Solar Suitcases Compared?

ScottGScottG Administrator Posts: 5,350
The recent New England thaw has turned my thoughts to T@B upgrades for the coming season. A year of experience--and the wisdom of those on this forum--have helped me determine that I need/want a larger battery and a modest (100-120W) solar suitcase.

I've looked at Zamp, GoPower, and Renogy Suitcases, and all get good reviews. However, the price difference between Zamp/GoPower and Renogy is pretty steep. While the Zamp and GoPower are most certainly quality systems, it's a little hard to justify that much coin, especially for a newbie RVer dabbling in solar for the first time.

I know people here use all these systems successfully. Specifically, I'd like to know if anyone has an opinion--either from experience or thorough research--of how the performance, quality, and reliability of these brands compare. While I don't mind paying more for a good product, I need a compelling reason to spend $600 vs. $250 if either product will meet my needs.
2015 T@B S
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Comments

  • jkjennjkjenn Member Posts: 6,389
    edited February 2016
    @ScottGTo my knowledge, no one has done an empirical comparison. It is really overdue, IMHO. It would be helpful to have one that compares actual results, using the right equipment to measure what the panels are producing. Technomadia is currently doing one for flexible panels, but really, every other review for RV use I have seen has been mostly opinion based versus data driven, which is a real shame.

    The Amazon reviews on the Renogy products are stellar, but they have only had them out for about a year or so, therefore they are not long term. I believe the Zamp controller might be waterproof. A waterproof controller is going to drive the cost up, significantly. I don't know how essential a waterproof controller is, though. I have never heard of anyone experiencing damage from rain. Perhaps the angle at which the panel stands mostly protects controllers or maybe people just bring them in out of the rain.

    I am going the flexible panel route. The 100w panels are under $200, now. They don't have the same lifespan as a rigid panel, but I am guessing that in 10 years, solar technology will have evolved to produce better panels at lower costs, so I am good with the durability difference.

    Goal Zero just came out with a pretty cool concept for a 100w panel, but the price point is just ridiculous ($750.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHuq7VwACEg

    They do fold down toa nice compact
    20.5 x 15.5 x 2 in size.

    2021 T@b 320 Boondock "Mattie Ross" | 2021 T@b Nights: 239 | Total nights in a T@b 455 | 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland | T@b owner since 2014

  • NomadNomad Member Posts: 7,209
    Yep, my Zamp controller is waterproof. My panels are out 90% of the time come rain or come shine. Most controllers are somewhat protected by hanging down a little behind the panels. Fine if rain is coming straight down I suppose. With mine, I don't have to wory about it. I would imagine the waterproofing also keeps the dust out - lots of dust in some areas - looking at you AZ.

    My setup has been pretty much plug-n-play from day one.
  • kybobkybob Member Posts: 232
    Would twist tying a plastic baggie over the solar controller when rain threatens prevent it from working properly? I, too, would like to experiment with solar, but don't want to invest a whole lot into something that I may not use that much. 
    2018 Outback S, Silver/Black - 2015 Silver Honda Pilot 4WD - Florence, KY

  • RatkityRatkity Member Posts: 3,770
    I am receiving my Renogy 100W suitcase next week. They had a recall on a particular set (serial numbers) of their flexible panels (be careful of people selling these on ebay - my roof got discolored because one square got overheated) - so I removed it and decided to go the suitcase 100W route. My controller and monitor are already hardwired in, so it made sense to purchase a suitcase setup without a controller. I'll let you know my experiences when the sun finally comes out of hiding and decides to put out some useable sunshine as winter goes away!

