Last Updated on August 9, 2021 by Chris and Lindsay
Choosing the best solar charge controller can be difficult with so many options on the market. But if you plan to install the best solar panels on your RV and you want to protect your RV battery bank, then making the right decision about the solar charge controller is vital.
Solar charge controllers serve a simple purpose in your RV power system. They are connected by wiring inline between your solar panels and your battery bank.
As solar energy is collected by your panels it is transferred into the controller. The controller then regulates how much of this energy is then transferred to your batteries to keep them in optimal condition.
In fact, because the solar charge controller is literally between two incredibly important components of your RV power and electrical system, it is even more important that you understand the differences between the different options and that you select a charge controller that optimizes solar energy collected from your solar panels while regulating how much of this energy is transferred to your battery bank.
Investing in a higher quality solar charge controller is not only necessary to complete your RV solar system installation (don’t even think about connecting your solar panels directly to your batteries!) but it is also recommended because the efficiency differences between different controllers can mean lots of wasted energy.
In this post, we’ll walk you through our top recommendations, explain the differences in solar charge controllers and factors to consider when shopping for one and ultimately share with you why we chose the solar charge controller that we did (we’ll give you a hint, it is definitely an MPPT controller!)
Affiliate Disclaimer: This post may contain links to products we think you’ll like. If you purchase any of the products through the links below we’ll receive a small commission. As full-time RVers, we know our RV products well and only recommend those that we either own or would consider owning ourselves.
Our Top Solar Charge Controller Recommendations
The Best Solar Charge Controller
We think that MPPT charge controllers are the best kind of solar charge controllers due to their efficiency and ability to handle both a large or small solar array. So most of the best solar charge controllers we mention below are MPPT.
We’ll walk through the differences between different kinds of solar charge controllers after our recommendations if you’d like to know more of why we think a MPPT charge controller is a better option than a PWM charge controller.
That said, here are our top recommendations.
Our Honesty Disclaimer: In the course of living in our RV full time for over 3 years we have thoroughly researched all of these products before making the choice on our own. So we’ll give you honest information that allows you to make the best decision for which product is right for you.
1) Renogy Rover Li 40 Amp MPPT Solar Charge Controller
No matter your setup, your solar energy can only go as far as the solar charger can take it. Renogy’s Rover 40 Amp solar charge controller can work with various solar panels and battery types to get the job done.
The high-quality solar package comes with a charge controller, temperature sensor, and an optional Bluetooth module to help your MPPT charge controller achieve maximum power point tracking with the rest of your devices.
You will have complete control of your solar system from the comfort of your cell phone. If you need to get up close, the RV solar charge controller has an LCD screen with a thoroughly thought-out display, allowing you to understand your battery situations quickly.
The system can even work with a 12-volt battery or 24-volt system voltages for maximum flexibility. The solar charge controllers have recently undergone redesigns and upgrades, and the new model has safety features to self-diagnose any load control problems, streamlining technical support resolutions.
Renogy has created high-quality products for all steps of the solar array, and this charge controller continues its best-in-class pedigree by being affordable, flexible, and maintenance-free to help your off-grid solar system.
Equipping your RV with this 40 amp charge controller will allow you to harness your solar panel capabilities to ensure a full battery bank.
|WHAT WE LIKE||THINGS TO CONSIDER|
|* High quality die-cast aluminum design|
* Compatible with Bluetooth module to use the Renogy DC home app
* Smart controller can detect 12 volt or 24 volt DC charging systems
|* Wire connection ports can easily strip|
* LED screen is not back-lit
SAVE 10% MORE when you shop directly at Renogy.com and use our coupon code “CalledToWander” at checkout!
2) Epever MPPT Solar Charge Controller 30A
This affordable MPPT charge controller is also one of the most efficient solar charge controllers on the market. Epever’s Solar Charge controller embraces MPPT technology to provide an efficiency rate of over 99%, bringing more easy-to-use battery bank voltage to your system.
This efficiency allows you to get more performance out of your solar panel and help you reach full voltage charge even on cloudy days.
A dedicated app allows the solar charge controller to communicate with your phone. You can constantly see what charge levels your battery holds and information regarding the amount of power your solar panels are drawing in.
The high-quality solar charge controller will work with all types of batteries, lead-acid to flooded, shipping ready to be plugged into any existing battery voltage, and immediately upgrade your capabilities.
To keep things safe, Epever packed the solar charge controller with built-in protections. Overload, over-discharging, short-circuit, and reverse current issues won’t affect the battery temperature.
These MPPT charge controllers record battery voltage charge statistics, allowing you to keep track of your off-grid solar panel and find any system flaws before they become critical issues. This is a complete MPPT solar charge controller option that has been well thought out and developed.
