Best Solar Panel Kits of 2021: reviews & buy guide
Are you looking for the best solar panel kit for your situation? Different kits are more effective in different situations, including various geographical areas. I compared the best options currently on the market to find the best choices. Our final list includes both casual at-home kits and complete off-grid solar kits.
The 7 Best Solar Panel Kits In 2021
|ACOPOWER 500W Kit||
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|Renogy 100W Kit||
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|ECO-WORTHY 400W Kit||
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|ECO-WORTHY 3900W Kit||
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|ECO-WORTHY 2300W Kit||
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|ECO-WORTHY 2000W Kit||
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|Newpowa 200W Kit||
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Solar Panel Kit Reviews
Here are the best solar panel kits currently available, updated for the needs and expectations of 2021.
This is easily the best starter solar kit for anyone new to installing them, and it has a couple of points that make it stand out. Five hundred watts in multiple panels are better for running minor appliances than a single larger, 400W panel like you might see in other sets.
For example, it’s possible to power a small energy-efficient refrigerator with 500 watts. This is also high enough to charge most computers and light bulbs, car battery chargers, radios, and most other traditionally battery-powered devices; especially if you add another battery to your system, as detailed in this helpful video from ACOPOWER:
Ultimately, 500 watts is a useful amount of energy while still small enough to set up in most areas.
I particularly like how this solar kit uses relatively small panels that you can mount in most areas. That makes them much more viable for many homes than a single large panel. It’s technically an RV solar kit, but you can also install it in fixed locations around your house, campsite, or anywhere else.
Finally, this kit comes with a 25-year transferable power output warranty on the panels, which is more than enough to get your money’s worth even if you have to replace wires and other components.
This kit is reasonably affordable and easy to set up, so look here if you want a basic system. However, keep in mind that this kit doesn’t come with a battery or an inverter, so you need to get those separately.
I’ll be blunt here: 100W isn’t much if you want to use it immediately. It’s enough to power a 42-inch LED television, sure, but even that depends on the TV’s specific energy usage (1).
In other words, there are two main situations where a 100W panels come in handy, covered in detail in this guide.
The first situation is when you want to string several panels together, in which case you can buy panels individually to get more power.
The second situation is using these panels to charge batteries while you’re doing something else, then drawing power from those batteries as you need them.
Solar panels are conveniently simple that way. If you’re willing to wait while things charge, you don’t need a large array. Similarly, if you want to get a bunch of panels or expand an existing system, it might be cheaper to get a budget panel instead of a larger kit.
This is a particularly nice choice for RVs with low power requirements. For example, you can use this to keep your battery or phone charged up, providing a level of reliability you can’t get with the RV itself.
The corrosion-resistant aluminum frame is a nice touch, too, making it fully suitable for extended outdoor use.
3. ECO-WORTHY 400W Kit: Best Home Solar Kit
Panel Type: Monocrystalline
- Voltage: 24
- Kit Contains: 100W solar panel (4), 20A charge controller, 50Ah Battery, 1500W inverter, Pair of Y Branch solar panel connectors, Z mounting brackets (4 sets), 16.4 ft solar extension cable, 6.56 ft controller-battery extension cable, 0.98 ft battery-battery extension cable
- Battery: 50Ah LiFePO4 Lithium Iron Phosphate
- Inverter: 24V DC-110V Inverter
Unlike the first two options on this list, ECO-WORTHY’s 400W kit comes with both a battery and an inverter so you can connect it directly to your devices. That’s a significant part of why it’s more expensive than the best overall kit despite only providing 80% of the watts.
However, as a complete system, I like this kit significantly more than the #1 choice. You should have batteries and inverters no matter what, so kits that avoid them only save you money if you already have them.
ECO-WORTHY rates this kit for decades of use under both high winds and snow loads. Like many solar panel kits, this option is perfect for RVs with enough space to mount the panels, but it’s equally suitable for home use in areas with enough sunlight.
The one thing to keep in mind with this kit is that it’s fundamentally more complicated than the best overall kit. Hooking things up in the wrong places could end up damaging or destroying your devices, so make sure you read the instructions thoroughly before each step.
4. ECO-WORTHY 3900W Kit: Best Complete Off-Grid Kit
Panel Type: Monocrystalline
- Voltage: 48
- Kit Contains: 195W solar panel (20), 6-string combiner box, 60A charge controller, battery (8), inverter, solar cable with one connector, solar cable with female and male connectors (5), Z mounting brackets (20 sets), tray cable, battery cable (6)
- Battery: 12V, 100AH lead-acid
- Inverter: 2500W, 48V off-grid inverter
As the wattage implies, this is a kit for serious use. With eight included batteries, a high-capacity inverter, and 20 solar panels that are all roughly twice as big as those in the #3 choices above, this is easily the highest-output solar kit on my list.
