Looking to live a little more green? Investing in sustainable choices for your daily life can have a multitude of benefits!
That’s why we’re here to help you discover how to implement sustainable choices with ease. Whether you’re looking to identify organic foods or want to discover new ways to defend organic standards, we have tons of articles to offer the insight into sustainability you’re looking for.
One of the most beneficial green choices we hope you make is investing in clean energy. A solar energy setup can be an easy way to live a little more green, especially with a really good solar panel. Solar panels can be a fantastic investment for a multitude of reasons, but a more green lifestyle is definitely the top one!
There is a ton of great tech out there today that can provide solar energy alternatives to damaging fuel-based energy. However, like many consumers, you may be at a loss when it comes to understanding this technology and where to start before taking the plunge into purchasing your own solar panel.
If you’re looking for a beginner’s guide to solar panels, you’ve come to the right place! This article is the perfect place to start if you’ve ever wanted to make solar panels a part of your everyday life.
We’re going to cover everything you need to know about solar panels, how they function, their pros and cons, and everything you need to know before you buy. We’ll even leave some product recommendations for you so you can start your journey. Let’s dive in!
Best Overall Solar Panels
If you’re looking for a solid, well-reviewed investment, we recommend the following products:
The Renogy 200 Watt Solar Suitcase is a solid investment for an at-home solar energy setup! This solar panel comes in a foldable canvas suitcase, making it ideal for easy transport if you want to take your panel on the go. If you’re looking to fuel a generator while on the road, this can easily be stored in RV storage or the back of a car for camping trips.
This solar panel is compatible with gel, sealed, lithium, and flooded batteries, meaning it can be incorporated into various setups depending on the equipment it’s paired with. It also comes with an LCD to display critical battery information.
- 200 Watts
- 9 lbs
- Operating Current: 10.5A
- Operating Voltage: 18.5V
- Has Monocrystalline solar cells
- Convenient foldable design for easy transport
- Includes LCD screen to display critical details
- Negative-ground charge controller lowers the chance of electrical shock hazards
- Heavy weight can limit transportability for some
- Would require additional hardware to permanently mount to a roof setup
Jackery is a leading name in the solar power system game, meaning you can put your trust in this great solar panel!
Though this isn’t best suited for a roof set up, the Jackery panel can provide on-the-go power. The Jackery 60W panel is easily compatible with Jackery’s wide variety of generator offerings, making this an easy pick for on-the-go solar power setups.
This panel’s foldable design means it can be easily set up to recharge. It’s also extremely lightweight at only 3.3 lbs, making it easily movable for most consumers. It also comes with a storage bag for easy travel!
This panel is also great for charging products without a generator. A back panel on this solar panel can open to reveal a USB-A and USB-C port for easy device charging. If you want to avoid investing in a generator but want a simple panel for device charging on the go, this could be a great investment.
- 60 Watts
- 3 lbs
- Operating Current: 3.09A
- Operating Voltage: 26.4 V
- Includes USB-A and USB-C ports for easy charging
- Easily compatible with Jackery generator products
- Carrying bag and handle for easy storage
- Lightweight & easy to use
- 60W of power not ideal for charging more than small devices/electronics
- Not waterproof
- Cannot operate in temperatures under -10℃
This 100W panel is designed for easy transport and compatibility. With four different size connectors, this solar panel is compatible with the most popular solar generators on the market, making it an easy pick for most portable solar panel setups.
This panel is also super lightweight and transportable, weighing only 10.8 lbs and folding to a 20 x 14 inch square for easy storage. Its storage case is durable and waterproof, for some added peace of mind.
- 8 lbs
- Operating Current: 5.4A
- Operating Voltage: 16-18V
- Lightweight and foldable for easy storage
- 2 fast-charging QC USB charging ports
- Easily compatible with other generators/systems
- Monocrystalline solar cells
- Slow charge speeds
- Only a 24-month warranty
- Cannot operate in temperatures below 0℃
Best Budget Solar Panels
If you want to start small, these budget options can be a great introduction to solar panels:
The TP-Solar Panel Kit is perfect for charging small devices on the go. Though this won’t have the power to charge large scale devices or appliances, it can provide ideal power for charging cell phones and other small electronics.
Multiples of these can be hooked up to a larger set up if needed, making it a cheap option to improve your setup! This solar panel kit includes a solar panel, charge controller, extension cable, and o-ring terminals to connect it to other systems.
- 84 LBS
- Operating Current: 1.4A
- Operating Voltage: 21.8V
- Small and lightweight
- Made with monocrystalline solar panel cells
- Short-circuit protection
- Only compatible with lead-acid batteries
- Small wattage makes it better for smaller electricity needs
Designed for smaller devices, these solar panels can provide great backup power for small energy needs. If you want to add some juice to an existing setup or need to power something small such as a simple battery, lighting, or gate openers, this panel is a great choice.
- 15 lbs
- 5-year warranty
- Waterproof junction box
- Corrosion-resistant aluminum frame
- Only capable of powering small devices
- Mounting bracket not included
This 21W panel is the perfect hiking companion. It’s lightweight, foldable design can easily fit in a backpack, and its two USB ports make charging on the go a breeze.
