Having a reliable solar charge controller is vital to getting the best result from your camper solar setup.
But guess what, all controllers aren’t built the same. Sure there are different types of solar charger controllers on the market, each with its unique features and sizes.
But when it comes to performance, especially in an off-grid setting, some stand out from others.
With the myriads of solar panels and solar charge controllers available on the market, it’s easy to get lost in the technical details.
But not to worry, today’s guide is specially written to make the process of buying an MPPT controller for your solar system a hassle-free one.
In today’s article, we will give you a comprehensive review of the leading solar charge controllers available on the market. We will also take a minute to show you some of their essential functions and tips on choosing the best one for your RV.
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
What Is A Solar Controller?
Have you always wondered what a solar charge controller is?
A solar charge controller is an essential component required for the proper functioning of a solar setup, especially in an RV or campervan.
The main aim of having a solar system is to harvest clean and renewable energy from the sun, which is then used to charge deep cycle batteries.
Just so you know, a solar panel is made up of various cells. With the sunlight hitting the panel being uneven and sometimes sporadic, it means that the cells don’t receive the same amount of sunlight simultaneously.
With this operation in play, your solar panels produce a vast array of energy, which fluctuates or spikes multiple times every second.
Again, deep cycle leisure batteries require between 12.6 volts or higher to charge (depending on the type you have). Anything below this means they won’t charge and may end up ruining your battery.
Given this background, connecting your batteries directly to your solar panels is a common mistake. As doing so could end up damaging them.
This is where the solar charge controller comes in as an important piece of kit you must own.
Just as its name suggests, the work of a solar charge controller in a solar system is to control the charge to protect your batteries from potential harm.
How does A Charge Controller Work?
Now that you know what a solar charge controller is, it’s time to take you through the entire working process of this unique component. To put things simply, a solar charge controller is the middleman between your solar panels and your battery system.
So basically, your solar charge controller manages power generated by your solar panels, ensuring that your battery system gets just the right amount of electricity needed to power your home.
In more technical terms, the energy current is designed to flow into the controller’s semiconductor.
This tends to open or close depending on your battery’s unique current needs.
Keep in mind that each deep cycle battery has a unique voltage capacity. Going above that volt will be counterproductive to your battery’s health.
The charge controller is uniquely built to manage the voltage been generated by your solar panels. It also restricts or opens the energy flow from the panel according to your battery’s unique needs.
Thanks to being fitted with overload protection, you are rest assured that your battery system is protected from overheating anytime there is too much current.
Also, the charge controller helps to disconnect the system when it detects a low voltage, preventing your batteries from over-discharging.
Does your RV require a solar charge controller?
To be honest with you, you’ll need a solar charge controller, especially if you live in an RV or campervan and here is why.
Directly connecting the chaotic voltages produced by your solar panels to your battery system can permanently damage it.
Considering how much it costs you to install your solar system, we are sure you wouldn’t want to risk it.
On the flip side, if you’re using a really small solar panel, say 5 watt, you won’t need to buy a solar charge controller.
However, considering the amount of electricity you need in your RV or campervan, you’ll agree that having a 5-watt solar panel won’t do it. That’s why you need something heavy.
And should that be the case, you’ll most likely have to get a charge controller.
Whats the Difference Between PWM and MPPT Controllers
As we mentioned right from the get-go, there are a variety of solar charge controllers available out there.
Read on as we take you through the different types of solar charge controllers available on the market, along with their strengths and weaknesses.
Before we provide you with a comprehensive detail of how you can get a good solar charge controller for your solar system, you need to understand these two categories.
This information will save you a lot of headache and make your job a tad easier.
PWM Charge Controllers
PWM is an acronym for Pulse Width Modulation. Essentially, this type of charge controller works like a heartbeat. By heartbeat, we mean it sends controlled pulses of energy from the solar panel to your battery system.
This way, there is no constant flow of energy that could ruin your battery.
The controller essentially communicates with your battery to determine its needs, thus sending the required energy to keep it running smoothly.
Your fully charged battery doesn’t require a long pulse of energy, so a PWM controller knows precisely when to trickle charge your battery and when to send more vital energy to keep it functioning optimally.
With this in place, your battery system is highly adept for less energy-intensive situations.
Unfortunately, a PWM controller isn’t designed to handle more than a 12v solar panel array. So if you plan to have multiple solar panels in your home, you need to ensure the panels are wired in parallel.
