Update (November 28, 2023): An earlier version of this article contained minor inaccuracies in sizing solar charge controllers. We thank Steve Hericks from WorkingOnExploring.com for highlighting these errors. The article has now been revised to include a more detailed and accurate explanation of charge controller sizing.
Ever since becoming a full-time RVer nine years ago, the allure of solar power has been ever-present. Sometimes, working for RV LIFE has its perks. BougeRV reached out to our marketing team, offering a chance to test their RV solar system. Eager to contribute, I jumped at the opportunity to upgrade my rig with this system provided by them.
I’ve decided to divide my review into two parts. In this first article, I’ll cover the brains of the operation: the solar charge controller. I’ll start by explaining what a solar charge controller is, the two main types, and how to determine the right size for your solar setup. Then I’ll get into my hands-on experience with the BougeRV Sunflow 60A MPPT Solar Charge Controller.
Understanding Solar Charge Controllers
A solar charge controller regulates the voltage and current coming from the solar panels to the batteries, ensuring efficient charging and preventing overcharging. It is vital for maintaining battery health and optimizing the efficiency of your solar setup.
Types of Solar Charge Controllers
- PWM Controllers: Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) controllers are a basic type suitable for smaller or less complex systems. They are cost-effective and work well in systems where high efficiency is not a priority.
- MPPT Controllers: Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) controllers adjust the input from the solar panels to deliver the maximum possible current for charging the battery. MPPT controllers are ideal for larger, more sophisticated systems and can significantly improve the efficiency of solar power systems.
Selecting the Right Controller for Your RV
- Assess Your Solar Array: Figure out how much solar you have or plan to add to your rig.
- Battery Compatibility: Choose a controller compatible with your RV’s battery type, whether it’s LiFePO4, AGM, or others.
- Additional Features You May Like: Look for features like remote monitoring, safety protections (such as over-temperature and short-circuit protection), and ease of installation.
Calculating the Required Size
- Use Charging Voltage for Calculations: Instead of using the nominal battery voltage for sizing the controller, use the charging voltage. This is approximately 14.2V for lead-acid batteries and around 14.4-14.6V for LiFePO4 batteries. For a 200W solar array with a ‘12V’ LiFePO4 battery system, the calculation would be 200W divided by 14.6V, resulting in a requirement of about 13.7A.
- Account for Real-World Panel Capacity:
- Mounting Adjustments: Flat-mounted solar panels, common in RV setups, often produce about 10% less power than their rated capacity due to the angle of incidence of sunlight.
- Soiling Adjustments: Panels can also lose around 5% efficiency due to being dirty, which is typical for flat-mounted panels in RVs.
- Applying these adjustments, a 200W panel’s practical capacity may be closer to 170W. Therefore, the recalculated current requirement for a lead-acid system might be around 12A (170W/14.2V), and for a LiFePO4 system, it would be approximately 11.6A (170W/14.6V).
While it’s tempting to oversize the charge controller to accommodate future expansion, it’s important to balance this with present efficiency. A significantly oversized controller can operate below its optimal capacity for most of the day, leading to inefficiencies. MPPT controllers actually work best when used at over 50%-95% of their rated capacity.
A practical approach is to select a charge controller that slightly exceeds your current requirements but isn’t excessively large. This way, you can still plan for modest expansion without incurring the inefficiencies of a vastly oversized controller. Unless you don’t plan on expanding your solar setup, then go for the closest size you can find.
Cost Implications of Oversizing:
Beyond the controller itself, consider the costs of additional wiring and electrical components necessary for a larger setup. Oversizing can entail higher initial and maintenance costs.
In the above example, if you don’t have any plans to upgrade the setup in the future with more panels, then a Li 10A PWM Solar Charge Controller 12V 24V would probably work for this system.
However, if you plan to upgrade in the near future by doubling or more, and provided you have the roof size to do it, the BougeRV Sunflow 30A MPPT Solar Charge Controller 12V/24V would be a good choice as it’s overpowered but not so drastically that efficiency would drop too much.
In my case, I’m installing it with two 200W bifacial solar panels for a total of 400W. This means the charger is way bigger than what I need right now. However, I have plans to double my solar array, and I have the roof real estate to do so within the next year. Making the 60A still bigger than I need, but reasonable for the system. I will, however, have to deal with some possible inefficiencies in the meantime.