ECO-WORTHY rates this kit for about 16 kWh per day, assuming at least four hours of full sunshine. For context, that’s about half of the average household’s 29.2 kWh per day, or 877 kWh per month (2).
If you’re not running a lot of devices all the time, this is more than enough to let you run your house entirely off-grid.
Now, price is an essential consideration in this range. As of 2019, the average electricity bill for a house is about $115 per month (3). If you get a 12-month payment plan, you could expect to pay around $500 per month for this, or less if you get a longer payment plan through a credit purchase.
To summarize the math, with this system, it could possibly pay for itself in around 5 years, assuming you’re using about the same amount of electricity it provides before you switch over. Regional differences will, as always, affect how fast you’ll start saving money.
5. ECO-WORTHY 2300W Kit: Best Backup Kit
Panel Type: Monocrystalline
- Voltage: 24
- Kit Contains: 195W solar panel (12), 6-string combiner box, 60A charge controller, battery (4), inverter, solar cable with one connector, solar cable with female and male connectors (6), tray cable, battery cable (2), Z mounting brackets (12 sets)
- Battery: 100AH lead-acid battery
- Inverter: 3000W 24V-110V Inverter
This kit is a little different from the others. As you saw in #4, a 3900W kit is roughly enough to replace half of a standard household’s electricity usage. This kit is closer to replacing a third of that energy, which isn’t quite enough unless you’re running a particularly low-energy home.
If you don’t need much electricity, this can work as an entirely off-grid setup.
Otherwise, this falls into what I call “the backup zone,” which means it’s enough to power essential things like fridges, freezers, and home medical equipment, but not full household device usage.
In that sense, this is also one of my favorite long-term kits. It can reduce your monthly electric bills (although probably not eliminate them) and still provide enough power to keep things running during emergencies. That makes it an excellent long-term investment.
Make sure to set this up on a separate system if you want to get the most value from it. That means linking your essential devices to these panels rather than any external power lines.
Doing this reduces your electricity bills as much as possible, helping you realize your savings without sacrificing the utility of a solar grid.
Panel Type: Monocrystalline
- Voltage: 24
- Kit Contains: 195W solar panel (10), battery (4), inverter, 6 string combiner box, solar cables (6), tray cable, battery cable (3), Z mounting brackets (10 sets)
- Battery: 12V, 100AH lead-acid
- Inverter: 3000W, 24V inverter
This is the little cousin of the previous system, and it’s closer to 25% of a regular household’s daily energy use. I don’t like this system as much because it’s just a little too underpowered to serve as an emergency backup system while also not replacing enough electricity usage to see a faster reduction in electricity bills.
However, this is still an excellent supplementary system for another solar panel array. It’s also a decent choice for smaller houses that don’t have the roof space for a more extensive system. Smaller homes also tend to have lower energy requirements, so it’s worth considering.
For context, this isn’t quite enough electricity to power most central air conditioning systems. However, it may be enough to power some individual room air conditioning, which is worthwhile in its own right.
Like all solar panel systems, this system works best when you calculate your expected energy usage and determine how much you need or how much you can replace.
Remember that solar panels may have different effectiveness levels throughout the year, so it’s better to have some room to spare instead of getting panels that produce exactly as much energy as you need.
This arguably isn’t a complete kit because it doesn’t come with a battery or an inverter. However, it is a high-efficiency panel package that you can connect via the included cables to provide additional power, making it worth considering for some buyers.
The thing that stands out about this kit is that it’s designed for marine use. The saltwater environment that many boats traverse is fundamentally harsher than most home environments, so panels durable enough to hold up under these conditions are generally more reliable over more extended periods.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind before buying this panel. First, the two panels may be harder to install in some areas than a single panel.
Second, 200W isn’t much. It’s not high enough to power both a television and a modern game console at the same time unless you’re using a battery, although it is enough to help charge some devices.
That makes this panel somewhat hard to use alone, but it’s easy enough to connect it to a larger array. Most notably, you can buy this as an individual panel to fit in areas where other kits would have too many extra panels that you can’t use. Just make sure you get the right cables and mounting brackets for your environment.
What Are The Benefits Of Using Solar Energy Kits?
It’s Sustainable And Renewable
Solar energy is extraordinarily sustainable as an energy source. While the amount of energy available varies by location, the sun is an unlimited source of energy for all practical purposes.
Every second, the sun produces up to 384.6 septillion watts of energy. It is an immensely powerful, virtually never-ending source (5).
