Clicky

A Guide to the Best Solar Panel Kits & Solar Charge Controllers

Find the perfect solar panel kit for your renewable energy project with our reviews and guide. Find out all about sizing your installation, and which solar charge controller is best for you too.

best-small-solar-panel-reviewsWith the planet suffering from the side effects of years of non-renewable energy consumption, it’s never been a better time to go solar. Solar panels are now more affordable and more efficient than ever.

In this post we’ve compiled a list of the best solar panel kits for small homes. We’ve covered every budget and power requirement. Our recommended kits include a portable 40 Watt system for traveling, and a huge 3600 Watt kit that can power a small home. We’ve also included our favorite grid-tied and off-grid systems.

Also in this post, we recommend the 3 best MPPT solar charge controllers. If you want to get the most out of your solar set-up then a solid charge controller is absolutely essential.

This is a big guide so use the special links below to quickly navigate to the part that interests you. This is also the order of the guide. If you’re new to all of this then I’d recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through the first few parts.

1. Introduction to Solar Power
2. What Size of Solar Array Do I Need?
3. Solar Panel Kit Buyer’s Guide
4. Solar Panel Kit Reviews Comparison Table
5. Reviews: Small Kits (40 Watts to 200 Watts)
6. Reviews: Larger Kits (400 Watts to 3600 Watts)
7. Reviews: Solar Charge Controllers


Why Use Solar Power?

Solar has only recently become a viable energy source. Recent technological advancements have significantly reduced the cost of such a system, and they are now more energy efficient than ever. However, they are still massively underused. Here are 3 huge reasons why we should all make use of solar energy.

1. It’s so much better for the environment.solar-array-vineyard

Our most used power sources produce emissions that damage the environment. Solar power however, is completely clean and renewable. Now, there’s obviously energy used in making the actual solar panels, but according to this report it only takes between 6 to 18 months for this energy to be recouped, and the system to be completely renewable.

In 2015, 68% of the electrical energy produced by the United States was made using fossil fuels, biomass, and municipal and industrial wastes. These types of fuel produce many hazardous emissions, such as:

  • Carbon monoxide – contributes to greenhouse effect.
  • Carbon dioxide – contributes to the greenhouse effect.
  • Nitrogen oxide – contributes to ground level ozone (damages the lungs).
  • Sulfur dioxide – causes acid rain, and worsens respiratory illness and heart disease.
  • Particulate matter – causes smog in cities. Also contributes to asthma, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.
  • Heavy metals (lead, mercury etc.) – these can be very bad for human health.

The more we use renewable, clean energy sources like solar power, the less of this harmful pollution gets pumped into the atmosphere.

2. It has fixed energy costs.average-electricity-price

Ever been angered by a hike in electricity price? You’re not alone.

Utility providers seem to have complete impunity when it comes to raising prices without reason, and the price seems to rise year after year.

The great thing about solar power is that the price is set at your initial investment. If the price of oil fluctuates, that has absolutely no bearing on your electricity costs.

In fact, with a solar installation you can wave goodbye to dreaded electricity bills. If you have a capable enough installation you can provide your household energy independently. Now, that would be a good feeling.

Graph Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

3. A solar energy system can earn you money.

This can happen in 2 different ways.

a) If your solar energy system is grid-tied, then you have the option of selling any surplus energy that you produce, back to the utility company.

In some states this gets even better. The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) demands that electricity companies create increasing portions of their electricity from renewable sources. Some invest in projects of their own, but many prefer to buy surplus energy from independent sources like me and you. This has created a Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) market. If your system is creating more energy than you need then you can sell this at a premium price.

b) Solar panels can also increase the value of your property. A study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab concluded that homes in California add an average of $4 for every Watt of power, and homes elsewhere adding $3.

That means a 5 kW solar kit can add $20,000 of value in California, and $15,000 in other states.


How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar power systems look pretty simple and basic on first look. Just a shiny, black panel pointing to the sky. However, there’s a lot of clever engineering going on behind the scenes, and that shiny, black panel isn’t the only component needed to harness the power of the sun. The science is pretty complicated, so we’ve tried to give a rough idea of what goes on behind the scenes, without getting too technical. If you’re keen for some heavy science then check out the video below.

The common solar panels that are seen on people’s roofs are photovoltaic. This word is derived from the Greek word phōs, which means “light” and the unit of electricity, the volt. Photovoltaic (PV) panels transform the sun’s light into electrical energy for us to use.

PV panels use something called the photoelectric effect to produce electricity. This is when certain materials produce a small amount of electric current when exposed to strong light.

Solar panels use small devices called solar cells to convert the sunlight into electricity. Individually, solar cells don’t produce much electricity, but when many cells are combined to make a solar panel, we can make significant amounts of energy. These panels can then be combined to make arrays, and the effect is increased again.