At a maximum performance, a PWM solar controller will conveniently convert your solar panel energy draw to a usable battery charge.
MPPT Charge Controller
MPPT charge controllers are built to handle larger solar arrays. This is a popular choice among RV owners, especially those who have decided to live full-time in their campervans. It is also a decent option for RVers who go off-grid for weeks.
Besides communicating with your battery system and understanding what charge level your battery system needs, MPPT charge controllers are also designed to communicate with your solar panels. This way, they can easily figure out the perfect operating voltage.
This smooth operation and communication with your solar panels is where the MPPT gets its unique name from.
Considering that the device can track your solar draw, it can potentially maximize power. Thanks to this, it can deliver up to 30% more charge than its counterpart, the PWM controller.
Another thing worth mentioning is that MPPT charge controllers are designed to handle the seamless conversion of your solar panel’s voltage power into an energy format that your battery system can digest easily.
What we simply mean is that MPPT controllers can alter volts into amps. This helps prevent your solar system from wasting energy provided by the solar panels.
What’s so unique about MPPT controllers is that they can convert at least 96% of solar draw into usable energy for your RVs.
Which is better?
The reality is that PWM controllers get the job done easily without costing a fortune.
But on the flip side, MPPT controllers are designed to take on more extensive setups. Plus, they are more reliable in the long run.
For RV owners who only have a couple of lights and a fan to power, especially on weekend trips, you won’t go wrong opting for a PWM controller.
However, if you have a heavy-duty system and intend to use your solar charge for weeks on end, your best bet is to buy an MPPT charger.
Similarly, if you have multiple solar panel systems, you’ll need the extra oomph provided by an MPPT controller.
A PWM controller should do a decent job for RVers who want to trickle charge their batteries and ensure that it works when needed.
Any solar system that needs more than two solar panels to work will most likely require the performance of an MPPT charge controller.
How to Choose the Best Solar Charge Controller for RVs
Having taken you through the two types of solar charge controllers available, it’s time to explore each model’s details further. This will help you decide what’s best for you.
Before you set out to find a decent controller that works for your system, you’ll need to know the maximum wattage your solar panels draw. Also, there is a need to consider the long-term goals of your system.
If this is your first time installing a solar system on your RV and you plan to upgrade your setup in the future, it’s best to ensure that your controller is functional when you increase your solar chargers.
A good place to start is calculating the total amperage draw your solar panel delivers at peak power. Knowing this will help you figure out exactly how much energy your solar panel provides when receiving maximum exposure from the sun.
As a rule of thumb, we always advise solar system owners to overestimate the energy drawn from their solar panels. This way, your solar charge controller doesn’t have to overwork to keep up constantly.
After figuring out your solar panel amperage, the next thing you need to know is your battery’s bank’s maxed voltage.
Always remember that regardless of what your solar amps deliver, it is irrelevant if your battery system can’t handle more than 80 amps. This is so because your solar charge controller won’t force energy into your battery system.
Even if you have several solar panels delivering hundreds of amps per hour, if your battery can’t handle the extra energy generated by your solar panels, your solar controller won’t be able to maximize all that power has been generated.
Your best bet is to opt for these two voltage numbers. Also, it’s best to opt for a solar charge controller that can provide 25% more power push than the lower of the two voltages.
For RVers who plan to upgrade their battery system or solar panels, we suggest you also upgrade your solar charge controller.
As you may already know, the job of the solar charge controller is to provide robust power transfer. But in today’s market, we have solar charge controllers that offer better options designed for your solar system to work better.
Some of the sophisticated solar charge controllers on the market today come with breathtaking features that make your solar array easier than ever.
Some of the best high-tech solar controllers on the market today feature a variety of data that provides a detailed report on how your solar system is maximizing solar energy at every step.
The leading solar charge controllers on the make feature a powerful Bluetooth technology. This feature ensures users are seamlessly able to access all this information.
With this feature, you have a robust knowledge of how much power your solar system provides. Also, you’ll know how much of that energy reaches the controller.
To add to that, you’ll also know how many volts make it from the controller to the battery system.
Because you have access to this information, you’ll know which aspect of your solar system excels and which part holds everything together.
With a controller with a Bluetooth feature, you can quickly know your battery’s power level.
Manually tweak voltage
Every type of battery out there has a unique voltage need. And even though most of the latest batteries on the market are built to work with solar systems, the specific type of battery you opt for will demand something different from your solar charge controller.
