rating should be marked somewhere inside the convertor box, so you can compare the actual voltage of the panel with its rating. 

Now with your alligator clips, connect the red lead to the positive side and the black lead to the negative connection. You should then receive a fairly accurate reading of the volts created by your panel. If the panel is new, then the voltage should be very close to the panel’s rating. For used panels, a slightly lower voltage should still be acceptable, although this is up to your own preference. You can now turn the multimeter off and disconnect the alligator clips.

Using a Multimeter to Test Amperes

how to use a multimeterThe process for testing the amount of amps produced by your solar panel is very similar to the process for testing the voltage. The only major difference is that you should never test for amps when the panel is exposed to the sun. 

If you attempt to connect the alligator clips while the panel is live, then you will create sparks and possibly shock yourself or damage the panel or multimeter

With the panel in the shade, turn your multimeter to read DC amperes and then connect the alligator clips to the panel as described above. 

Once the multimeter is connected to the panel, then you can put the panel back in direct sunlight and you should get a reading. You will almost never produce a higher amp reading than the panel is rated for unlike with voltage, so you just want something similar to the rating. After getting your reading, make sure to put the panel back in the shade before disconnecting the alligator clips.

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