Inside the solar cell there are 2 extremely thin layers of silicon. The top layer has been treated so that its atoms aren’t stable. They actually have too many electrons, and are desperate to get rid of them. On the bottom layer, the opposite is true. This layer of silicon has empty spaces and needs to fill them with electrons.solar-panel-man

This difference in state is the perfect situation for electricity to be produced. The two sheets of silicon are itching to transfer electrons, but they need a catalyst or conduit for the transfer to take place.

They need sunlight.

As the sunlight hits the top silicon layer, it gives the electrons the push that they need. This starts a flow of electrons between the silicon layers. A flow of electrons is in fact an electrical current.

However, the electricity produced by sunlight in a solar set-up isn’t perfect. It is direct current (DC), while the electricity we need in our homes is alternating current (AC). This means it needs to be altered before we can use it. This process is done by an inverter. Having an efficient inverter is a big part in any successful solar set-up


How to Size Your Solar Installation

So, you’ve made the decision to use solar power. The big step before choosing a kit is estimating the amount of energy that you need to produce. How much of your power do you want to supply using solar? 100%? 50%? 10%?

Well, the first thing to do is measure the power output of your home. That means identifying all the appliances that draw current and measuring their power consumption. This sounds really difficult, but it’s really not.

Kill-a-watt-power-meterStep 1 – Get a power monitor

To measure the energy consumption of household appliances we need to use an electricity usage monitor. These are relatively cheap, and very easy to use. We recommend the Kill-A-Watt Meter.

This meter is awesome because it can tell us how much power is being consumed at any given moment, and also how much power is consumed over time. To get these answers, all you need to do is plug your appliance in and press a button.

Even if you don’t invest in a solar installation, this inexpensive meter can show you where you can make big savings on your electricity bills.

Step 2 – Organize the appliances into groups and measure

Next, we need to split up the household appliances into 3 groups. These groups are determined according to how the appliance draws power. We need to measure the energy usage of each kind of appliance in a different way.

We’ll run through what we need to calculate in each group and exactly how to do it. There’s a table at the end which shows all of the information that you should be recording.

Group 1 – Continuous Use

These are always plugged-in and draw continuous power. This group includes things like freezers and fridges.

To measure this, we need to let the meter run for 24 hours. We need an answer in Watt Hours. To do this we press the KWH button, and then multiply by 1000.

For example, pressing the ‘KWH’ button might give an answer of 0.5 KWH. We multiply 0.5 by 1000 to give an answer of 500 Watt Hours.

With these continuous use devices we also need to measure how much instantaneous power they use. This information is important for measuring the size of inverter that we need.

To do this we just need to press the ‘Watt’ button.

To recap, for these devices we need to record two things. The energy usage over 24 hours (in Watt Hours) and the instantaneous energy usage (in Watts).

Group 2 – User Controlled

These are the devices that we control by turning on and off. Their energy consumption is constant over the time that we use them.

This group includes things like radios, computers, fans, lights, coffee machines, and ovens.

To measure this we use the ‘Watt’ button on the electricity meter. Just press it when the device is being used.

The second step here is to multiply this answer by the number of hours each day that you use the appliance.

For example, a fan draws 60 Watts and is used for 5 hours each day. The total energy consumption for the day is 60 x 5 = 300 Watt Hours.

Group 3 – Intermittent Use/ Changeable Power Usage

This group of appliances are things that aren’t constantly used, but the amount of power that they draw can change over their use. An example of this would be a washing machine that goes through various cycles.

This group includes devices like computers, washing machines, fancy microwaves, and rechargeable devices.

To measure this we need to record the energy usage over one complete cycle of use.

This means we need to record the energy usage of recharging a phone from start to finish, or the washing machine from start to finish. Remember, we need the answer in Watt Hours. So press ‘KWH’ at the end and then multiply by 1000.

We also need the peak energy usage in order to size the inverter that is needed. To do this, press the ‘Watt’ button during the process and record the highest reading that you see.

GROUP 1
DeviceInstant Power (Watts)Total Power (Watt Hours)
---
---
Total--
GROUP 2
DeviceInstant Power (Watts)Hours of UseTotal Power (Watt Hours)
----
----
Total---
GROUP 3
DevicePeak (Watts)Total Power (Watt Hours)
---
---
Total--

Step 3 – Add Up the Power Consumption

Add up the total power consumption in Watt Hours to give your total energy requirements. Now, the number is likely to be quite large, so unless you have a huge budget, some sacrifices might have to be made. Some appliances are more important than others. Furthermore, other methods might be more energy efficient and practical.

Step 4 – Size the Inverter

Next is to size the inverter. The inverter is a critical component as it changes the DC current produced by the solar array into usable AC current for the home.

To estimate the size of your inverter you need to use the Instant Power and Peak column in your table. By adding these up you can estimate the load that the inverter will have to handle. You need to consider the maximum amount of power that will ever be used at the same time. If you plan on running a freezer, oven, radio, and lights at the same time then you have to account for this.

For example, a 2000 Watt inverter can handle the energy demands of up to 2000 Watts at one time.

Note

The meter is awesome, but there are some things that it just can’t measure. Not to worry though, as with some basic math we can work these out too.