    Too bad I can't do a side-by-side Zamp vs GZ vs Renogy experiment. I'd have to have batteries of the same type, age, unconnected to any other load and in the same state-of-charge for it to be valid. Seems like a pricey experiment. Anyone win the lotto lately? ;) 
    2017 820R Retro Toy Hauler from 2015 Tabitha T@B from 2009 Reverse LG Teardrop (but a T@Bluver at heart)
  • NomadNomad Member Posts: 7,209
    Baggie over controller? -- Guess I'd worry about condensation accumulating.
  • jkjennjkjenn Member Posts: 6,389
    kybob said:
    Would twist tying a plastic baggie over the solar controller when rain threatens prevent it from working properly? I, too, would like to experiment with solar, but don't want to invest a whole lot into something that I may not use that much. 
    No, it would melt. Controllers generate a fair amount if heat. You could rig like an awning for the rear of the panel, though, that came down on the sides.

    Ratkity said:
    I am receiving my Renogy 100W suitcase next week. They had a recall on a particular set (serial numbers) of their flexible panels (be careful of people selling these on ebay - my roof got discolored because one square got overheated) - so I removed it and decided to go the suitcase 100W route. My controller and monitor are already hardwired in, so it made sense to purchase a suitcase setup without a controller. I'll let you know my experiences when the sun finally comes out of hiding and decides to put out some useable sunshine as winter goes away!

    Too bad I can't do a side-by-side Zamp vs GZ vs Renogy experiment. I'd have to have batteries of the same type, age, unconnected to any other load and in the same state-of-charge for it to be valid. Seems like a pricey experiment. Anyone win the lotto lately? ;) 
    You really need to do a real test over several months (ideally, a year+) and use one of those meters to measure what the panels were actually getting. If you were willing to do that, you might get them to send you a panel.

    2021 T@b 320 Boondock "Mattie Ross" | 2021 T@b Nights: 239 | Total nights in a T@b 455 | 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland | T@b owner since 2014

  • RatkityRatkity Member Posts: 3,770
    jkjenn said:
    kybob said:
    Would twist tying a plastic baggie over the solar controller when rain threatens prevent it from working properly? I, too, would like to experiment with solar, but don't want to invest a whole lot into something that I may not use that much. 
    No, it would melt. Controllers generate a fair amount if heat. You could rig like an awning for the rear of the panel, though, that came down on the sides.

    Ratkity said:
    I am receiving my Renogy 100W suitcase next week. They had a recall on a particular set (serial numbers) of their flexible panels (be careful of people selling these on ebay - my roof got discolored because one square got overheated) - so I removed it and decided to go the suitcase 100W route. My controller and monitor are already hardwired in, so it made sense to purchase a suitcase setup without a controller. I'll let you know my experiences when the sun finally comes out of hiding and decides to put out some useable sunshine as winter goes away!

    Too bad I can't do a side-by-side Zamp vs GZ vs Renogy experiment. I'd have to have batteries of the same type, age, unconnected to any other load and in the same state-of-charge for it to be valid. Seems like a pricey experiment. Anyone win the lotto lately? ;) 
    You really need to do a real test over several months (ideally, a year+) and use one of those meters to measure what the panels were actually getting. If you were willing to do that, you might get them to send you a panel.

    Then I'd have to take another few years to do it in different geographical locations! Still want a winning lotto ticket :)
    2017 820R Retro Toy Hauler from 2015 Tabitha T@B from 2009 Reverse LG Teardrop (but a T@Bluver at heart)
  • RZRBUGRZRBUG Member Posts: 890
    I have the 100W Renogy suitcase with built-in controller.  The rain thing never crossed my mind.  I don't plan to put it out if it's raining, and it's pretty easy to put away if it starts raining.  I also added a 150ah AGM battery.

    Completely happy with the setup.

    Larry & Booger - 2013 T@B, 2012 GMC Sierra

    Happy Trails Y'all

    States Visited Map

  • kybobkybob Member Posts: 232
    Would the Zamp Solar Anderson Clip Adapter that the Teardrop Shop sells, make the Renogy Suitcase a plug and play? I've read somewhere on here about reverse polarity, or something like that. 
    2018 Outback S, Silver/Black - 2015 Silver Honda Pilot 4WD - Florence, KY

  • NomadNomad Member Posts: 7,209
    RZRBUG - Easy to put away but when it unexpectedly rains at 3:30am, a total pain. It's setup for morning sun, it's staying where it is :-)
  • RZRBUGRZRBUG Member Posts: 890
    PXLated said:
    RZRBUG - Easy to put away but when it unexpectedly rains at 3:30am, a total pain. It's setup for morning sun, it's staying where it is :-)
    Exactly, which is why there are almost as many different setups as there are users.  I have not had my system very long and I don't fulltime so I have yet to leave mine out overnight.  Everything is subject to change as needs evolve, but I think the Renogy is a great choice, especially for a for a first system.  