It shines every day, and even heavy cloud cover can’t stop a sufficiently large solar grid from producing enough energy to meet demands.
It Saves Money
While the exact savings vary based on factors like grid size and direct hours of daily sunlight, most solar grid systems save money by eliminating some or all of your monthly utility bills. The critical thing to remember here is that they save money over time.
Most solar systems will pay for themselves in about ten years of use at current rates. This will probably drop further as system efficiencies get higher and production costs go down.
Current solar panels have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, although researchers are trying to increase this to about 50 years (6).
In practice, this means that a modern solar panel is paying off what you spent on it for up to 40% of its life, after which it’s essentially ‘free’ because you’re not spending money that you otherwise would have. There may be some minor maintenance costs, but these are still much lower than regular electricity bills.
This value proposition only continues going up as solar systems get more durable and reliable. The more you use it, the more you’ll save over the long term.
Better Home Values
Solar panels are great for home values. Specifically, they’re worth about $15,000 for the value of a house, even if they don’t fully substitute for a home’s energy needs (7). That’s significantly more than most solar kits cost to start with, so outside of the energy savings themselves, installing solar panels on your house could be profitable.
This is mainly relevant if you’re thinking about selling your home shortly. The maximum profit comes from using the system for long enough to get the actual cost savings, then selling the house before the panels get too old to keep contributing value. Expect any buyers to ask about the age of the system.
Bigger solar kits tend to have a higher impact on home values. If you have a particularly large roof, you may even be able to install and link several solar kits together, with a corresponding upgrade in home values.
To a lesser extent, solar panels may also improve the resale value of RVs. This isn’t anywhere near as significant as houses can expect, but RVs with solar panels are fundamentally more attractive than those without.
Solar Is Available (Almost) Everywhere
Solar energy is practical almost everywhere in the country. There are a few places where it’s not as useful, especially in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, but even these areas can see cost savings over time.
As the former U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said,
As the technology for solar cells gets better and better, this form of clean, renewable energy will find more applications that take up less space and produce more electricity, to meet the energy needs of our homes, schools, and businesses.
Still, despite its prevalence throughout the States, your experience with solar energy may differ, depending on your region. Areas that get more sunlight throughout the year, notably California, Arizona, and Hawaii, make solar power particularly viable (9).
The important thing to remember is that while most solar systems are practical throughout the year, certain days may see far lower energy generation than usual.
Further, solar power can tie into the electrical grid, and some areas will even pay you for supplying energy to them. This is likely to become an essential part of national energy production in the future, with panels dispersed throughout the United States potentially providing enough energy to power all of it (10).
Right now, that spread is primarily academic. What matters is that solar panel kits themselves are viable everywhere, and all that matters is choosing the right kit for your needs.
How to Choose the Right Solar Panel Kit
Choosing a solar panel kit can be complicated, given all the available options.
Here’s what to consider when selecting the right kit for your project:
Is it Better to Get a Solar Panel and Battery Kit?
Solar kits mostly come in two forms: just the panels and wires, or with inverters and batteries. But is it better to get a solar panel and battery kit?
Kits that have inverters and batteries are fundamentally more useful because they let you store the energy long-term and power devices that require AC, rather than just the DC you can get directly from your battery.
However, kits with batteries and inverters are also noticeably more expensive, typically running several hundred dollars more than a kit without them.
You don’t want to run into a situation where you have many batteries that are incompatible with your panels, either. This means that making a more complex solar system requires planning and ensuring each component will work with the others.
With all of that said, I recommend getting a complete kit with both a battery and an inverter the first time you buy a solar kit unless you’re buying it for something like an RV system that already has those.
Having a complete, ready-to-install kit is easier than figuring out which parts and cables to buy separately. Once you have some hands-on experience, you can start customizing things with other panels.
What is the Best Solar Panel Kit for Going Off-Grid?
The best solar panel kit for going off-grid is the one that meets your energy requirements with a generous margin of error.
It’s best to invest in panels that have at least a 30% margin between the amount of power you need and what the panels produce. This is because most solar panels lose efficiency over time, degrading at about 1% a year (11).
Note that this degradation rate will vary, depending on when your system was manufactured. Those made before the year 2000 degrade at 0.5% annually, and most models post-2000 weaken at less than 0.4% yearly.
Having a large margin of error ensures that you can keep using your kit effectively for 20-30 years before replacing the panels (12).
Suppose you need 1900W of energy and only generate 2000W. In that case, you might not even finish getting the savings from using the panels before they start producing too little energy to meet your needs, essentially leading your investment to backfire.
