Best Solar Panel Kits

The best solar panel kits offer an inexpensive way to get your feet wet with solar.

Best Solar Panel Kits

Whether for a shed, cabin, RV, or camper, solar panel kits are an easy, cost-effective way to go solar, especially if it’s your first time entering the world of solar.

Let’s look at some of the best solar panel kits available in 2019, starting with the smallest and working up to the massive. No matter what your needs, there’s a kit out there for you!

If you’re wondering whether installing your own solar kit is a good idea, scroll down to the end for info on kit costs, equipment, and how to decide whether a DIY solar kit is right for you.

Top 9 Best Solar Panel Kits in 2019

Solar panel kits come in all sizes, from tiny 80 watt folding solar panels for a weekend getaway in the mountains, all the way up to 10,000 watt systems permanently bolted to the roof of your home.

With so many different sizes available, we’ve decided to break down our list of best solar kits into four categories, starting with the smallest kits for camper vans, then moving to medium sized kits for RVs and sheds, and ending with the largest kits for homes. Each category includes two to three products:

All of the kits above include, at the very least, everything you need to connect your solar panel to your charge controller, including:

  • Solar panels
  • Charge controller
  • Wiring from solar panels to charge controller

Many kits also include:

  • Mounting hardware, to connect your solar panels to the roof
  • Wiring from charge controller to battery
  • Fuses for wiring between charge controller and battery

Most kits do not include inverters or batteries, but we’ve specified if they do. To read more about the equipment above, and what you need to get your kit running, keep reading after our list.

Best Solar Panel Kits for Vans

Camper vans are like mini-RVs. They’re small, simple, and typically lack many of the accoutrements of their bigger cousins. Forget the microwave, AC, sound systems, and over-the-top mood lighting. Campervan enthusiasts often enjoy a less-is-more lifestyle, so electrical needs are usually pretty light.

Most camper vans don’t need a giant 400 watt solar installation. In fact, most vans don’t even have enough roof space for 400 watts! The best solar panel kits for vans are small, cheap, and easy to install, so you can get back on the road as soon as possible!

All the solar kits below are between 80 and 100 watts and uniquely tailored, in some way or another, to life in a camper van.

Dokio 80 W Folding Solar Panel

Selling point: A small folding solar panel that is lightweight and easy to transport.

If you’re looking for the fastest solution possible, Dokio’s 80 watt folding solar panel is it. Instead of permanently attaching the solar panel to your roof, running the wiring behind your interior paneling, and connecting to your leisure battery, instead just unfold your lightweight solar panel in the sun, clip the cables to your battery, and you’re done! It really is that easy.

If you’ve already got a battery and inverter set-up, the kit comes with everything you need to get running off the sun: foldable solar panel, charge controller, wires to connect the solar panel to the charge controller, wires to connect the charge controller to the battery, and a nice case to keep it all safe and organized.

The amazing part? The solar panel only weighs 4 pounds and is just 0.2” thick! With it being so lightweight and thin, you can slide it behind your seat or even under a mattress.

Since the solar panel isn’t attached to your roof, you’re able to park in the shade and enjoy the cool breeze, while your solar panel sits in the bright, hot, uncomfortable sun. Of course, the downside is that you can’t charge your battery while driving, but if you connect your leisure battery to your car’s alternator with a relay, the problem is solved.

Obviously, a portable solution like this also allows you to easily move the panel from one situation to another. You can bring it camping, charge your boat’s battery, charge your RV’s battery, or even just keep it in the closet for emergencies.

Buyers approve of Dokio’s build quality. Many note that the solar panels are durable, easy to clean, and should last many seasons. However, users did notice a few issues.

One buyer commented that two of the five kits he purchased died after a year in the harsh desert southwest sun. Take that as you will. Another mentioned that voltage loss from the wiring is quite high, as the wiring from the controller to the battery clips is very long. If you want a more efficient system, chop the wires shorter and connect some new alligator clips.

Lastly, a few noted that the canvas begins to degrade if left out in the sun for too long.

