Best Solar Panel Kits
The Best Solar Panel Kits for 2018
If you’re ready to DIY a solar installation, but aren’t sure where to start, purchasing the best solar panel kit greatly simplifies the design and installation process. Instead of piecing together your entire kit, just figure out the size you need and have it shipped to your home – complete with everything you need to get up and running off the sun! Here, we review several of our top picks for best solar panel kits of 2018, looking at small, medium, and large kits for both off-grid and grid-connected use. We also go over a few important points to consider before purchasing a solar kit.
Best Solar Panel Kits
No matter what size you’re looking for, there’s a kit for you. From a tiny 100 watt system designed for the smaller campervan to giant 5,000 watt systems that can power an entire home, you’ll find exactly what you need. Below, we look at the best small, medium, and large solar kits, diving into equipment, pros and cons, and what makes each kit special. Without further ado!
Best Small Solar Kits (400 watts)
First up are small solar kits. At 400 watts, these kits are designed mostly for RVs, campers, or very small off-grid systems like a shed or tiny house. All these kits are designed for off-grid use. Each comes with a charge controller and is designed to work in conjunction with a battery.
Expect small systems to be fairly cheap, easy to install, and able to cover 100% of your energy needs if you’ve got extremely light usage.
All In One Kit: WindyNation 400 Watt Solar Panel Kit
Let’s start off with a bang! If you’re looking for a kit that has almost everything you need to build a solar system from scratch, the Windy Nation 400 Watt Kit has got you covered – all for a fairly reasonable cost. Unlike most kits that come with the only the panels, charge controller, and wiring, this thing includes all that plus the inverter and even batteries!
The AGM batteries are a great option for RVs or systems where you’ll store the batteries indoors. They are completely sealed, so they won’t spill, don’t produce any dangerous gases, and don’t require any maintenance. A great option for anyone really.
Thanks to the impressive value it provides, the 400 watt solar kit by WindyNation is our top pick for the best small solar panel kit. It is not the cheapest kit, but it provides the best bang for your buck.
- 4 100-watt polycrystalline solar panels
- 1500 watt modified sine wave inverter
- 30 amp solar charge controller with battery temperature sensor
- 4 100 amp-hour AGM batteries (for a total capacity of 400 amp-hours)
- wiring (panels to charge controller, battery to inverter)
- mounting hardware
- The kit includes mounting hardware, so you won’t need to go hunting for suitable brackets.
- Reviewers report that WindyNation customer service is helpful and responsive.
- Plenty of power for light usage, and will happily support appliances such as microwaves, hair dryers, and blenders (though with a 1500 watt inverter, these energy hogs are on the high end of what this kit can handle).
- As mentioned, you’ll need to purchase inline fuses and wiring to connect the charge controller to the battery, as they aren’t supplied with the kit. Sourcing these parts is easy and the fuse and fuse holder are typically not too expensive for a small system like this.
- The inverter is a modified-sine model, which may not play well with sensitive electronic devices like some computers and CPAP machines.
Best For Adding On Later: Grape Solar 400-Watt Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit
The Grape Solar GS-400 kit is a nice package for consumers that are searching for a simple and basic – but high quality – solar set up.
Unlike the Windy Nation kit above, this one doesn’t come with a battery. However, with a larger inverter, you’ll be able to handle larger appliances or more appliances at the same time.
This kit also includes a larger 35 amp charge controller, with Grape Solar noting you can safely add one more 100 watt panel to this kit, bumping up your potential solar capacity to 500 watts.
On top of that, both the inverter and the charge controller are manufactured by Xantrex, a subsidiary of Schneider Electric, one of the biggest names in the solar equipment industry, so you can rest assured that you’re getting exception quality.
With the simplicity of the kit, it should be very easy to setup even for the novice solar installer, though you’ll have to buy your mounting hardware separately.
- 4 100-watt polycrystalline panels
- 35 amp charge controller
- 1800 watt pure-sine inverter
- wiring (everything you need!)
- The kit is very simple to set up, with some very well put together guides for everything you need to do.
- Larger inverter and charge controller, allowing for higher energy use and an additional solar panel.
- Charge controller and inverter from an industry-leading manufacturer
- Grape Solar give a fantastic standard of customer service – you can call them with any question or problem and they will go out of their way to help.
