Probably the most quintessential element when creating a full off-grid system for your home are the solar panels. We’re just going to assume that most people know what solar panels do, and we’ll instead focus on how they do it and why it matters.
Simply put, our article is going to take you through the most important components in solar arrays and what you need to look for when it comes to these vital components to ensure the best output.
We’ll also go over a list of what we consider to be some of the best off-grid solar panels that are currently on the market. Meaning that you’ll be able to either go directly to a few solar kits, which we believe to be worth your time, or you can simply use our tips to find a solar power system on your own.
The components in question are the following:
Aside from the main components mentioned above, off-grid solar kits also require both a ground mount, connectors, and an installer kit. We don’t mention these because they come as part of any solar panel kit, so the ones that you’ll get will depend on the solar array that you decide to go for.
Additionally, it’s best that you get trained professionals to do the solar installation and handle placing these items on your house. This means that you’ll either need to purchase a solar kit from a company that offers the installation as part of the package, or you’ll need to engage contractors if you bought off-grid solar system components that you need to assemble.
In principle, the installation is straightforward but difficult, and it’s very difficult for someone that’s doing it for the first time. So we’d recommend spending a few extra dollars and saving yourself many headaches, (potentially) injuries, and broken solar panel components.
We obviously can’t stop you from trying the DIY method, but we’ll focus on advice on solar panel components rather than putting them together, so we can’t really help you out in that department.
One more item that we’d like to mention is the generator. Generators aren’t a standard part of a solar panel system, but they provide a stand-alone backup power source if you ever need it. The one thing that you’re going to need to consider if you want to add a generator is that you’ll also need to get a charge controller, which we’ll explain in more detail below.
There are a lot of different types, models, and sizes of solar panels that you can find, but a lot of people don’t know that they can actually be divided into two simple groups based on the material that they’re made out of: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call them mono and poly from now on.
Both types of solar panels are made from silicon, and most companies provide both types of cells on their panels, so you can find high-quality versions of both on any company site. They’re both viable options for any home, but they have a few very distinct differences.
Mono cells are made out of single-crystal silicon, while poly cells are made by melting many fragments of silicon together to form the wafers of the panels. SIngle-crystal cells allow the electrons that generate a flow of electricity to have more room to move, therefore making the mono solar panels more efficient.
While this means that mono cells will generally provide your off-grid home with more renewable energy that you can use, poly cells are a lot cheaper, which means that there’s a balance in efficiency and price between the two.
However, if you have to choose between the two, we’d tell you to go with the mono. You’ll be spending a bit more money, but you’ll be able to get more power out of it, and you’ll be able to make an off-grid solar power system with a lot fewer panels.
Just to clarify, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t get poly panels, but rather that you’re going to need a lot more space on your roof to generate the same amount of energy as the mono cells, and some houses might not be designed for so much weight.
The solar energy gathered by the panels doesn’t go directly into the energy storage but instead needs to pass through an inverter, a converter, or an inverter/charger first.
Solar converters turn AC power into DC power, while solar inverters turn DC power into AC power. Household items and pretty much anything that plugs directly into a power socket runs on AC power; however, batteries run or DC power. This means that the stored DC power in the batteries is converted into AC power by the Inverter/converter combo to make it usable for the home.
An inverter/charger is essentially an inverter coupled with a converter. This means that you’ll be able to convert the generated solar power into usable electricity automatically, and the charger will ensure that the batteries are topped off and in good condition for a long time.
Solar charger controllers can determine how full your batteries are, and they can adjust the amp and volt intake to charge them in a more efficient and faster way. They’re also a great way to regulate more than one power supply if you have a backup generator that’s also connected to your home’s power source.
The controllers reduce the charging speed when the batteries are full and increase it when they are empty. Ensuring that there’s no chance of an overcharge improves the long-term health of the batteries, especially if you’re working with a lithium battery or an AGM battery storage system.
There are essentially two types of charge controllers: PWM and MPPT. Both of these controllers have very small differences in almost every aspect of their operations and the way that they conduct the charging process, but they’re too minute to bother explaining.
The main crux of their differences is that the MPPT charge controller is more suitable for systems that standardly generate more than 150W, while the PWM is more suited for systems with smaller power output.
Additionally, the PWM type works better in warm weather and when the batteries are full, while the MPPT works better in colder climates and can provide a quicker charge to depleted batteries.
PWM controllers like the Renogy Adventurer Li- 30A usually go for $50-$100, while MPPT controllers like the MidNite Solar Classic 150 SL will cost you just under $700, so there is a bit of a gap in the prices.
Lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries both have specific characteristics that make them good solar batteries for any sort of energy needs. However, there are also quite a few differences between the two that make one more ideal for certain tasks than the other.