To ensure your controller works optimally, most solar charge controllers allow users to manually dictate the type of battery the controller will work with.
Did you know that including an on/off switch will increase the lifespan of your entire system? Oh yes. Having an on/off switch helps to regulate the performance of your solar system and most RVers have come to love this option.
Here’s the catch, most RVers would like a setup that lets them install their solar panels on their roofs, link the panels to their battery system through the solar charge controller. With this setup, there would be no need to monitor things for a while.
The thing about solar panels is that they are designed to keep drawing energy from the sun provided they feel the rays.
Unfortunately, if your solar charge controller cannot be tweaked (ON/OFF), it means you’ll have to disconnect the fuse directly from the battery bank everytime you no longer want the panels to charge your battery system. That sounds like a bit of work doesn’t it?
The thing about overcharging your system is that it can worsen things. By worsening, we mean eroding the interiors of your battery. And should that be the case, it is only a matter of time before your battery’s capabilities begin to drop.
If you plan to save space, especially in your tiny home and you intend to store your battery bank in a hard to reach area, then it makes sense to add a charge controller with an on/off switch to the mix.
Having this setup will ensure you don’t struggle with wires every time you want the system to charge.
Some red flags you should not ignore
If you have come across ads for solar charge controllers, you’ll agree that these ads are nicely put together and say all the right things. But guess what, it’s not always the case. And many times, it isn’t always easy to decide if a product is worth it or not.
If you come across a solar charge controller that is a lot more affordable than other controllers with the same output, it’s wise to check if it is UL-certified.
UL certification is conducted by a brand called UL. Their job is to maintain high standards for tech products. So any product with a UL certification is deemed safe to use.
Similarly, shoddy and cheaply designed charge controllers tend to make electrical noise. This can interfere with the performance of other devices in your home and we are sure you wouldn’t like that.
Charge controllers with UL certifications are an indication that the products are efficient, and safe. Above all, they won’t clog your airwaves, which is a good thing.
Because your solar charge controllers double as the heartbeat of your entire electrical charge system, it’s important you go for the best.
To this end, you must avoid buying shoddy products with misleading adverts and lofty promises.
To be on the safe side, we advise you to buy quality solar charge controllers with plenty of reviews. If possible, only go for products with warranty included.
Top solar charge controllers
Now that you know a thing or two about solar charge controllers, it’s time to take you through our list of best solar charge controllers.
We will use this opportunity to review some of the best products on the market to make your job of choosing the perfect charge controller for your solar system an easy one.
Renogy Wanderer PWM Solar Charge Controller
If you’re looking for a high quality solar charge controller, look no further than the all amazing solar charge controller.
This solar charge controller is popular among rig owners who rely solely on solar power. The remarkable thing about this product is that it spots tons of great features.
For starters, this solar charge controller features LED indicators. This feature helps to notify users about charge status and other critical battery info.
With these LED indicators in place, you’ll know exactly what’s happening to your battery system.
Another excellent feature of this device is its lithium battery mode. This brilliant feature ensures that the product performs better than other PMW options on the market.
Also, the lithium battery mode ensures that it is compatible with many 12V battery banks, including some of the very best 12 lithium models.
As if that’s not enough, we are thrilled that the product has an easy to use interface.
Compared to other products on the market, many first time users have lauded this product for its simplicity and easy to use design. Thanks to Renogy’s Bluetooth module, users can adjust and monitor everything directly from a smartphone using a dedicated app.
Besides all of the superb features of this product, the most attractive point is its price tag. To be honest with you, it will be hard to find solar charge controllers that will deliver the same result at this cost.
When shopping for solar charge controllers, it’s always exciting to come across one that is affordable, yet very effective.
Victron 100/50 Smart Solar MPPT Charge Controller
If what you’re intrested in is a solar charge controller that delivers on its promise, then look no further than this product from Victron. The product provides an excellent combination of features and unique price point.
Designed to handle multiple solar panel setups, you’ll be hard picked to find any solar charge controller better than this right now. To start with, this solar charge controller delivers 100 volts of pump at a time.
When deployed with a powerful battery, you can expect this device to bring out the best in your solar power system.
For campers who intend to explore the power of MPPT technology through a charge controller, you’ll need to ensure you get at least 15 watts of input voltage for your battery system. With this in place, you can expect your system to work without a hassle.
Victron goes above and beyond to ensure that their products stand out. For instance, this solar charge controller is able to completely revive a depleted battery and have it working optimally again in no time.