- All the connectors in the kit are industry standard, so expansion is easy.
- This solar kit doesn’t include any batteries, so you will need to purchase at least one 12 volt deep cycle battery in order for the kit to work.
- The kit also doesn’t come with any mounting hardware, so you’ll need to source the racks and the assorted nuts and bolts from somewhere else.
Most Basic: Renogy 400 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit with Wanderer
Renogy is one of the leading manufacturers for small-scale solar installations, producing everything from panels, to mounting equipment to batteries. Their 400 Watt Solar Starter Kit is a less expensive, more bare-bones option. It comes with the solar panels and charge controller, the mounting hardware and wiring.
There’s no inverter or batteries, so while you will save on the initial purchase, you’ll also need to purchase this equipment as well as fuses, wiring to connect the charge controller to the battery and battery to inverter, and the battery itself.
That said, this is a great solar panel kit in terms of customer reviews and quality. If you already have some parts or if don’t mind purchasing the extra components, this kit is exactly what you need.
- 4 100-watt monocrystalline silicon solar panels
- 30 amp Wanderer PWM solar charge controller
- wiring (panel to charge controller, charge controller to battery)
- 6 branch connectors (for wiring solar panels in parallel. It’s those two-into-one adapters in the picture above)
- mounting hardware
- Renogy’s website has a lot of information to assist you in assembling the kit. More info is always handy when installing your first solar system!
- Renogy is a well-known manufacturer of solar equipment for small installations. Equipment is high-quality.
- Comes with wiring for both panel to charge controller and charge controller to battery as well as branch connectors (surprisingly rare in these kits!)
- To make use of this kit you’ll still need to purchase deep cycle batteries, an inverter, and fuses.
Most Efficient: HQST 400 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit
Last, but not least, is another affordable bare-bones kit that was built specifically for people that are new to solar. Similar to the other simple kits above, HQST’s kit includes the panels and charge controller, with basic wiring and mounting equipment. However, this kit stands out for the high-quality components included.
First off, you get premium monocrystalline solar panels, as opposed to the more common poly panels that come with many kits. Mono panels typically produce more electricity than poly, so you’ll get a bit more electricity for the same physical dimensions with a mono panel.
Secondly, this is the only kit that includes a 40 amp MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) charge controller. MPPT controllers are more expensive than the PWM controllers that all the kits above include, but benefit from greater energy production in poor weather and with larger systems.
And as the controller can handle 40 amps, you can safely add another 100 watt panel, bumping up your total solar capacity to 500 watts. And you get all this for around the same price as the kits above – not bad!
- 4 400-watt monocrystalline solar panels
- 40 amp MPPT solar charge controller
- wiring (panels to controller)
- mounting hardware
- The charge controller in this kit is a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) model, which is more efficient than the PWM controllers offered in the other kits.
- The monocrystalline panels are very good quality.
- Can add an additional panel to the system without upgrading the charge controller
- Good value
- Like the other bare-bones kits, you will need to supply a lot of other components yourself before you have a working system: more wiring, fuses, inverter, and battery.
Best Medium Solar Kits (1,500 watts)
If you’ve got a medium-sized off-grid cabin or small home, the kits above just aren’t going to cut it for you. They’re too small and likely won’t produce all the electricity you need to keep your home working properly. If this is the case, it might be time to bump up to the next size kit.
Above 1,500 watts or so, you’ll see solar kits designed for off-grid systems as well as kits for grid-connected homes. Below, we’ve chosen a couple of our favorite medium-sized solar kits, one for grid-connected homes and one for off-grid systems. As you go larger in size, your available options begins to dwindle. Small solar kits are much more popular than medium/large ones! But don’t get too sad, you’ve still got options.
Easiest to Install: PluggedSolar 1.5kW Grid-Tie Kit
PluggedSolar produces plug-and-play solar kits for grid-tied homes. Compared to other most residential solar, these kits are a snap to install. Just install the panels on the roof and literally plug the cord into a 120v or 240v outlet in your home. The kit comes with a microinverter for each solar panel, so you don’t need a large inverter on the side of your home either.
