The Best Solar Charger Controller
Whether your old solar charge controller has gone bad or you’re just setting out on your solar adventure, you want to be sure you’re getting the best solar charger controller for your solar power system.
With so many brands out there, and so many complicated specs and bonus features seeking to differentiate the multitude of products on the market, it can be quite complicated, especially for those just starting out in solar energy.
That’s why I’ve prepared this buyer’s guide for the best solar charger controller. I know from experience that a bad solar charge controller can mean a bad solar power system. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did when first fumbling my way into the wonderful world of solar energy harvesting, so I’m sharing a bit of my expertise here in hopes that everyone will come to love solar as a source of power for vehicles, campsites, backup generators, and even whole homes!
Like I mentioned above, comparing the best solar charge controllers to one another can get complicated. While the rest of the article provides much more detail on how each solar charger performs—which can save you plenty of money and headache setting up and maintaining your solar array—I’ve prepared this handy table for you to keep all the facts straight. You can also reference this when it’s time to make your final decision!
ZHC – Best Solar Charge Controller for RV
EPever and ZHC are two of the most popular and well-known brands of solar charger controller manufacturers, and some of their products have consistently been lauded as among the best solar charger controllers.
This solar charge controller kit packages one of Epever’s flagship models, the 40 amp MPPT, with a ZHC MT50 monitor.
There are many advantages to purchasing a monitor that functions separately from the solar charger controller itself:
- Monitors often provide a wider array of data you can use to check the health of your system.
- Separate monitors can be mounted in more easily accessible locations than your solar charge controller.
- Monitors like the ZHC MT50 often have screens designed for easier viewing than those included on even the best solar charge controllers—not that the screens on great solar charge controllers are not useful, but the monitor screens often make for more comfortable viewing.
While testing this kit out, I found that I checked the separate ZHC MT50 monitor much more often than I usually found myself checking on the health of my solar array via the use of the screen included on the solar charge controller itself. This wasn’t a conscious decision, just something that I noticed over time.
Conscious or not, checking your system more frequently makes for a much more efficient and well-maintained solar energy harvesting project. Doing so allows you to diagnose and fix problems early—before they result in ruined equipment or days and days of low production.
Having a separate monitor that functions distinctly from the screen included on your solar charge controller makes this more frequent checking much more doable.
Of course, the monitor isn’t the only product this package has to offer. The most important element is obviously the solar charge controller itself, and luckily the EPever MPPT 40A charger doesn’t disappoint on this front.
One of the most impressive elements of the MPPT 40A is its high 40 amp capacity. While there are a few solar charge controllers out there with higher amperage than 40, the average is probably closer to something like 25 or 30.
That means that this kit can be a great choice for those looking to expand their solar arrays—or for conscientious new solar enthusiasts who know they may want to expand in the future.
Always leaving a little extra amperage means that your solar charge controller will always function at maximum capacity and that you can expand at any time.
I personally always recommend getting a controller with at least 10 more amps than your solar panels are producing at the present moment unless you no longer have any room or motivation to expand. In that case, an extra 5 amps or so is probably enough to ensure optimal efficiency at all times.
The price for this kit is comfortably midrange, not incredibly high or low. I definitely believe that it’s a good value because it comes with so much, but it’s not exactly a budget choice.
That being said, nothing is completely perfect. Some users have worried about this particular model’s longevity, and there’s some legitimacy to this worry. Let me explain a bit further.
Some models of solar charge controllers are more prone to shortage and other problems than others, and often don’t last long at all. This unit is fortunately not one of those—and even if you did happen to get a unit that went bad quickly due to some factory error, the company’s customer support would replace your product.
However, there is a harsh reality here: it’s hard to design a product made for essentially changing vast amounts of electricity into a different, more usable form that lasts a long time.
As such, I will admit that this unit probably won’t last you ten years—however, that’s more a problem of the nature of solar charge controller technology right now than with this unit in particular, and this package is cheap enough that the unit can be easily replaced a few years down the road, just as individual panels may need to be replaced as your system is exposed to the elements.
Overall, I do recommend this package, especially to new solar energy enthusiasts who want a relatively simple way to get everything set up in one fell swoop.