The low price point makes this system a no-brainer for anyone looking for a comprehensive yet straightforward solar charge controller.
|WHAT WE LIKE||THINGS TO CONSIDER|
|* Compatible with most battery types including lithium-ion|
* Backlit LCD screen
* Great price point
|* Some units have issues with buttons sticking|
* Temperature sensor that’s included is cheaply made
3) Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT 75V 15 amp
Victron SmartSolar MPPT Solar Charge Controller has advanced alongside the times, bringing RV owners one of the most technologically advanced options on the market without a high price.
The SmartSolar system schedules the solar charge around your 12 volt or 24-volt battery bank, a program designed to provide 100% battery voltage every day.
It won’t overcharge your flooded batteries to help extend the life of your mainframe. It can rescue the most severely depleted lead-acid batteries and give them a second life, as it can employ reverse polarity to operate on a battery with 0 input voltage.
It communicates with your Bluetooth devices to provide you with an inside look at the MPPT solar charge. It has taken that a step further by providing a temperature sensor, and this Victron SmartSolar MPPT solar charge controller can communicate with an internet connection.
Bluetooth will only work if you are in the same physical location, but Victron’s SmartSolar MPPT product allows for long-range communication. You can’t be one of the best solar charge controllers on the market without equipping MPPT solar charge technology, and Victron was sure to add this on to get the most out of your solar panel.
Victron Energy’s product even includes a 5-year warranty, giving any buyer peace of mind for miles.
|WHAT WE LIKE||THINGS TO CONSIDER|
|* Can recharge a severely depleted battery|
* Includes built-in Bluetooth module
* Extremely efficient
|* Wire terminals cannot accept wire larger than 10Awg |
* Can only be mounted vertically
4) EPEVER MPPT Solar Charge Controller 80A Negative Ground 200V PV Solar Panel Charger
This Epever solar charge controller packs 80 Amps of Solar Charge control into your battery bank voltage and ships ready to operate even the most advanced solar charge systems.
If you find your solar panel harnessing high solar input voltage, you need a heavy-duty solar charge controller to get the job done.
All the sunlight in the world is useless without the proper MPPT controller converting the solar energy. EPEVER’s MPPT 80A solar charge controller is the right device.
You won’t need to rebuild your kit to work with this solar charge controller; the machine has the flexibility to be plugged into any existing setup and flourish.
It packs in every feature that makes great solar charge controllers and ensures these features operate at extreme energy loads. The controller supports communication with all types of batteries and solar panels and includes Bluetooth technology for all the operators to control it all from their cell phones.
It also ships with an MT50 Remote Meter with an LCD display to give you constant updates on your battery bank if you don’t have your phone handy. Anyone operating a sizable solar system can confidently look to EPEVER’s offering to ensure everything keeps running smoothly.
|WHAT WE LIKE||THINGS TO CONSIDER|
|* Great for large solar systems connected in series or parallel|
* Can prolong the life-cycle of batteries and improve performance
|* Bulky and very heavy at 16 pounds|
5) Renogy Adventurer Li- 30A PWM
This well-designed Renogy PWM controller is an excellent option if you’re sticking to PWM controllers. It works best with 12 volt or 24-volt battery systems but can perform well with any battery. The solar charge controller has a four-stage charging system.
The PWM controller comes with all protection features used by the best Solar charge controllers on the market and works with your battery to ensure it never overloads or undercharges your banks.
It’s by far the most affordable solar charge controller on this list, yet it still offers Bluetooth communication, usually reserved for more expensive PWM controllers.
It’s got a friendly design that won’t look too shabby stuck right to the wall of your RV, and its LCD screen will keep the updates flowing, so you’ll always know where your battery voltage stands.
The solar charge controller has a self-diagnostic program that will alert the user to any input voltage problems before they get severe. If you have a simple solar setup that gets the job done, you may not require the most advanced solar charge controller services on the market.
This low price, compact Adventurer model will easily handle any simple solar setups and fully utilize your energy.
|WHAT WE LIKE||THINGS TO CONSIDER|
|* Great for small and simple solar setups|
* Has a 5V 2. 4A USB port to charge phones
* Sleek design can be mounted flush on walls
|* Not nearly as efficient as an MPPT controller|
* Can be difficult to connect wires in the limited amount of space at the bottom of the unit
Solar Charge Controller Buying Guide
Like all components of your solar power system, there are many options when it comes to purchasing a solar charge controller. While low price is almost always a factor, we should advise you that your solar charge controller is the first and last line of defense in protecting the health of your battery bank.
Thus we are confident and feel quite strongly that it is worth your money to invest in a solar charge controller that will not only help deliver energy for you to use in your RV but also ensure a longer life for your batteries.
But you don’t have to spend a fortune to purchase a great charge controller. These are some other factors you will want to consider while you’re shopping for a solar charge controller for your RV.
Type: PWM vs MPPT
When it comes to solar charge controllers there are two types: PWM and MPPT.
Pulse Width Modulators (PWM) Solar Charge Controllers
Pulse Width Modulators (PWM) are less efficient than their counterparts, the Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT). They are an older technology and thus are beginning to become antiquated.