    Larry & Booger - 2013 T@B, 2012 GMC Sierra

    Happy Trails Y'all

    States Visited Map

  • RatkityRatkity Member Posts: 3,770
    kybob said:
    Would the Zamp Solar Anderson Clip Adapter that the Teardrop Shop sells, make the Renogy Suitcase a plug and play? I've read somewhere on here about reverse polarity, or something like that. 
    Kybob, the Renogy uses the MC4 male and female adaptors. I think you'd need the MC4 to Anderson and then Anderson to the Zamp plug adaptor (if that exists? Jenn or Verna may know). The only reason I know about the MC4 adapters is because I have a Renogy 20W panel I plan to use daily as a trickle charger/maintainer for the battery while camper is not in use. I was debating making an easy plug/unplug connection to swap out to the 100W suitcase when camping (which have the MC4s) - that or put a Y connect and be able to add that extra 20W to the suitcase if needed. 

    I do have the MC4 tool that disconnects the connectors. They are solidly built and made for the elements, but I wasn't sure if I'd stress the plastic too much by connecting or disconnecting. 

    PS The panels arrived yesterday evening! w00h00! 
    PPS I had to take the permanent 100W flex panel off the T@B because of a voluntary recall due to potential electrical issues. A good move because one square clearly was overheating and discolored the gel coat on the roof. Decided to go suitcase style, ala PXL!
    2017 820R Retro Toy Hauler from 2015 Tabitha T@B from 2009 Reverse LG Teardrop (but a T@Bluver at heart)
  • jkjennjkjenn Member Posts: 6,389
    Ratkity said:
    kybob said:
    Would the Zamp Solar Anderson Clip Adapter that the Teardrop Shop sells, make the Renogy Suitcase a plug and play? I've read somewhere on here about reverse polarity, or something like that. 
    Kybob, the Renogy uses the MC4 male and female adaptors. I think you'd need the MC4 to Anderson and then Anderson to the Zamp plug adaptor (if that exists? Jenn or Verna may know). The only reason I know about the MC4 adapters is because I have a Renogy 20W panel I plan to use daily as a trickle charger/maintainer for the battery while camper is not in use. I was debating making an easy plug/unplug connection to swap out to the 100W suitcase when camping (which have the MC4s) - that or put a Y connect and be able to add that extra 20W to the suitcase if needed. 
    I have heard the suitcase comes with an SAE adapter, which works in the quick disconnect on the T@b, but I cannot personally verify. I have a couple MC4 to SAE adapters made by GZ but I don't know that GZ makes them any longer. They are not difficult to make. Also, you can use MC4 to battery cables or MC4 to alligator clips.

    I am stealing from @jcfaber1 and installing a trolling motor port to use on mine. I have everything ready go go once it warms up. I don't think it's a great idea to drill into the plastic in the cold. 

    2021 T@b 320 Boondock "Mattie Ross" | 2021 T@b Nights: 239 | Total nights in a T@b 455 | 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland | T@b owner since 2014

  • ScottGScottG Administrator Posts: 5,350
    Thanks, all. Jenn confirmed what my initial search suggested--there really isn't an objective comparison out there yet. I'm aware the Renogy controller is not waterproof, and the connector would need some adaptation, but I'm confident I can work around those details in light of the price difference. Even if there is no direct comparison out there, I do appreciate hearing your experiences with the different systems, so keep 'em coming!

