Solar Panel Open Discussion/Debate/Review

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Viking1204

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After some solar panel discussion in the New Fridge, got it under $275 thread I thought a thread like this was needed. I'm currently shopping for a 100W solar panel to charge my Flexopower Solar Generator and I've already changed my mind a few times. It seems not all solar panels are created equal and the costs can very greatly. Solar technology is changing daily and so is efficiency! So far I've settled on getting a Rich Solar 100w monocrystalline solar panel, originally started with the polycrystalline but after more online reading decided on the monocrystalline. I'm choosing the Rich Solar over the Renogy panel that is very similar based on the $27 price difference. Again, I may change my mind when the Amazon Prime Day sale starts on July 15th!

If you have any experience with solar panels, please share your experience here. My goal is to have one place we can all come to and find out what brands are working for those that are already using solar. Again, I searched for this but would have had to read about 20 threads, hopefully we can consolidate knowledge on solar panels here! Below are the Renogy and Rich Solar panels I'm considering.

 
solar is a personal preference, used Renogy on both trailer builds, I like their technical support. They are their when I need to call for a question, their product serves me & the wife well with both trailers I've built. Charges my 125ah VMax AGM battery no problem, so I can run my Engel 40 qt. portable fridge, supplies power to my Proplex furnace, Endless Breeze Fan, Zodi hot shower system, charges a cell phone, & GPS unit. Their portable suit case Monocrystalline Solar Panels are top quality for full sun & partial sun, the hard case for the panel is top quality, Renogy 30amp Adventurer Charge Controller gives me capability of charging my AGM battery like I mention as well Lithium batteries & flooded batteries, not counting the options to add on more solar panels up to 400watts. It monitor's the temperature of the battery, & what power is coming in & going out. My 1st trailer build I used their Wanderer 30amp Charge Controller with VMax 125ah AGM & it charges deep cycle sealed, Flooded, & Lithium battery too.
Zamp Solar make a great product as well as Overland Solar. It's all personal preference. I use what I know & have had great success with.
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OtherOrb

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I bought two no-brand flexible 100 Watt panels from Amazon. They're no longer available, but there are similar ones for a similar price. I paid $99 for each one. Their measured specs are: 115 Watts, 5.5 Amps, 21 volts open circuit.

I used one panel to keep my 100 Ah AGM battery charged for about a week while running a Costway 54 quart fridge. Never even came close to running out of charge. But, then, the 100Ah battery would have been fine for at least four days.
 

Echelon

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I'm leaning towards Renogy or Zamp. I've heard bad things of the off brand generic panels not lasting long so I want a quality one for our setup. I think the Renogy panels have enough happy users for me to get one over the Goal Zero or Zamp panels.
 
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OtherOrb

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I'm leaning towards Renogy or Zamp. I've heard bad things of the off brand generic panels not lasting long so I want a quality one for our setup. I think the Renogy panels have enough happy users for me to get one over the Goal Zero or Zamp panels.
I grew up off-grid and have been running a mixture of name-brand and off-brand panels for a little over 30 years. We've always purchased the cheapest panel we could get. I've seen no difference in reliability, quality, or usability. I've seen just about every panel dealer/manufacturer's warranty last longer than the company, whether it was a 1-year warranty or a 25-year warranty. There have been some exceptions, most notably NEC, SunPower, ArcoSolar--rebranded later as SolarWorld, LG, and Sharp. (Zamp has been around for about 9 years, so they're getting there. There are others too, these are the ones I can name off the top of my head.)

Other than through accidental damage (bad mounting, wind-blown damage, fire), in my 30+ years of using PVs, I have never had to replace a panel due to manufacturer defects or failure. The original ones we put in in the early 1980s are still producing around 80% of what they did when we bought them, just as promised.

There are about a dozen wafer factories (about a half-dozen manufacturers) in the world and a few dozen panel manufacturers. Everyone else purchases from those few factories and brands them however they like.

Renogy sells imported panels. They don't design or manufacture their own panels, so you're going to get whatever they've contracted to purchase for some length of time (a year, three years, whatever). That doesn't mean they're bad panels, they're just as good as every other importer. They probably provide better tech support than some other importers, so that might be worthwhile.

Zamp is a true panel manufacturer (not wafer; they purchase their wafers) and are based in the US. They are a low-volume manufacturer and their prices reflect that. If I could afford $1000 for a 200W system, I might consider Zamp. But I'm not certain about that. I've had such good luck with the cheap panels that I don't know if I could convince myself to pay a price premium, even though I feel it's important to support livable wages.
 

