When we first bought 11 Purple Monkeys we knew that the existing solar array and charge controller would be nowhere near enough power for our needs. We each have laptops and mobile devices for music, we run an ice maker every minute that the sun is shining, and our galley has things like an automatic espresso machine, a Ninja blender, and a waffle iron that all soak up huge amounts of electricity.
I am in the process of writing an eBook that takes the mystery out of designing, purchasing and installing a renewable energy system for your boat, so look for that to be available in the near future. In the mean time I thought I’d write a quick review about one of the best purchases I’ve made for our boat to date: The Eco-Worthy 20A MPPT solar charge controller.
Why I Am Reviewing This Product
Solar charge controllers come in two basic types and a bunch of sizes. Mating the correct charge controller to your solar panels is very important and more in depth than I will be able to cover in a short blog post (I do cover it in depth in my book). Suffice it to say that after a bunch of research and calculation I finally determined that I was going to install two separate 20A MPPT charge controllers, one for each of the 255W solar panels we were installing.
When I first started looking at MPPT charge controllers I suffered a bit of sticker shock. The name brand offerings from companies like Blue Sky, Midnight Solar, and others of their ilk were all upwards of $300 each, some pushing well over $600. I figured that there had to be a better option available so I started reading through the available reviews of budget level MPPT charge controllers and found a real gem that I’d like to pass on to you.
*Disclaimer: I have absolutely zero ownership interest in the Eco-Worthy company and have no association with them other than being a customer. This is a completely independent and unsolicited review.
The unit being reviewed here can be purchased on Amazon through the button below. As with all of our Gear Recommendations, purchasing the product using the button on our site won’t cost you a single dime more than going to Amazon and buying it directly. If you do purchase through the button on our site we get a few pennies to put towards purchasing more data connectivity so that we can continue to provide content to our viewers and readers.
The Competition and Choosing The Eco-Worthy Controller
The realm of budget MPPT controllers is filled with dozens upon dozens of names that you’ve never heard of and probably won’t hear again. There are tons of fly-by-night Chinese companies that copy other’s designs and put them in a different housing to call their own. There are really only three different reputable players who have been offering budget grade MPPT controllers for long enough to establish a track record: Tracer, Renogy, and Eco-Worthy. I did a bunch of research into each option before finally deciding on the Eco-Worthy 20A-01 unit. I’ll detail first what ruled out the Tracer and Renogy offerings.
The Tracer 20A unit, model 2210A is a copy of a US design and is currently being manufactured by several different companies, all of whom have pirated the exact same design. If you search ‘Tracer 20A’ on Amazon you’ll see many identical offerings under brand names like Gree Sonic, Rio Rand, Sun YOBA, EPEVER, and many more. This is because it’s very cheap to make, using inferior internal components. While the stats on it look pretty impressive, I found numerous reviews from real world people who had units that failed within the first few months. Since our charge controllers factor largely in our quality of life on the hook, I wanted something that didn’t have a number of reports about units turning into molten goo. Literally. I found several reports of units that failed after they started to drip hot sticky goo out of their innards. No thanks.
Renogy manufactures the Ctrl-MPPT20 charge controller. Upon doing some extensive research I learned that the charging circuit used by this controller has tested at only 70%-80% efficiency by multiple independent researchers. This means more than just losing a significant amount of your solar power when it goes through the charger. That energy has to go somewhere. In the world of electrical loss, energy usually only goes one place – heat. I did find several reports of units being too hot to touch even when under half the load that they were rated for. I don’t need an inefficient charger pretending to be a space heater in my boat in the tropics, thank you very much. Note that Renogy is also trying to capitalize on the Tracer name by putting it on the front of the unit. Ugh.
Because of the negatives with the two previous companies, I approached the Eco-Worthy offering with a bit of apprehension. I was beginning to think that I was just going to have to spring for the high dollar controller after all.
Much to my surprise, I found a load of positive customer reviews not only about this product, but the company’s other products and their customer service as well. I found several reputable gear testers who really put things through their paces and test them from top to bottom who had reviewed the 20A-01 controller and found it to be a rock solid piece of engineering. That’s a lot of positive feedback about a product, so I opted to purchase two of them for our installation. I did come across two negative reviews that weren’t very specific and when I looked a little closer it turned out that both of them represent companies that sell high dollar charge controllers. Getting smacked down by the larger competition is always a good indication that they have something to fear from you. Each unit cost $102 delivered to my door and arrived promptly in three days.
In my upcoming eBook “Living Green On A Sailboat – A Renewable Energy How-To” I go into great detail about why I chose to go with two separate controllers rather than one single larger controller. Your considerations may be different and I also outline what the decision factors are, so if you don’t already know what controller you need then keep your eye out for my guide in the near future.
Ease of Installation and Build Quality
When the two Eco-Worthy controllers arrived I was ready to install them immediately. I already had our two new panels mounted and the wires run, and all I had to do was hook up the controllers. The units arrived in well designed packaging that seemed to have protected them well during the shipping process, and the packaging includes a comprehensive user manual (which can be found online here). It doesn’t do the best job of explaining all the settings but it’s enough to get it running in short order.
