Whether you’re just getting interested in solar energy for the first time or you’re already experienced living off the grid or getting paid back by the electric company, you can never know too much about solar panels. Solar panels, after all, are the technology that makes this revolutionary new lifestyle possible—and the best solar panel makes it easier than ever.
While all solar panels have the potential to save you money and protect the environment, the best solar panels will do a lot more of both. Read on to find out how you can choose among the absolute best solar panels out there and find the top solar panel for you and your personal needs.
Best Solar Panels of 2018
|Goal Zero Kit|
|Kit||400 Lithium Portable Power Station|
Boulder 50 solar panel with 8mm cord and kickstand
|Kit||Maximum Power Point Tracking technology|
Charge controller peak efficiency: 98%
|HQST||6 panels||Excellent performance in low light environments|
High modules conversion efficiency
|Renogy||2 panels||Advanced encapsulation material with multilayered laminations|
Anti-reflective, high transparency, low iron-tempered glass
|ECO-WORTHY||1 panel||Waterproof IP-65 Rated Junction Box|
Solar Cell with a higher-than-average 17% to 19% efficiency
This comparison table isn’t intended as a completely exhaustive resource, but it should help to condense all of the information I’m going to explore in the rest of the article into one easy-to-view environment and help you weigh the pros and cons of each of the best solar panels.
I hope this table helps you make your final decision when it comes time to purchase the best solar panel for you!
Goal Zero – Best Solar Kit
To be more specific, the kit consists of two pieces:
- The Yeti 400 solar generator
- A Boulder 50 solar panel
Let’s take a look at each component in turn before I dive into my deep review of the product as a whole.
First, the Boulder 50 solar panel. Immediately upon getting this product out of the package, I was impressed with its construction.
That being said, the Boulder 50 is a 50-watt solar panel, which isn’t exceptionally strong. It’s not weak by any means, but the power rating isn’t what makes this panel shine.
What makes the Boulder 50 so impressive (besides its durability, which I’ve already discussed above) is its portability. While certainly sturdy enough for permanent installation, it’s easily one of the most portable solar panels available on the market today.
From its lightweight construction to its folding stand that helps you get the best angle of sunlight from anywhere, it’s built for portability.
Now let’s move on to the Yeti 400 solar generator itself. This is a pretty amazing little machine.
When I first unboxed the product, I was impressed not only by its solid construction, but the wide variety of receptacles on its front, and the easy to use design and interface.
Getting the unit set up with the Boulder 50 was incredibly easy, and you can even plug this generator into the wall to charge it up, too! It’s much better than plenty of gasoline-powered generators out there, and on top of that is environmentally friendly, much easier to use, and lacks the annoying fumes.
The one downside I noticed is that the generator does take a while to fully charge with the solar panel. If you get this unit, I’d recommend charging it with the AC cord first, and then using the solar panel to maintain or refresh its power levels, so you don’t have to deal with any downtime.
I really put the generator through the ringer while testing it, running everything from a 50” television to several small kitchen appliances. While I do wish a 240-volt plug was included, I was really impressed with the wide variety of devices this machine can so easily power, and with its clean energy supply as well.
Of course, additional Boulder 50s are always available if you need a replacement, but this unit is designed more as a solid backup generator or way to reduce your electricity usage than it is to be used as the center of a whole-house array.
All in all, I’d recommend this product to anyone just getting started with solar because it’s so simple. I’d also recommend it to avid campers or those who are prone to power outages because it’s so portable and easy to set up and take down.
Renogy Kit – Best Solar Panel Kit for Rv
To be specific, the kit comes not only with the panels but with the following items:
- Charge controller
- Tray cables and other important wirings
- Brackets and screws for mounting
- MT-50 Tracer Meter
I used mine first to keep a boat charged while not in use, and then got a little more ambitious, using it to power several RV systems. I’ve also used it in conjunction with a basic power inverter to run a TV for the big game.
Across all applications, I had no problems with this system. Permanent installation of any solar panel array is obviously going to require either a lot of work or some serious professional help, but once you’ve gotten this system up and running, you should have no trouble keeping it going.