This package won’t be as useful or as good of a value if you already have components like a temperature sensor and monitor, but it’s a great deal if you need to get all of the equipment that goes between the panel and the battery at once.
EPever – Best Solar Panel Charge Controller
In this kit, both items are made by leading brand EPever.
The construction and functionality of the MPPT 30A model is very similar to that of the MPPT 40A, except that the 30A is designed for a load of 30 amps.
The real selling point of this kit for me is the inclusion of such a great monitor. The Remote Meter MT-50 provides more information than most monitors, and presents it all beautifully on a high-contrast, easy to view screen.
Be sure to check that this controller will work with your battery before buying, though!
I recommend this product to new and experienced solar energy enthusiasts across the board, but especially those who don’t need as much amperage and/or those who want to branch out and use different types of batteries.
While the MPPT is designed for great across the board performance, it’s really designed for one or both of those specific applications.
ZHC – Best Charge Controller for Solar
Clocking in at 80 amps, this is the most powerful solar charge controller I reviewed for this informational article, meaning that it’s the most ideal for very large solar arrays—or for people that at least have the ambition of one day having a big solar array.
Luckily, high amperage isn’t the only thing this product has going for it.
Knowing that the product is designed with extraordinary durability in mind may bring you peace of mind while using this product, but you should also know that you’ll be giving up some of the extra features that make other charge controllers so distinct.
While others among the best solar charge controllers often utilize advanced monitoring techniques or include extra assets like USB chargers, ZHC takes a more minimalist approach.
Before I give you my final verdict on this product, there is one more thing I want to mention. In addition to the great perks of this device itself, the company behind it is also known for its great customer support and for honoring its warranties.
I would recommend this product to advanced solar enthusiasts who have larger solar energy harvesting systems and already own or plan to own a separate monitor for their systems. I also recommend this product to newer solar energy users, though, because it’s so simple and straightforward, and allows for a lot of expansion as your system grows.
Y&H – Best Solar Charge Controller for AGM Batteries
Upon this product’s arrival, I was impressed with its secure protective packaging, and the same applies to the unit itself.
This device is solidly built, which is a great thing considering how often solar charger controllers are exposed to at least some of the natural elements.
Leaving USB chargers plugged into the wall at home can subtly but steadily make your electric bill tick its way up, and do some serious damage to the environment in the process. The inclusion of USB ports on many of the newer and more advanced solar charger controllers on the market seeks to mitigate this problem.
Because the charge from USB ports is fairly low, usually maxing out at 5 amps, the inclusion of these ports doesn’t usually affect the charging speed of the battery too much in good or ideal light conditions, even if you always leave the USB charging wire plugged in.
On top of that, the USB ports are convenient, especially if you keep your solar charger controller in a semi-indoor area where you often spend time, such as a porch or garage.
Having a charger for your phone or tablet in these environments is wonderful, and you can rest easy knowing that this charging isn’t costing you or the environment anything.
Though the USB ports are the big standout feature of this unit, it offers some other perks as well, such as a wide LCD screen designed for easy viewing even at a distance or for those whose eyesight isn’t the best around.
If there’s one con about this unit that I focused on, it’s that the voltage readout on the device isn’t always accurate.
Now, it’s not a completely off the wall number that comes way out of left field, but it can be off by 1-2 volts, which is unacceptable for those of us who are obsessed with optimizing our solar arrays and ensuring that they’re always running at peak performance.
This con isn’t enough to keep me from recommending the product, as its primary function—controlling the charge provided by your solar panels in order to make it acceptable for batteries—works just great. On top of that, it offers some great bonus features.
My best recommendation would be to simply buy an affordable monitor along with this product. With the money you’ll save going with this budget-friendly option, that shouldn’t be too much of a struggle.
I recommend this product to solar energy harvesting enthusiasts at all levels. It’s easy enough to use for newbies but has enough extra features to please the more experienced solar experts out there.
On top of that, it’s one of the most convenient solar charge controllers out there.
AllPowers – Best Cheap Solar Charge Controller
One of the biggest of these is the unit’s very low price point, especially for such a conscientiously designed and highly durable product.