Since you don’t have to connect directly into your home’s electrical panel and there’s no additional safety disconnects, string inverter, or combiner boxes to install, you save huge amounts of time and money. You don’t have to buy that equipment or hire an electrician to do the work for you.
The kit doesn’t include any mounting hardware – just the panels and inverters – so you’ll have to purchase that separately. PluggedSolar also sells mounting kits for both ground- and roof-mounted systems, so it should be fairly easy to find the right equipment.
You might be ready to jump on the bandwagon, but hold your horses. Plug-and-play solar comes with a lot of baggage, as some/most utilities won’t touch it with a 15 foot pole. As such, you need to contact your utility before buying any kit to make sure they even allow this type of installation – and don’t get your hopes up too high.
Still, we include PluggedSolar’s kit here because, well, it’s cool and they’re certainly at the front of the pack in regards to plug-and-play solar. And if your utility allows it, it’s a pretty sweet option.
- 6 240-watt polycrystalline solar panels
- 6 microinverters
- plug-in wireless monitor
- wiring (from panels to outlet, which is all you need)
- Easy and quick to install – only 6 panels
- No need to hire an electrician to install equipment/wiring (depending on your home)
- 10 year warranty on the microinverters
- Possibly not allowed in your area, depending on the utility
- Kit does not include mounting hardware, you’ll need to purchase separately
- Need a dedicated circuit in your home. If one is not available, you’ll need to hire an electrician to install one
- PluggedSolar does not publicize the solar panel manufacturer, so no information on panel warranty, quality, or efficiency is available.
Best Overall: Renogy 1800 Watt Kit
Renogy’s 1800 watt kit is designed for medium-sized off-grid systems. With 6 300-watt panels, you’ve got the power to efficiently supply power for all manner of electricity usage, including TVs, kitchen appliances, even washing machines and refrigerators. As mentioned in our description of their 400 watt kit above, Renogy is well-known in the solar industry for manufacturing components for small- to medium-sized off-grid systems.
They’ve put together a quality kit here, pairing their own panels with equipment from Midnite Solar, a trusted company that makes some of the best charge controllers currently on the solar market.
The included 96 amp Midnite Solar MPPT charge controller is able to eke out more energy from the panels, especially during especially hot or cold weather and on cloudy days. And with the included app, you can monitor your system’s production straight from your computer with no additional equipment or costs.
This kit comes in a variety of sizes, from a small of 1,200 watts up to 3,600 watts, all with monocrystalline solar panels and similar Midnite Solar components.
Keep in mind that while this kit comes with all the wiring, disconnects, and boxes you need, you’ll have to buy your own mounting hardware, inverter, and battery bank, as they’re not included.
- 6 Renogy 300-watt monocrystaline panels
- 96 amp MPPT charge controller
- combiner box
- 3 circuit breakers
- quad enclosure (to house circuit breakers)
- Quality components
- Includes components other kits don’t, like the combiner box, circuit breakers, and breaker enclosure, as well as all the wiring
- Fair price for the quality and ease of purchase – just get a battery and inverter and you’re good to go!
- No mounting hardware, inverter, or batteries, so you’ll have to buy them yourself
- Other than that, none at all. It’s a sweet system!
Best Large Solar Kits ( 5,000 watts)
Need a big system for your home? Those little kits above just too dinky for your needs? Then let’s take a look at the behemoths! The average residential grid-tied solar installation in the US is 5,700 watts, so you’re getting into full-sized solar here! At this size, you can power all the appliances you need – even your energy-hogging air conditioner!
With a kit this size, you’ve got to really plan the system out. These kits usually include 15 to 20 panels. Do you have roof space for all those? Any shading issues? How are you going to run all the wiring? All these questions, and more, need to be worked out before you even begin to install your system.
Below you’ll find our top 2 picks for large solar kits. Both are grid-tied systems using microinverters, but each has it’s own benefits.
Most Efficient: Grape Solar 5300 Watt with Enphase Microinverters
We already looked at Grape Solar’s 400 watt kit above and now we’re jumping to one of their largest offerings, their 5300 watt solar kit with Enphase microinverters.
While this kit only comes with the panels, inverters, and special wiring to connect the inverters, the components are top-notch. Enphase is the hands-down leader in microinverters and thousands upon thousands are installed across the US. They’re extremely efficient, optimize each panel individually for max production, and create a sleek-looking installation, as you don’t have a hefty inverter installed on the side of your home.
