RENOGY SOLAR SUITCASE

I always wanted to build something like this on my own and piece together choice materials, but never seemed to get around to it.


So I picked up a RENOGY SOLAR SUITCASE:


Essentially it is two 50 watt panels in parallel with hinges, with a pwm charge controller, mc4 cabling, angle stands, handle, cordura soft-case, etc. There is a smaller 60 watt version available too. Cabling is ok, and uses a 50A Anderson connector between the battery clamps and the main 15 foot cabling. So if you want a custom cable without cutting the existing wiring, you just need to get your hands on the anderson connectors to make up something else. Nice to see a 7.5A mini-fuse inline. Kind of wish they would have included a spare, but I'll hunt a spare down to have on hand.


When measured with my own ammeters and voltmeters, it seems to meet specs. One thing I like about Renogy is that you don't have to hunt for the specs on anything. It met specs of about 5.7A during bulk, and even saw 8A on a few edge-of-cloud incidents.


Build quality is generally good. Nope, not as good as my Sharp panels, but good enough and better than expected.


The pwm charge controller is mounted on a plate under one of the panels that can swing out. The plate itself is attached to the underside of the panel with velcro. This makes it easier to swing out and replace with a controller of your own choosing should you want to change it out. Initially, mine was so covered with velcro, and pushed in so hard, that I thought I was going to break the panel. Obviously, no leveraging force should be used, so I just pulled slowly and steadily to get it loose. When storing, I don't push the plate back down very hard, to make pulling the velcro apart for swingouts a LOT easier.


The main reason you might want to swing the plate out that holds the controller, is that when you pull out the angle-legs, it is nearly impossible to operate the controller tucked up so far behind the panel, unless you want to use a vehicle-creeper. When you pull the plate apart from the velcro, the controller can now hang vertically and is much easier to operate.


The second main reason is that the included controller, and EPsolar Viewstar, has ambient temperature compensation. I found that if I left it velcro'd to the back of the panel, the temp-comp was innacurate due to being so close to the heat on the back of the panel. By loosening the velcro hold, and letting it hang vertically, temp comp was much more accurate, and provided better cooling to the CC.

Ok, for most of us, the EPsolar Viewstar is on the very budget side of CC's. Yet I will give it this, that the capabilities it has for monitoring, load / light control, and the ability to custom set voltages for bulk/absorb/float, and even EQ along with changing the temp-comp rate too. It states that it will do EQ every 28 days, but I suppose if you don't want that, you can set the EQ voltage to the absorb voltage to negate that feature. And I'm not sure if merely pulling the battery leads will reset that, so in a portable application of less than a month, it may not kick in at all. Note that in the manual, they use the term "boost" for what we know as "absorb".


The EPsolar also has timeouts for boost/absorb, rather than measuring end-amps, so that may not be suitable for your situation. One possible work-around that I do is merely set my float voltage the same as the boost/absorb voltage with this CC. My plan is to put my Morningstar or Xantrex controllers in there, but so far, the EPsolar CC isn't giving me any trouble.


If I were taking this thing into the field, I'd make darn sure I had a backup charge controller, or obviously just use one that you prefer instead. The swinging plate makes it easy to mount your own.

Behind each panel's junction box appears to be a single schottky bypass diode - I think. While the system worked out of the box, I took the liberty of resoldering the wire connections in the junction box, and clean up a few "frog hairs" from around the charge controller connectors. It wasn't bad, but I wanted to make sure all connections were absolutely solid. I keep it stored in the case with a towel, not only to keep the panels clean, but to cover them as well during initial setup. This means placing the towel over the panels, attaching the clamps to the batteries, and the whipping the towel off the panels matador style for a little flair.


So far I'm pretty happy with it. Still, hard core portable users may think twice about carrying around glass panels, and opt for something like a flexible panel setup instead. I have had every intention of putting together something like this myself with higher quality components, but as a professional procrastinator, I bit the bullet and went pre-assembled.