This panel also includes a carabiner to easily attach to the back of a backpack while walking. It’s also durable and waterproof, making it a perfect choice for someone on the go.
- 38 lbs
- Voltage: 6V
- Includes two USB ports
- Lightweight and easily transportable
- Monocrystalline solar cells
- 5-year warranty included
- Cannot power large devices or be added to a larger solar system setup
- Cannot operate in extreme cold (Under -20℃)
Best Premium Solar Panels
For those willing to invest a little more, these are some great picks:
This LENSUN solar panel kit includes a foldable 200W solar panel, waterproof carry bag, MC4 connectors, and various adapters for easy incorporation into any solar setup. This kit will have everything you need to add this panel into your existing setup or an on-the-go generator for solar charging.
- Operating Voltage: 18W
- Operating Current: 11.11A
- Easy storage and setup
- Monocrystalline solar cells
- Includes MPPT Solar Controller with an eBox WIFI Adapter for wireless monitoring
- Carrying bag included
- Can only charge lead-acid and lithium batteries
- Mounting equipment not included
This is another solar panel designed for easy transport! This 120-watt solar panel can provide efficient power on the go. This panel kit includes a waterproof foldable carrying case and various ports and attachments to easily pair it with different inverters and generators.
- 9 lbs
- Equipped with fast-charging USB Ports
- 120W of power provides energy for powering both electronic devices and small appliances
- Light weight and carrying case make for easy transport
- Regulated voltage output
- Mounting equipment not included
What is a Solar Panel?
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s break down exactly what solar panels are and how they help create solar power.
The concept of solar energy has been around for over 100 years. In its first iteration, solar energy was normally harnessed through the production of steam that was used to power machinery. However, when the photovoltaic effect was discovered by Edmond Becquerel in 1893, the first solar cell was able to be developed.
As we know them today, a solar panel is a device that uses photovoltaics (VC) technology to turn sunlight into electricity. Solar panels can capture thermal energy from the sun and convert it via photovoltaic cells into energy.
Solar panels are composed of several solar cells, typically made of silicon, phosphorus, and boron. These panels absorb photons from sunlight to create electric currents.
These solar cells are housed between two layers of encapsulation resting on a back sheet, keeping the cells insulated and safe. These layers are mounted on a frame, usually made of a metal like aluminum, with a glass layer on top. These make up the panels that a consumer would mount to their home or hook up a generator to store captured solar energy.
Solar panels tend to utilize two different types of solar cells, polycrystalline and monocrystalline:
Polycrystalline Solar Panel
These solar panels are made of silicon, made by melting together different fragments of silicon to create a cell. These panels tend to have a lower price point, as they can be less efficient than monocrystalline solar panels.
Monocrystalline Solar Panel
These solar panels are made with silicon like polycrystalline, but the difference here is that they are cut from a single crystal. These panels are usually made of higher grade silicon’s and are more efficient than polycrystalline, but as such, they have a higher price point.
Typically, solar panels are a part of a larger solar energy system. You would hook up your solar panels to either a solar generator, designed to capture and store solar energy for on the go use, or an inverter in your home, designed to convert energy into a form to run your household.
However, many solar panels today are equipped with outlets to charge small devices without additional equipment. In this guide, we’re sticking to looking at some basic solar panels that can be integrated into different solar power setups and/or charge devices on the go.
What Are the Benefits of Investing in Solar Panels?
Now that we know more about solar panels, let’s determine if they are right for you! There is a multitude of benefits to investing in solar panels as a part of a clean energy system:
Renewable, Clean Energy
No more depending on finite resources! With solar energy, you can be rest assured that your energy isn’t only clean and sustainable- it’s also infinite and free!
Unlike fossil fuels and oils used to power most generators, the sun can be harvested continually without negatively impacting the environment. You can live your life knowing you’re not producing greenhouse gasses or polluting water systems to power your home.
Lower Your Bills
Even if living a life more green isn’t in your best interest, having some more green in your wallet just might be! By investing in a solar energy system, you’ll be able to depend less on your utility provider, leading to big savings on your monthly energy bill.
The more energy your system can produce, the less traditional power you’ll need. This can become especially beneficial if you want a solar energy system for an on the go lifestyle.
If you’re looking for some remote power during RV trips or camping, fueling a traditional generator with gas can be expensive. With a solar generator and solar panel set up, you can easily source power anywhere you are, with no additional cost.
Improve Property Value
Though creating and installing a solar panel setup on your home can be costly, it could offer a great return on investment in the long run. Homes with built-in solar panels and solar power systems tend to sell for more money than those without it.
A study conducted by Berkeley Lab in the United States determined that homes equipped with solar energy systems tend to increase in value by approximately $15,000-$20,000 depending on the state they were in.
Remote Power in Emergencies
Whether you live in an environment prone to natural disasters or are simply looking to keep your home and family safe, solar energy can offer some peace of mind.