Even with these issues though, the Dokio 80 W folding solar panel is a very economical option if you want to keep your electric gadgets going on a long weekend or camping road trip.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a smaller solar panel to power your basic necessities, ditch the roof-top solar panel and buy this 80 watt folding solar panel instead. It’s about as easy as solar can get.C

Renogy 100 W Solar Starter Kit

Selling point: A simple, cost-effective kit from a well-known company

This kit is as basic as a solar kit can get and is the perfect starter pack for going solar. It includes a single 100 watt solar panel, a 30 amp charge controller, mounting hardware for the panel, and wires to connect the solar panel to the charge controller and the charge controller to the battery.

With a 30 amp charge controller, your kit actually has the bandwidth to add an additional 300 watts, so feel free to add another panel or three if you need!

A 100 watt kit is perfect for a small camper van setup and large enough to provide about 500 Wh on a nice sunny day, which can cover pretty much all your small gadget charging needs, as well as a water pump, lights, and a few other items.

The kit obviously doesn’t come with a battery, and with a PWM inverter, this kit can’t handle lithium-ion batteries like MPPT inverters can. Renogy does give you the option to upgrade your charge controller to an MPPT Rover 20 or Rover 40 for quite a bit more cash.

Renogy’s the king manufacturer of solar equipment for small scale applications, as all their products are top-notch and their customer service is excellent. Customers love the kit, with the only real complaints around the flimsy charge controller, which they’ve upgraded since then to the Renogy Wanderer we described above.

If you like this 100 watt Renogy kit, but are looking for something a bit fancier, check out Renogy’s 100 W Solar RV Kit, which is basically just an upgraded version of the Starter Kit, complete with a more efficient monocrystalline panel, cable entry housing (to keep the area where your wires enter your van watertight), and a Bluetooth-enabled charge controller.

Bottom Line: The perfect starter kit to get you running off the sun. And with the 30 amp controller, you can add a few extra panels when your energy needs get a bit bigger.

Giosolar 100 W Flexible Solar Panel Kit

Selling Point: One of the only kits that includes a flexible solar panel that can conform to your roof.

Flexible solar panels are pretty cool. Most solar panels use a sheet of heavy glass and an aluminum frame to support and protect the delicate solar cells inside.

Flexible solar panels though, use your strong, flat roof as the support. Simply glue the solar panel to the top of your roof and plug it in. No need to worry about water leaking through bolt holes, as there are no bolt holes!

Of course, there are downsides as well. First, branches and rocks can scratch the surface of flexible solar panels, which are covered in a clear polymer. On the plus side, they also can’t shatter like a glass-covered solar panel, so there are pros and cons to both.

Flexible panels are also more expensive. Whereas a rigid 100 watt solar panel costs about $100 on the low side, flexible 100 watt solar panels generally cost around $150 to $200.

If that cost doesn’t scare you away, they’re a great option for campervans – especially stealth campers – as they’re more aerodynamic and less conspicuous than traditional solar panels on your roof.

Giosolar offers one of the most affordable – and only – flexible solar panel kits on the market. It’s quite bare bones, with just the 100 watt panel, charge controller, and wires to connect the panels to the controller.

The solar panel can flex up to 30 degrees, so your roof doesn’t need to be perfectly flat to take advantage. Without the heavy glass and aluminum frame, the panel weighs just 4.4 pounds, compared to most 100 watt panels’ 25 pounds or so.

The charge controller is a very basic model with LEDs to denote the charging, temperature, and battery status. The charger is rated for 20 amps, so you should be able to add an additional panel or two if you’d like to increase your installation size later on.

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many reviews on this solar kit. One reviewer writes that the kit works well, but another complained that he received the wrong item and found it next to impossible to return due to poor customer service.

Bottom Line: Giosolar offers one of the few kits with flexible solar panels, but with the very small sample of reviews, it might be best to simply buy the components separately and DIY your own kit. Still, we include the kit here as it’s the only option on the market at this size.

Best Solar Panel Kits for RVs

Let’s now move on to solar panel kits for RVs. For campervans, we limited ourselves to 100 watts or below. RVs typically have much bigger electricity needs than campervans, so let’s take a look at solar kits between 200 and 400 watts.

Eco-Worthy 200 W Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit

Selling Point: Efficient, monocrystalline solar panels in a simple, cost-effective kit.