Because Enphase microinverters are connected directly to the solar panel, they are generally used for grid-tied homes, so consider this kit as such. And since this is a grid-tied system, you’ll have to hire an electrician to install all the wiring from the system on the roof to your electrical panel on the ground, as well as all the safety disconnects required in your area.
The kit also doesn’t come with mounting hardware, so you’ll need to purchase that separately as well. Grape Solar notes that the system is designed to work with their own mounting kit, but the solar panels look pretty standard so any mounting system should do.
The only real issue with this kit is the price. Even taking into account the premium hardware, we feel it’s still a bit too expensive. Costco actually sells a 5,830 watt Grape Solar Grid-Tie Kit using a SolarEdge inverter – very similar to Enphase’s products – at a much more reasonable cost, so take a look at that if you’re set on something like this.
- 20 265-watt monocrystalline panels
- 20 Enphase microinverters
- wiring (inverter to inverter)
- Includes possibly the best inverter in the residential solar industry, period.
- Monocrystalline solar panels are extremely efficient
- Expensive for the equipment included
- Doesn’t include mounting hardware, so add that into your cost
- Still need to hire an electrician to finish the install (but that’s any grid-tied system)
Best Deal: PluggedSolar 5kW Grid-Tie Kit
Another name we’re already familiar with, PluggedSolar, rounds out our list of the best solar kits. While we looked at their plug-and-play option above, we’re now looking at their more ‘standard’ 5kW grid-tie kit that is designed for traditional installation, not to be plugged into an outlet.
Like the Grape Solar kit, this includes microinverters to optimize panels individually. Unlike the Grape kit though, PluggedSolar doesn’t include Enphase products, and they only include 8 of them, so 2 panels will have to share a single inverter. With this system, each panel isn’t optimized individually, but in pairs, and this can affect your production more if there’s any shading issues. Still, it’s much better than a conventional string inverter.
On the positive side, this kit includes all the mounting hardware you need, from well-known racking manufacturer Unirac. That’s a huge bonus, as they’ve already picked out the exact equipment for your install. You just need to figure out how to safely install it on your roof then get it done!
Of course, just like any grid-tied kit, you still have to hire an electrician to connect your solar installation to your electrical panel, but that’s not a huge task and only takes a few hours.
Considering the equipment included, this kit offers pretty good bang for the buck, coming in at much less than other similarly-sized its.
- 16 315-watt polycrystalline panels
- 8 microinverters
- all mounting hardware
- production monitor
- wiring (to connect inverters/panels to electrical panel)
- AC disconnects (a safety requirement of most, if not all, utilities)
- Good value compared to other large solar kits out there
- About as all-inclusive as you can get. Just like any kit, you’ll still need to buy electrical conduit and accompanying components, but that’s stuff you get at Home Depot, not from your solar manufacturer
- Kit only provides a single microinverter for every 2 panels
- PluggedSolar doesn’t specify panel manufacturer, so we can’t check panel quality, warranty, and reputation. You’d want to ensure it’s a quality product before purchasing!
- Just like any grid-tied kit, you’ll still need to hire an electrician to connect the components on the roof to the electrical panel
Why Use a Solar Kit?
It’s all about lowering your cost to go solar. Hiring a solar company to install a solar installation for you is a pretty expensive endeavor. In the residential solar market, ‘soft costs’ like labor, marketing, and profit (basically everything but the equipment and hardware costs) account for a shockingly-high 68% of an installation’s total cost. Yes, that means just 32% of the entire cost to put solar on your home goes to the actual hardware!
Needless to say, cutting out all those soft costs will do wonders for your bottom line. If you’ve got the experience, know-how, and drive, you can save potentially thousands of dollars by installing your own solar kit. You might not see a 70% savings, as solar installers have access to wholesale equipment prices and you’ll likely pay marked-up dealer prices. Still, you’re almost guaranteed to see a lower overall cost.
Beyond saving some cash, installing your own solar kit allows you to understand your solar installation inside and out. That might not sound important now, but if you’re a DIYer, that’s a huge help when something stops working down the line. You’ll be able to quickly figure out what’s wrong, as you understand each component of the system and exactly what it is.
