There has been a recent surge in solar-powered gate opener sales in the United States. My guess is there are lots of reasons for this. Green energy concerns, politics, and loss of confidence in the power grid all could be plausible reasons for people to think more about solar-powered anything vs. something plugged into the local power supply. In the case of "Solar Powered Gate Openers
," that may or may not be the smartest thing for your particular application. Like most things in life, a "one size fits all" approach never leads to the best solution for everyone. So let's look at how solar-powered gate openers work and, more importantly, why the cheap, Chinese ones typically don't.
The Power Supply
If you have regular 115vac power close to the location where a gate opener is to be installed many times, it does NOT make sense to use solar! Why? Most professional-grade gate openers (not the cheap ones on the jungle website and online sites) use LOW VOLTAGE
to power the motors in the opener. Because they do this, the openers use a transformer to change your 115vac power into low voltage (12 or 24vdc) to power the electronics and the motor. This also makes battery backup not only easy but very reliable even in the event of a power outage. When you are using power from the grid to run the system and only using the batteries for short periods, like when a storm knocks out the power for an hour or two, you can use small batteries such as the 12vdc / 7 amp hour style that is inexpensive, compact and easy to replace. THOSE ARE HORRIBLE FOR SOLAR-POWERED GATE OPENERS! They don't hold nearly enough energy and are not a high-quality battery to last when you rely on a solar panel for your power.
Let's look at an analogy that will help with a basic understanding of why this is. A battery is nothing more than a "reservoir of energy," so for this analogy, let's use a swimming pool. In this analogy, the swimming pool is going to provide the energy on demand that would be the drain at the bottom of the pool. The drain has to be fairly large to be able to provide enough power to run the gate opener whenever the opener is activated. To keep the pool "topped off," you need to supply water (energy) back into it. Solar energy is SLOW; your local power supply is FAST. So if you can "top off" the pool quickly, the size of your reserve is not as important as if you are "trickling" power back into it. As a result, dependable, quality, solar-powered openers USE A LARGE BATTERY, such as a car-type battery, NOT SMALL ONES! Nice (formerly Apollo)
and US AUTOMATIC
are both high-quality solar-powered gate openers. They provide an enclosure big enough (also not made of cheap plastic) to house a regular car-size battery to power the opener. The cheap plastic openers I referenced earlier all use a small battery in plastic housings. You cannot recharge them fast enough to make them dependable. Also, the small cheap batteries get very hot when they have discharged rapidly under the load that a 16' swing gate can exert on a gate opener. All these factors decay the battery quickly and make the units unreliable over time.
So, to summarize... high-quality, long-lasting solar-powered gate openers make sense when high voltage power is far away (think 100' or more), but when you have power close to the gate opener, it does not.
Powering Gate Opener Accessories
A factor not even discussed to this point is sunlight. Solar panels only charge in sunlight. The more sunlight, the better. Putting a solar panel under a tree and expecting it to work will not cut it. Also, consider that a high-voltage gate opener will give you more features in most cases! Wifi-enabled, more substantial gate ratings, adjustable speed settings, a smaller enclosure that is more aesthetically pleasing, and even longer warranties in some cases! Professional grade (not the plastic junk) Solar-powered openers are also purpose-built to run on small amounts of power. In effect, they "sip" voltage only when in use, so accessories such as keypads
, safety beams, exit probes, phone entry systems
, etc. require more "solar panels" and larger batteries to supply sufficient voltage as these all have a "stand by" draw on the battery, meaning they use power 24/7 as they "stand by" waiting for a command. AC-powered openers have no problem keeping up with these "stand by" demands. Choosing a high-quality gate opener involves more than just the gate dimensions and weight to be reliable and last a long time. QUALITY GATE OPENERS IN RESIDENTIAL APPLICATIONS WILL LAST 10-15 YEARS! If yours didn't, give us a call, and let us help you pick one that will!