It seems prepping and Solar Power often go hand in hand, so despite my long held opposition to alternative energy, I began to do some research (I will post some links at the bottom of the article.) There are a large number of players in arena, but thanks to some extensive reviews and recommendations over at the TinHatRanch.com we decided to take our chances with a Renogy kit. Aside from the positive reviews, Renogy had (at least on Amazon) the only ‘complete kit’ that was actually a complete kit. Yes, several claimed to be complete, yet require at minimum a battery to actually function. The Renogy kit cam with 2 100 watt monocrystalline panels, 30 watt PWM charge controller, 500 watt inverter, 12v 100ah sealed GEL battery and all the cables and hardware needed to hook it all up. Being skeptical I ordered a few extra cables ‘just in case,’ but wound up not needing them. Here is a link to the unit as we purchased it: Renogy 200 Watts 12 Volt Complete Solar Panel kit Monocrystalline with Charge Controller +Mounts+ 100AH Gel Battery+ 500W Pure Sine Inverter
Update: The ‘Complete System’ has been frequently out of stock on Amazon, but you can get basically the same system by getting the Starter Kit and adding the Gel Battery and your choice of inverter. We have recently upgraded to a 2000W Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter.
The panels seem well constructed and as I stated are of the monocrystalline variety vs. the polycrystalline as they are promoted as being more efficient particularly in low light. I guess I just have to take their word for it on this one.
The charge control is a very basic 30 amp unit with only light indicators for battery type, battery status, and charging status. A upgraded version would be preferable, but the unit does it’s job as intended.
The inverter is a basic 500 watt unit, nothing fancy, but a larger unit than is contained in most solar kits in this price range. At 500 watts it will run most small electronics and can easily run more than the 2 panels can generate.
The battery is the biggest surprise here as none of the other kits actually came with a battery, none. This 12v 100ah sealed GEL battery is a little beast weighing in at nearly 70 pounds with a claimed 10 year lifespan. Oddly, the stats claim a maximum recommended charging of 20 amps in a system that is expandable up to 30 amps, but so far so good.
Surprisingly the kit actually came with all the cables, z-brackets, and fuses necessary to get the unit up and running in just a couple of hours. My only complaint is that the tray cables are not color coded for simplification nor are the cables on the back of the solar panels. Yes, this was easily overcome with some red electrical tape, but details can make a difference. The kit came with instruction manuals for each unit instead of one manual for the kit. However, their help line was extremely good.
Overall I am very pleased with the kit as an easy way to get started with solar. If you are well versed in solar, then you would be better off purchasing individual parts to better customize the system to your needs. However, this is a great way to get started without breaking the bank.
Update: we have added 2 more panels, another 100 watt battery and upgraded the fuses to meet those needs. Now 8 weeks into the project, I would still recommend this kit to anyone taking their first journey into solar energy.
Hope you found this helpful.
Here are 7 great videos on the subject from the TinHatRanch.