Solar Panel Reviews: How to Start Building Your Solar Power System

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Small retail solar panel
A solar panel or photovoltaic module, is composed of individual PV cells. This crystalline-silicon panel has an aluminium frame and glass on the front. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Are you thinking about investing in a solar panel? There are different products and technologies available on the market, which is why you need to learn more about how solar panel work and compare different products before making a decision. These solar panel reviews should help you get a better idea of which products are right for you.

How We Chose Our Ratings

We selected five of the best solar panels we could find by looking at these criteria.

Recent technology

Renewable energy is a field that evolves at a fast pace. We selected products that were designed and manufactured recently since investing in older technologies is simply not worth it.

Photovoltaic cells

There are three types of photovoltaic cells used to make solar panels. We selected products made of monocrystalline cells, polycrystalline cells and thin film since prices and performance vary from one technology to another

Performance

The current norm for residential solar panels is a performance rating that is around the 20 percent mark. We didn’t choose any products that perform below this level.

Warranty

We looked for solar panels that are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty for at least a few years.

Top Four Best Solar Panels

These solar panel reviews should give you a better idea of which products make sense for the kind of solar power system you would like to build.

HQST 100 Watt 12 Volt Foldable Solar Panel Suitcase With Charge Controller

HQST 100 Watt 12 Volt Foldable Solar Panel Suitcase With Charge Controller

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5 out of 5 stars

Polycrystalline cell technology isn’t as performing as monocrystalline solar cells, but this technology is more affordable. This solar panel features 36 cells and represents an excellent value since there is a charge controller included.

This 20 amp controller is compatible with a 12 or 24-volt battery. You will also get 10 feet of wiring to connect the panel to the charge controller. You could easily mount this panel on the roof of your RV and keep the controller and battery inside, or keep the panel in your backyard and store the controller and battery inside of your home.

This solar panel would be a good choice for a camping trip so it is foldable. It weighs a little over 20 lbs and measures 40×27.3×1.5 inches when unfolded. The dimensions are 20×27.3×3.1 inches when the panel is folded.

The panel comes with a sturdy aluminum stand and a traveling bag. It can work in temperatures as low as -13°F and as high as 131°F. The maximum power output is 100 watts in optimal conditions.

Acopower 120 W Portable Solar Panel

Acopower 120 W Portable Solar Panel

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4 out of 5 stars

There is an 80-watt model of this solar panel available in case you need something less performing. This compact solar panel only weighs eight pounds and measures 22×17.5×1.2 inches when folded. The dimensions are 56.7x22x0.2 inches when unfolded.

This is probably your best option if you want a lightweight portable solar panel. There is a handle attached to the solar panel so you can carry it like a suitcase when it is folded.

The efficiency rating of this solar panel is 25 percent in optimal weather conditions. It is made from monocrystalline cells and comes with a charge controller, connector cables, and alligator clamps so you can easily connect your solar power system to a 12-volt battery.

WindyNation 100 Watt 12 V Bendable Flexible Thin Lightweight Solar Panel

WindyNation 100 Watt 12 V Bendable Flexible Thin Lightweight Solar Panel

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4 out of 5 stars

This flexible solar panel would be ideal for installation on a curved surface like an RV, a boat, or a tent. It is made from a lightweight thin film material and only weighs four pounds.

You can flex this solar panel at a 30-degree angle. Its rating efficiency is 24 percent in optimal conditions. The panel and junction box that comes with it are both water resistant.

This solar panel measures 42×0.1×21.5 inches. There are metal grommets around the panel so you can use fasteners to mount the panel on the surface of your choice.

You can order several panels and connect them in series to generate more electricity.

AllPowers 18 Volt 7.5W Portable Solar Panel

AllPowers 18 Volt 7.5W Portable Solar Panel

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3.5 out of 5 stars

This product is much smaller than the products mentioned in the other solar panel reviews. However, its affordable price makes this solar panel an option worth considering if you would like to keep your car battery charged or build a small solar power system.

This panel comes with cables and alligator clamps so you can connect it directly to a 12-volt battery. There is a built-in blocking diode that prevents the battery from discharging.

It weighs 0.8 ounces and measures 14×0.3×1.6 inches. The panel comes with a suction cup so you can install it inside of your car windshield and get more exposure to sunlight.

The cigarette lighter plug is a plus. You can keep this small solar panel in your car windshield and connect it to your car battery via the light plug.

Shoppers have mentioned successfully using this small solar panel to keep a tractor battery charged or even to charge a motorcycle battery. You could use this portable solar panel to keep electronics charged with a battery and an inverter.

Solar Panel Buyer’s Guide

There are different things you should take into consideration when comparing solar panels. Start by assessing how much power you will need to generate so you can choose a product adapted to the kind of solar power system you want to build.

Power Output

Solar panels generate Direct Current (DC) electricity. You can get an idea of how much power a solar panel will produce by looking at the watts rating. Keep in mind that this number indicates how much power the product would produce in ideal exposure settings.

The power output of your solar panel could be close to the advertise watts rating if you use it in a sunny area such as the southwest of the U.S. and benefit from several hours of exposure to sunlight without any shade or clouds in the sky.

Efficiency

The efficiency rating of a solar panel indicates the percentage of energy from photons that will be turned into electricity. The technologies currently available allow for an efficiency that is typically around 20 percent.

You should avoid solar panels with a lower efficiency rating since you should be able to easily find a more performing product for the same price.

Durability

Because solar panels need to be mounted outside, they should be resistant to winds, high or low temperatures, and should withstand the weight of snowfall.

In a marine environment, you would also need a solar panel that can withstand exposure to salt.

Look at the warranty offered by the manufacturer. Choose a solar panel made by a brand that stands behind its products by offering a warranty that lasts for several years.

Solar Cells

Find out how many cells are in a solar panel since a panel with more cells should produce more power. You should also compare different solar cell technologies to choose the right panel:

  • Monocrystalline cells make the panel heavier but have a good performance rating due to the purity of the silicone used to make these cells.
  • Polycrystalline cells are more affordable but their performance rating is typically under 20 percent.
  • Thin film panels are just as efficient at monocrystalline technology but tend to be more expensive. This technology is a plus if you want something lightweight, portable, and easy to install.

Additional Items Included

You can’t turn sunlight into electricity with a simple solar panel. There are other components you will need to create a functional solar power system.

You can find kits with all the components you need. If you decide to buy solar panels individually, make sure they will be compatible with the other components you plan on using.

Here are some of the components you will need:

  • A charger controller to regulate how power is stored in the battery. Choose a controller with an LED display so you can keep track of how the panel is performing.
  • A deep cycle battery to store the electricity produced by the solar panel. A 12-volt battery would be ideal for a small portable system.
  • An inverter to turn 12-volt DC power from the battery into 120 volt AC power you can use to run appliances.
  • You will need brackets or other accessories to mount the panels.

You should have a better idea of what kind of solar power technology is adapted to your needs. These five solar panel reviews are a good place to start if you are shopping for a solar power system but don’t hesitate to consider other products since it is very easy to customize your system depending on what your needs are.