Being without power for an extended period of time can be dangerous in emergency scenarios. With solar panel energy set up, you can rest assured that you will be able to power your devices and appliances off-the-grid.
For an even bigger return on investment, you can thank federal tax credits for investing in green energy! There are different federal income tax credits available for both residents and businesses looking to invest in solar panels and other green energy setups to be more energy-efficient.
You can explore the different tax credits available. Depending on your options, these tax credits could be leveraged to justify investing in a larger setup, helping you save on cost.
What Are the Cons of Investing in Solar Panels?
Now that we’ve looked at the benefits, we also have to look at the drawbacks. Here are some of the cons of investing in solar panels:
Even a small solar panel can end up being expensive. If you’re looking to invest in solar panels, especially ones that are capable of powering a whole family home, you should expect to spend into the $1000s.
Not only will you need to invest in solar panels, but you’ll also need to look into generators, inverters, and other equipment that make up the entirety of your solar power set up.
Though the upfront cost is high, these systems tend to pay for themselves in the long run, especially when you factor in reducing energy bill costs.
Energy Dependent on Weather
Though access to the sun is widely available, it isn’t foolproof! The amount of power your solar panels will provide will depend on their access to direct sunlight.
Before you invest in your solar panels, it’s good to determine how much direct sunlight they can access a day. If you live in a climate that tends to be cloudy and rainy, you may not get the energy levels you desire out of your panels.
The same is true if you create a setup that is prone to shade or blocked sunlight. If trees heavily shade your house, you may want to factor in how they’ll affect the amount of energy that can be captured by your solar panel.
Suppose your energy needs depend on power access 100%of the time. In that case, you’ll have to either build a setup capable of storing reserve power to carry you through those cloudy days or look into additional power sources. Pairing your solar power setup with other sustainable energy sources, such as wind-powered energy, can help you solve these issues!
Solar Panels Take Up Space
Solar panels aren’t small! With most panels sized at around 3ft x 7ft, you’ll need to ensure you have the space to store your set up.
If you’re building an at-home setup, consider the surface area you have available on your roof to mount your panels. If you’re looking for panels to take on the go, consider the space you’ll need in your packing. Many on-the-go panels come in easily foldable designs that can make them perfect for easy trunk storage if you’re taking your solar energy system on the road.
What to Know Before You Buy?
Now that we know the pros and cons, you’ve hopefully decided solar panels are right for you! Before we dive into our specific product recommendations, we wanted to outline a few key things to know before you buy:
Are Your Panels Compatible With Your Generator/Inverter?
As we stated earlier, solar panels often need to be paired with a generator or inverter as a part of a larger energy set up. Though some panels have direct outputs for charging small electronics and appliances, providing power to multiple devices/appliances requires additional hardware.
Before your purchase your solar panels, you’ll want to make sure they are compatible with your other tech. The main thing you need to keep an eye on is your generator device’s wattage and how it compares to your panels’ wattage.
If you buy solar panels that are higher in wattage than your generator, they won’t be compatible. So, for example, if you have a 600-watt generator, you can look to connect up to 6 individual 100-watt panels. If you want to add more panels, you’ll need to up the watts on your energy storage system.
How Many Panels Will You Need?
As we discussed above, the number of panels you can invest in depends on the size of your generator system. But the larger question here becomes, how many panels/how many watts do you need for your energy needs?
To determine how many panels you’ll want to purchase, you’ll first need to determine what kind of power you need. The more devices/appliances you have, the more power you’ll need.
If you’re looking for a basic on-the-go setup, a single panel and generator can be useful for powering lights or charging small devices while camping or RVing. However, if you want to power your home, you’ll need to determine how much power your personal electronics, appliances, and devices need.
Thankfully, there are a ton of great resources online to help you figure out what you’ll need. Try using a Solar Panel Calculator to figure out your energy consumption.
Is There a Manufacturer’s Warranty?
Since solar panels are so expensive, it’s worth ensuring that a warranty covers you in case of any damage to your panels. Most reputable solar panel companies will offer some kind of warranty period.
Finding a warranty that can cover up to 25 years can ensure you’re covered for the entire lifetime of your panels. To really play it safe, investing in larger brands will help you make sure these brands stick around throughout the entire lifetime of your panels.
Can I Use Solar Net-Metering?
Net-metering, also known as net energy metering, can help you save some major money with your new solar setup. A Net Energy Metering billing structure means a homeowner is allowed to store energy within an electric grid. The extra energy you generate can be exchanged for a credit against future energy consumption, saving you money on your bill.
This means that even on those days when the clouds are limiting your solar energy supply, you can still save cost, using your backed-up energy “credit” towards your utility bill when using your cities utilities to power your home.
This will also ensure that the energy your panels generate never goes to waste, even if you’re not using it. Your energy will be sent to your utility electricity provider to cover other consumers, giving you credit towards your own electricity costs.
If you live entirely off the grid, this billing structure may not be useful. However, for those looking to use solar panels as a supplement to already available power or as a backup, net metering can be another great way to save on cost and provide clean energy in your community. Just be sure your utility provider offers this service.