Eco-Worthy’s 200 watt solar kit is the perfect option for someone looking for a simple, cost-competitive solar kit for a small to medium-sized RV. The kit includes two monocrystalline solar panels, a 20 amp charge controller, mounting hardware, wiring to connect the solar panels to the controller, and two adapters to combine the two panels into a single wire.

Two hundred watts probably isn’t enough if you’ve got a larger RV or your energy use is high, but for smaller rigs it’ll do just fine. If you do want to go up in size, the 20 amp controller can handle a total of 300 watts in 12 volt mode, so that’s certainly an option down the road.

Unlike the cheapest controllers, this one has an LCD screen to tell you your system’s voltage, battery charge, and energy production status, as well as two USB ports to charge your smartphone or iPad without an inverter, a thoughtful feature that could come in handy in a pinch.

You’ll need to buy a battery and inverter, as well as the additional wiring, and since the controller is a PWM controller, you’re limited to lead-acid batteries, as PWM controllers can’t handle lithium-ion. Still, at the kit’s low cost it’s not a bad deal.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough reviews of the kit to be helpful, but what’s there is good and Eco-Worthy’s other products are well-reviewed, so we don’t think there’s anything to really worry about.

The only issue any reviewer mentioned is that the kit doesn’t include instructions, though they did say installation was quite easy. It’s certainly an annoyance, but in our minds not a deal breaker at this price.

Bottom Line: Eco-Worthy’s 200 W Solar Panel Kit is a great deal for small RVs. For the same price you could buy two solar panels individually, you’re also getting mounting hardware, wiring, adapters, and a charge controller.

It’s a simple kit that should be very easy to install in your RV, especially if you’ve already got an inverter and battery in place – just make sure that battery is lead-acid, not lithium!

Renogy 400 W Solar Starter Kit

Selling Point: Like the Eco-Worthy kit above, Renogy’s 400 W Solar Starter Kit is easy to install and easy on the pocketbook.

Renogy is the biggest name in small-scale solar for RVs, campers, boats, and cabins. Their 400 watt Solar Starter Kit is a great option if you’re looking for a larger solar solution for your RV. With four 100 watt panels and the hardware to attach each one individually to your roof, you can play Tetris up there to fit all of them.

The kit also comes with Renogy’s Wanderer 30 amp charge controller, wiring (solar panel to controller and controller to battery) and MC4 branch connectors (for your solar panels).

The 30 amp Wanderer is a PWM controller, so as such it’s not safe to use with lithium-ion batteries. If you’ve already got a lithium battery, or plan on buying one, upgrade your Wanderer to Renogy’s 40 amp Rover MPPT controller for a couple hundred bucks more.

Buyers continually give this Renogy kit excellent reviews, noting each component is high-quality and the kit is very easy to install. The only real downside that numerous users noted is that, unless you have all your panels installed in a row, the wires aren’t long enough to reach all of them. If this could be your case, you’ll have to buy an extension cable or two.

Bottom Line: There’s not too much to say on this solar kit. It’s affordable, comes with high-quality components, and customers love it. If you’re looking for a larger solar kit for your RV, you can’t go wrong with this one. If you want a lithium-ion battery though, you’ll have to upgrade to the much more expensive MPPT controller.

Best Solar Panel Kits for Sheds

Solar panel kits for sheds aren’t necessarily larger than RV kits, but since the kits aren’t designed for use in a cramped RV, size and weight isn’t as much of an issue. As such, kits in this category can include larger inverters, larger charge controllers, and wall-mounted combiner boxes that are simply too big and awkward for RVs.

One of the kits below also doesn’t include mounting equipment. As opposed to the cheap, simple brackets we all use to attach solar panels to RVs, solar panels for sheds or cabins can both roof- and ground-mounted, so many larger solar kits simply don’t include mounting hardware. Make sure you know what’s included before purchasing!

Grape Solar 400 W Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit

Selling Point: Quality mid-sized system with a pure sine wave inverter and excellent customer service

Grape Solar’s 400 watt Solar Panel Kit is the perfect solution for a shed or small cabin. It comes with four 100 watt panels, an 1800 watt pure sine wave inverter, a 35 amp charge controller, and the wires to connect the solar panels to the charger and the controller to the battery. The only thing you need to bring is the battery, which must be 12 volts, and the mounting hardware.