Installing a solar kit also gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you built your own clean energy system!
Off-Grid vs Grid-Connected Kits – Know the Difference
Looking at our list of best solar kits below, you’ll see that some are designed for off-grid use, while others are for grid-connected homes.
Off-grid systems – those installations not connected to any utility electricity – typically require a battery bank, inverter, and charge controller. The solar panels produce electricity that either goes to your lights and appliances or to the battery for use later on.
Solar kits for off-grid systems run the gamut from small 100 watt system for RVs and campervans to large 3,000 watt systems for cabins and such. Kits typically include the solar panels, wiring, and charge controller.
Tip: If the kit comes with a charge controller, it’s usually a dead giveaway that it’s designed for off-grid systems.
Solar kits for grid-connected homes are typically only found in the largest sizes – 1,000 watts up to 10,000 watts. Grid-connected homes typically use much more power than off-grid systems, so it really doesn’t make sense to make small kits for this application.
Solar kits for grid-tied homes usually include the solar panels, wiring, and inverter – no charge controller or battery. Why is that? Because in grid-tied installations, the solar electricity powers the home and all its gadgets, or goes to the grid (via a net metering agreement). There’s no storage system, therefore no batteries or charge controller.
An important note: Since residential solar installations are installed on your home and connected to the utility, you’ll need both the city’s and the utility’s approval before installing your system.
Few homeowners actually attempt to install their own grid-connected solar kit, but it is possible depending on your area’s regulations. Some utilities and county building departments – typically in rural areas – do allow homeowners to install a grid-connected solar installation on their own home, but most do not.
You’ll need to reach out to both your utility as well as your local building department for the rules around installing your own solar installation and connecting it to the grid.
Off-grid solar installations, since they aren’t connected to the larger grid, have much fewer regulations around them.
While both off-grid and grid-tied solar kits share some of the same materials – panels and wiring for example – that’s where their similarities end, as they have very different requirements for energy storage, inverter, and charge controllers. In each of our reviews below, we note whether the system is designed for off-grid or grid-connected use.
Are Grid-Connected Kits Legal?
Basically, it depends on your area. We’ve discussed this a bit in other articles, but for the safety of everyone connected to the electricity grid, there are quite a few requirements for grid-connected solar to be legal.
To ensure the safety of the system, most utilities and building departments adhere to the National Electric Code and the International Building Code (NEC and IBC, respectively), which set up standards for all manner of details: the depth of the lag screws into your roofing beams, how much space between your panels and the edge of your roof, how many wires and what size can be placed inside electrical conduit running across your roof – that sort of thing.
Your first step to install a grid-connected solar kit is to ensure that you have a safe, legal solar installation that fulfills all these safety requirements.
Your second step is to contact your building department and utility company to see if they allow non-professional homeowners to install their own solar installations. This might be an outright “no”, an outright “yes”, or even a “yes, but you need an electrician to sign off on the designs and installation”. The only way to know is to get on the phone or stop by their offices.
Again, solar kits for off-grid systems are a completely different ballgame. You obviously don’t need to contact your utility, but your county likely has rules around building codes and being unconnected to the grid, so give them a call before you purchase any big system. And if you’re buying your solar kit for your RV or camper, you’re totally okay to move forward!
What Components Are Typically Included In A Solar Panel Kit?
This small ground-mounted solar kit charges the camper to the left when not in use.
The most basic solar kits will include the panels, wiring, and charge controller or inverter (depending on whether its off-grid or a grid-tied kit). However, the specific equipment that is included will vary from kit to kit. Some kits are much more robust than others and come with batteries, fuses, additional wiring, etc.
Below are some of the primary components that may or may not be included when you buy a solar panel kit.
All solar power kits include, at the very least, solar panels! All the kits below include either polycrystalline or monocrystalline solar panels. You will get a little more power out of mono-crystalline panel in a smaller area, but at this scale the practical differences aren’t huge.
Of much greater concern is the location of the solar panels. The placement of your solar panels will greatly affect how much power you get out of them. If you’ve got an RV or boat, you’ll likely be very limited to where you can install you panels, likely opting for a flat install on the roof. If you’re in this situation, the best thing you can do is watch out for obstructions like large trees or buildings that will shade your panels.