The first thing to do is check the device’s rating. There will be a tag on it somewhere that should give this information. If you see a value in Watts then multiply this by the number of hours each day that you use it for.

If you simply see a value for Volts and Amps, then some simple math is needed. First, multiply voltage x current. Then, multiply this answer by 0.85. Finally, multiply this answer by the number of hours each day you use it for.

Example

An appliance is used for 5 hours each day and is rated at 120 V and 0.6 A.

Power = Voltage x Current

Power = 120 x 0.6 = 72 Watts

72 x 0.85 = 61.2 Watts of instant power

61.2 x 5 hours = 306 Watt Hours

Things like sump pumps are rated in horsepower. One horsepower is equal to 745 Watts. If you have a 1/4 HP sump pump then you would divide 745 by 4 to get the wattage.

Step 5 – Find Out How Many Sun Hours Your Location Gets

We know how much energy we need to produce, but now we need to know how we can reach this total.

To do this we need to find out the average number of sun hours that your areas receives each day.

You can find this information out using the maps on the National Energy Renewable Laboratory website. You’ll find an image like the one below, but in higher resolution.

average-sun-hours-usa

The final step is to multiply the number of sun hours you receive by the size of the solar array that you are considering. If you receive an average of 6 sun hours each day where you live, and you are considering a 1000 Watt solar array, then you can produce 6000 Watt Hours of energy on average each day. If it’s a map like the one above, you have the information you need over area. You would need to measure the area (in square meters) of your solar array to estimate the energy yield.



Buyer’s Guide: Before You Buy A Solar Panel Kit

Buying a solar kit can be an expensive investment, so make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. In this section we run through the key features you should be looking at, and the steps you should be taking before you buy.

  • Know exactly what you’re looking for.

By this we mean make sure you know how much energy you need to harvest, and how big a solar array you need to to provide this kind of energy. If you’re not sure how to do this then check out the previous section ‘How to Size Your Solar Installation’.

There’s a second point here and that is to make the decision about going off-grid or staying grid-tied.

  • Off-grid or grid-tied?

Grid-tied means that your installation is metered. You are credited for putting any excess energy back into the grid. These systems need approved by your local energy utility before they can be used. To be grid-tied you would need a permanent residence.

Grid-tied systems don’t use batteries as energy is just taken from the grid when needed. This means that they are more efficient. The deep cycle lead-acid batteries that are commonly used in off-grid installations, only run at about 80% efficiency.

The inverters used in grid-tied systems are usually more efficient too. They are cheaper and some are even fan-less.

Off-grid means complete energy independence, with no ties to the national grid. Off grid solar kits are perfect for the traveler, with no fixed address. The real bonus here is that you are able to travel where you please and harvest energy from anywhere. These systems aren’t quite as efficient as grid-tied systems, but that’s just the price you pay for freedom. A solar powered tiny house would usually fit into this category.

  • Think about installation.solar-panels-roof

Have a firm idea on where you will install the panels. Most kits don’t come with racks to mount them on, and installing them on the roof isn’t always possible. Roofs aren’t an ideal place for installation, especially on tiny houses. There usually isn’t much space on the roof, and having them up there makes cleaning and maintenance very awkward.

Remember, you want the most sunlight possible in order to yield the most energy. If you plan to move around a lot, then having some panels that you can carry to the optimum spot might be more practical. If you have an RV, tiny house, or boat and you’re able to move your home, then installing panels on the roof doesn’t make much sense. It means in hot summer months your home can’t be in the shade.

You can easily make your own racks on which to hold your panels with some good wood.

  • Check what’s included in the kit.

Though all of the systems we have reviews are labeled as kits, they don’t all come with the same hardware. One point of note would be the batteries. Most kits don’t come with batteries included, and this is something you would have to budget for. Another point would be the racks to mount the solar panels on.

  • How efficient are the solar panels?

The two main choices with the panels are: monocrystalline or polycrystalline?

Monocrystalline panels are a bit more expensive, but they are more efficient. They work better in hot weather (solar panels drop in performance when very hot), and can reach efficiencies of up to 22%. Polycrystalline panels are a bit cheaper, but aren’t as efficient

  • How efficient is the charge controller?

The two main choices here are: PWM or MPPT?

PWM charge controllers are much cheaper, but aren’t as efficient as the MPPT competition. If you have a small installation then the difference might not be that noticeable, but in big installations MPPT is a must. Check out our section on MPPT solar charge controller reviews near the end of the post to find out more.

  • How good is the warranty?

Generally speaking, the warranties of these solar panel kits are pretty much the same. It goes something like this:

25 year power output warranty:

5 years/ 95% efficiency rate

10 years/ 90% efficiency rate

25 years/ 80% efficiency rate

5 year material & workmanship warranty

If you’re making a big investment, then make sure you’re covered by a decent warranty. Modern solar panels are a lot more sturdy than 10 years ago, and should last decades.



 Solar Panel Reviews

These are the top rated solar panel kits available right now. We’ve included everything from portable 40 Watt kits for hiking, up to 3600 Watt kits that can power small homes.

