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One of the most considered upgrades for RVing is solar power. Before we started full time RVing in our 29′ motorhome, we lived out of it for two months. Four of those weeks were spent dry camping to better understand our energy consumption. After the four week, we decided on two main upgrades: 1) solar power to recharge the RV house batteries 2) upgraded house batteries to capture solar energy. The main reason we wanted solar power was to off-set generator usage.
Roof mounted system vs. Portable unit. With a roof mounted system, the cost was around $5,000 with installation. With a portable unit, the cost was between $280-$800 without the additional cost of installation. Unsure if a roof mounted system would be suitable for us, we decided to purchase a portable unit. There are several manufactures of portable solar units on the market. With cost being a major factor in our decision making, we opted for the Renogy portable suitcase. This is our initial Renogy 100w portable solar panel review, check the update section at the end of this post.
Renogy 100w Portable Solar Panel Review
What We Ordered:
Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase (this links to the new version)
What We Like:
Solar panels work well. The portable unit consists of two 50w panels that provide 5.4 amps/hour or more in full sun. On a cloudy day we get between 1 to 3 amps/hour. This is typically enough to maintain the systems in our motorhome and provide a trickle charge for the two 6v house batteries. We still need to run the generator on days we don’t get enough solar power.
Inexpensive compared to other portable solar panels. The Renogy unit was about half of what a 120w portable unit sold for by other manufacturers. We have the option to buy two 100w portable units for the same price as a 120w unit. Two panels would allow us to hook one unit up to each house battery for more solar power.
Small enough to store in RV. The portable unit folds in half, small enough to store in the rear bay. It’s also compact enough that we can leave it inside the RV.
Set up is fairly easy. To connect the unit, take it out of the carrying case, unfold it, extend the legs and attach the alligator clips to the battery terminals. Only one person required for setup and breakdown. There is no installation or additional costs associated with using the solar panels.
Charge controller is accessible and easy to read. The 10 amp charge controller is mounted to the back of one of the panels on a hinge and secured with a strip of velcro. It’s simple to check the controller and the LCD panel is easy to read. The controller provides a general diagnostic such as the level of charge coming in, the state of charge for the battery.
Portable. If we sell the RV, we can take the unit with us – it’s not tied to the RV the way a roof mounted system would be.
What We Don’t Like:
Quality control. Our first unit had to be returned because a screw holding one of the legs had stripped the threads in the mounting bracket. The panel was scratched in various places and looked as if it had been previously used or snuck past quality assurance. We were able to exchange the unit for another one without any issues through Amazon. The second unit arrived in good condition, but there were similar scratches around the panels.
Flimsy. All the screws holding the legs together were loose and had to be tightened. The screws were steel and the mounts they were screwed into were aluminum. This meant the screws could not be tightened down much or they would strip out the threads. The frame and legs of the unit appeared to be flimsy, but have held up well.
Cheap parts. The velcro that holds the charge controller to the panel fell off the first day it was in the sun. The heat of the sun melted the adhesive backing. It seems like corners were cut to reduce the price of the unit, but considering the panel is made to be in the sun, the velcro should hold.
No instructions. Renogy sent the unit out without any instructions. We had to find them online and download it. The setup instructions were easy to understand and we connected the unit without any problems.
Charge controller is not waterproof. The panels are 100% waterproof, but the charge controller is not. This means if there is any chance of rain and we want to leave the RV, we can’t leave the panel out without risk damaging the controller. We also can’t leave the unit out overnight to catch the morning sun if there is a chance of rain.
Cable length. The cables for the unit are 10’ long. Depending on which way the shadows are cast, we can’t always move the panel into the sun. We try our best to park in the optimal direction for solar power, but that’s not always possible depending on where we are.
Although we have several complaints about the Renogy 100w portable solar suitcase, it does work well. This suitcase is good for those looking to supplement energy usage in a small RV and don’t want to pay the higher cost of other units.
Since writing the review, we’ve been able to camp at a few places where we got sun all day. One of those places was the free camping spot in Tucson, Arizona. To our surprise, the Renogy solar suitcase was able to fully charge the batteries each day with the fans running and turning the inverter on to watch the Packers play. We were very happy with the performance of the panel.
As of January 2017, the 100 watt portable solar suitcase we purchased is no longer available. Renogy has a new 100 watt Monocrystalline Solar Suitcase.
If you found this review helpful and plan to purchase the Renogy portable solar unit, please consider ordering through our Amazon affiliate link. There is no additional fee for the buyer and in return we receive a small percentage of the sale. Thanks for your support! We really appreciate it.
Disclosure: We paid for the product in this review and this review represents our own opinions.