Installation of the 20A-01 controller couldn’t be any easier. The housing is very well designed and has mounting ears on the side with slotted screw holes. Simply hold the controller up to the surface you want to mount it to and mark the screw locations with a pencil. Drill a small pilot hole and insert screws most of the way without tightening them all the way down. Then put the controller over the screws and slide the screws into the slots. Tighten the screws the rest of the way and… Viola! One mounted charge controller in 3 minutes or less.
Wiring the controller was equally as simple. There are solidly designed and clearly labeled terminal screws on the bottom that quickly and securely held my wires in place. All in all it took me less than 10 minutes to install the first one and closer to 5 minutes to install the second one once I knew what I was doing. Four screws, positive and negative to the batteries first, and positive and negative from the panel(s). Done.
The build quality of both units is very good. Both look absolutely identical, and all the buttons and terminals have a good, meaty, solid feel that shouts out durability. The black anodized aluminum housing is well made. The two line LCD screen is bright, clear, and easy to read.
Features and Functions
One of the nice features of this controller is that it will work with either a 12V or a 24V system. You’ll need to set which voltage your system uses when you connect the unit to your batteries. Other than that, the Eco-Worthy unit is set to factory defaults that let it start happily charging your batteries without you doing a single thing to configure them. In fact, I let our two units run in factory default configuration for the first week just to see how they performed straight out of the box. I then made some minor changes to one of the two units, leaving the other in default status so that I could compare results. In the end I did end up making a couple of minor changes to the factory default settings but I’m not sure I accomplished anything other than making myself feel like I did something. In real world application it doesn’t appear that my changes improved performance by any significant amount.
That said, the 20A-01 does offer a range of available options that will be useful to different people under different circumstances. Making changes through the system’s menu is pretty straight forward, and I found navigating the menu system to be intuitive and easy to master.
The most important settings option that you have with the Eco-Worthy is the ability to set the bulk, absorb, and float charging points for your particular batteries. If you don’t know what these terms mean and have a bit of time before you need the info this is a topic I cover in full in my upcoming book. Otherwise a Google search will churn out a variety of results, some more useful than others. In a nutshell, different batteries have the ability to absorb charge voltage at different rates based on the current battery State of Charge (SOC). You’ll want to make sure that the three set points match your battery’s specifications in order to get the most efficient charging possible. Setting these to match my battery specifications is the only change I’ve made to the factory default settings.
There are two terminals on the charge controller that I have yet to use but that I do have plans for in the future. They’re labeled ‘load’ and are intended to be a place where you can shunt excess electrical energy being provided to the controller without first sending it to the battery bank. I am going to use these at some point to power a 12V heating element inside a water tank to provide hot water via solar energy. You could also use this output to keep your starting battery charged up by running a cheap PWM charge controller off this output and connecting it to your starting battery or a second battery bank entirely. These terminals have a few different output modes that can be set in the menu system. You can set these outputs to be always on, manually turned on and off, to come on and off per a custom set clock schedule, and to be automatically turned on and off when the controller senses that the solar panels are receiving light.
One other feature worth mentioning is the ‘MPPT Demo’ mode. This activates an algorithm that calculates how the charger compares to a typical PWM controller at that given point in time. I’m not sure how accurate the results are, but as you can see from the below pictures our controller calculated that with the current solar input a PWM controller would only by putting out 8.02A compared to the 14.42A that the MPPT controller was producing, yielding an efficiency increase of 80% over a PWM controller.
The display has turned out to be a very useful piece of kit that helps us determine what we can and cannot turn on at any given point in the day. In normal operation the status display tells you the current voltage of your battery bank, the current charging state of the controller, how many amps are currently being generated by the connected panels, among other information. It also keeps a rolling record of the total number of Watt Hours (WH) that the controller has processed.
In the below images you can see that as of the time of this writing one of the controllers has charged a total of 213,326WH and the other 198,401WH. This translates to a combined total of 34,310 problem-free Amp Hours of charge to date. One panel gets slightly more sun over the course of the day than another due to mounting location, thus the difference between the two chargers. These pictures were taken at approximately 11:00 AM on a slightly overcast day (high hazy clouds). Each charger is connected to a single Canadian Solar 255W panel. As you can see, we’re getting about 30A total output and our batteries are approaching full SOC, despite having run our espresso machine on and off most of the morning and the fact that our 110V ice maker has been churning out ice since 8:00AM.
The chargers do get fairly warm when the sun is high in a clear sky, but certainly not hot enough to cause any damage or burn you like the Tracer and Renogy units reportedly do.
All in all I can’t find anything about these controllers that I would choose to change, and that doesn’t happen to me very often. I connected them to my batteries and panels almost nine months ago and they’ve been chugging away ever since.
To be fair, I’ve only ever had one other controller – a Morningstar PWM conrtroller – so I can’t claim to have very comprehensive knowledge about controllers in general. What I can tell you is that if you want a budget level MPPT controller that is easy to use and performs the way it’s supposed to, then you should definitely consider the Eco-Worthy 20A-01. We’re going to be upgrading our system yet again in the near future to give us even more energy production and storage capacity, and we’ll be adding more of these to our energy arsenal.