The kit’s power output is impressive, too, especially when in full sunlight. The monocrystalline panels are highly efficient, and when you watch your stats flicker across the MT-50 Tracer Meter, you can easily measure that efficiency in real time.
Mine stays fairly consistent at 22 amps when in good sun conditions.
The whole system is fairly priced, too, making this a great kit for getting started. It’s also of a nice, moderate size that’s good for a boat or RV but could also be the starting point for a home or off-grid campsite array.
However, nothing is completely without flaws. I do wish the kit had come with more of the necessary wiring. If you decide to get this kit, you’ll definitely need to invest in some 8 gauge wire to get your system up and running.
That being said, the customer support for this kit is also very knowledgeable and friendly, making it easy to get what you need.
I would recommend this product to both experienced and new solar energy enthusiasts across a wide variety of applications, from charging a few batteries now and again to integrating into a vehicular, campsite, or off-grid electrical system.
HQST 6-pack – Best Solar Panels for Camping
Buying solar panels in bulk is something I’ll discuss the specific advantages and disadvantages of a little later on in the article, but all in all, I think it’s a good decision to save some money.
Now, let’s move on to this set of panels in particular. Their durability is impressive, and they are clearly built to withstand some serious force from wind, snow, and other weather conditions.
This makes them ideal to operate in virtually any environment.
They are also simple to integrate into a wide variety of solar panel systems, whether you’re building a new one from scratch or using these 6 panels as replacements or components in a solar energy harvesting expansion plan.
This brings up an important point to keep in mind—the power that is often advertised is the maximum rated power and isn’t necessarily a reflection of the average output.
This isn’t an HQST-specific problem, but rather an industry-wide problem. In fact, it goes beyond solar altogether—the same thing is true when it comes to amplification systems.
The maximum rated power is a good thing to know, but whenever you’re buying a solar panel kit or set, or even just an individual solar panel, be sure to look at the rated average. If you can’t find this, keep in mind that it’s usually around 50-75% of the maximum wattage.
Therefore, 500 watt-hours for a system of 6 100 watt panels actually makes perfect sense—and is quite efficient to boot.
That’s enough about power, though. There’s one more great advantage that this set of panels offers that I want to tell you about.
This is because when panels are wired in series, all the power from a panel at once end essentially has to travel through all the other panels before reaching your charge controller. That means that if some of the intervening panels are in shade, some of that power will be diffused (lost) while crossing that panel!
On the other hand, when you wire each panel in parallel, each panel can have a direct line of sorts to the charge controller—meaning that no power is wasted on those panels that are in the shade momentarily!
All in all, I recommend this panel set to just about anyone. I think it’s an especially good way to start building a serious solar array and breaking into the world of solar energy harvesting, but buying these 6 panels can also be a great start to an expansion of an existing array.
Of course, if you’re not in the market for 6 panels at once, the panels are also available individually and in packages of 2 and 4. However, buying in bulk is always the best way to save the most money!
Renogy – Best Solar Panel for Caravan
This set from Renogy, one of the biggest and most commonly noticed names in the relatively new home solar energy harvesting industry, offers two of the manufacturer’s respected monocrystalline photovoltaic solar panels at one (relatively) low price.
Of course, the same panels are also available individually and in larger sets, but the 2 piece is at a great price point for both beginning and experienced solar energy enthusiasts.
I’ll talk more about the differences between mono and poly panels later in the article, but for right now let’s just say that mono panels can produce the same amount of power with less space taken up.
These panels also boast serious durability. On top of that, they simply look great. Aesthetics aren’t considered a lot when it comes to solar panel design, but as the devices become more and more efficient and common, I’m sure it will become a larger concern.
The big disadvantage of these panels is their high cost. If you have the budget for these, or if you can find them at a great discount like I managed to, then they may turn out to be a better value because of their high-efficiency performance.
However, their costs may be prohibitive for a lot of users.
While this review has focused on the most basic, across the board performance focused design, you should take some time to poke around and look at these additional options if the Renogy panels appeal to you.
