LAST UPDATED: October 20, 2019
Best Solar Panels: Light Up and Power Your Life
Save money and conserve energy with these high-quality solar panels
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON October 20, 2019
If you want to live off the grid, travel in an RV, or save money, using solar panels to power your equipment is a great alternative to purchasing power from an electric company. By using the sun’s rays, each panel stores a charge and converts it into electricity to power a variety of devices. If you need to heat your camper or cabin and live the life of luxury no matter where you are, check out the best solar panels in our buying guide below.
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Benefits of Solar Panels
- Save money. One of the main reasons why people install solar panels is because they save them a lot of money. Over time, efficient solar panels will slash the cost of your electricity bill.
- Use them year-round. While a solar panel system works best in the sunny summer months, the best panels also produce a lot of electricity in the winter (even on cloudy days).
- No maintenance is necessary. Solar panels do not require regular servicing. While the inverter may need replacement every 10 to 15 years, that's about it. Otherwise, you’re good to go for an extended period of time.
- Long-lasting. Many manufacturers in the solar industry back their products with a 25-year warranty because they're so durable. It's not uncommon to get as much as 40 years of service life from some solar panel companies.
Types of Solar Panels
This type of solar panel is made of silicon wafers, which are stacked in a rectangular shape. They are cut from a single piece of silicon and contain black cells. Monocrystalline panels look black in color because of how the light reacts with the panel's pure silicon. The back sheets of these panels may be black, white, or silver, while the frame is usually silver or white.
These panels contain a melting pot of silicon crystals. They are rectangular and are covered in glass. While they are cheaper than monocrystalline panels, they are not as efficient. The combination of silicon crystals and sunlight produces a bluish shade. That's because light reacts differently with polycrystalline panels versus pure silicon crystals, which are used in monocrystalline panels.
Thin-film panels are composed of several materials, including cadmium telluride (CdTe) as well as amorphous silicon (a-Si) and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS). The a-Si panels resemble monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, but they are not solid silicon wafers. Instead, they contain non-crystallized silicon that's inserted on top of glass or plastic. These panels are the lightest type but are not as efficient as monocrystalline.
This renewable energy company is based in Ontario, Calif., and was started by several students from Louisiana State University. The company produces solar products for RVs, boating, homes, and businesses. One of its popular products is the Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit.
This solar panel supplier is based in Montclair, Calif. It produces solar panels as well as solar charge controllers, inverters, batteries, and complete DIY solar kits. One popular product is the RICH SOLAR 100 Watt Polycrystalline 100W 12V Solar Panel.
Founded by a former engineer for Apple and Z. Sun, a design pioneer, Jackery uses modern battery technology to enhance the solar experience. By specializing in powering outdoor environments, Jackery promotes a wide range of innovative products. The company prides itself on quality and an aim to move life in a forward direction. One of their leading products is the Jackery SolarSaga Portable Panel For Explorers.
Solar Panels Pricing
- Under $100: You can purchase a single cost-effective solar panel in this price range, but you will need to purchase other components to get the unit to function on your RV, boat, etc.
- Over $100: Solar panel off-grid, RV, or boat kits are going to cost you a little more than a single panel will. You may pay a few hundred dollars for a good starter kit, and they usually include everything you need to get a system up and running.
Not all solar panels or solar systems generate the same amount of power. They each have a different wattage or power rating. The wattage indicates how much power a solar panel generates. Most solar panels are typically 250 to 350 watts, depending on what they’re used for. The ones in this review have less power, but are used for RVs and boats. Higher-wattage panels are usually more efficient, but they cost more and tend to be larger in size.
It's vital to have a solar panel that has a high efficiency so that it produces optimum power. The more efficient a solar panel is, the better it will be at converting sunlight into electricity. Look for solar panels with the highest efficiency ratings. Higher-efficiency panels have the ability to transform more sunlight into more power.
This is how a solar panel operates in conditions that are imperfect. Similar to other types of electronic devices, solar panels perform best when they are cool, i.e., less than 77-degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature coefficient informs you of the product's performance during really hot days. Electricity production will drop at each degree over 77-degrees Fahrenheit. For better performance, look for products with a lower temperature coefficient.
- Size and Space: After you take into account quality and performance, you need to consider size. Determine how much roof space you have on your RV, boat, or off-grid dwelling. Will it accommodate the size of the product you are considering? In addition, how large are your energy needs? Will the selected panel provide for them?
- Product Warranty: As we mentioned earlier, many brands offer long-lasting warranties. Make sure you know what you're getting before making a purchase. Also, choose a brand that is well-known and that will be around for several years to come should you need to contact them for repairs.
- Tax Benefits and Incentives: Many people buy solar panels with the intent of taking advantage of local tax benefits. However, not every state offers the same incentives. In fact, these incentives can vary considerably, depending on where you live. For example, Connecticut offers both a property tax exemption and a sales tax exemption if you use solar panels.
Best Solar Panels Reviews & Recommendations 2020
This is a good monocrystalline kit for first-time users. It includes 100 watts of power and a 40A mppt charge controller that transfers up to 30 percent more efficiently than a PWM charge controller. If you want to build up the system, you can add up to 400W (12 volt) or 800W (24 volt) for additional power.
