Looking for a solar charge controller for your campervan? Find out which ones we recommend and why you want to put thought into your purchase.
You’ll see very few people living in a van without solar panels on the roof. A decent solar setup has become all but a necessary part of any campervan conversion and is usually among the top items any van dweller will recommend that you purchase.
And while you may be exhausted from shopping for the best batteries and solar panels for your system, it does absolutely no good to invest in a great battery bank and a robust solar panel setup if you aren’t going to go the extra distance to include the best solar charge controller that you can afford.
In fact, solar charge controllers are absolutely necessary, not just recommended, if you plan to install a solar array on your campervan, trailer or motorhome.
You’ll find that nearly all of the best solar panel kits will automatically include a solar charge controller as part of the package because they are that important to your solar setup.
When we set out on our big adventure to drive from Alaska to Argentina, we knew that solar was going to be an important part of staying powered up. But we had no idea what we were doing (about solar, or virtually anything van life on the road entails!).
So like many RV newbies trying to collect all of the right essentials and gear, we purchased a solar panel kit that included the solar panels, mounting hardware and a solar charge controller.
As it turned out, our ignorance about our solar panel configuration would not only cost us in eventually replacing our cheap standard flooded lead-acid batteries but also in replacing the PWM charge controller included in the kit.
So whether these kits offer a quality charge controller is up for debate. In fact, we have a suspicion that any kit that includes a PWM charge controller (“pulse width modulation”) in 2022 is one you should cross off your list immediately.
A PWM controller used to be a budget-friendly way to build a solar system without spending tons of money. But the technology is obsolete, and the price for PWM controllers is so low that they can be virtually given away for free (thus our suspicion about manufacturers including them in starter solar panel systems kits).
Now MPPT solar charge controllers (“maximum power point tracking”) are easily considered the best solar charge controllers for any solar array. They have come down in price and are much more efficient, offering near-perfect transfer of usable energy from your solar panel array to your battery bank.
As you read about our best choices in solar charge controllers, you will find that our top 5 recommendations are MPPT charge controllers.
We only include one PWM charge controller on the list because, while we are firmly against promoting PWM charge controllers, you may find yourself in a situation where this may be the best solar controller option for your setup.
But chances are you’ll end up selecting an MPPT charge controller from one of the 5 top recommendations on our list.
On that note, let’s get into our top solar charge controller recommendation before we cover the other options and help you understand more of what to look for when selecting RV solar charge controllers.
Editor’s Choice: Renogy Rover 30 Amp MPPT Solar Charge Controller
We selected our Renogy Rover 30 amp MPPT solar charge controller based first on our desire to streamline our entire solar setup using Renogy products.
This MPPT controller easily handles the load between 500 watts of solar panels on our roof and 400 amp hours of battery storage in our AGM deep cycle batteries.
It is quick to install and set up and provides for the very basic needs without extra features to get in the way. It is low cost comparably and is the perfect tie between other solar components in our setup.
Best Product // Our Top Picks at a Glance
|Product||Type||Amp||LCD Screen||Bluetooth||LOAD or LVT Output||Efficiency||Price Range|
|Renogy Rover||MPPT||30||Yes||No||Yes||99%||Under $200|
|EPEVER MPPT||MPPT||30||Yes||Yes||Yes||99.5%||Under $200|
|Victron Smart Solar||MPPT||30||No||Yes||No||99%||Over $200|
|Morningstar ProStar||MPPT||25||Yes||No||Yes||98%||Over $300|
|Weize MPPT||MPPT||30||Yes||No||Yes||99.9%||Under $100|
|Renogy Adventurer PWM||PWM||30||Yes||No||No||NA||Under $100|
The Best Solar Charge Controller for Campervans
Now that you know why we picked our Editor’s Choice to install in our RV let’s get into the features and details of other great solar charge controller options on the market.
We’ll be comparing each based on type, efficiency, quality, and additional features such as Bluetooth-enabled LCD screen display and LOAD and LVD output capabilities, among other features.
Of course, we’ll also take a look at how price may impact each charge controller’s overall value.
WHAT WE LIKE
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Renogy Rover 30 Amp MPPT
EPEVER 30 Amp MPPT
Victron Smart Solar 30 Amp MPPT
PREMIUM RUNNER UP
Morningstar ProStar 25 Amp MPPT
Weize 30 Amp MPPT
BEST ENTRY LEVEL
Renogy Adventurer 30 Amp PWM
Best Overall: Renogy Rover 30A MPPT Solar Charge Controller
Renogy Rover is the finest solar charge controller on our list. Renogy is the master of solar products.
They have a wide range of high-quality products and Rover is the flagship Renogy MPPT charge controller providing great value for money.
It is a versatile and greatly designed device. Rover is compatible with all deep batteries like gel, sealed, flooded and lithium and has a beautiful, functional die-cast aluminum design for heat dissipation.