This solar charger controller almost certainly won’t break the budget.
It also includes internal timers for automated control of your system and optimum efficiency.
That means that the AllPowers 20A Solar Charger Controller sits comfortably at the intersection of usability and durability.
I recommend this product to new solar enthusiasts or those on a tight budget. While its overall amperage is a bit lower than the solar charger controllers necessary to run really large arrays, it’s more than strong enough for everyday use, and the durability and extra features really set it apart—even when compared with units that cost twice as much.
Solar can be a ton of fun, and reaping in free electricity (while knowing you’re doing no harm to the environment in the process) is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in life. That being said, solar isn’t easy—you’ll have to do a lot of research and hard work before you’re a true solar expert.
To make things a little bit easier for you, I’ve compiled some of the most important information when it comes to being sure you’re buying one of the best solar charger controllers. I’ll break down some of these numbers for you, and also give you tips on safety and the features that can make using a given controller easier or more difficult, depending upon their implementation.
So, What Is a Solar Charger Controller, Anyway?
This is one of the most common questions I get from friends and family curious about solar, as well as businesses I have worked with as a green consultant.
Across the board, solar charger controllers are one of the most mysterious parts of the solar energy array, which is one of the major reasons I set out to write this article.
Charging regulator is probably the most accurate term, but charge controller and charger controller are much more widely used, which is why I’ve focused on using those terms throughout this informational article.
What Does a Solar Charge Controller Do?
This is important because batteries require lower and more constant amounts of electricity that will usually be supplied by a solar panel. Connecting a solar panel directly to a battery could easily result in an overload, which will at the very least have a serious financial cost and could be a threat to your health and safety as well.
In addition, it often simply doesn’t work.
One of the other major functions of a charge controller is as a power supply for appliances or devices you may want to power with solar energy. Most of this electricity will run along the main load wire coming out of the charge controller.
This allows you to power your appliance with direct power from the panel when it is available, but to draw on the battery without interruption as well.
Many solar charge controllers also offer USB ports for lower amperage charging of devices like phones and tablets. Depending on where you mount your solar charge controller, this can either be a tiny extra feature or a great bonus.
I keep my solar charger controller protected from the elements on my screened-in porch and love having instant access to USB to charge my phone and tablet while sitting out and enjoying the beautiful weather.
However, if the solar charge controller was mounted on a roof that isn’t easy to access, the USB ports wouldn’t bring me quite as much benefit.
One of the most important things to consider when choosing a solar charger controller is to match the amperage of the charge controller to the amperage of your panels.
The same is true of all other specs. Everything needs to match up with or fall within acceptable ranges dictated by everything else.
This is the only way to ensure that all parts of your solar array function together.
When components of a solar array are not compatible, it takes a toll on both the efficiency and the safety of your solar energy harvesting system. In order to gather clean industry from the sun and stay safe doing it, every part has to function at the same level as every other part.
This can be complicated for new solar energy harvesting enthusiasts because there are so many stats and specs associated with each piece of equipment that makes up a fully functional solar array.
Be sure to do your research and have a firm grasp of the functionality of each component before purchasing the pieces that will make up your solar array. The same rule of thumb applies whenever you’re buying parts to replace or expand pieces of your solar energy system.
Look on the Bright Side!
There is some good news on this front, though! Most major manufacturers and the best solar charge controller models come in a wide variety of amperages.
This means that you can get the same great features and ease of use in a package that’s compatible with the rest of your system. If you like a model featured in this article, but it doesn’t match the amperage of the rest of your solar energy setup, do some poking around, and you’re sure to find a unit that does.
Here’s another potential solution: to make easing into the complex world of solar a little easier for new solar energy enthusiasts, there are a lot of solar energy kits available.
They range from small, portable kits that are ideal for camping and similar activities to large, permanent kits that can be used to put together a new solar array. There is also a wide range of cost.
Sometimes you’ll pay a little extra for the convenience of having everything packaged together in one place, and sometimes you can save money (especially on panels) by buying in the larger quantities available in kits.
This is one of the surest ways to ensure that the amperage and other specs of all devices that make up components of the solar array are properly matched to one another so that nothing is overloaded or strained in any way.