The 35 amp charger controller is large enough to safely add one more 100 watt panel, for a grand total of 500 watts. However, like the other controllers above, it’s a PWM controller, not an MPPT, so you can’t add a lithium battery, only lead-acid. However, PWM controllers are cheaper, so there’s certainly a balance of performance and cost going on.

The included inverter is also a good piece of equipment. At 1800 watts, the inverter that comes with the kit is large enough to charge all your gadgets at the same time. It’s also powerful enough for a blender or hair dryer, but possibly not at the same time as all your gadgets.

The inverter includes two 3-prong outlets and a USB outlet. It’s also a pure sine wave inverter, as opposed to a cheaper modified sine waves inverter, which means it can power more sensitive electronics like some CPAP machines, power tools, and some laptops.

Grape Solar makes quality solar components and this kit is no different. Many buyers are using it for their off-grid cabins and tiny homes with reliable results. Customer service is bar none, with friendly staff that is actually knowledgeable on the finer points of their technology.

Bottom Line: If you’ve got a shed or a small cabin that only needs around 400 watt of solar power, Grape Solar’s kit is the perfect solution. It’s low-priced with quality components. Just don’t forget to buy the battery and mounting hardware.

Eco-Worthy 800 W Solar Panel Kit

Selling Point: A 24 volt kit at a low price, comes with combiner box, inverter, and charge controller

This large 24 volt kit comes eight 100 watt solar panels and mounting hardware, charge controller, inverter, and a locking PV combiner box to combine all the solar panels together and only run a single positive and negative wire to the controller.

First off, let’s start with the bad. Customers complain that the directions included with the kit – if Eco-Worthy remembers to send them – are very confusing, so you’ll have to do the research yourself on how and where to install the solar panels.

Second, while the product image shows wire to connect the combiner box to the charge controller, numerous customers have reported not receiving it, while other customers do get it. It seems like it’s a coin toss.

Lastly, a few customers have noted that the 60 amp charge controller is somewhat flimsy, so best to install it and leave it.

Even with those negatives, the Eco-Worthy 800 Watt Solar Panel Kit remains a great choice for sheds or small cabins with fridges or other appliances. It comes in around $500 less than similarly-sized kits and includes a pure sine wave inverter designed for off-grid systems. As opposed to cheaper modified sine wave inverters, pure sine wave inverters can power any and all electrical gadgets – including sensitive appliances like CPAPs and power tools.

The inverter itself is designed to convert 24 V DC electricity to 110 V AC, and can handle 3,000 watts of continuous power and 6,000 watt spikes (as appliances can use double or even triple their labeled wattage for a split second when turning on).

The 6 string combiner box (though you’ll only need four) is also a nice touch that other kits don’t include. Remember also that, as the system is designed for 24 volts, you need to buy at least two 12 volt batteries and connect them in series to reach the required voltage.

At this low price point, there are bound to be a few issues, like we’ve mentioned above. But overall, customers dig the product and appreciate the low cost and simplicity of the system.

Bottom Line: A low-cost option for a shed or small cabin, but make sure your Eco-Worthy kit includes everything you need!

Best Solar Panel Kits for Homes

Solar panel kits for homes are the biggest kits available and can range from 1,000 watts to 10,000 or more. Most solar kits for homes are still for off-grid systems, but grid-tied kits exist and we’ve included one below.

Let’s take a look at two good options.

Renogy Off-Grid Solar Kit (1200 to 3600 W)

Selling Point: Renogy’s off-grid solar kits are cost-effective and include equipment from well-known manufacturer MidNite Solar, includes an MPPT controller that can handle lithium-ion batteries

As we’ve mentioned before, Renogy is one of the biggest names in solar equipment for off-grid installations. They produce everything from solar panels to batteries to charge controllers and inverters. They’ve also put together one of the most legitimate large solar panel kits on the market.