We love the included accessories with all the necessary wires, mounts and connectors to get going with the device. And the device was effortless to install. Moreover, it also has an RS232 communication port to easily connect the Bluetooth module.
The MTTP charge controller is 99% efficient and comes with overcharging, deep discharge, over-voltage, overload, short circuit, and reverse flow protection. Rover also has 4 stage charging making it an excellent choice for every condition. And it automatically detects 12V and 24V systems.
The 40A solar charge controller is a robust product. But on the downside, the connectors/cable terminals are not as good as the device. They can get damaged quite easily, so we’d recommend using them with some care.
Sometimes the set screw that is used to tighten down on the wires does not fully clamp down, which allows some wiggle room for the wires, particularly if you’re driving down bumpy roads.
- Automatic system detection and 99% efficiency.
- Comes with all accessories, including mounting brackets, temperature sensors and wires.
- Robust construction.
- Useful LCD screen.
- Weak cable terminals.
- Set screws can become loosened with time
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Runner Up: Epever 30A MPPT Solar Charge Controller
Epever has been manufacturing electric power products for van lifers for over a decade. And the Epever 30A MPPT solar controller is a worthy runner-up to Renogy’s model.
The high-performing controller is 99% efficient and ensures a 98% conversion rate. It is compatible with sealed, gel, flooded and AGM batteries. However, it is not compatible with lithium batteries.
A handy feature is its negative ground design and 150V max input.
The input enables us to attach up to 390W of solar panels, which is more than enough for most van lifestyles. Moreover, it also has 4 stage charging options and many safety features like Renogy Rover, including a negative ground.
We like that the Epever comes with a separate multi-functional LCD screen displaying system operation information. Many solar charge controllers only have a display on the unit itself, which is not functional if you install the charge controller in a storage bay or other area that is not accessible.
But with Epever, you can wire the monitor to display information wherever you would like it to display. You can also connect the device with a computer through the communication cable in the box. And it has an internal temperature sensor to measure the battery bank temperature.
Epever is the second-best device on our list and packed with many great features, but it has its downsides too.
You MUST have the MT50 monitor, which is included in this recommendation. If you buy the MPPT controller by itself you’ll also need to buy the monitor to be able to set the parameters for your controller.
Additionally, the separate monitor screen is not solid and can break if handled poorly. And as mentioned, it is not compatible with lithium batteries.
- 150V input to connect multiple solar panels in series.
- Exceptional heat dissipation.
- Real-time data tracking on the Modbus interface.
- Not compatible with Lithium batteries.
- Requires the MT50 monitor (included in this kit)
Best Premium: Victron Energy Smart Solar MPPT 100v 30A
Victron Energy is the pioneer of campervan electrical products and the gold standard when it comes to MPPT charge controllers. They have a wide array of premium, high-quality products and this solar charge controller is a reflection of their quality.
Victron Energy Smart Solar is a lightweight and compact 100V solar charge controller and allows you to build a solar array with multiple solar panels.
It keeps the batteries in excellent working condition and converts the most energy out of the solar array.
The controller does not have a display, but it has built-in Bluetooth. Allowing you to conveniently monitor it through your mobile phone or laptop. There are three LEDs to indicate stage charging.
An excellent feature of Victron Energy is the ability to revive the battery from 0 volts if the battery is not permanently damaged or sulfated. Moreover, it comes with a lengthy 5-year warranty.
Overall, Victron energy is a great product, but it can be pretty tricky to set up with the Bluetooth connection. So if you aren’t familiar with solar wiring, we’d recommend seeking a professional to prevent any harm to your solar system and batteries. It is also relatively pricey.
And there are those people out there who claim Victron doesn’t play well with others. We haven’t seen this issue personally. But if you commit to an entire Victron solar system then your entire setup will be expensive.
- Premium high-quality device.
- Ability to revive the battery from 0 volts.
- Built-in Bluetooth for remote monitoring.
- 5-years warranty.
- Can be difficult to set up.
- May not play well with other non-Victron solar components
Runner Up: Morning Star ProStar 25A MPPT Solar Charge Controller
The Morning Star ProStar 25A is a robustly built MPPT solar charge controller thanks to its conductive aluminum heat sink on the back and a rugged polycarbonate front.
You won’t have to worry about this controller overheating if it is working hard to power up your batteries.
The ProStar MPPT controller is compatible with all the popular battery types, including lithium. And it ensures 98% efficiency with excellent performance, even in low light.
Moreover, it can accommodate multiple solar panels in your solar array. And all of the essential information is displayed on the bright programmable LCD.
The ProStar is a great solar charge controller for medium-sized campervans. It has overload, short circuit, high voltage, reverse polarity and high-temperature protection and comes with a 4-stage charging like Renogy Rover. Moreover, the 5-year warranty is the cherry on top.