The most exciting part is that you get a whopping five years warranty with this product. With this option, you’re sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
EEEKit RV PWM Solar Charge Controller
If you’re interested in a simple solar charge controller with amazing features that gets the job done, then you’ll most likely love the new EEEKit’s RV PWM Solar Charge Controller.
This device is ranked as one of the most unique and outstanding solar charge controllers on the market today. While it is all shade of simple, this device performs overwhelmingly to keep your entire system running smoothly.
As we mentioned earlier, this solar charge controller has a list of remarkable features we love. For instance, this device spots a large LCD display that makes it seamless to read the status of your entire setup.
The LCD display also makes it easy for users to switch modes effortlessly. In addition, you can tweak charging parameters as you want. When using this tiny house solar charge controller, you’ll never feel out of control.
Another point we would love to reiterate is that this product has built in protections, including short-circuit, overload, open-circuit and overload protections. All these will ensure that your system runs smoothly.
Without mincing words, all these prebuilt features will ensure that your battery works efficiently and lasts as long as it should.
To wrap up, the most appealing thing about this charge controller is its easy installation process.
Unlike other charge controllers that are pretty challenging to install, this one is designed in such a way that anyone can set it up without sweating.
EPEVER MPPT 30A 12V/24V RV Solar Controller
The is Solar Charge controller is highly rated and ranks among the leading charge controllers currently available on the market.
Thanks to deploying advanced tech like MPPT, this device is prepped to deliver an efficiency rate of nothing less than 99.5%. Looking at this efficiency rating, only a few other products come close.
Similarly, users love that the products offer a whooping 98% conversion rate. With this in place, the device will maximize the energy generated by your solar panels, ensuring that your entire system works perfectly.
Compared to other products we have featured so far, this particular product has a lot of overwhelming great reviews that should convince you to give it a try. When it comes to easy of use, you can definitely count on this product.
Another brilliant feature that is worth mentioning is the device’s isolated RS485 interface.
This interface makes it easy for users to monitor and adjust parameters. This is possible via the dedicated app that can be installed on your smartphone.
Again, the product comes with a lot of impeccable built-in protections, including overcharging, PV reverse polarity and over-discharging. All these are to ensure your solar system performs optimally.
Renogy Adventurer 12V/24V PWM Charge Controller
If you’re looking for a charge controller that is easy to set up, then the famous Ronogy’s Adventurer 12V/24V PWM Charge Controller will be a brilliant choice. This product comes with a flush mount that makes it easy to install on a camper house or tiny home.
Another interesting thing about this product is its versatility. For instance, the device can work with gel, sealed or flooded batteries. And yes, it is compatible with 12V or 24V. This increases the number of situations where it can be deployed.
The device’s 4-stage charging is super efficient. This is a great feature as it prevents your battery system from encountering issues like overcharging and discharging. If you’ve always wanted a charge controller that increases your battery’s performance and longevity, this is the product for you.
And just like other options we have highlighted so far, this product comes with robust built-in protections designed to prevent issues like short-circuit, reverse polarity, overcharging and more. Let us also add that the device comes with a self-diagnostic system. This adds an extra layer of protection for your solar system.
Thanks to the brilliant features that come with this product, users can have peace of mind knowing that this device is built to deliver everything they want to see in a solar charge controller.
Also, the product price is quite fair as it falls within a realistic price range for some of the leading PWM solar charge controllers out there.
Frequently asked questions
Do I really need to get a solar charge controller for my tiny home?
One of the questions we get asked regularly is whether it is important to have a solar charge controller, especially if you live in an RV, a mobile home or a traditional tiny house. And to be honest, the answer is a resounding yes.
Not having a solar charge controller will put your entire system at risk, especially from short-circuiting, overcharging, over-discharging and more. To prevent any of these from happening, it’s always a smart move to get a solar charge controller for your solar system.
Do you need a solar charge controller for a 100w solar panel?
Since we have an idea of the power and voltage, we can simply just work out the current.
To find this, all you need to do is divide 100/12. This should give you 8.33 amps. From this answer, it’s safe to say that if you have a 100-watt solar panel, you can pair it with a 10 amp solar charge controller.
Our solar charge controllers expensive?
When it comes to solar charge controllers, there are a variety of options available on the market.
While some of these controllers are a tad expensive, there are a lot of affordable options on the market. So it all depends on your budget and how much you’re willing to spend.