The good news is that you can often link multiple solar panel systems together, although you may need to get a few more wires and battery parts for that. If you have the space to mount your panels, this will help ensure that you have more than enough electricity to meet all of your needs.
What are the Specifications of Solar Panel Kits?
Each solar panel kit on the list above comes with some important specifications. If you’re not familiar with those, here’s what they mean.
Most solar panels use crystalline silicon PV cells, which show relatively high efficiency compared to most other materials on the market (13). There are two forms of these panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline.
Monocrystalline panels are the ‘premium’ version of solar cells because they’re more efficient at converting sunlight into usable energy. They’re outstanding in situations where space constraints are significant, and you want to maximize the power you can generate.
However, monocrystalline panels are also more expensive than polycrystalline panels, which could mean they’ll take longer to pay themselves off. These panels usually have a black hue.
Monocrystalline solar panels normally have an efficiency rate of 15-20%, while polycrystalline panels are typically rated at 13-16% (14).
Polycrystalline panels are made from melting many small bits of silicon together. This is much cheaper than creating monocrystalline panels, but it also reduces the amount of space electrons have to move in, which means they’re less efficient.
Polycrystalline panels are usually a better choice when you have lots of room to install the panels and want to save some money. They tend to have a blue hue, which makes them instantly and visibly distinct from monocrystalline panels.
Voltage determines a solar panel array’s output power, usually after it goes through a charge controller system to balance the load and help ensure a steady output. Even solar panel kits that don’t have batteries or inverters usually have a charge controller, especially if the kit has multiple panels in it.
Most solar kits output either 12V or 24V. These are industry-standard amounts that match multiples of the most common battery systems, which tend to be 12V. Particularly large systems may go up to 48V and charge more batteries at one time, but those are more expensive than other options.
While you can power devices directly from a solar panel, it’s usually better to go through a battery first, then draw power from that. Batteries can have many types of outputs, so the voltage in solar systems is best understood as its charging power and the maximum you can draw from an active grid over time.
The kit components include everything that comes with the starter kit. In most cases, this is one or more solar panels, relevant wires, and a charge controller. Some systems also have batteries and inverters with them.
A battery’s specifications are mainly helpful for understanding its maximum capacity and how much it can output to your other devices at one time.
Most batteries are measured in amp-hours. Many solar panel kits come with 100AH batteries, which stands for 100 amp-hours. The term “amp-hour” (officially, “ampere-hours) refers to the number of hours for which a battery can produce a current at its specified voltage (usually 12 or 24 volts) (15).
Drawing more amps at one time reduces the practical number of amp-hours. For example, if you’re drawing 2 amps from a 100AH battery, it can only power that appliance 50 hours versus 100 hours at 1 amp.
Other specifications, such as the difference between lead-acid and lithium batteries, can affect the battery’s performance, too. Lithium batteries tend to be more susceptible to fluctuating environmental conditions and may suffer from over-and under-voltages (16).
Still, lithium batteries can provide a better performance in terms of longevity and discharge. Jeremy Allen from Unbound Solar puts it like this:
Lithium batteries are able to be discharged a lot deeper, in fact, close to 100% depth of discharge versus a lead battery that we don’t want to take more than 50%, and 50% is still deep for a lead battery.
Ultimately, a battery’s depth of discharge means how long it can power things before needing to be recharged (17).
Finally, many solar panel kit models come with an inverter that can change DC to AC and let your solar system work with many more devices.
However, to determine the capacity you need, you’ll want to calculate how many watts your typical energy usage involves. Then, scale up a bit; this helps provide a generous range for sudden power surges and unexpected problems without damaging any connected devices.
Most solar systems aren’t at any particular risk of having major surges, but it’s always better to be safe. A higher capacity than is necessary may be excessive in a way, but it won’t hurt anything.
There are three types of solar inverters to choose from:
- String: This is typical for small-scale systems. All electrical appliances in the home are “strung” to a central inverter. These are the best economical solution but require consistent sunlight; otherwise, performance will suffer.
- Power optimizer: These can be used alongside string models. Instead of converting DC to AC, the “condition” the current for transport through the string inverter, enhancing the panel’s performance.
- Microinverter: Instead of a centralized system, each panel has its own mini-inverter. These are ideal for complex setups or roofs that get a lot of shade, as they boost the panel’s individual performance instead of the system as a whole.
How Easy is it to Install a Solar Power System Kit?
In many cases, beginners can install solar power system kits for themselves. Manufacturers want to keep complexity as low as possible with these starter kits, which means most systems are no more complicated than connecting the correct wires to each part.
The real complexity of installing one of the best solar panel kits comes from mounting them on brackets at the correct angle. Getting the right angle is key to maximizing the effectiveness of the panel throughout the year.
