Many of our clients don’t really have a choice. We cover a mostly rural area where the gates are nowhere near a power source. The one and only option for having the convenience of a gate that automatically opens and closes is solar power.
However, some of you do have a choice and want to know the pros and cons for either option. Or, maybe you have been told one or the other is better and want to know why they said that. So, let’s discuss.
The Basics of AC and DC Power
If you don’t know, I’m writing this from the perspective of a wife of an entrepreneur who started a gate business. He and our long-time technician, Frankie Love, like to figure out how things work. I just like the light to come on when I flip the switch. While I understood that solar power came from the sun, I didn’t really understand the rest until I wrote this.
My husband, Jeffery Presbaugh, explained that AC power is the power supplied through the lines from electrical company. It’s the electricity you use in your house to power the coffee maker, television, etc.
All electricity is made up of 2 polarities. It is like the magnets we played with as kids in school. They have a positive and negative side just like electricity.
AC stands for “alternating current” because the polarity is alternated back and forth. Current may also be called amperage. Both describe the flow of electricity.
DC is power that doesn’t alternate. It means “direct current” and will be either DC positive or DC negative. Batteries and solar panels are only capable of direct, DC power.
Most operators on the common market are AC operators that go through transformers to provide DC power to accessories and the motor. This allows for safer operation in damp environments and enables the use of batteries for back up in case the power company has a power failure.
Why Batteries If Using AC Power?
I assume this question comes from a thought that batteries are rather expensive and typically need to be changed out every couple of years.
While there are some gate operator models that are directly AC powered, more and more AC-powered models now come equipped with battery backup that would kick in case of a power outage. Those are what we recommend and install.
Batteries Plus has been our vendor of choice in Weatherford, Texas. They have been great to work with and will give our clients a little break if you mention our name.
Which Costs More?
I recently worked-up two estimates for the same gate operator package. The only difference was that one was solar and the other was AC-powered. The solar package was about $220 more. This is not a universal difference. I’m just giving you an example.
When you purchase a solar system you pay for the power up front. The power for an AC-system is on your electric bill every month. The solar panel size needed to run a gate operator relatively inexpensive.
More Solar Panels = More Power, Right?
We get this question when a battery keeps running down, so it is assumed that adding solar panels will increase the power and keep the battery up and running longer. It may just mean you need to replace the battery, but it depends on the amount of usage the gate is getting.
A battery can only absorb so much input of power. Most solar applications provide or have a built-in solar maintainer that limits the amount of power the battery will accept. When the battery gets full, the maintainer shuts off the power supply from the panel. A higher volume of use could mean you need additional panels, but only to a degree.
Most residential gate operators are considered “light-use” and will use 12-volt, DC power with a 10 watt solar panel to receive power. As of right now, we don’t recommend any solar applications for commercial use. However, solar is rapidly improving and depending on your situation, there could be a high-volume application that might work for you.
Can Your Current System Be Converted?
It is possible, but it depends. Ask whoever installed it. Or, have a technician out to assess it. I can’t answer that here.
THE QUESTION: Are AC-Powered Operators Better than Solar?
The honest answer is that it depends. I know, so anti-climactic!
Solar excels in locations without the availability of AC power or if it is cost prohibitive to provide access to it via a power pole. However, solar is limited in usage or cycles per day due to exposure limits of sunshine.
I like lists, so let’s make a list of the limitations and the benefits of both. Let me know if I missed anything in the comments!