If you’re installing on your home or in the backyard, you’ve got a few more options available. These days, most homeowners simply install the panels flush to the roof, on the most south-facing section.
However, if you really want to eke out as much as possible from your panels, there’s all manner of mounting hardware to help out. Hardware with arms to angle the panels just right, adjustable racks to move the panels each season, and of course mounting hardware for shingles, metal, shake, and any other roofing type you can think of.
Charge Controllers (Off-Grid Systems)
Like we mentioned, off-grid kits come with charge controllers. This is a cornerstone component of any off-grid solar system, as they keep the power coming out of the panels regulated, ensuring that your batteries aren’t damaged.
Some charge controllers also come with temperature sensors to monitor the battery’s temp. The controller can then adjust the amount of electricity coming from the panels depending on how hot or cold it is. This is an important component if your batteries will suffer through large changes in temperature throughout the year.
Inverters (Grid-Connected Systems)
Grid-tied kits usually include inverters to change the DC current provided by your solar panels to AC current that can be used in your home. Without an inverter, your grid-tied solar installation would be useless. The grid-tied kits below come with microinverters that are installed underneath each panel and optimize each panel individually for max production. Needless to say, microinverters are pretty sweet.
The most complete off-grid kits also come with inverters. Whether or not you need one depends on what you’re doing – many appliances built for use in RV’s and motor homes are meant for use with DC current, and powering things like lights can often be done with DC. If you use any AC appliances (ie gadgets that plug into your home outlets), you’ll need an inverter.
Your inverter’s size depends on what you intend to do with it.
Inverters for grid-tied kits are sized to convert all the electricity produced into AC – every last drop.
Off-grid inverters are usually sized by need. Small to medium off-grid kits that do come with inverters usually have at least 1500 – 2000 watts.
Also keep in mind that whether the inverter produces a modified-sine wave or a pure-sine wave. Modified-sine wave inverters are cheaper, but more delicate electronics like computers or battery chargers don’t like them, and they cause an audible hum in audio equipment. Grid-tied inverters are always pure-sine, but for off-grid systems you get to choose.
Wiring and Fuses
All solar kits come with at least some wiring, but few kits include all the wiring you need.
All solar panel kits include the wiring to connect the solar panels to the charge controller or inverter. Only a handful though include wiring to connect the charge controller to the battery and the battery to the inverter. For each kit below, we’ve noted what wiring comes with each kit.
You’ll also need fuses to protect the wiring, but you’ll likely need to purchase those separately as kits typically don’t include these either. The better ones include information on finding the right size wiring and fuses, but others don’t provide that info, so you’ll have to do some research yourself. Don’t worry too much, as there’s lots of info available online on this very subject, including handy calculators to make the process easy.
A typical grid-tied solar installation, with panels bolted to aluminum railings that are bolted to the roof with L-feet.
Most small solar kits designed for RVs or boats come with mounting hardware that allow you to mount the solar panels on a roof or other flat surface. Typical solar mounting kits will include specialized brackets and bolts that are made to securely fasten solar panels to a roof or pole mount.
If you’re looking at larger installations designed for cabins or homes, you’ll likely have to purchase your own mounting hardware. Many companies also sell mounting kits to make the process easier, as it’s a bit more complicated than just securing a couple bolts like on an RV. Instead, you’ve got railing, feet, flashing, and grounding to worry about. A kit makes this whole process much easier.
Not Typically Included: Batteries
Most kits don’t come with batteries, and these are a vital part of any off-grid system. The size of the battery will dictate how much power you can store, and how much juice you’ve got available at any one time.
It’s important to note you should only use deep cycle batteries – these are intended to be run down and charged up continuously, whereas other types of battery are meant to give a big burst of power over a short time span. You should also note that batteries are expensive – expect a fair amount of your budget to go into power storage.
With so many different sizes and included equipment, the best solar panel kit is really dependent on your own needs. Before buying anything, you’ll want to consider what you plan on using it for and how much solar power you will need to generate.
Once you’ve considered these questions, hopefully one of the kits above will suit your needs! If you have any additional questions, feel free to ask away in the comments!
Want to just hire someone to install your installation? Start by reaching out to a few installers and seeing what’s available.