All the relevant information is in the comparison table. Each column can be sorted according to what matters most to you. There are more detailed reviews of each kit following the table.

 ModelPower Rating (Watts)Kit or PanelBattery IncludedOff-Grid/ Grid-TiedRatingPriceWarrantyFeatures


X-DRAGON Solar Charger 40W

40KitYesPortable4.4$18 months- Fully portable
- USB connections
- Charges laptops, phones etc.


Renogy Solar Starter Kit

50KitNoOff Grid4.6$25 years- Power Output
5 years - Parts & Labor
- Full kit (minus batteries)
- Perfect for Rvs & boats
- High efficiency

WindyNation Off-Grid

100KitYesOff Grid4.4$$$25 years- Power Output
5 years - Parts & Labor
- Full kit + battery
- Perfect for Rvs & boats


Grape Solar GS-300

300KitNoOff Grid5.0$$$$25 years- Power Output
5 years - Parts & Labor
- Easy to set-up
- High efficiency
- Multiple safety features
- Battery not included
- USB ports on Inverter

Renogy 400 Watts Solar Premium Kit
400KitYesOff Grid4.5$$$$25 years- Power Output
5 years - Parts & Labor
- High efficiency panels
- Multiple safety features


RENOGY 1kW

1000PanelN/ABoth4.0$$$$$25 years- Power Output
5 years - Parts & Labor
- 4 x 250 Watt panels
- High efficiency
- Performs well in low light
- Able to withstand severe weather



Goal Zero Yeti 1250

1250KitYesOff Grid4.5$$$$$1 year, 30-day money back guarantee
- Designed with transport in mind
- Easy to set-up
- Safe to use indoors
- Silent


ECO-WORTHY 1300W

1300KitNoOff Grid5.0$$$$25 years- Power Output
5 years - Parts & Labor
- Full kit (minus batteries)
- Easy to set-up
- Easily expanded


PluggedSolar 1.5 kW

1500KitNoGrid-Tied5.0$$$$$25 years- Power Output
5 years - Parts & Labor
- UL approved
- Grid tied system
- Need batteries


RENOGY 3600W

3600KitYesOff Grid3.5$$$$$25 years- Power Output
5 years - Parts & Labor
- Huge power output
- Upgradeable
- Highly efficient

Small Solar Panel Kit Reviews (40 Watts – 400 Watts)

These are the best solar panels for RVs, and also the best portable solar panels.

We’ll start with the smallest and work our way up. To see how they compare to each other, don’t forget to check out the comparison table above.

X-Dragon Solar Charger: Best Portable Solar Panels

x-dragon-solar-charger-40-wattsType: Portable
Power: 40 Watts
Price: $
Rating: 4.4

The X-Dragon is a portable solar panel kit with quite a reputation. It’s the perfect solution for the explorer that needs to keep in touch with the world. It’s small enough to fit in a backpack, but efficient enough to power multiple electrical devices from the sun.

It’s the X-Dragon’s efficiency that make it a standout portable solar panel. It is built with Sunpower solar cells that work at an amazing 22-25% efficiency. This figure is way beyond what most solar cells can achieve. Typical values for efficiency are usually around the 15% mark. The X-Dragon can use this power in clever ways too. It is able to automatically adjust the voltage and current to give maximum power delivery.

It has 2 power output connections. There’s a USB port (5 Volts/2 Amps) and an 18 Volt DC output. The USB port is perfect for charging smaller gadgets like phones, while the DC output is for bigger devices like laptops. The kit also comes with 10 laptop connectors to cover all sizes and variations.

It’s a really convenient size too. It folds away to just 10.43″ x 6.30″ x 2.76 ” and weighs just 3 pounds (If you need something even smaller, then check out the 20 Watt model that only weighs 1.65 pounds). It’s got eyeholes to attach it to a backpack, and is perfectly at home indoors and out.

You can be assured of its build quality too. The X-Dragon meets RoHS guidelines and is CE certified. In fact, it has surge protection and short circuit safety technology to prevent accidents too.

Bottom Line: In our opinion, this is the best portable solar panel around. It’s slim, powerful, and extremely efficient.


Renogy Solar Starter Kit

renogy-solar-starter-kit-50WType: Off Grid
Power: 50 Watts
Price: $
Rating: 4.6

This Renogy solar kit has everything you need to start harnessing the power of the sun (minus the deep charge battery). It’s perfect for RVs, boats or any grid independent set-up.

The kit includes: a 50 Watt monocrystalline solar panel, a 10 Amp PWM charge controller, a 20 feet 12AWG MC4 adaptor kit, an 8 feet 12AWG tray cable, and a set of Z-brackets.

The solar pane has an efficiency rating of 18.4% which makes it one of the better quality panels of this size. It also contains bypass diodes that minimize the drop in power caused by shade and low light weather. This means it is still able to collect a decent amount of power on days when the sun is not shining so much.

solar-panel-set-up

The solar modules have been EL tested to ensure that there is no hot spot heating. Hot spot heating occurs when one “bad” solar cell limits the overall output of the whole unit. It can be very damaging to the physical structure of the system.

