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Cable A vs Cable B

Photovoltaic PV Wire: Copper vs. Aluminum

Photovoltaic PV Wire: Copper vs. Aluminum

Photovoltaic, or PV wire, is the wire designed for photovoltaic systems and solar panels. It is one of the electrical products that are available both with copper and aluminum conductors. While both are of excellent quality when purchased from a reputable seller, there are many disputes in the electrical community on which material is best for a solar panel wire. Copper and aluminum have unique features that make them stronger or weaker in different circumstances. Curious about whether you should choose copper or aluminum PV wire? We invite you to consider our take on this. As you may already know, aluminum weighs less than copper, which means it is easier to install it. In particular, it is about 70 percent lighter than its more expensive counterpart.

What is more, the cost of aluminum per unit is significantly cheaper than copper, and copper prices continue to grow. In fact, the copper conductor's price per unit may be twice as high as the price of the aluminum. The reason for such a staggering difference? Copper is generally a superior material to aluminum when it comes to cable conductors. It is more durable, has an outstanding electric conductivity, and is not prone to expansion like aluminum is. Because of this, it offers superior flexibility and resistance to heat. The quality of the copper wire is crucial because unauthorized sellers may pose other alloys like copper. To make sure your copper wire is excellent, buy cables with copper conductors per ASTM B8, such as this Copper Building Solar Photovoltaic PV Wire 600V UL 4703. 

The Importance of Sizing Up and What It Means For The Price

There are considerations about size when choosing aluminum for a PV cable. You should remember that aluminum has to be higher in size to have the same ampacity per circuit as copper does. The bigger size also means larger raceways and larger box terminals, which is something to be aware of when installing a PV wire. When sizing up is considered, the benefits of aluminum conductor's reduced price begin to shrink. Simply said, you wouldn't feel the benefits of the aluminum price if you use twice as much aluminum.  You should calculate your project's cost and think ahead if you are willing to save money on your PV wires. Though each electrical project is unique, you will save more money with aluminum on very large projects. For small projects, the price difference would not be as significant because of the need to size up the aluminum and the cost of labor.

Points to consider when choosing Aluminum

One significant issue with aluminum is that it is prone to oxidation under the influence of moisture. Again, the resistance as the result of oxidation is a risk factor for the fire to occur. To prevent oxidation, it is best to sand aluminum wire during the installation and use anti-corrosive components. To maintain conductivity, you should use AL/CU-rated connectors on your aluminum wire.

A notable disadvantage of aluminum is that it can expand over time under the influence of heat. This results in heating due to terminals losing elasticity, which can lead to fires. Luckily, this is an issue that manufacturers have addressed with newer aluminum alloys. So, if you choose to opt for an aluminum solar cable, make sure that it is a top-quality product, like this Aluminum 600 V photovoltaic cable sold by Nassau National Cable. 

The high quality of the cable is not the only critical factor in aluminum success. You should never install aluminum PV wire alone unless your level of expertise is that of a professional electrician. A professional is required because the aluminum PV wire should be installed without nicking. Since aluminum is a sensitive material, it is prone to breaking where the nicking occurred. If the cable is installed professionally, you are unlikely to be faced with breakage.

Is There Any Difference In Applications?

Both aluminum and copper PV cables are used in grounded and ungrounded photovoltaic power systems, particularly in their interconnection wiring. They are designed for power supply solar panel systems in industrial buildings and agricultural objects. The cables are used both indoors and outdoors and are suitable for burial in special construction systems in agricultural sites. While both copper and aluminum cables are suited to these goals, the specifics of your project determine which material is best to use. It is best to avoid aluminum in damp and corrosive environments, such as agricultural objects near the seashore. In other cases, it is perfectly acceptable to use aluminum as long as it is installed by a professional, and you have proper connectors and anti-corrosive components to go with it. The bottom line is that you should work through your unique material, maintenance, and installation costs when choosing what works best for your photovoltaic project.

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Photovoltaic PV Wire: Copper vs. Aluminum