I recommend these panels from Renogy to any serious solar enthusiasts looking to build or expand an array with a focus on maximum efficiency. Because of their highly efficient design and specialized space saving options, these are ideal for very large applications such as powering an entire house or cabin, or an RV.
Eco-Worthy – Best Portable Solar Panel
While I was initially attracted to trying and reviewing this product primarily because of its low price point, I was quickly impressed with its variety of special features.
In addition, there’s a cool special feature inside the highly durable, water- and dust-proof junction box: a blocking diode that prevents the draining of power that can occur during the nighttime hours with many solar panels.
That means that you’ll never have to worry about this panel wasting any of the power that it produces for you, which ultimately saves you money and reduces your carbon footprint.
It arises because of the panel’s overall size, which is much smaller than average.
The smaller size makes sense when you consider that this design is all about saving space, but the power rating being a bit ambitious is something to consider. Many users trying to start an array with this model of the panel may consider buying in bulk.
I recommend this panel to solar energy harvesting beginners and to those looking to expand their existing arrays.
While it isn’t the most highly power producing panel on the market, it is extremely efficient and available at a budget-friendly price without sacrificing durability or the key features that take solar panels from truly decent to sitting comfortably among the best solar panels on the market today.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to buying a solar panel or solar panel kit. Even among the best solar panels, there’s plenty of variation. How do you know which panel or kit is right for you?
In this section, I’ll break down some of the most important considerations and factors when it comes to buying the best solar panel for your personal needs and your budget. I’ll also tackle some of the industry lingo and specifications that can make breaking into the world of solar energy challenging for outsiders.
Solar Panels vs Solar Panel Kits
One of the first questions you should ask yourself when determining which panels to use for your dream solar array is whether you want a kit, a set of panels, or a single panel at a time.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each method of buying solar energy harnessing equipment.
Solar Panel Kits
The Advantages of Solar Panel Kits
The Disadvantages of Solar Panel Kits
While buying everything separately can be more expensive and a bit more difficult, it also gives you much more choice over exactly what kind of charge controller or solar generator you want, as well as what kinds of panels.
Overall, I would recommend solar panel kits to new users of solar panels, because they’re one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get started.
However, I’d recommend looking into some other options once you get more experienced and want to start expanding and tweaking your array to your exact specifications—unless you need an ultra-portable setup, that is. If you need portability, a solar generator kit may be the best way to go.
Solar Panel Sets and Multipacks
If you want a little more control over the construction of your new solar array, you may not elect to buy a kit.
However, you may still want to buy a set of multiple solar panels all at once, instead of buying each panel individually.
The Advantages of Solar Panel Sets and Multipacks
The Disadvantages of Solar Panel Sets and Multipacks
However, the long-term value is definitely higher when you buy in bulk wherever you are able.
While the best solar panels are highly durable, nothing lasts forever—plus, as you become better at and more interested in harvesting solar energy, you may always want to expand your array, allowing you to do more with less environmental impact and economic cost than conventional electricity would cause.
The second disadvantage is that you may end up with a different number of solar panels than you actually need. Generally speaking, solar panels are sold in sets of 2, 4, and 6 pieces as well as individually.
If you need 5 or 7, you may end up with an extra panel, or one short.
However, this problem is also easily mitigated. If you have an extra panel, simply store it safely as a replacement panel if one of yours hard at work in the array gets damaged somehow.
If you are one panel short, you can buy a single solar panel (or another pack) without seriously affecting the overall value of buying in sets.
I recommend buying solar panel sets and multipacks to almost everyone who needs more than one panel—and even if you only need one now, buying two might be a great idea, because you could easily replace your panel if it breaks or double your array’s size if the opportunity arises.
Individual Solar Panels
Even if you start with a solar panel kit or bulk package of multiple solar panels, you’ll probably end up buying solar panels individually at some time in your life.
This is because solar panels can, unfortunately, be damaged—and, on the other hand, because you might just love harnessing solar energy so much that you find yourself wanting to expand your solar array.