We’re big fans of built-in diagnostics and data logging. Its advanced diagnostic reminds you in case of installation and user errors. And data logging stores the data of over 250 days. So if you ever did come across an issue with your solar system you can look back on historical data to troubleshoot.
We also like that there is a separate low-voltage appliance connection where you can sap off some of the solar energy from the controller to power small appliances directly.
On the downside, all the exceptional features are available at a reasonably hefty price point. And if you just take a look at the basic wiring diagram, it can seem overwhelming to try and install. You may want to consult experts for installation if you do not feel comfortable installing this premium MPPT controller yourself.
- Robust aluminum and plastic exterior.
- Protection and 4-stage charging.
- Data logging up to 250 days.
- Can be challenging to install
Best Budget: Weize 100V, 30A MPPT Solar Charge Controller Kit
Weize is another great addition to our list, particularly for those van dwellers looking to save some cash in their solar setup. It is significantly cheaper and has all the valuable features that a solar charge controller must have.
The 30A controller can accept an input power of 400W on a 12V system. Moreover, the MPPT nature makes it 30% more efficient than comparably priced PWM devices, and it works perfectly with every type of battery, including LiFePO4.
Like other controllers, it also has 4-stage battery charging and comes with all the necessary protection to keep the solar panels and batteries from damage.
Despite its low price, it has all the mounting accessories and an LCD screen. In the box, we get a 10ft 14AWG extension cable, one male and female connector and a pair of MC4 wrenches.
On the downside, it is affordable for a reason and you should not expect it to last more than a few years. The 1-year warranty is also pretty short and should serve as an indicator of how much life to expect from this controller.
But it is a fair deal considering the price point.
- All the mounting accessories are included in the package.
- Handy screen.
- Comparatively short warranty.
- May not last more than a few years
Best Entry Level (PWM) Budget: Renogy Adventurer Li 30A PWM Controller
As we shared previously, PWM controllers are not ideal due to their inefficiencies in delivering power to your batteries.
But if you were interested in a PWM solar charge controller for your solar setup, the Renogy Wanderer 30 amp controller is your best bet as it is one of the very few PWM controllers that deliver outstanding performance.
From the outside, it does not appear much different from any other solar charge controller and it also operates like one.
It automatically detects the 12V or 24V battery bank and displays “E” if there is an installation error. Moreover, it has all the safety features of its more robust counterparts, including reverse polarity, over and undercharging and short circuits.
We really like that the Adventurer has an LCD and an RS232 port to connect a Bluetooth module. It is a handy addition as it enables you to monitor remotely. It also comes with a flush mount that keeps the wires tidy while holding the controller against the wall.
Further, the charge controller is compatible with flooded lead-acid, sealed, gel, and lithium batteries. This is a great feature because if you’re going the affordable route with this charge controller you may also be doing the same with your battery setup.
And it is good to know that you can always upgrade your battery bank without having to buy a new solar controller. Moreover, it comes with Renogy’s standard 2-year warranty.
Renogy Adventurer is more expensive than other PWM solar charge controllers and is less efficient than MPPT devices. Honestly, for the cost of this PWM controller, it would be worth considering our budget MPPT recommendation Weize.
- Comes with a 2-year warranty.
- Flush mount for an aesthetic finish.
- Compatible with all types of batteries.
- Easy to install
- Pricier than other PWM devices.
- Not as efficient as MPPT controllers
How to Choose the Best Solar Charge Controller
When comparing the best solar charge controllers on the market, there are some key features of which you should be aware.
In this section, we’ll cover the topics of what a solar charge controller is and why it is necessary for your solar system and the main features to look for when shopping.
What is a solar charge controller?
A solar charge controller is necessary for every van lifer using solar energy as the primary source. You can NOT connect your solar panel directly to your battery as this will cause catastrophic damage to the battery bank. The solar charge controller acts as a “middleman” between your solar panels and the battery bank.
As your solar panel array collects energy from the sun, each solar panel’s energy production is not uniform. Every part of the solar panel receives a different amount of light, resulting in fluctuating charges through the wire.
A regular deep-cycle campervan battery will need 12.6V to 14.6V to charge, and varying amounts can cause permanent damage to the battery. So, to avoid these circumstances, we use a solar charge controller.
Charge controllers detect the battery voltage and energy demands of your electrical system. Through different stages of charging, the solar charge controller keeps the battery bank from overcharging during the day and blocks the reverse flow during the night.
How does a solar charge controller work?
A solar charge controller regulates the current, or flow of energy, between the solar panels and the battery bank. It is like a middleman between the batteries and solar panels where it takes the message from the batteries and forwards it to the solar panels.