The panel also has a corrosion resistant aluminum frame that is perfect for extended outdoor use. It has pre-drilled holes on the back that allow it to be mounted quickly and securely. The system is actually guaranteed for 25 years (power output) and 5 years for the labor and parts.

Bottom Line: This kit is the perfect entry level system. The power output is not huge, but it’s one of the best solar panels for sailboats, RVs, and smaller operations. It’s also very highly regarded by customers on sites like Amazon.


WindyNation Off Grid (with battery)

windynation-100w-full-kit-with-batteryType: Off Grid
Power: 100 Watts
Price: $$$
Rating: 4.4

This smaller sized kit from WindyNation comes with everything you need to start using solar power. Most kits don’t come with a deep cycle battery, but this one does.

As it is, the kit can provide an average of 350 Watt Hours (Wh) of energy, or 33 Amp hours of power charge every day. These figures are for optimal weather conditions though, so they will vary. If you’re in need of more juice then check out the bigger 400 Watt model.

A nice feature with this kit is that it is easily upgraded. Should you have higher power demands, then more solar panels can be added. The charge controller that is included can take up to 4x 100 Watt panels in a 12 Volt system, or 8x 100 Watt panels in a 24 Volt system.

Let’s take a look at exactly what is included in the kit before we continue:

  • 1x 100 Watt solar panel
  • 1x 30 Amp (adjustable) P30L LCD display solar charge controller (with battery temperature sensor)
  • 1x AGM 12 Volt deep cycle battery (100 Amp hours)
  • 40 feet of AWG solar cable (UL listed)
  • MC4 connectors
  • Mounting hardware

The 100 Watt solar panel measures 40″ x 26.4″ x 1.2 “. It works at high degree of efficiency, and performs well under high temperature and low light weather conditions.

The 30 Amp PWM (pulse width modulation) controller has multiple safety features. There is overload, reverse polarity, and short circuit protection. It has an LCD display that provides important details about the voltage, state of charge, temperature, and the current solar panel condition (to name a few). Its settings are easily adjusted using cycle and mode buttons. As we mentioned previously, there is plenty of headroom with this controller if you need to upgrade the system.

Bottom Line: This kit has everything you need to get going. We love the fact that it can be easily upgraded with additional panels. It’s more expensive than other 100 Watt systems, but then this one comes with a battery included.


Grape Solar GS-300 Kit

Grape-solar-GS-300-KitType: Off Grid
Power: 300 Watts
Price: $$$$
Rating: 5.0

The Grape Solar GS-300 is an off-grid kit rated at 300 Watts of power. It achieves this using 3x 100 Watt polycrystalline panels. It is the ideal set-up for charging a 12 Volt battery, and could easily be used on RV’s and boats.

The kit is very easy to install and only requires a 12 Volt battery before you can start storing power. The kit includes:

  • 3x Grape Solar Star 100 Watt polycrystalline solar panels
  • 35 Amp Xantrex charge controller
  • 2,000 Watt pure-sine Xantrex inverter
  • The necessary cables

The panels are finished with an anodized aluminum frame and a sealed junction box. This makes them perfectly suited to changeable weather conditions. They also have a two diode bypass in the circuitry that minimizes any power drop caused when the sunlight is blocked.

As it is, the system is capable of providing around 900 Watt-hours or about 75 Amp-hours of charge every day. However, the kit can be expanded with the addition of solar panels.

The Xantrex charge controller is perfect for a wide range of kit uses. It can be operated in 12 Volt or 24 Volt modes. It has a multi-color LED display to show the current charge status. When using the 35 Amp input it allows the addition of two more 100 Watt panels. This would take the total up to 500 Watts.

The Xantrex inverter gives True-Sine Wave AC output of 2,000 Watts. This is essential if you wish to power household appliances with the kit. It is able to withstand the high levels of electrical surge that occur when powerful appliances like power tools and microwaves start up. The PROwatt inverter also includes a USB output, so it can easily charge devices like cell phones.

Bottom Line: This is an attractive kit that is easily set-up. The inclusion of an inverter means it’s ready to supply AC power to your home.


Renogy 400 Watts Solar Premium Kit

Renogy-400-Watts-12-Volts-Monocrystalline-Solar-Premium-KitType: Off Grid
Power: 400 Watts
Price: $$$$
Rating: 4.5

The Renogy Premium Kit comes with some of the best quality small solar panels available. These 100 Watt Eclipse panels are low weight and highly efficient.

The monocrystalline panels offer efficiency of 18.4%, which is very high. They are also equipped with bypass diodes that minimize any drop in power caused by times when the sunlight is blocked. This gives them very good performance in low light environments. The panels are also built to last. They use extra thick tempered glass that is highly transparent and anti-reflective. This material makes them durable and resistant to impacts. They are also framed in aluminum that is corrosion resistant and built to last for decades.