The Advantages of Individual Solar Panels
When it comes to buying solar panels individually, the biggest advantage is that it gives you absolute control over your entire array.
For example, you may find that some panels that perform better in the highest sun areas are worthless in the shade, while others that aren’t star performers overall do much better gathering solar energy while shaded.
Additionally, if you only need one panel now, buying it by itself instead of as part of a pack or kit might make your upfront costs much lower. If you get a highly durable panel and keep your array well-maintained, you may not need to replace it for a very long time, meaning that saving money now is more than worth it.
The Disadvantages of Individual Solar Panels
The biggest disadvantage of buying each solar panel individually is that you miss out on the discounts available to those who buy in bulk.
If you only need one panel, then you should only buy one panel unless you can get a set at a significantly better deal, or you foresee a need for additional panels in the near future.
I recommend buying single solar panels to two groups of people: those who are on a tight budget and those very experienced solar energy enthusiasts who know just what kind of panel they want in each spot of the array (or those who want to learn).
Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline
These are two of the words that often confuse new solar energy enthusiasts the most. While their literal meanings are quite simple, they can have big impacts on the efficiency of your solar array.
In general, many solar experts think of monocrystalline panels as “better” because they are more efficient—meaning that a monocrystalline panel will convert more sunlight into electricity than a polycrystalline panel of the same size.
However, polycrystalline (poly) panels do have two serious advantages over their monocrystalline (mono) competition:
- Poly panels are much cheaper
- Poly panels are more heat-resistant
You’ll have to do some calculations based on current prices and how much power you need. While mono panels are more efficient per square foot, they’re also more expensive—meaning that poly panels may be the better choice for you depending on your budget and how much power you need to produce.
In addition, poly panels perform better and are more durable in hot climates, because the more complex cells fail less often and because the panels themselves are slightly more reflective (meaning they absorb less heat). This means that if you’re in a very high-heat area, such as a desert, poly panels may be the best investment for you.
Conclusion: The Best Solar Panel Is…
It’s hard to choose the best solar panel featured in this article because I reviewed such a wide variety of products, from kits to bulk packages of panels to individual panels. However, I have chosen one great product to recommend the most, and also suggested some honorable mentions that are amazing for specific applications.
All in all, though, the best solar panel for you is something you’ll have to find on your own. Becoming great at harvesting solar energy for environmental and economic savings involves a lot of experimentation and hard work.
I wish you the best of luck finding the best panel or panels for your array.
While the mono panels are quite a bit more expensive than their poly competitors, they also provide more value by creating more power with every square inch of silicon. These panels are perfect for a wide variety of applications, from starting the first array to expanding a whole-home off the grid system.
The Best Solar Panel for New Solar Enthusiasts (and Avid Campers!)
While the upfront cost can seem a little steep, this kit provides a great value by including everything you need. Its greatly enhanced durability and portability are also great features, as well as its convenience.
In addition to testing this panel myself, I have two very different friends who own and love the Goal Zero Yeti 400—an independent music producer living in Los Angeles and an avid traveler who has spent the last three years on the road in Europe. Both love this kit for its completeness, its value, and its portability.
Whether you’re running a soundboard at an outdoor concert or powering your laptop a hundred miles from anywhere, this kit may just be the best way to get there.
The Best Solar Panel for the Budget
Finding budget friendly solar options can be hard, even with all the new tax credits and other advantages that are out there to encourage people to buy into the solar industry. There are a lot of products out there that simply don’t perform.
On top of that, its extra features would make it a great value even at a much higher price point.
I strongly recommend this panel to those just starting out who don’t have a lot of money to sink into an overlarge system, and also to those looking to expand their existing solar array to produce even more power.
On top of all that, the Eco-Worthy panel is also great for those who don’t have a lot of space for solar energy harvesting, and for those of you who live in very high-heat areas.
The Best Solar Panel for YOU
Whichever of the best solar panels you choose, I hope it works perfectly for whatever you have in mind. If you have any additional suggestions or have a great story about your own solar array, let me know in the comments!