To prevent overcharging, charge controllers regulate the amount of current from the solar panels. The current is controlled by the semiconductor in the controller, which opens and closes according to the battery’s demand. Every battery has its own maximum voltage capacity, while the volts above that drastically damage the battery cells.
Moreover, the controller also prevents the batteries from overheating through its overloading protection. When the batteries are full and the solar controller moves to “trickle charge” them (keep them topped off even during light use), excess energy collected by the solar panels is dissipated from the panels as heat rather than directed to the batteries.
Further, low voltage protection stops the battery from over-discharging during the night, where energy would want to flow from the batteries toward the solar panels.
Do I need a solar charge controller?
Yes, you need a solar charge controller if your campervan has a solar system. Solar panels consistently deliver a varying amount of voltage. Sometimes the spike is relatively high and exceeds the safe limit.
So, the fluctuating input voltage can damage the battery cells, which can be permanent in many cases. To avoid this damage, a charge controller is a necessity.
You will need a controller in almost every case except when using a 5-watt solar panel. This small solar panel will not produce enough charge to damage the batteries. But it is nearly impossible to power a campervan with a 5-watt solar panel.
Types of Solar Charge Controllers
There are two main types of solar charge controllers: Pulse Width Modulation (“PWM”) and Maximum Power Point Tracking (“MPPT”)
Pulse Width Modulation PWM
PWM charge controllers are simple devices. Instead of uniform and constant flow, the pulse width modulation controller delivers controlled pulses of energy like a heartbeat.
Most PWMs are compatible with a 12V system, though very few work seamlessly with a 24V system. And the solar panel voltage must not exceed the battery bank voltage. Conveying that a 12V panel must be connected to a 12V battery.
So, this means that you cannot connect big solar systems in series because connecting them in series will double the voltage (from 12V to 24V) and the PWM controller will be useless in these cases. If you have a multiple solar panel system and intend to use a PWM controller, you must connect your solar array in parallel.
Moreover, pulse width modulation PWM controllers are 75% efficient. They are at their best when the battery is almost charged, so they are not great options with MPPT technology abundantly more efficient.
The controllers are significantly more affordable than the MPPT charge controllers. But they are not efficient, and you would have to get more panels to fulfill your campervan power needs.
Maximum Power Point Tracking MPPT
The MPPT charge controller is an efficient device capable of handling big voltages. This means you can connect multiple panels in parallel, series or in series-parallel.
MPPT controllers have a few conditions before it starts to work properly. They start charging the device when the input voltage is 5V higher than the battery voltage and keep on charging until the remaining amount is 1V.
MPPT controllers are 95% to 99% efficient, around 25% to 30% more efficient than PWM controllers. And an MPPT charge controller works perfectly with series or high-voltage solar systems, making it perfect for off-grid systems.
A downside can be that they are typically 2-3 times higher priced than PWM controllers.
The best solar charge controllers record a considerable amount of data, and it is pretty difficult to display all that on the small LCD of the charge controller.
That’s why it is useful to have a built-in Bluetooth or communication port for the Bluetooth module to conveniently assess the data through a mobile app or computer software.
This is not only more convenient, to be able to look at your phone at any time to see the data. But also you can see more types of data and historical records with most Bluetooth applications.
Almost all charge controllers have a communication port, and more and more models are starting to come with Bluetooth modules.
LOAD or LVD output
LOAD and LVD output are not important considerations, but they can be handy if you have a lot of small appliances like lights and mobile phones that you want to use directly from your solar panels.
With charge controllers that offer LOAD or LVT output, you wire devices or appliances directly into the charge controller itself. In addition to the ports for wiring between the panels and the battery, the controller will also have two additional ports for auxiliary wiring.
So, for example, if you wanted to have a small fan running during the day you could wire it directly to the charge controller instead of your DC electrical system. This is definitely more of a convenience and is not considered a necessity when shopping for the best solar charge controllers.
Supported Battery Technology
Typically you will not have to worry much about supported battery technology unless you are using a lithium battery. Most solar charge controllers are compatible with flooded lead-acid, gel, sealed and AGM batteries.
But all controllers do not work perfectly with lithium. So, you have to do a little research to find a suitable controller for a lithium battery.
Efficiency rate is vital because with higher efficiency comes higher wattage and the ability to quickly recharge your battery bank. For higher efficiency, choose MPPT controllers.
These are 20-30% higher in efficiency and are the best overall types of solar charge controllers you can find.
When planning out the perfect solar setup for your van you’ll want to know more than just how many solar panels can you fit on your roof. That is just the start as you will need to find the right size solar charge controller to accompany your solar array. As we’ve shared, there are two basic kinds of charge controllers – PWM and MPPT.
We’ve covered why an MPPT charge controller is better than a PWM controller. But if you are on the fence about which MPPT controller is best for your setup, you can’t go wrong with Renogy’s Rover.
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