Besides using Renogy’s best solar panels, this kit also uses a high quality 40 Amp MPPT charge controller. The maximum power point tracking (MPPT) technology maximizes the amount of power that can be produced in any situation. This makes this system as efficient as possible in each weather condition. The controller also uses multiphase synchronous rectification to increase the charging efficiency. This charge controller gives peak conversion efficiency of 98% and high tracking efficiency of 99%.

This kit also has safety a top priority. The Renogy Commander charge controller has numerous safety features. These include short circuit protection, reversed polarity, overload, and overcharging protection.

In total, the kit includes:

  • 4x 100 Watt solar panels
  • 40 Amp MPPT charge controller
  • MT-50 tracer meter
  • 4 sets Z-brackets (for mounting)
  • 20 feet 10AWG MC4 adaptor kit
  • 8 feet 8AWG tray cable
  • Fusing components for battery and controller protection

The MT-50 tracer meter monitors the system performance. It monitors 8 electrical parameters to give an accurate assessment of the system’s performance. It can also identify and broken or faulty components. The MT-50 is designed to work perfectly with the charge controller included in this kit.

Bottom Line: This kit comes with some impressive panels and an awesome charge controller. It can easily be installed off-grid in a ground mount system, which makes it perfect for those wanting to leave the power grid behind. This is a great solar panel kit for RVs and sailboats.




Larger Solar Panel Kits (1250 Watts – 3600 Watts)

These kits are better for tiny houses and cabins. We’ve included both the best grid tied solar panel kits and off grid solar kits. We’ll start with the smaller kits and work our way up.

Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator Kit

goal-zero-yeti-1250-solar-generator-kitType: Off Grid
Power: 1250 Watts
Price: $$$$$
Rating: 4.5

Now, there are a couple of things to clarify here before we continue. The kit is rated as 1250 Watts, as that is the amount of charge that the generator is capable of holding. However, it only comes with four 30 Watt solar panels, which totals 120 Watts (the generator can handle double this). The big difference here is that the kit uses a special generator and not an ordinary deep cycle battery. The generator can be charged in 3 ways:

  • Using solar power
  • Using a car battery
  • From the wall

These options make it a great back-up power source, should there ever be a power outage. The Goal Zero Yeti generator can then power your devices in 3 different ways:

  • Using 3 USB outlets
  • A 12 Volt output
  • Using an AC inverter to power 3 AC outputs (just like using the wall socket)

This off grid solar kit is built with portability and usability keenly in mind. It includes carry cases, and even portable tripods to mount the solar panels.

This kit is complete and ready to go. Unlike some “kits” this one has everything needed to start using the sun’s power. It may be a bit pricier than most, but I guess that is what you pay for convenience. It wouldn’t be enough to power a home, but it is a perfect back-up system for those times of crisis.

Bottom Line: Top design and usability. It is one the pricier side, but it brings complete convenience and portability. The generator is high quality and runs silently, and without any emissions.


Eco-Worthy 1300W

eco-worthy-1300wType: Off Grid
Power: 1300 Watts
Price: $$$$
Rating: 5.0

This is the first of the larger off grid solar kits we have included. It is rated at 1300 Watts and comes with an MPPT solar charge controller.

This off grid solar kit is ideal for an off-grid power supply. In ideal conditions it is capable of producing 6KWh each day. Off course you will need a 24 Volt battery to store the charge (not included).

The kit comes with eight monocrystalline solar panels, rated at 160 Watts each. Monocrystalline cells offer the highest efficiency performance for their size. They have aluminum frames that are corrosion resistant and built to withstand the effects of bad weather. They are built to withstand wind pressure of 2400 Pascals, which works out at speeds of over 200 km/h. The panels also use by-pass diodes that ensure top performance in low light levels. The diodes minimize any drop in power.

Included in the kit:

  • 8x solar panels (160 Watts/18 Volts) with MC4 connectors
  • 8x Z-bracket mounting kits
  • MPPT 40 Amp solar charge controller
  • 16 feet solar cable
  • 6x pairs Y MC4 connectors

The solar charge controller uses maximum power point tracking. This technology is much more efficient than regular PWM technology. It has multiple built-in safety features, such as: over charge protection, open circuit protection, overload protection, and short circuit protection. It has an LCD display to give the current system status and charge levels.

Please note that this kit does not include an inverter or battery. If you wish to power household appliances then an inverter is needed to change from DC current to AC current. It requires a 24 Volt battery to store the charge.

Bottom Line: This off grid solar kit has efficient and durable panels and a decent charge controller. It’s a good place to start for the larger of the kits. This size of kit would work great for a cabin or tiny house that doesn’t need huge amounts of power.


PluggedSolar 1.5kW

pluggedsolar-1.5kwType: Grid-tied
Power: 1500 Watts
Price: $$$$$
Rating: 5.0

This is the only grid-tied system in our list. It includes six 240 Watt solar panels that can be easily attached to a roof or mounts using PluggedSolar’s patent pending technology. The kit is designed to be easily set-up, without the need to hire a professional. You can see how easy it is in this video.