Lead-acid batteries essentially come in three types: flooded, gel, and absorbent glass mat (AGM). While the flooded and the gel versions have been here for a while, the AGM is a relatively new battery element that requires less maintenance than the flooded batteries and is more battery-friendly when it comes to recharging, making it better for longevity.
As for the difference between lithium-ion and lead-acid, the differences stack up like this:
The exact prices of the batteries themselves are going to depend on the size and the sort of battery backup that you’re looking for, as for the price difference between the batteries themselves, the lead-acid beat out the lithium-ion by a pretty wide margin.
As we mentioned before, the AGM batteries are incredibly easy to maintain, much like the lithium batteries. However, the flooded or the gel batteries will require constant work and monitoring to the point where they’re hardly worth the trouble.
Lithium-ion has a steadier discharge rate and can maintain it for longer periods of time. Lead-acid has a stronger initial discharge, and while it can still maintain a steady rate for a decent period of time, the speed of the discharge increases as the battery starts to run on empty.
AGM batteries usually have a recommended DOD (depth of discharge) that gravitates around the halfway point of their full capacity. This means that discharging these batteries past the 50-60% point will eat into their lifespan and diminish their maximum capacity over time.
The lithium batteries, on the other hand, have a DOD of between 80-90%, which means that you’ll be able to use a lot more of their full potential without having to worry about potentially harming it and having to buy a new one.
Lithium batteries have the edge when it comes to the initial charge speed, but the AGM is faster when they’re nearer the finishing line.
What we mean is that the lithium batteries charge faster if the supply is below 50%, and the AGM charges faster if the battery is mostly full.
Both of the batteries are designed this way in order to provide a faster charging rate based on their recommended DOD.
As you can see, lithium batteries have the edge in every category aside from price. However, even if both batteries have the same 1-2 year warranty, the DOD and the constant maintenance needs of certain types of lead-acid batteries will mean that the Lithium-ion is always going to be the more reliable choice in the long run.
We’ll just be upfront and say that there are no perfect off-grid solar panels. Every model that you find is going to have one flaw or another, and the most important thing is finding something that suits most of your needs.
Our list has what we consider to be the best overall off-grid solar panels that we know of. We’ll point out what you can expect from each of them in terms of power output.
The exact estimate of solar panels will be tricky to determine due to the average weather conditions and other factors that need to be determined, but In terms of daily output, the ECO-WORTHY 1000 Watt 1KW 24 Volt Solar Panel Kit can produce around 4kwh on a good day.
This particular kit also supports charging for 24V lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries and has multiple 10A fuses that are hooked up to a combiner box for anti-backflow and lightning protection.
The kit comes with a 1-year warranty, and the Eco-Worthy hotline provides round-the-clock 24/7 technical support.
This solar kit can reliably provide you with around 1,600 watt-hours or 135 amp-hours of charge per day if the conditions are good. This sort of power range is pretty much ideal for smaller homes or off-grid cabins, but certain homeowners might struggle if their house is on the larger end.
The WindyNation 400 Watt Solar Kit comes with four 100 Watt Polycrystalline Solar Panels, a 30-Amp Charge Controller with a battery temperature sensor, 40 feet of 12 AWG solar cable, as well as all of the necessary connectors and mounting hardware.
This particular item also comes with an installation manual that’ll allow you to set up the whole thing yourself, but it might take you a bit of time if you’ve never done something like this before.
The ECO-WORTHY 200 Watts Solar Panel Kit comes with two solar panels, generating an average of 0.8wkh per day with just a few hours of sunlight. The panels are water-proof and made out of corrosive-resistant aluminum, making them durable under harsh conditions.
Additionally, the panels are also monocrystalline, meaning that they can gather a better charge than the polycrystalline alternative. The kit also comes with a 1000W inverter and a 20A charge controller, and a 1-year warranty for all of these components.
The best part of this particular kit is the monocrystalline solar panel that is quite efficient for its size and the 20A MPPT Rover Controller that’ll ensure that all of the gathered power is distributed correctly.
The ideal input of the Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Off Grid Solar Premium Kit would be somewhere around 500Wh per day, which would be able to fully charge a 50Ah battery in around 6 hours if the conditions for that day are good at least.
This particular panel kit also comes with a 4-Stage Bulk-Absorption-Float-Equalize battery charging process, which will result in more rapid, efficient, and safe battery charging.
The solar panels that we chose aren’t perfect, and there will be cloudy days and cold periods that will make it impossible to get a decent charge. However, the same can be said about any sort of solar array or clean energy power source.
We stand behind our opinion that all of the items that we listed are great off-grid solar panels, and they can all provide a small home with enough power to run the bare essentials when it comes to electrical appliances.