The Importance of Display
You most likely aren’t picking up a solar charge controller for entertainment, and in most cases, you won’t sit and stare at the screen for a long time. However, you also know that the screen on a solar charge controller displays some very important information about the health status and current state of your solar energy array.
If you have poor vision, for example, or if you plan to mount the device in an area where it won’t be easy to get extremely close to the screen, you should focus on getting a solar charging regulator with a large, clear, and high-contrast screen.
Of course, some solar charge controllers lack screens entirely, and some solar enthusiasts don’t utilize them much. Except for warnings or other information regarding exactly what’s going on inside the solid state electronics of the solar charger controller itself, you can gather all of the information needed with a battery tester and multimeter.
That being said, having all of the vital signs of your solar energy harvesting array neatly displayed in one convenient location makes it much easier to monitor the overall health of your system—and that will lead to higher efficiency and a longer-lasting setup overall.
Of course, there are also separate monitoring devices available, such as the ZHC MT50, which is available as part of the ZHC and EPever kit reviewed in this article. Distinct monitoring systems like this allow you to separate the tasks of regulating charge and gathering information about your system.
They are often smaller and easier to mount in easily accessible areas, too—and on top of all that, because their primary function is monitoring, they often provide more detailed and more readable information about the health and functionality of your solar energy harvesting system.
The best solar charger controllers are extremely easy to maintain.
While your panels may need more frequent checks and cleaning, and you certainly need to practice good battery maintenance, the best solar charger controllers are so self-contained and protected that the only deeply necessary maintenance is checking wires for corrosion, debris, and dirt.
I would recommend performing a quick check every two weeks to a month for most solar energy enthusiasts. However, if your solar charge controller is mounted in an area where it’s more exposed to the elements, you should check it more frequently.
Anyone who’s ever done any work with electricity should know how dangerous it can be. This doesn’t mean I want to dissuade you from going solar, and from doing as much of it yourself as possible—quite the opposite.
However, I firmly believe that any discussion of setting up or maintaining a solar array is incomplete without a discussion of safety.
Read on to learn how to start and continue harvesting clean, free, friendly energy in the safest way possible.
We’ve already discussed being sure to get the proper amperage charge controller for your battery and panels, which is one of the most important aspects of both safety and functionality when dealing with these devices. However, there’s a lot more to consider.
Wiring can either cause a safety hazard or be a huge help to safety, depending on how it’s done.
There are two important factors to consider when thinking about wiring for your solar array: getting the right wiring and setting it up correctly.
Last but not least, be sure to check that nothing is powered on and the battery is not connected before setting up the wiring. Avoiding shocks is easy if you keep your mind on it, but can become very challenging with just a few simple mistakes that anyone could make.
Conclusion: The Best Solar Charge Controller Is…
Choosing the single best solar charge controller from the wide array of devices I purchased and tested while researching this article for you was a real challenge. However, I think I’ve reached a final verdict.
My number one choice among this listing of the best solar charge controllers is the ZHC 80A Charge Controller. I chose this one both for its overall power and for its extreme ease of use.
While it’s true that this unit is more minimally designed, and does not feature some of the perks like included USB ports or a prepackaged monitoring system beyond the basic display, it packs a great value by safely and efficiently controlling so much power.
This unit is perfect for new solar enthusiasts because of its simplicity, and also great for the more experienced due to its high capacity for expansion. On top of that, external monitors and other products are readily available.
I also find that the ZHC unit offers a great value at its comfortably mid-range price point. While it’s not the cheapest unit on this list, it’s not the most expensive either, and every dollar buys you quite a bit of amperage with this unit.
That being said, I would also strongly recommend the Y&H 40A Solar Charge Controller as an alternative choice for those on a budget or those who are more concerned with the special features than with overall raw power.
While it’s not as high capacity as the ZHC unit, it does still offer higher than average charge controlling capacity, along with perks like USB ports—and all at a great low price point.
I hope this article has helped you choose the solar charge controller that’s right for your needs and your budget. What has your experience been like using the products on this list?
Do you know what panels you plan to pair your charge controller with yet? Let me know in the comments or shoot me a message!