The meteoric rise of Zamp Solar is one of the great stories in American business. Started by entrepreneurs, Steve Nelson and John Yozamp, in 2010, the two began selling solar power kits on eBay out of a garage and now operate a massive 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Bend, Oregon. Since that inauspicious beginning, the company has experienced incredible growth with their products now being sold throughout the country and in many parts of the world. I recently spoke with Jesse Asay, National Sales Manager, about the company, their products, and what separates Zamp Solar from the competition.
TCA: Thanks, Jesse, for taking the time to talk. Zamp Solar’s meteoric rise is pretty amazing considering the international competition. What sets Zamp Solar apart from the other solar manufacturers?
Jesse: Three things. First, I know it sounds a bit cliché, but customer service and quality really is a difference here. In our regular meetings, I always remind my sales team that we are nothing without our customers loyalty and support, and if we don’t take care of them, then we are no better than any other solar company out there. Our customers mean something to us and that’s why you can talk to a real person in Bend, Oregon, when you call us. Second, Zamp is RV specific. We built this company for the RV industry, we build our products specifically for the RV industry, and we consistently innovate new designs for the RV industry (many of which are now copied and used by our competition). Third, we are an American manufacturer building and sourcing materials for our solar panels right here in the USA. Any customer buying solar panels should ask if they are built and sourced in the USA. The answer you get may be surprising.
TCA: That’s great that your panels are made in the USA. What obstacles has the company encountered within the international marketplace?
Jesse: The main obstacle is people thinking that all solar panels are the same. Solar panels look like other solar panels and it’s hard to know the differences just from looking at them. This education is one of the biggest hurdles we face.
TCA: What standards to do you have in place to ensure that quality is maintained during the manufacturing process?
Jesse: Our standards are pretty extensive. Every step in the manufacturing process is checked and reviewed by multiple sources from our quality control and compliance team. Everything from the laser cutting of the solar cells, panel layup, stringing, laminating, EL testing, flash testing, cleaning and so on is checked and double checked. Everything is hand-built, hand-tested, and hand-finished. We go so far as to use our ELT system to check for unseen damages like micro-cracks, and low-output or dead cells. This is like putting every panel through an x-ray machine to check for hidden damage. We also have independent testing labs to review and certify our products. Even though our panels come off the line as, let’s say, a 160 watt panel, they consistently flash test in the 170’s.
TCA: Which RV companies use Zamp Solar products as OEM?
Jesse: We have literally hundreds of OEM accounts, too many to list. We estimate that Zamp Solar products are currently on half to two-thirds of all U.S. manufactured RV’s.
TCA: Wow, that’s impressive. Which truck camper and expedition vehicle manufacturers currently offer Zamp Solar products as OEM?
Jesse: Sportsmobile, Earthcruiser, Alaskan Camper, Host RV, Northstar Campers, BundutecUSA, Northwood Manufacturing, VMI Off-Road (Kodiak Camper), and Hallmark RV all currently offer our solar products as OEM. We also deal with a large number of expedition trailer and van companies.
TCA: What size panels do you currently make for RV’s?
Jesse: We make 5 watt, 10 watt, 20 watt, 40 watt, 80 watt, 80 watt (long), 100 watt, and 160 watt panels, plus a few more that we aren’t allowed to mention at the moment.
TCA: How efficient are your monocrystalline solar panels?
Jesse: At the moment we are hovering around the 19-20 percent range.
TCA: That’s excellent. Do you make a rooftop combiner box to connect multiple solar panels to a system?
Jesse: Yes, we have a UV rated, 3-port roof cap for easy expansion with a self resetting breaker.
TCA: How about a simple, 100 watt solar power starter kit for those who are just getting into solar?
Jesse: Yes! We make a 100 watt, easily expandable deluxe kit (part # ZS-US-100-30A-DX). It comes with highly flexible UV rated wire, a 3-port roof cap, mounting feet, a 100 watt solar panel, and a charge controller.
TCA: Do you make a lightweight, flexible solar panel that would work well for pop-up truck campers?
Jesse: Yes, we have a 100 watt flexible panel option.
TCA: Other companies have had problems with their flexible solar panels. Have there been any problems with your flexible panel like cracking or other failures?
Jesse: The only failures that we have experienced have been from over-flexing, mishandling, or misuse. I’ve heard of other manufacturers panels cracking from hot and cold weather or the middle cells heating up and almost catching fire, but we have not seen any of this with our product.
TCA: I’m a big fan of your ZS-30A PWM charge controller. It’s a great unit. What’s the difference between this model and the ZS-30AD that’s listed in your catalog?
Jesse: The ZS-30AD is an upgrade to our flagship model ZS-30A. The “D” at the end stands for Dual and the user can charge multiple battery banks at different percentages at the same time. We’ve also upgraded some of the functions in the display screen.
TCA: What functions in the display screen did you upgrade?
Jesse: The ZD-30AD has a moving “ticker” at the top to show that the battery is charging, two separate battery bank icons with percentages and the LTO and LiFePO4 (lithium charging profiles) displayed. By the way, our 30, 40 and 60 amp controllers are now certified to properly charge lithium batteries. I’m pretty confident this will be something copied by other solar companies soon.
TCA: Why do you only manufacture and sell PWM charge controllers when the MPPT market is so large? It seems like every company makes one.
Jesse: This is a hot topic in the industry and I’m sure everyone could write pages on this subject. The decision largely involves keeping the cost down for the end-user while still providing top efficiency. Simply, for the extra cost of buying an MPPT controller, the RV owner could instead buy another solar panel and get more amperage at the end of the day. In small RV systems, the PWM controller makes more sense for the price.
TCA: I absolutely agree. Of course, the limiting factor for truck campers is roof size. Do you make a portable solar panel for those who have little or no roof space on their rig?
Jesse: Yes, our portable line of solar products range from 40 watts all the way up to a 200 watt option, which is the largest and most powerful in the industry.
TCA: That’s pretty large for a portable unit. What 12 volt truck camper interface do you recommend using for your portable panels?
Jesse: Years ago we came out with a 2-prong SAE connector, which has become the industry standard and is still in use today. We also offer alligator clip connections for those who don’t have the SAE connection.
TCA: I just installed one of your 2-prong sidewall connectors in my rig and it works great. Do you offer tilting mounts for rooftop solar panel installations?
Jesse: No, not at the moment.
TCA: Do you make pure sine-wave inverters?
Jesse: Yes, we offer several models sized from 300 to 2,000 watts.
TCA: Do you make a pure sine wave inverter that ties in with a 110 volt electrical system?
Jesse: Yes, that is our 2,000 watt pro version, ZP-PS2000Pro.
TCA: What’s the largest solar power kit that Zamp Solar currently sells?
Jesse: We have a monster 960-watt kit that can kick out over 53 amps. We have an even larger kit that is in the works.
TCA: Thanks again, Jesse, for talking with us.
Jesse: Glad to do it!