However, they are a great option if you are just starting your solar system, have low energy needs and are looking for a very affordable charge controller. In fact, many solar panel starter kits include a PWM charge controller because they are pretty straightforward with few bells and whistles.
PWM charge controller technology works by gradually reducing the amount of energy flowing to the batteries (current). When the batteries are fully charged the PWM controller will continue to send a trickle of current to keep the batteries topped off as they are used.
These controllers support smaller solar systems where the solar system and the batteries have matching voltages (typically 12V).
Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) Solar Charge Controllers
On the other hand, MPPT controllers can handle a more complex solar system. Their efficiency is typically 90% or higher so much more solar energy is converted for use than with PWM charge controllers.
Unlike PWM charge controllers that essentially continually charge your battery bank, MPPT charge controllers can adjust the input by stepping down the voltage and increasing the current, or vice-versa.
For this reason alone they are becoming the industry standard and are by far the most common controllers sold.
Size: Amperage Rating
Solar charge controllers also come in a variety of options by their amperage rating size. You will see the most common sizes ranging in increments of 10 amps from 10A to 100A.
Selecting the right size for your solar system is important because if your panels generate more current (amperage) than your controller can handle you will risk damaging it.
Current is a description of energy flow measured in amperes (amps). When your solar panels collect energy from the sun they transmit this energy through wires that allow for certain amounts of energy flow.
So, for example, your solar array may allow 30 amps of current to flow into the charge controller. But if you only have a 20A charge controller then you will risk damaging it and your batteries.
So before you purchase a solar charge controller you will want to ensure that you know the current ratings of your solar array. That is, you’ll want to add up any of the amperages of panels connected in series or parallel accordingly.
This is why simple solar systems can get away with a basic PWM controller or an MPPT upgrade. Single or double panel systems tend to have lower amperages.
But do not let this generality convince you to save a few dollars with a smaller system. It is imperative that you know the current expectations before you commit to purchasing a solar charge controller capable of managing your power system.
How to Install A Solar Charge Controller
Installing a solar charge controller is not a terribly difficult or complicated task. But you do want to make sure you pay attention to several key things that will ensure you install it safely and correctly.
Mounting Your Solar Charge Controller
Your solar charge controller will be located between your solar panel array and your battery bank. As such you will likely be mounting it inside your RV. Although you may choose to locate it in an outside storage bay or wherever your battery bank is located.
Proximity to Battery Bank
Physically, you have a wide variety of locations inside your RV where you can install your charge controller. Ideally, you want to make sure it is as close to the battery bank as possible.
It is better to have a longer run of appropriately sized wires from the solar panels to the controller than from the controller to the battery bank. Thus the shorter the wires between your controller and battery bank the better.
Additionally, you will want to install the solar charge controller in a place where it has the ability to discharge heat as needed. Different controller manuals specify recommended distances.
But most usually require between 4-6 inches of clearance above and below the controller.
Most charge controller models can be mounted in either a vertical or horizontal orientation. For this reason you have a wide range of options for where you want to install your controller.
Whether you mount it vertically on a wall or cupboard or horizontally inside a cabinet, you only need to ensure the other mounting criteria are met and that you screw or bolt it securely in place.
Fusing Your Solar Charge Controller
You will want to ensure that you place a fuse on the positive wires BOTH leading into the charge controller from the solar panels AS WELL AS those leading from the controller to the battery bank.
You will want to ensure proper fusing depending on your particular solar panel array setup. Remember when connecting your panels in series you will preserve the amperage while adding the voltage of each panel.
However, if you connect your panels in parallel you will keep the voltage the same but add the amperage of each panel. As such you’ll want to make sure you know how many amps will flow from your panels to your charge controller so you can add the correct size in-line fuse.
Additionally you will want to add a fuse between the solar charge controller and the battery. In this instance the best practice is to ensure that your fuse is identical in size to the size of the controller.
Thus if you have a 30 amp controller you will want a 30 amp fuse between the controller and the battery bank. If you have a 100 amp controller, place a 100 amp fuse between the controller and the batteries.
Pro Tip: We personally prefer to use breakers in place of fuses. While we started RVing with fuses in such key places, we realized it is not always practical and easy to change fuses. But it is very easy to press a button to reset the breaker.
Connecting Wires in Your Solar Charge Controller
When installing your solar charge controller be sure to refer to your user manual for whichever model you purchase. However, generally speaking, these are the things you need to be aware of as you set up your charge controller.
Connect the battery first. When you connect the wires to/from your solar charge controller you will want to make sure that you connect the positive (typically red) wires first. Then connect the negative (typically black) wires.
Connect the PV array (solar panels). Again, connect the positive wires first and the negative wires second.
NOTE: If your solar charge controller permits you to connect a load to it directly then you will want to connect the load after you connect the battery and before you connect the solar panels. In every instance you want to make sure that the negative wire of the solar panel is the last wire you connect in the controller.
Your charge controller should immediately turn on once you connect this negative wire from the solar panels. At this point, your light indicators and/or display screen will begin to populate information on the solar panel connection.