Renogy established itself as the go-to supplier for small scale DIY solar systems years ago and has helped many homeowners, RV builders, and off-grid enthusiasts build solar systems using their quality, time-tested components.
The company has its own line of solar panels, solar charge controllers, batteries, switches, fuses, inverters, easy to DC chargers, and just about everything in between. When Renogy reached out to us about review some of its components as a system, we gladly dove into the details to piece together a system of our own design.
We decided to put together a system with 2 of Renogy’s 100 amp-hour iron phosphate batteries, powered by a few Renogy 100 watt, 12 volt solar panels, a 2,000 watt pure sine wave inverter / AC charger, with one of Renogy’s 50 amp DC chargers to keep everything playing nicely and charged up. It’s a system that could easily power an off-grid home, a fully electric van life system, or even a full size RV. The beauty of Renogy’s components is that they allow you to, with minimal fuss, scale the system up or down depending on your need. We designed this system to meet the needs of a wide range of applications.
Want to charge your batteries from a high output alternator? No problem. Want to add more solar to the system? Sure! Want to quadruple the battery storage capacity? Yeah, they can do that. Need to keep your house battery and starter battery separate? That’s built in.
As with any component-based system, we had to map out the system, including the smallest details like fuses, wire gauge, switches, power flows, and charging inputs. We found tons of resources online, and especially on YouTube, where a wide range of experts in the space walk you through a system build for just about any application you could imagine. This one from the YouTube channel City Prepping was especially helpful and established the foundation for our system design.
From that starting point, we drew up a system design for our specific build and created a component list. Renogy sent over the big building blocks from its catalog and we ordered the rest of the components from Amazon and our local hardware store, Lowes.
Systems like this are typically installed into a vehicle or home, but that would make it hard to see how the components are connected together into a complete system. To work around that, we opted to install all of the components in a “system on a pallet” format to make it easier to show how they all play together.
The core of Renogy’s energy systems are its batteries. Renogy sent us two of its 100 amp-hour, Bluetooth-connected, self-heating iron phosphate batteries. These are some of the most popular batteries used in van-lifer power systems in the US and around the world. Lithium batteries have quickly taken over from older AGM and lead acid batteries due to their longevity and high power density.
These two batteries store the power generated from the solar panels and the vehicle’s onboard power system, pushing it back out through the inverter and DC circuits when the time comes to use the power. In our system-on-a-pallet configuration, the batteries will live in a corner of the pallet, but they would typically be stashed away in the back of a trunk, under a seat, or in the bottom of a cabinet.
Renogy’s batteries feature ethernet link connections and an uplink to allow multiple components to talk to each other. These specific batteries also have Bluetooth baked-in, enabling them to talk directly to one of Renogy’s head units wirelessly. It adds an important layer of insight into the system without the need to add shunts or aftermarket power flow monitors to the system.
For our system, we opted to power it with a few of Renogy’s 100 watt polycrystalline solar panels. I had actually purchased two of these before we even worked with Renogy to install on the roof of my Tesla and was eager to put the new panels to the test. The ability to scale the system up from 100 watts to 660 watts of solar at 50 amps of power provides lots of flexibility when designing and installing a system. This opens up a wide range of possibilities whether you’re building a car camping setup, an RV power system, or even an off-grid tiny home.
Solar panels are sexy, and ideally we would love to power not only our car camping setup, but to actually use solar to recharge the car when road tripping. With a system of this size and in a car camper the size of our Tesla Model Y, it’s really not practical without dedicating and unreasonable amount of surface area to the solar system.
We’re not planning to go that crazy with this build, but we’ll try to pack two, three, or four solar panels onto the roof in the final design. Renogy provided a 50 amp DC-to-DC charger for the system which would typically be wired up directly to a combustion vehicle’s alternator, as well as providing a DC input from the solar panels to the batteries. In our install, it serves as a solar charge controller.
With all the components in hand, we began assembling the components in the best layout on the pallet. We put all the fuses, disconnects, distribution blocks, and connections where we thought they should be and started wiring it up. To handle the power of the primary components, the wiring was necessarily very thick. This increased the cost and made the assembly a bit more challenging.
Special tools are required to cut thick wire and to crimp the terminals on each end. We found it best to lay out the components where they would probably end up, but not to fasten them down until they were wired up. This allowed me to fine tune the position of each component as the stiff wiring was added, and made for a much easier install.
It took a few afternoons of work, but before too long, it was time to get the system out into the sun to power it on for the first time.
All that power doesn’t do any good unless you have a way to use it. Renogy’s 2,000 watt pure sine wave inverter has become one of the foundational components for many a DIY build and we were excited to try one out for ourselves. Automotive inverters flip power from the DC stored in batteries or from an alternator to AC, which is used by most household appliances.
The inverter is what allows power to be pulled out of the system, and typically provides a standard AC out. In this case, Renogy’s 2,000 watt inverter provides raw AC stubs for you to wire your system from. Because it is the public facing part of the system, the inverter typically lives near the point of power consumption.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this review to see power being produced by the system being put to use as we dive deep into Renogy’s connectivity and power management solutions.
DIY System or Portable Power Station?
Comparing a component-based DIY battery systems like this to an all-in-one portable power station is the obvious decision, so let’s dig into how the two compare. A component-based system is better suited for permanent installations and full-time mobile living where the components can be installed out of the way and left to do their job. The modular nature offers more flexibility in terms of scaling up or down battery capacity, customizing components, and tailoring the solution to the specific needs of the application.
Portable power stations, on the other hand, offer portability and an all-in-one solution that is simply easier to use for a wider range of applications right out of the gate. Because they are all-in-one solutions, they are not going to be as well suited for a permanent installation and not as customizable as a component-based solution like this one from Renogy.
The ability to tailor the solution to your needs is helpful in van-life type situations where the daily power consumption varies heavily from person to person. The ability to add or remove battery capacity, add AC and DC circuits as needed, and build the perfect integrated solutions sets these builds apart.
Having said that, the ability to purchase and install an entire battery, inverter, AC charger, and solar charge controller with a single purchase in the form of a portable power station is definitely easier for people who are less technically inclined. Either way, it’s great to have the option to custom build and design a system perfectly tailored to your needs with individual components like the ones offered by Renogy.
Disclaimer: Renogy provided the author with the components
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