Being a grid-tied system you must acquire your electricity companies approval before you try to feed electricity back into the grid. The kit comes with all of the necessary documentation for this, and the kit is UL certified (as required by law).

When you consume less energy than is made by the solar panels, the electricity goes back to the grid. This rotates the electricity meter backwards, giving you credit. When you consume more power than is generated by the panels, the meter rotates forward, as it would normally.

The kit uses a UL approved grid tied inverter. This converts the DC electricity that is made by the solar panels, into usable AC electricity. The inverter synchronizes the electricity voltage, phase, and frequency with that used by the utility company. It is then ready to be transferred to the grid.
The kit is capable of producing 3000kWh of energy every year. The panels have a 25 year warranty ,and the system 5 years. This kit may entitle you to a 30% tax credit.
 
Bottom Line: This is a great kit for getting started. It’s really easy to set-up and just requires approval for your local utility before you start getting electricity credit.
 

Renogy 3600W Cabin Solar Kit

RENOGY-3600W-cabin-solar-kitType: Off Grid
Power: 3600 Watts
Price: $$$$$
Rating: 3.5

This off grid solar kit from Renogy is rated at a huge 3600 Watts. It’s perfect for powering an off-grid project like a tiny house or cabin.

This kit consists of twelve 310 Watt polycrystalline panels, but it can be upgraded should you wish.

The kit includes:

  • 12x 310 Watt solar panels
  • Midnite Solar Classic 200 MPPT Charge Controller
  • MidNite Solar Combiner Box
  • MidNite Solar Quad Enclosure Box
  • MidNite Solar Mount Breaker
  • MidNite Solar Circuit Breaker (12 Amp)
  • 40 feet 10AWG MC4 Adaptor kit (pair)
  • 16 feet 4AWG Tray Cable
  • 8 feet 4A Copper Wire
  • 8 feet 8A Stranded Copper Wire (pair)
  • 4AWG Tray Cable Double Ring

The kit doesn’t include the battery packs, which you would have to purchase separately.

The MidNite Classic MPPT charge controller is one of the safest models around. It uses Arc Fault Detection to ensure the system is immediately shut down in the event of any weak points forming in your installation. This type of system monitoring is one of the safest and fastest at identifying problems. It ensures your solar installation is safeguarded against electrical fires. There is also a battery temperature sensor included.

It is also able to handle a great variety of DC input sources. It is designed to handle 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, and 72 Volt battery banks (it is rated for 79 Amps). The MidNite Classic charge controller includes solar, wind, and hydro MPPT modes. This means it is designed to regulate the DC input from all of these kinds of devices. It also includes a voice guided help system that walks you through the installation process. Using MPPT techology, it is much effieicnt than the regular PWM based systems.

The MidNite Solar MNPV6 combiner box is perfect for outdoor use and has room to further upgrade the system.

Bottom Line: The system is the perfect size for small off-grids installations that need to power a few household appliances. It uses a quality charge controller to safeguard the system. It has great solar panels for tiny houses.




MPPT Solar Charge Controller Reviews

Today, we take a look at the three best solar charge controllers available. We’ve only included MPPT charge controller reviews as these systems are by far the most efficient systems. If you want to get the most out of your solar installation then MPPT is the way to go. An MPPT controller gives better performance in times of low light, and also reduces transmission loss. These systems have efficiencies of around 94 – 98% and can save you considerable amounts of money, especially when used in larger solar installations.

The Top 3 MPPT Solar Charge Controller Reviews

Renogy Rover 40 Amp

renogy-rover-40-amp-mpptRating: 4.4
Price: $$$
Features: Auto detects 12/24 Volt systems, error code detection (for self diagnosis), compatible with multiple batteries (lithium, sealed, gel, flooded), 4-stage charging: Equalization, Boost, Bulk, and Float, LCD display, programmable charging parameters, Die-cast aluminum casing, battery temperature monitor, remote monitoring

The Renogy Rover 40 Amp MPPT controller provides efficiency of up to 99%. It is packed full of great features like the error code detection, which allows you to diagnose the system set-up and prevent any damage caused by mistakes in the installation or by any system faults.

It has multiple safety features to protect your operation. These include overcharge, over-discharge, short circuit, and overload protection.

The LCD display is clear and concise. The unit can be easily programmed and parameters adjusted.

The MPPT technology extracts the maximum amount of power from the panels at all times. The MPPT tracking algorithm doesn’t require any programming and is fully automatic.

The Renogy Rover MPPT has 4 battery charging algorithms, which it is able to switch between. Each has it’s own special use.

Bulk charge – This is used for regular day to day battery charging. It uses the full 100% of available solar power, and delivers maximum current to the batteries.

Constant charge – when the battery reaches a voltage threshold, the system will stop using MPPT. This reduces the current and avoids overheating the battery. This also includes Boost charge which maintains the charge for 2 hours (default). This can be adjusted by the user.

Float charge – the controller reduces the battery voltage. This happens when the battery is fully charged. It maintains a light charge of the battery. The system will revert back to bulk charging when required.