    That new 100W goal zero panel is pretty sexy, given it's compact size, but the whole goal was to save money. Must...resist...distraction... :-) 
    2015 T@B S
  • jcfaber1jcfaber1 Member Posts: 318
    Why not get a waterproof CC from Morningstar?  Well made products.  I is better to have the CC close to the batteries.
    John

    2007 T@B

    Rockford, IL

  • ScottGScottG Administrator Posts: 5,350
    Could the cheap Renogy controller be mounted in the tub? Seems like it can't involve much more than rewiring a few connections, but since I've never actually seen one of these I may be oversimplifying things...

    Having it in the tub would get it closer to the battery and mitigate the potential for water damage.  
    2015 T@B S
  • RatkityRatkity Member Posts: 3,770
    My Renogy suitcase came without the controller (since I already have a hard-wired Trimetric in the tub), but the mount for their controller is still there. It has 2 hinges that are riveted on and a large velcro square behind it so a person can pull it back from the panel and look at the controller readings. There are 3 holes on each side of the mounting plate. Since the hinges and mounting plate are riveted, there's a good chance the controller would be too. The best folks to ask would be Renogy themselves.

    Or, just do as JC suggested and get a waterproof CC from Morningstar (very reliable - had one on my first teardrop), mount it in the bin and run your MC4 extension wires out to your Renogy suitcase (bought without controller). 
    2017 820R Retro Toy Hauler from 2015 Tabitha T@B from 2009 Reverse LG Teardrop (but a T@Bluver at heart)
  • ScottGScottG Administrator Posts: 5,350
    Hmmm, yeah--I'm seeing the wisdom of buying a separate controller for remote installation. Even if I opt to start with a cheap one (from Morningstar, Renogy, or someone else) this seems a better choice as I'll apparently be fashioning new cables either way. In that situation, the separate controller seems to offer more flexibility and less hassle all around.

    See, I'm getting questions answered that I didn't even know I should be asking!
    2015 T@B S
  • T@BuhuraT@Buhura Member Posts: 97
    jkjenn said:

    Ratkity said:
    I am receiving my Renogy 100W suitcase next week. They had a recall on a particular set (serial numbers) of their flexible panels (be careful of people selling these on ebay - my roof got discolored because one square got overheated) - so I removed it and decided to go the suitcase 100W route. My controller and monitor are already hardwired in, so it made sense to purchase a suitcase setup without a controller. I'll let you know my experiences when the sun finally comes out of hiding and decides to put out some useable sunshine as winter goes away!

    Too bad I can't do a side-by-side Zamp vs GZ vs Renogy experiment. I'd have to have batteries of the same type, age, unconnected to any other load and in the same state-of-charge for it to be valid. Seems like a pricey experiment. Anyone win the lotto lately? ;) 
    You really need to do a real test over several months (ideally, a year+) and use one of those meters to measure what the panels were actually getting. If you were willing to do that, you might get them to send you a panel.


    Really it would be somewhat simple thing to test. Measure the current generated by the panel under like lighting (sunlight) conditions. It would be easy at a gathering where you can get a wide sample of panels side by side and plug in an ammeter in series say while charging a battery or powering the same device. All panels should technically be rated at 14.4v. Then remember Power = Current * Voltage (P=IVl; Watts = Amps * Volts).

    I went with overlandersolar.com vs. Renogy or Zamp is because of the real world power to price ratio was much better. At a Rally we had a chance to compare them by measuring current for like rated each assembler. Overlandsolar uses German made Bosch panels that actually perform better than the other two (I don't know for certain who the manufacturers are for the other panels).

    Since Power = Current * Voltage (P=IV) all should technically have similar current with all rated at 14.4v. Turns out Renogy put out about 1amp from 100W panels someone had for about a year, which really means 14.4W in full sunlight, not 90W, certainly not 100W. Since I had been contemplating Renogy from Amazon because of their price, I was quickly convinced they wouldn't be worth much. So I jumped on a set of 60W panels which I've measured as high as 5.4amp of current in full sunlight really putting them at 77.8W. Much better than their rated 60W. For our use they've been fantastic, and kept us going strong for more than 30 days straight last summer. And because they're very efficient, I've even been able to use them in overcast lighting to maintain the battery on our ski camping weekends. The only fight was keeping snow off of them! Plus they're guaranteed for 20yrs to maintain their 60W minimum rating.