The best angle for a solar panel depends on the latitude, with the goal being to get the panel as perpendicular to the sun as possible. The sun moves throughout the year, so unless you get particularly fancy with the installation, it won’t be perfect. It can, however, be good enough.
The best angles range from 30 degrees to about 45 degrees, although this can vary somewhat depending on where you live. Other factors like the presence of trees or exposure to the weather can also affect the best angle to install a solar panel kit at.
Most solar panel starter kit models ship with Z brackets, which slightly elevate them away from whatever you’re installing them to (normally a roof) without sacrificing durability. You might need other components to change the installation angle.
You can get more information about selecting the right kit from the PVWatts Calculator, from NREL (18). The PVWatts Calculator allows you to input information like your geographic location and the type of array you’re using, including the angle you plan to install it at, and calculate anticipated performance throughout the year.
Getting the right results from this kit takes some practice and expertise, but it’s great for seeing how much energy you can expect to get at different times of the year. This is important because winter sunlight tends to produce far less energy.
You can add more batteries to your solar panel kit to help prevent energy waste, and enable you to power more appliances during emergencies.
In most cases, the best setup draws power evenly from all of the batteries in your system. In larger arrays, this can be a dozen or more batteries. Spreading the load helps reduce the risk you’ll drain any battery too far. If possible, try to use the same type of battery throughout your entire solar grid. This helps reduce the chance that differences in systems will cause damage somewhere.
No, you do not have to install a solar panel kit yourself because you can hire contractors to install solar panel kits for you. There are plenty of agencies and independent contractors who can do this for you. Some companies may require you to purchase their solar panel kit, however, so shop around to find the starter kit and service you need.
In some states, you will require a permit to install a solar panel kit. In most cases, independent panels that will not be connected to outside electrical grids, such as those installed on RVs, don’t require a permit.
However, you’ll almost certainly need a permit if you’re installing a solar panel kit on your house. The exact process varies by state, so you’ll need to check the guidelines in your area. Most regions manage this at the city level (although some areas may do it at the county level instead), so check with your local government first.
- Watch the Watts: Tips for Buying a New Television. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/articles/watch-watts-tips-buying-new-television
- How much electricity does an American home use? Retrieved from: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=97&t=3
- Average monthly electricity bill for U.S. residential customers declined in 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=46276
- Benefits of Residential Solar Electricity. Retrieved from: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/benefits-residential-solar-electricity
- How does the sun produce energy? Retrieved from: https://phys.org/news/2015-12-sun-energy.html
- Making solar panels that last half a century. Retrieved from: https://thedaily.case.edu/making-solar-panels-last-half-century/
- Appraising into the Sun: Six-State Solar Home Paired-Sales Analysis. Retrieved from: https://emp.lbl.gov/publications/appraising-sun-six-state-solar-home
- M. Tech in Power and Energy Systems [Full Time]. Retrieved from: https://reva.edu.in/course/m.tech-in-power-and-energy-systems-[full-time]
- Solar Radiation of Hawai’i. Retrieved from: http://solar.geography.hawaii.edu/
- Solar Photovoltaic Power: Short Term Volatility and Its Future Under Climate Change. Retrieved from: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/38811441/BARRINGER-SENIORTHESIS-2016.pdf
- What Is the Lifespan of a Solar Panel? Retrieved from: https://www.engineering.com/story/what-is-the-lifespan-of-a-solar-panel
- PVWatts Calculator. Retrieved from: https://pvwatts.nrel.gov/pvwatts.php
- Crystalline and Polycrystalline Silicon PV Technology. Retrieved from: http://astro1.panet.utoledo.edu/~relling2/teach/archives/6980.4400.2011/20110224_PHYS_6980_4400.pdf
- Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline Solar Panels. Retrieved from: https://ases.org/monocrystalline-vs-polycrystalline-solar-panels/
- Battery Capacity. Retrieved from: https://www.pveducation.org/pvcdrom/battery-characteristics/battery-capacity
- Lithium Battery Health and Capacity Estimation Techniques Using Embedded Electronics. Retrieved from: https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1596204
- Lead Acid vs. Lithium Batteries: Which Are Better For Solar? Retrieved from: https://unboundsolar.com/blog/lead-acid-vs-lithium-batteries
- NREL’s PVWatts® Calculator. Retrieved from: https://pvwatts.nrel.gov/
Hi, Im Dara. Born and raised in Farmingdale NY and I spend my time online covering alternative energy news and local developments,in the space. My mission is to help more people realise the benefits of using alternative energy. When i’m not blogging about energy you’ll find me walking my dog, working out, or practicing meditation!