Equalization – this is the intentional overcharging of the battery. This happens every 28 days in a controlled manner. Some batteries benefit from this as it balances the chemicals. This has the effect of increasing their efficiency, and extending their lifespan.

Bottom Line: This charge controller is well designed and easy to use. It is built to get the most out of a solar installation, and has many automatic safety features to manage the operation.


Outback FLEXmax FM80               The Best MPPT Solar Charge Controller

outback-flexmax-fm80Rating: 4.2
Price: $$$$$
Features: Flexmax MPPT software algorithm, battery voltages from 12V-60V, +98% peak efficiency, less than 1 Watt power consumption, active cooling, intelligent thermal management cooling,  backlit 80 character display, remote monitoring and programming, suitable for virtually any battery type.

FLEXmax charge controllers are some of the best available. The FM80 supports a wide range of battery voltages, and also has the ability to step-down high voltage solar arrays to recharge low voltage batteries.

The MPPT technology increases the power yield of a solar array by up to 30% over traditional methods. Active cooling and thermal management cooling allow the FM80 to operate at the full current rating in ambient temperatures of as much as 104°F.

The system runs extremely efficiently, and draws less than 1 Watt of power. The self consumption of power in controllers is a particular issue in smaller solar installations, but the FLEXmax range are designed with this in mind.

The built-in LCD display is backlit and shows up to 80 characters on screen over 4 lines. The display shows the current system status, as well as information regarding the performance over the last 128 days. It can also be remotely monitored and programmed using the MATE system display. Using any internet connected device, the user is able to remotely control the FM80.

Bottom Line: The Outback FLEXMax FM80 is a higher end charge controller with a price tag to match. However, features such as internet connectivity and low power consumption make it a worthwhile investment. There aren’t many solar controllers that run this smoothly and efficiently. This is the best solar charge controller for those with the budget for it.


SolarEpic MPPT 40A

SolarEpic-MPPT-40A-Solar-Charge-ControllerRating: 4.6
Price: $$$
Features: Supports 4 charging options, multiple safety features, PC monitoring software, negative ground, max 150V input, intelligent self diagnosis.

This solar charge controller from SolarEpic is in the mid-price range. It is perfect for an off-grid solar set-up and will control the charging and discharging of the batteries. Using MPPT technology it maximizes the energy yield of the solar system.

This model is optimized to give long battery life and and efficient performance. It has various safety features to ensure everything is always running smoothly. The low voltage disconnect stops the battery from over discharging., while overcharging, over current, and over temperature protection is also included.

It uses intelligent self diagnostics to monitor the system performance and highlight and prevent mistakes or faults. It also uses the RJ45 communications interface to communicate with external accessories that you may wish to add.

It supports 4 different charging options: flooded, gel, sealed, and user defined. It accepts a maximum input of 150 Volts.

The lack of an LCD display limits the information that is available, but the LED light system works well enough. This also has the benefit of consuming very little power.

Bottom Line: It’s not the flashiest of controllers, but it’s durable and efficient. This works well with the smaller solar array set-ups.


What’s a Solar Charge Controller?

A charge controller controls the rate at which a battery is charged. It is essential in a solar installation, as it protects the system against overcharging and power surges.

The problem with solar panels is that they don’t deliver the voltage that they are quoted as doing. A 12 Volt solar panel will produce a few volts more than this. The reason for this is so that they still output some power when the level of light is low. If they produce 12V as quoted, then when the sun disappears there will be no voltage output. So, the extra voltage is like a reserve supply that ensures a more constant stream of energy.

Furthermore, a 12 Volt battery doesn’t charge at exactly 12 Volts. It requires a bit more than this. The input voltage that it requires to charge depends on its current capacity among other things.

The charge controller regulates the voltage/current going from the solar panel array to the battery. It also regulates the discharging of the battery. In doing so, it protects the batteries and the system.


How to Size a Solar Charge Controller

It’s essential that you get a solar charge controller that fits your installation.

There’s a simple way to work out what size your installation needs.

  1. Calculate the total size in Watts of your solar array.
  2. Divide this number by the voltage of your battery bank.
  3. Add 25% for some extra headroom. The reason for this is that on colder days the open-circuit voltage of the solar cells will increase.

Example

I have 2 solar panels rated at 200 Watts each. They supply a 12 Volt battery bank.

2 x 100 = 200 Watts

200/12 = 17 Amps

17 + 25% = 21.25 Amps

This is the minimum controller output current

If you need to work it out the other way, and wish to know how big a solar array will fit a controller then do this:

Controller size in amps x voltage of the battery bank = maximum solar array wattage

Example

I want to know if a 60 Amp controller will fit my 1200 Watt solar array. I use 24 Volt batteries.

60 x 24 = 1440 Watts

Yes, a 60 Amp controller is a good size.


That brings us to the end of a pretty lengthy post. If you have any questions then get in contact and we’ll do our best to help.

If you are particularly interested in renewable energy then check out our guide to small wind turbines too.

Check back soon as there’s a lot more to come from Tiny House, Huge Ideas over the coming months!

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

      Leave a reply