In-Depth Review: BougeRV Sunflow 60A MPPT Solar Charge Controller
The BougeRV Sunflow 60A MPPT Solar Charge Controller boasts many great features designed for optimizing RV solar systems:
- Versatile Battery Compatibility: It supports a range of battery types, including Sealed, Gel, Flooded, and Lithium, catering to diverse power storage needs.
- High Efficiency: The controller boasts over 99% MPPT tracking efficiency and over 95% charging conversion efficiency, maximizing the solar power captured.
- Comprehensive Protection Functions: It includes overvoltage, over-discharge, and over-temperature protections, ensuring the safety and longevity of your solar setup.
- Intelligent Charging Stages: Offering various charging stages, it’s well-suited for both lead-acid and lithium batteries.
- Temperature Compensation: This feature ensures optimal charging performance under different environmental conditions, maintaining efficiency throughout.
Initial Impressions and Setup
My first impression of the Sunflow 60A Solar Charge Controller was positive. It felt rugged and durable with its metal casing and heat sink. The clearly labeled inputs eased my apprehension about self-installation.
My initial plan was to install the solar charge controller myself. However, an unexpected turn of events led to us saying goodbye to our RV of nine years and upgrading to a brand new 2023 Thor Hurricane. Given this major change and the intricacies of working on a brand-new RV, I opted for a professional installation by the techs at Camping World. I didn’t want to void any warranties by drilling around and rerouting wires in a brand new RV.
Real-World Testing and Results
With the solar system up and running in my new Thor Hurricane, I was eager to test the BougeRV Sunflow 60A MPPT Solar Charge Controller under real-world conditions. One standout feature was the Bluetooth app. Tucked away under my bed, the controller wasn’t directly visible, so having remote access to all the stats like panel voltage, watts, amps, and battery temperature was incredibly convenient. The ease of connection and configuration, including setting the battery type, made the experience seamless.
I often find myself in the Pacific Northwest, a region known for its cool, rainy climate rather than sunny skies. To put the controller to the test, I chose a typical November day in Northern Oregon – partly cloudy, slightly hazy, around 3 PM. Conditions were far from ideal, but they represented the reality many RVers face when relying on solar power. I even positioned the panels away from the south to mimic the unpredictability of camping spots.
The two 200W bifacial solar panels gathered energy, but the real question was how well the controller would manage in such suboptimal conditions. Remarkably, parked in a Walmart lot, the controller efficiently used the available power. It allowed my wife and me to work on our laptops and kept our 110V fridge running off the inverter, all without draining the battery. In fact, my battery monitor showed a surplus of a few amps.
In these less-than-ideal conditions, the BougeRV Sunflow 60A MPPT Solar Charge Controller not only performed but exceeded expectations, showcasing its ability to manage power efficiently even on the cloudiest days.
Pros and Cons
- Robust build and efficient design.
- User-friendly app for remote monitoring.
- Excellent performance in diverse weather conditions.
- Capacity to add more panels in the future.
- I like to try and find something, even a small thing, not to like about products I test. While the product was given to me by the company, thus making these types of posts sponsored, it’s important to review these products as objectively as possible. I unfortunately, or fortunately could not find anything to gripe about on this product. It did the job it was supposed to do.
Conclusion: Wrapping Up My Experience with BougeRV’s Solar Charge Controller
As I wrap up this review, I’m left thoroughly impressed with the BougeRV Sunflow 60A MPPT Solar Charge Controller. It’s sturdy, efficient, and remarkably user-friendly, especially with the intuitive app. I’m thoroughly happy to have it as part of the energy solution on my RV.
Discount For Camper Smarts Readers
BougeRV has agreed to give Camper Smarts readers an exclusive discount. Use code campersmarts16 for a 16% discount on the Bifacial 200W Solar Panel and 60A MPPT Solar Charge Controller. This offer is valid from 11/17/2023 to 04/30/2024.
I’d love to hear your thoughts or answer any questions you might have. Don’t forget to take a look at my review of BougeRV’s 200W Bifacial Solar panels here.