One of the most considered upgrades for RVings is solar. Before we hit the road full time in our 29′ motorhome, we lived out of it for two months to figure out upgrades we wanted to make. Four weeks were spent dry camping to better understand our energy consumption. Two main upgrades we decided on was solar to recharge the house batteries and upgrading the house batteries to capture solar energy and off-set generator usage.
We considered roof mounted systems and portable units for solar. 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, we decided to go with Renogy. The cost was about half of what other companies were selling their portable units for.
NOTE: This is our initial Renogy 100w portable solar panel review, be sure to 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
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. If we really liked the Renogy unit, we could buy two 100w portable units for the same price as a 120w unit and hook one unit up to each battery for more solar power.
Small enough to store in RV. The portable unit folds in half and is small enough to store in the rear bay. It’s also compact enough that we can bring 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, the level of charge coming in, the state of charge for the battery and additional information.
Portable. One of our favorite things about the panel is that 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 is.
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 and we weren’t able to set the panel up. The panel was scratched in various places and looked as if it had been previously used or accidentally made it past quality assurance. We were able to exchange the first unit for another one without any issues through Amazon. The second unit didn’t have any broken screws, but there were similar scratches around the panels.
Flimsy. All of the screws holding the legs together were loose and had to be tightened to keep from falling out. We noticed that 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.
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 have held.
No instructions. Renogy sent the unit out without any instructions and we had to find and download them (there is no indication they are available online). The setup instructions are easy to understand and we were able to connect the unit without any problem.
Charge controller is not waterproof. Although the panels are 100% waterproof, the charge controller is not. This means if there is any chance of rain that day and we want to leave the RV, we can’t leave the panel out or 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 and 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 and at a price that beats similar products. This suitcase is good for those looking to supplement their energy usage in a small RV and don’t want to pay the higher cost of other units. If we’re taking our RV out for a weekend and the sun is shinning, it would be a good solution. It’s not ideal for full time RVing which is what we are doing.
We do wish Renogy would come out with a model that has a higher wattage. As we mentioned above, we can get another 100w portable unit and connect each one to a house battery. Renogy offers the portable units without a charge controller. This means we can buy multiple and daisy chain them to a single charge controller of our choice.
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 60 watt portable solar suitcase similar to the one we purchased and a new 100 watt Eclipse 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.