The kits, which come in five different sizes from 1,200 watts to 3,600 watts, include:

  • 300 watt monocrystalline solar panels, of varying amounts
  • Midnite Classic MPPT charge controller – a fantastic product from a respected manufacturer
  • Midnite Solar combiner box
  • MidNite Solar enclosure and breakers
  • Wiring (pretty much everything you need)

The kit is designed for large off-grid systems for cabins and the like. It’s also the only kit on our list that includes an MPPT charge controller, which allows for more efficient electricity generation and lithium-ion batteries as well! You’re also able to remotely monitor the charge controller.

Depending on the size of the kit you choose, you’ll need a 12 volt, 24 volt, or 48 volt battery setup to go along with your solar panels. The kit also does not include an inverter or solar panel mounting equipment, so be sure to budget those in when planning your installation.

Even with these omissions however, Renogy’s large off-grid solar panel kits are still a pretty good value when looking at $/watt cost, especially as you go up in size.

MidNite Solar is a big name in the off-grid solar industry, manufacturing combiner boxes, enclosures, and their ever-popular MidNite Classic charge controllers. With equipment from MidNite and the customer service of Renogy, you’re sure to be in good hands.

Bottom Line: Renogy’s large solar kits are cost-effective option if you want to install your own off-grid solar kit. They come with Renogy’s excellent reputation for quality and customer service and include excellent components from well-known manufacturer Midnite Solar.

You still have to buy the batteries and mounting hardware, but these kits are a great building block to start from.

Grape Solar 5830 W Grid-Tied Solar Kit

Selling Point: An all-in-one grid-tied solar installation, SolarEdge inverter and power optimizers, decent price

If you’re looking for a large solar kit for your grid-tied home, Grape Solar’s 5,830 watt kit is just about perfect. While you can find Grape Solar kits on Amazon, Costco offers the lowest price by far, so start there.

Grape Solar’s kit includes:

  • Twenty-two 265 watt polycrystalline solar panels
  • SolarEdge inverter and 22 power optimizers
  • Mounting hardware
  • Does not include any wiring and fuses

Grape Solar’s 265 watt panels are comparable to other standard solar panels, with a 10 year product warranty and guarantee that the solar panels will produce 80% of their nameplate rating (ie 265 watts) in Year 25 of their production.

Where this kit really shines, though is with the inverter they include, a SolarEdge with power optimizers. Unlike other inverters that treat the entire solar installation as one big solar panel, SolarEdge’s system includes small power optimizers that optimize each solar panel individually for max production.

In essence, SolarEdge’s inverter system squeezes each drop of production it can from your solar installation, ensuring you are seeing the biggest financial return possible.

If you’re looking to purchase a grid-tied solar kit, this is a pretty good option, but you need to work out costs to make sure it’s worthwhile. At $10,000, the cost breaks down to $1.72 per watt.

If you’re going to install the kit yourself, you’ll certainly save money over hiring an installer. However, if you’re looking to hire a company to install your kit, you’ll need to make your selection carefully.

The National Renewable Energy Lab’s 2018 Solar Cost Benchmark calculates solar installations with power optimizers should cost about $2.58 per watt to install, with $1.26 per watt going to equipment costs.

Compare this cost to Grape Solar’s $1.72 per watt and you’ll see the premium you’re paying by purchasing a kit through a secondary vendor, not equipment directly from the manufacturer.

If your installer is able to keep installation costs low, you might come out ahead financially by purchasing a kit yourself, but our advice is to talk to a handful of small, local installers before you buy the system. Describe the kit, what’s included, what’s required from them, and hear their cost estimates. It might make financial sense, it might not.

Bottom Line: If you’re planning to install the system yourself, the Grape Solar Grid-Tied Kit can save you quite a bit of money over hiring an installer.

However, if you’re hoping to save money by purchasing the kit yourself and hiring an installer to put it on your roof, you’ll probably come out ahead financially by simply taking advantage of your installer’s ability to buy equipment in bulk at lower costs.

Can I Save Money with a Solar Kit?

Installing any equipment yourself usually allows you to enjoy a lower overall cost. Most of the kits above cost about $1.50 to $2 per watt. If you’re looking to install a grid-connected solar system, hiring a solar company to install a solar system on your home costs about $3 per watt, so with a solar kit you’re already looking at a 33% to 50% discount.

