|Wire & Connectors|
outdoor rated wire is rated to be buried directly in the ground, or to be exposed to direct sunlight. Any wire exposed to possible physical damage should be in conduit (generally up to 6 ft out of the ground).
Wire Size: wire is sized by American Wire Gauge AWG. Smaller numbers indicate larger wire up to 0000 or 4/0 ( pronounced "Four ought"). Larger wire is listed in MCM, which is normally only used in commercial work. Other countries use metric sizing which measures wire by its cross sectional area of copper in sq. millimeters.
Comparing Common Wire Sizes:
** Choosing the right wire size depends on numerous factors: Continuous Amps, surge amps, volt drop, cost, insulation rating, temperature, # wires in conduit, wire type, breaker or fuse type, etc. See our wire selector spreadsheet for guidance, use the latest NEC book to get closer, and consult with your electrician and inspector for the final say on what wire size is correct.
Copper Vs. Aluminum (Cu, Al)
In solar work, most wiring is done in copper. Aluminum cannot carry as much current for its size, has greater resistance, and most importantly is prone to corrosion. Aluminum is however cheaper, so for very long runs ( over 150 ft) of very heavy gage wire (2/0 or larger) Aluminum can be a good choice. It comes in twisted 3 wire or 4 wire bundles known as URD. It must be connected using Al rated connectors, completely isolated from copper wires or connectors, and all exposed Al should be coated with special aluminum oxide inhibitor (NoAlox).
Flexibility: wire flexibility is important when wiring solar modules, especially if using a moving tracker. Stiff wire could prevent the tracker from moving properly, and over time strain harden and break. Also, generators or any location subject to movement or vibration should use flexible wire. Standard Stranded THHN wire is still so stiff it can strain the posts on batteries and inverters. Flexible wire is also easier to pull and work with, but it can be harder to make good connections. Solid core wire works much better for wiring household outlets for instance. Wire flexibility is rated in Strand Count - the number of separate strands of copper that make a single cable.
It is also important to use the right connector with the stranded wire. Stranded wire doesn't work well with household outlets for instance, and very finely stranded cable (welding cable) can over compress and tear in some mechanical lugs (like in normal AC load centers).Solid core wire on the other hand, is very difficult to properly crimp.
Connectors. Remember, a circuit is only as safe as its weakest link. All connections need to be rated for the same high DC amperage and extreme conditions that the wire is rated for. A single weak connection can disable an entire system with dozens of connections.
Many ways of connecting one wire to another exist. Some are permanent like soldering, or crimping, some are reversible like mechanical connectors or wire nuts. Good design allows connectors to be accessed later (inside junction box, with removable cover) for inspection, testing, and retightening.
are cheap, and work well for #6 and smaller coarse stranded wire.
Mechanical Connectors: consist
of a metal barrel or bar with holes in it. A screw tightens and pinches the wire
in the barrel. A screw driver or hexhead driver are used to tighten the connection
to its rated torque.
happens when you have a bad connection: If not enough metal is touching metal,
or the connection is loose, or corroded, you have a Bad connection. Bad connections
will not allow electricity to flow freely. Because they cause resistance, some
voltage is lost in the connector as heat. This voltage drop can cause poor system
performance, and other equipment to malfunction.
The Difference between a short and a bad connection: A short actually reroutes electricity, like a power wire touching grounded metal, or a wrench connecting the positive and negative battery terminals together. Conversely, a bad connection restricts or stops electricity. A bad connection can then come loose and touch something it shouldn't and thus become a short too!
specs for different lugs can be tough, since they change depending on the wire
size too. Try not to guess at torque; manufacturers use different alloys of metals
for greater conductivity that are much softer than a regular bolt, and take far
less torque. Don't wait till you have broken a main lug off from overtightening,
Check that Torque!
Example Torque Spec.s:
You'll need a torque wrench
that reads in Inch- Lb.s.
Crimp Lugs: are copper tubing or alloy that is pinched permanantly onto the wire by a press or hammer jig. Use the right size crimp with right wire, and the right crimping tool. If you don't have the right tool get one, or use a different type of connector.
Steps to a Good Connection:
to be rated to the same conditions as the rest of the circuit.