The kit can be used on RVs, trailers, boats, sheds, cabins, and other off-grid dwellings. After an average day and night's use, the batteries are fully charged by mid-afternoon. Even on cloudy days, the panel is able to pull plenty of power. Since you can expand the kit, you don't have to buy all the panels at once, and the controller is good for four panels. Renogy customer service is also very helpful.
One of the downsides is that the charge controller is a little flimsy, forcing some people to upgrade it. It also has weak connection points for the battery and panel wires and may fail after a short period of use. Also, the instructions are not the greatest, and there have been complaints that they are incomplete.
This 100-watt, 12-volt polycrystalline panel is sturdy, strong, and very affordable. It is designed for RVs, boats, and off-the-grid dwellings. It comes with a pair of pre-attached, three-foot MC4 cables, and the diodes are pre-installed in the junction box. The product includes a 25-year transferable power output warranty.
One of the best things about this panel is that it is easy to mount. It is also designed to be expanded to fit multiple panels. It also produces small amounts of power, even on overcast and cloudy days. It is well built and high quality with a solid double-wall aluminum frame and tempered glass. Overall, it is a great panel and comparable in cost per watt to much larger panels.
The biggest problem with this panel is that since it is polycrystalline, it works best when it is pointing directly towards the sun. If there's a shadow on the panel, the power can decrease by a large amount. Also, it’s on the heavier side.
This foldable solar panel setup comes complete with a single 100-watt panel. The solar charger system includes multiple USB connection ports. One is capable of three amps, while the other rings in at 2.4 amps. This lets you charge your handheld devices quickly and in an eco-friendly manner. The structure is propped up by supporting legs at the back. This allows you to angle it towards the sun, thereby improving the charging efficiency.
It’s popular thanks to the virtually silent operation. Since it is so compact, you can easily bring this solar panel with you during your travels. The quiet operation means that you won’t disturb your natural surroundings, even when powering your technology.
Though it doesn’t include the station, the compact nature of this panel makes it desirable. It’s capable of creating a large amount of power when connected to the separate Jackery power station. Its high efficiency enables you to accrue large amounts of energy from relatively limited sunlight. By structuring the polycrystalline structure in an innovative manner, you can get over 20 percent more power in direct sunlight. Easy to set up and use, this solar panel offers noteworthy efficiency.
This solar charger from Rockpals is designed to fit as many portable solar generators as possible. With four different connectors that fit nine generator brands, including Suaoki, Paxcess, and Rockpals’s own generators, this is as close to a universal fit as you’re likely to find. It’s even able to charge USB devices like a smartphone.
Built-in technology detects the generator type and optimizes the connection, easily hitting the sweet spot between slow charging and over charging. Rockpals promises this panel will convert more than 20 percent of sunlight into energy, which puts it on par with the most efficient solar technology currently on the market. All that and it’s largely waterproof, too.
Our favorite thing about the Rockpals foldable charger is how easy it is to carry around. When folded up, it’s less than two feet across and just over one foot high. It’s light and compact, so you can take it pretty much anywhere.
The big downside of this charger is that it’s feature-poor. There’s no way to prop it up and no indicator of how much power it’s generating, which can make slower charges frustrating. Also, while most of the system is waterproof, the junction box is not.
The Goal Zero Boulder 100 is a monocrystalline solar panel, which means the entire panel is cut from a single silicon crystal. Monocrystalline panels are more efficient than polycrystalline panels, but since getting a whole solar panel from one silicon source is time-consuming, they’re also more expensive. The Goal Zero Boulder 100, though, is worth the extra money.
This 100-watt panel is extremely versatile. It’s not hard to install permanently on your roof as an emergency or off-grid power source. However, it’s also light and comes with an aluminum frame that makes it a good solution for camping power. It’s even more convenient if you already have one of Goal Zero’s Yeti power stations.
That convenience is an unfortunate double-edged sword. Goal Zero’s connectors make it easy to chain their solar panels together and plug into their own power stations, but adapting their solar power to other brands’ appliances requires an uncertain and expensive adapter. It’s also heavy enough that carrying it by hand is a slog—we recommend getting a vehicle involved.
Contrasting with the Goal Zero Boulder 100, the HQST Polycrystalline Solar Panel is made from multiple silicon sources. It’s cheaper, but less powerful: If you want to save money, be prepared to get your electricity at a slower rate.
HQST’s polycrystalline panels are available at four power levels (100W, 150W, 200W, and 400W), each for an escalating price. We tested out the 100W and found it more than efficient enough for off-grid power. For the most part, it generated about 95 usable watts in direct sunlight, one of the best ratios of efficiency to price that we’ve ever seen.
But there’s more to recommend HQST than just power generation. The glass is tough, reinforced with iron and treated to let in the maximum amount of light. The junction box is protected against wind, rain, and snow. It’s even been tested to withstand elements such as water jets.
We only have two complaints. First, the wires are uncomfortably short, and might require extensions depending on where you choose to mount the panel. Second, the panels aren’t packaged well and might arrive with blemishes.
