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I have a 20W/24V solar panel, a module like this: http://www.ebay.com/itm/DC-DC-Converter-Automatic-Step-Up-Step-Down-Module-3-5V-28V-to-1-25V-26V/361283328807 (step up/down module) and a 5W/12V water pump (in transit to me: http://eu.banggood.com/Wholesale-Warehouse-Mini-DC12V-3M-Micro-Quiet-Brushless-Motor-Submersible-Water-Pump-wp-Eu-932046.html).

The question is: Can I hook them up directly, given that the step-up/down is of course set to output 12V?

The whole thing is needed to fill up a 1000 liter tank of water from a small river which will then be used to water our small greenhouse. The water tank has at the top a float switch which will have its wires between the solar panel + wire and the step up/down module.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ No. 28V max input is not enough. If you find one with higher max Vin the question is how the system will respond if the motor load is higher than solar output but it should self-limit and not break. Perhaps trigger an undervoltage lockout and restart phenomenon. \$\endgroup\$ – winny Nov 22 '16 at 18:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Will this be better ebay.com/itm/… ? Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Sorin Trimbitas Nov 23 '16 at 6:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Input voltage range:4~40VDC" Much better! \$\endgroup\$ – winny Nov 23 '16 at 8:38
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I think the biggest problem is that solar panel may emit too much output. Here is a datasheet of a random 24V 20W panel: https://www.amazon.com/GudCraft-24-Volt-Watt-Solar-Panel/dp/B004Z8IUN2 . It says:

Voltage at Power Max: 35.2 Volts
Open Current Voltage: 42.2Volts

If you have enough sun, the panel may output as high as 40 volt, and your DC/DC converter will break (and then, possibly, your motor will break too). You need a DC/DC converter with higher input range.

The second problem is what happens when there is not enough sun. The other answer from Olin covers it pretty well -- the motor may overheat. Note that you may be able to buy pre-made undervoltage circuit from ebay instead of making it yourself. Or, since it is likely to be more expensive that the motor, you may want to just risk it and see it the motor will work anyway.

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You can hook them up almost directly.

When the sun is shining and the panel is capable of 20 W, the power supply on the output of the panel will have no problem holding up the 12 V output with only 5 W drawn from it. When there is no sun, there is no power in. The motor won't run, but nothing bad will happen.

The problem is when there is not quite enough power to make the motor spin. The 12 V supply will collapse, but could still provide some power at whatever voltage it goes down to. The worst case is the motor draws just below the current it needs to start turning. That means all the power into the motor is getting turned into heat. This can overheat the motor.

The solution is a undervoltage lockout. Add a relay that either connects the motor or a 24 Ω or so power resistor to the 12 V supply. The relay connects the resistor load when off, and connects the motor only when specifically energized.

A small circuit turns on the relay only when the supply goes above maybe 11.7 V and turns it off when the supply goes below maybe 11.4 V for a few seconds. This guarantees the motor is only run when there is enough voltage to run it properly. The time delay is intended to get past the motor's startup, when it takes more current than during normal operation. A large capacitor on the 12 V supply or the solar panel will also help.

The purpose of the load resistor when the motor is not connected is to test what the supply can deliver with a little more load than the motor requires. If you didn't do that, even a little sun could cause the supply to go to 12 V. However, as soon as the motor is connected, the supply would collapse. The system would constantly oscillate, which would be bad for the motor and the relay.

A 24 Ω resistor dissipates 6 W with 12 V applied. That means if the supply is producing 12 V with the resistor connected, it is capable of sourcing at least 6 W. The minimum amount of power available at 12 V together with a large cap on the supply and/or solar panel will need to be tweaked to get past the large startup current the motor will draw when first switched on. Note that this needs to be a power resistor, probably 10 W for the 24 Ω used in this example.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @the: There is a power supply after the panel that provides the 12 V. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Nov 22 '16 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ No. That PV panel will produce more than the 28 V max on the input of the DCDC when unloaded/during startuo. \$\endgroup\$ – winny Nov 22 '16 at 22:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @winny: Right. The panel will produce more than the 12 V the motor needs. However, the OP says there is a DC-DC converter after the panel. That produces the steady 12 V, as long as the current demand doesn't exceed what it can supply. Note the OP's qualification of "given that the step-up/down is of course set to output 12V". The raw panel voltage doesn't matter much, only the total power it can put out. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Nov 22 '16 at 22:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, the 28 V maximum input voltage to the DC/DC converter will be violated by the 24 V panels 30+ V. \$\endgroup\$ – winny Nov 22 '16 at 22:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @winny: Oh, OK, I didn't look at the DC-DC converter spec, just took the OP's word for it that it would produce regulated 12 V out. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Nov 23 '16 at 11:44

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