Viking1204

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I grew up off-grid and have been running a mixture of name-brand and off-brand panels for a little over 30 years. We've always purchased the cheapest panel we could get. I've seen no difference in reliability, quality, or usability. I've seen just about every panel dealer/manufacturer's warranty last longer than the company, whether it was a 1-year warranty or a 25-year warranty. There have been some exceptions, most notably NEC, SunPower, ArcoSolar--rebranded later as SolarWorld, LG, and Sharp. (Zamp has been around for about 9 years, so they're getting there. There are others too, these are the ones I can name off the top of my head.)

Other than through accidental damage (bad mounting, wind-blown damage, fire), in my 30+ years of using PVs, I have never had to replace a panel due to manufacturer defects or failure. The original ones we put in in the early 1980s are still producing around 80% of what they did when we bought them, just as promised.

There are about a dozen wafer factories (about a half-dozen manufacturers) in the world and a few dozen panel manufacturers. Everyone else purchases from those few factories and brands them however they like.

Renogy sells imported panels. They don't design or manufacture their own panels, so you're going to get whatever they've contracted to purchase for some length of time (a year, three years, whatever). That doesn't mean they're bad panels, they're just as good as every other importer. They probably provide better tech support than some other importers, so that might be worthwhile.

Zamp is a true panel manufacturer (not wafer; they purchase their wafers) and are based in the US. They are a low-volume manufacturer and their prices reflect that. If I could afford $1000 for a 200W system, I might consider Zamp. But I'm not certain about that. I've had such good luck with the cheap panels that I don't know if I could convince myself to pay a price premium, even though I feel it's important to support livable wages.
Thank you, this is the kind of feed back I've been looking for! In my research of trying to find a good 100w panel that didn't cost a fortune to charge my Flexopower Solar Generator I've looked at a lot of different manufacturers around the $100 price point. I narrowed it down to Renogy and Rich Solar based on reviews and a few YouTube videos I watched. Now, unless Amazon Prime day allows me to get a more expensive panel on sale I'll most likely get the $27 cheaper Rich Solar panel. Both have a 25-year transferable power output warranty; 5-year material and workmanship warranty.
 

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My Renogy Suitcase 100 watt setup has taken a lickin and keeps on tickin.... (If you're old enough to remember that ad)

It even fell of my truck roof at highway speeds. The old put something on the roof and I will remember to take it down before I leave trick....

I have an off brand running some stuff at my house that has seemed to work fine. I also have an expensive rollout 60 watt panel that has worked fine. So no expert experience in the reliability of any particular brand. I do believe there are some brands with crazy markup. Especially as soon as the word Overland is attached to them but that's just me.

The Renogy suitcase is bulky but it is nice to be able to keep my trailer in the shade and move the panels as required. I also let folks borrow it while in the campsite to keep them charged up. At some point I will probably put a fixed panel on my trailer as well but won't give up using the Renogy.
 

OtherOrb

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PV is solid state, so there's very little that can go wrong.

Bad solders?
Delamination?
Cracked substrate?
Bad wires?
Fraud?

Other than bad wires or outright fraud, none of the others is catastrophic until and unless it's really catastrophic and visible. And bad wiring can be fixed. Outright fraud will be discovered rather quickly.

The afore-mentioned fire? Several of the panels that were caught in the fire are still producing. There are melted solders between several of the cells, but we still get something like 35 Watts from them.

PV isn't bulletproof, but even more so than a Timex, it does keep on ticking.

Of course, if you get a suitcase module or a Sun tracker or something similar, then you can run into issues. But even then, you're talking basic mechanicals, not complex electronics.

Save your money for the charge controller. That's where you can run into issues.
 
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RoarinRow

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Based on the YouTube I posted in your tread yesterday I did go with Renogy over Richsolar due to better construction and technical support. I did have to reach out to Renogy's technical support and they replied within 24 hours. I do like Renogy's solar/gadget line up, which to me, makes upgrading, replacing easier and will not have to think too much about compatibility in the future.
 

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I am still a solar newb but I picked up a 100w Renogy panel for $86 (Amazon lightning deal), while I would have preferred a suitcase type I felt the $86 was a good price to get my feet wet.
I don't have it permanently mounted and though it's not very thick it's size does make it cumbersome to load sometimes, though it's somewhat similar in size/shape to a table or cot I often pack them together.
Maybe if/when I build a trailer I will either mount it to the trailer or intentionally make a spot to store it.

I use it mainly to keep my Jeep battery charged while I operate my 100w HF ham radio for long periods of time. Operated an entire weekend almost non-stop without starting the Jeep and it started up fine Monday morning for work so it is meeting my current expectations. I do eventually plan to add a fridge and lighting so time will tell.

@ArkansasDon I have always admired your setup, super clean.
 