Like the Rockpals charging kit above, TP-Solar’s foldable panels are made to be hooked up to power stations. They also share Rockpals’ focus on a universal fit. The various connectors that ship with this kit are compatible with all the leading power stations, including Goal Zero, Jackery, Webetop, Paxcess, and Suaoki.
This is a DC solar panel, so if you’re in the U.S., you might need an extra adapter; however, it’s still more than possible to make it work. With these panels, you get portable, widely useful power, able to charge everything from a smartphone to a marine battery. Weighing just over five pounds, they can be carried anywhere.
Monocrystalline silicon construction helps them run at peak efficiency. Even when these panels couldn’t get direct sunlight, we regularly saw them drawing over 60 watts. On a partly cloudy day, or at sunset, that’s fantastic.
Granted, there are some aspects of the construction we’re not crazy about. The wires are extremely thin, which undoubtedly leads to some voltage loss. Also, the flap for folding up the panels is hard to secure, and often blows around when the panels are oriented any way other than directly vertical.
If you’ve been skimming past the 100-watt panels wondering when we’d list something with real power, here’s where you stop. The Eco-Worthy 195-Watt solar panel is an efficient, monocrystalline unit designed to be installed on recreational and marine vehicles. It’s capable of providing up to one kilowatt-hour per day, and can charge a 50Ah battery from half to full power in less than two hours.
Take that statement with a grain of salt, as it only happens in perfect conditions. However, even out of direct sunlight, Eco-Worthy’s solar panel outperforms. Its other big advantage is how easy it is to install. If you’re new to off-the-grid or marine living, you can plug this in according to simple instructions, and get down to your other tasks.
One other big plus with Eco-Worthy is the customer service. If anything doesn’t make sense or needs to be replaced, their experts are helpful and responsive.
That’s good, because these panels do demonstrate a couple of potentially harmful design flaws. It’s unlikely, but possible, that poor soldering will make a unit unusable after several months. You’ll know this happened if you see burn marks. Also, you have to drill your own holes to install wires.
Here is another set of solar panels from HQST. Remember how we mentioned that their polycrystalline panels were good-quality, but didn’t reach their maximum output rating even in direct sunlight? Good news: If you want peak efficiency at an affordable price, HQST also sells more reliable monocrystalline panels.
This kit is a “solar suitcase,” designed to be a complete solar power solution that’s easy to carry around. With the help of a controller made by Renogy, it near-perfectly achieves the goal of providing for all your off-grid charging needs. You can unpack this suitcase and charge your devices as easily as you would at home.
As you might imagine, trying to be a total solution makes this suitcase heavy: about 27 pounds, to be exact. Its non-electrical structure is also much weaker than the parts providing power, with a flimsy aluminum stand and inconveniently short wires. You can fix these issues with some DIY, but we understand that’s not for everyone.
Rounding out the list, we’ve got this 12V solar charger from MOOLSUN, which is working to achieve a very different goal from the others. At only 10 watts of maximum output, this solar kit isn’t going to serve as an emergency power source, or do much to help you go off the grid. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s not great for phones or smaller devices.
Instead, it’s entirely focused on one thing: recharging vehicle batteries. The good news is that it’s much more flexible in that department. MOOLSUN’s solar charger is equipped with a cigarette-lighter plug, an O-ring terminal, and alligator clips, making it compatible with batteries in your car, motorcycle, boat, or RV.
Other than the incredibly low price, the main advantage here is user-friendliness. It’s especially good for maintaining a charge in a vehicle you won’t be starting for a while—as long as the vehicle’s in sunlight, it’s as straightforward as plugging in your GPS.
That simplicity is also its main drawback. There’s no indicator, so until you try to start your engine, there’s no way to know if it’s actually working. Also, like all commercial solar panels, it almost never reaches its full output.
- No matter where you use solar panels, make sure they are properly secured. This is especially true if you attach them to the roofs of RVs.
- If you want to get the most out of your solar panels, consider manually moving them to follow and track the sun throughout the day.
- Place stationary solar panels in an area with the most amount of sunlight. Make sure no shadows can reach them, or you will risk losing a significant amount of power.
Q: How much solar power do I need to run devices?
A: This depends on the type of device you are using. You also need to keep in mind how many different devices and appliances are in your trailer or home. In addition, calculate how much space around or on the roof you have for mounting the solar panels. The more panels you have, the more power they produce. To find out how much energy you need, you can find calculators online.
Q: Are solar panels weather-resistant or waterproof?
A: All solar panel manufacturers design panels to be weatherproof so they resist rain, snow, and dust. You can check with the specific manufacturer to see what weatherproofing it has fitted on its particular solar panels.
Q: What is the difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline?
A: Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single crystal and feature a thin layer of silicon. They include small square cells across the surface and perform better in low light conditions. Polycrystalline panels are developed out of smaller crystals in each cell. They have rectangular solar cells and may also include a blue coloring.
If you want to switch to solar energy and desire a great starter kit, consider the Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit.
You can check out the Newpowa 100 Watts 12 Volts Polycrystalline Solar Panel, which is a powerful polycrystalline panel at a less expensive price.