    Ooh, and on this last weekend's trip we met other fellow T@Bers - can see the leading edge of their tent on the right (zoomed in and cropped to highlight my panels).

    2006 Dutchman T@B T16, 2010 Volvo XC90 3.2 R-Design
  • NomadNomad Member Posts: 7,209
    I had to close my eyes and look away or I'd had nightmare, snowy flashbacks.
  • jkjennjkjenn Member Posts: 6,389
    T@Buhura said:
    Really it would be somewhat simple thing to test. Measure the current generated by the panel under like lighting (sunlight) conditions. It would be easy at a gathering where you can get a wide sample of panels side by side and plug in an ammeter in series say while charging a battery or powering the same device. All panels should technically be rated at 14.4v. Then remember Power = Current * Voltage (P=IVl; Watts = Amps * Volts).
    The ammeter would give you limited information about the PV. You would want to test irradiance and temperature, too, to get a complete picture.
    T@Buhura said:

    Since Power = Current * Voltage (P=IV) all should technically have similar current with all rated at 14.4v. Turns out Renogy put out about 1amp from 100W panels someone had for about a year, which really means 14.4W in full sunlight, not 90W, certainly not 100W. Since I had been contemplating Renogy from Amazon because of their price, I was quickly convinced they wouldn't be worth much. So I jumped on a set of 60W panels which I've measured as high as 5.4amp of current in full sunlight really putting them at 77.8W.
    I would be suspect of either a random bad panel or the testing methodology. I was getting excellent performance with my Renogy 100w rigid panels and getting very good results with my 50w flexible, as well.

    The Renogy 100w suitcase is rated at 18.0v max operating voltage. Also, Renogy's warranty covers:
    • 25-year transferable power output warranty:
    • 5-year/95% efficiency rate,
    • 10-year/90% efficiency rate,
    • 25-year/80% efficiency rate 

    2021 T@b 320 Boondock "Mattie Ross" | 2021 T@b Nights: 239 | Total nights in a T@b 455 | 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland | T@b owner since 2014

  • T@BuhuraT@Buhura Member Posts: 97
    jkjenn said:
    The ammeter would give you limited information about the PV. You would want to test irradiance and temperature, too, to get a complete picture.

    I would be suspect of either a random bad panel or the testing methodology. I was getting excellent performance with my Renogy 100w rigid panels and getting very good results with my 50w flexible, as well.
     
    Radiance and temp impact efficiency for sure and as temp increases efficiency decreases which was certainly factor last summer (>100F ambient). Since after all panel work on the principle of dual nature of light taking advantage of the photons exciting electrons. Certainly every panel manufacturer would have different optimal operating parameters but where quality comes into play you'd expect that each batch by the same manufacturer would perform similarly. As with most systems, measuring just the output, there are other factors that also come into play, length of cabling (DC does not like long distances and it's why we live in an 120/240 AC world since we typically live hundred or even thousands of miles from power plants), controller, etc.
    2006 Dutchman T@B T16, 2010 Volvo XC90 3.2 R-Design
  • jcfaber1jcfaber1 Member Posts: 318
    From my perspective, if you are going with a PWM charge controller the Bogart engineering meter and charge controller is the way to go.  They are designed to work together from the ground up.  I also found their tech support was great when I installed my meter.  A real live oxygen breathing, English speaking person who knows their stuff.  It gives great performance and really good battery charge info.  I am using their 2025-RV meter and really like it. 
    http://www.bogartengineering.com/content/trimetrics

    If you are going the MPPT route because of wiring in series because of a long cable to reduce the voltage drop then you would consider their meter and a different charge controller.  I just received an email today from Morningstar on a webinar which covers charge controllers.  I have attached the link for the first of three times.  I would bet this would help new users understand what the charge controller is going to do for you and may help your decision process.  Please advise if the link does not work.
    https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4105973714304581377