Based on the YouTube I posted in your tread yesterday I did go with Renogy over Richsolar due to better construction and technical support. I did have to reach out to Renogy's technical support and they replied within 24 hours. I do like Renogy's solar/gadget line up, which to me, makes upgrading, replacing easier and will not have to think too much about compatibility in the future.
I agree with your statement 100%, Renogy been in business for a long time & will stay in business because of the reputation they built. The cheaper solar components don't have the tech service, & usually goes out of business or change sellers frequently. China floods the solar market by the fact they produce sub-standard solar products cheaper in mass quantity for way less by the labor they have with cheap component's which concerns me about longevity & efficiency. It's a fact that China steals American & other countries technology & cloning \ copy cat products with cheaper less quality component's. Renogy uses German cells in their panels I was talking with one of the customer service tech's 4 yrs ago when I was building my 1st offroad trailer @ the phase of electrical in my build. It's difficult to avoid buying items from China (as for me) since our federal government sold out American manufacturing to China, Mexico, & Asian countries back in the 1990's to pad their pockets by foreign donors.

You can shop around for quality items & find them on sale, I bought both of my Engels (my 1st MT27 & my current MR040) on sale both were 200.00 off the list price w\ free shipping. Engel has a sale every year on their fridges, just as AT tires I bought for both builds, 1st set (3) General Grabbers AT II 119.99 ea. with free shipping, then the 2nd trailer build were General Grabber ATX's (3) for 139.00 ea. with free shipping on-line & received them in 4 days. Both trailer builds I've got 1\3rd of my parts or components' this way. You have to spend time on the net researching, not just price but quality.
 
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Viking1204

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This is Will's review that has me thinking again, probably just going to grab the Rich Solar Poly for $81, it outperformed both Mono solar panels in this review. Yes, it's slightly bigger but I'll take that for more power output and a lower price.

 

Lanlubber

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Many good posts here so I will put in my two cents based on my research for the past 3 months. I don't thing the solar panel you buy makes a whole lot of difference as long as it fits in your rigs space. Most all of them have some means of supporting the unit or units and tying them together if need be. The name brand is debatable, like do you prefer a Ford or a Chevy. The solar charger size and brand makes a difference and I wouldn't go with less than 10 Amps, 30a would take care of almost any appliance or tool. The kit should have quality wiring and connectors. Now, to me the most important part of the set up is electric storage. One battery, 1000 marine cranking amps, and 100 amp hr or more will be sufficient but I prefer two batteries (Walmart $70 each) for my storage space. ( am not depending on vehicle battery at all) As long as I don't use up my amp hr through usage they will supply me with 6-7 days of power even if the solar system isn't producing anything, not likely though. A 100w solar panel, no matter what brand will provide plenty of wattage and volts to keep two batteries pretty much full charged during the whole 6-7 days or beyond if you want to stay a month in the boonies you wont run out of power because of the storage capacity of your batteries. How long anything will give you power will be determined by how many appliances you tax the system with and how many appliances are running at the same time. By the way, the Harbor freight 100w solar kit does everything I just mentioned. If you want to run 110v appliances you will need a sine wave inverter, I bought a 1000w with 2000w surge but only because my micro wave is a 1000w unit and needs the 2000w surge at start up, otherwise I would have bought a 750w, 1500w surge unit for half the price. That's my biggest watt burning appliance I have. I have only invested $425 in my set up which fits my small budget nicely and I bought my "stuff" piece by piece as I could afford it and in line with all the discount sales that were out there. There are a few other inexpensive devices I still need in order to plug in my appliances but since I have the inverter I do have a way to hook up my appliances without these other devises.
I Hope this is helpful because there were a lot of OB people giving me advise all along the way and my recommendations here is derived from the smarter people than me who shared their knowledge with me here in the Forums. Lanlubber
 

Viking1204

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So as I continue to debate with myself what kind of solar panel I need while I wait for the Amazon Prime Day sale I realized something. With my setup I won't be mounting the solar panel to my truck. If that's the case I think I might want a portable suitcase style solar panel that comes with its own storage bag. I searched on Amazon and found a few but every single one of them come with a small charge controller which I don't need to charge my Flexopower since it comes with a built in charge controller. Does anyone make 100w - 120w portable suitcase style solar panel that is just the panel, no charge controller included? I don't want to pay extra for something I don't need. Seems they charge about $100 extra for a $20 10A charge controller.
 

RoarinRow

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So as I continue to debate with myself what kind of solar panel I need while I wait for the Amazon Prime Day sale I realized something. With my setup I won't be mounting the solar panel to my truck. If that's the case I think I might want a portable suitcase style solar panel that comes with its own storage bag. I searched on Amazon and found a few but every single one of them come with a small charge controller which I don't need to charge my Flexopower since it comes with a built in charge controller. Does anyone make 100w - 120w portable suitcase style solar panel that is just the panel, no charge controller included? I don't want to pay extra for something I don't need. Seems they charge about $100 extra for a $20 10A charge controller.
I picked up the solar suitcase style from Amazon. It does have a 10A charge controller, but you don't have to use it. Not sure if it will be discounted for Amazon Prime Day.