    John

    2007 T@B

    Rockford, IL

  • jkjennjkjenn Member Posts: 6,389
    jcfaber1 said:
    From my perspective, if you are going with a PWM charge controller the Bogart engineering meter and charge controller is the way to go.  They are designed to work together from the ground up.  I also found their tech support was great when I installed my meter.  A real live oxygen breathing, English speaking person who knows their stuff.  It gives great performance and really good battery charge info.  I am using their 2025-RV meter and really like it. 
    http://www.bogartengineering.com/content/trimetrics

    If you are going the MPPT route because of wiring in series because of a long cable to reduce the voltage drop then you would consider their meter and a different charge controller.  I just received an email today from Morningstar on a webinar which covers charge controllers.  I have attached the link for the first of three times.  I would bet this would help new users understand what the charge controller is going to do for you and may help your decision process.  Please advise if the link does not work.
    https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4105973714304581377

    John
    Both Bogart and Morningstar get very good reviews and I don't think you could go wrong with either of them.

    I went with a Victron set-up. In addition to the battery monitor, their MPPT monitor allows you to export data to your PC, so you can keep records.

    John, I took your advice with the 8# cable. I hope they post a replay of the webinar. I love it when companies host webinars on topics like this.

    2021 T@b 320 Boondock "Mattie Ross" | 2021 T@b Nights: 239 | Total nights in a T@b 455 | 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland | T@b owner since 2014

  • NomadNomad Member Posts: 7,209
    "export data to your PC" <- I sense another Excel spreadsheet coming.
  • jkjennjkjenn Member Posts: 6,389
    edited February 2016
    PXLated said:
    "export data to your PC" <- I sense another Excel spreadsheet coming.

    Oh, I already have it going on, lol. B)


    2021 T@b 320 Boondock "Mattie Ross" | 2021 T@b Nights: 239 | Total nights in a T@b 455 | 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland | T@b owner since 2014

  • AnOldURAnOldUR Member Posts: 1,263
    edited February 9
    Resurrecting an old thread rather than starting new.

    Looking to upgrade from a 100W Renogy suitcase. The debate is whether to purchase another 100W or go with a new single 200W and sell the 100W. I was looking at the Jackery, but Vevor (thru Home Depot) has one that looks very similar at a much better price. Anyone have experience or thoughts on either, but mostly the Vevor? Both 200W suitcases are smaller and lighter than my 100W Renogy.


    Stockton, New Jersey
    2020 nuCamp T@B 320S * Jeep Wrangler

  • pthomas745pthomas745 Moderator Posts: 3,579
    There are lots of these types of panels with the same design, and they are a great improvement over the "flexible" panel styles from just a few years ago.  Just a quick Amazon look at the Vevor pictured, it does not seem to include a solar controller.  But, if it has the MC4 connector at the panel, it would be simple to use your existing Renogy controller and most likely the same cables you now use to your trailer.
    I know the DOKIO panels have been mentioned in various Forum threads.  They went with SAE cables from the panel, for whatever reason.  (Probably because they are easier to connect). They also use XT60 connectors out from the solar controller, which I wish every solar controller company would rig their controllers for.
    I have a 2014 Renogy 100 watt panel and a newer 2019 or so panel.  The new panel (monocrystalline) is much smaller.  The two panels have essentially the same specs, and with a cable I've combined them.  It works great in my back yard.  But, trying to move the two panels with all the associated cables is like watching Laurel and Hardy move that piano up those stairs! 


    2017 Outback
    Towed by 2014 Touareg TDi
  • AnOldURAnOldUR Member Posts: 1,263
    Just a quick Amazon look at the Vevor pictured, it does not seem to include a solar controller.
    I also have the smaller, lighter 100W Renogy, but purchased it without a controller. I installed a Victron 75/15 in the tub close to the batteries. That should handle the Vevor or any other 200W panel. I'll take a closer look at what DOKIO has to offer without a controller. Thanks.


    Stockton, New Jersey
    2020 nuCamp T@B 320S * Jeep Wrangler

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