If you’re interested in an off-grid solar installation, hiring a company to install solar in your RV or camper could cost less or more than $3/watt, but we’d bet on more since they’re a smaller installation and most larger home solar companies can offer lower costs by buying equipment in bulk.

So yes, installing a small solar kit in a cabin, RV, or van yourself is a great way to shave some of the costs of solar.

If you’re looking to install solar on your detached shed or garage, installing your own solar kit has the potential to save you quite a bit of money, as running electrical lines from your house to a separate structure is usually prohibitively expensive. Instead, you can simply install solar yourself and keep much of that cash in your pocket.

So yes, you can save money by installing solar with a kit. However – and here’s the important question – should you install solar with a kit? Let’s answer that question now.

Should You Go Solar With a Solar Kit?

All of the small kits we reviewed above are simple and easy to install. Information abounds online about installation practices, sizing your system and battery, and safety concerns.

With a little research and a few hand tools, anyone can safely and competently install these small solar kits. If you’re worried whether you have the skills to install a solar kit in your cabin, RV, or campervan, forget about it – you can do it!

As you go up in size, say 1,000 watts or more, solar installations become more complicated. Not just in the wiring and electrical components, but also in installation.

How do you safely attach a few hundred pounds of solar panels and equipment on your roof? What about sealing the lag bolts from water leaks? Is ice damming a bigger issue with solar panels? You need to be able to answer all these questions and a hundred more when installing solar on your home.

If your home is grid-tied, like most homes in the US, you’ve got even more questions to answer. Does your utility allow self-installed solar installations to connect to the grid? (Spoiler: Many do not) Can you provide your local building department the necessary electrical diagrams and structural information? What size electrical conduit do you need to run the wires from your roof to the inverter?

Even after all this, most jurisdictions only allow licensed electricians to actually work in your electrical panel, so you’ll have to hire an electrician to connect your installation to your home’s panel.

For most of us ‘regular’ people, it doesn’t make sense to install a large solar installation ourselves. We lack the knowledge and skills to install an entire solar installation safely. Small solar kits are one thing, but if you want a large, grid-tied solar system on your roof, it’s probably better to simply hire an installer.

Off-grid vs Grid-Connected Kits

Almost all solar kits are designed for off-grid use. In other words, the kit will never connect to the utility infrastructure – it’s completely independent. Good examples of off-grid installations include solar in RVs and campervans, backyard sheds (if not connected to the home’s electricity), and off-grid mountain cabins.

Choosing between an off-grid and grid-connected system is usually pretty easy, as your situation dictates your needs. If you’re wanting to add solar to your grid-connected home, you’ll need a solar panel kit designed for grid use. If you’re adding solar to your RV or far-away mountain cabin, you’ll want a solar panel kit designed for off-grid use.

What Do Solar Kits Include?

All solar kits come with, at the very least:

  • Solar panels, to create the electricity
  • Charge controller (for off-grid systems), which goes between the solar panels and battery, to protect the battery from over- and undercharging.
  • Wiring, to connect the solar panels to the charge controller

Some also include:

  • Mounting hardware to connect solar panels to the roof
  • Wiring from charge controller to battery and battery to inverter
  • Fuses to protect all the wiring
  • Inverter, to convert the battery’s DC electricity to AC electricity for all our gadgets and appliances

Take a look at the kits you’re interested in to see what’s included. If it doesn’t include any of the above, you’ll have to buy them separately, which isn’t a huge deal, since multiple options for each piece of equipment above can easily be found on Amazon.

If you’re looking to install an off-grid solar installation, you’ll have to buy a battery separately, as none of the kits above comes with one.

To help you with your installation, your kit usually includes a manual that describes the installation process, as well as what equipment you’ll need to complete your installation, and even recommendations on battery type and size.

Conclusion

We hope you’ve found our mini-guide to solar panel kits helpful! We’ve covered a lot of information here, so let’s look back at our top picks for solar panel kits one last time:

We hope you’ve found our mini-guide to solar panel kits helpful! We’ve covered a lot of information here, so let’s look back at our top picks for solar panel kits one last time:

Like we mentioned before, small solar kits are great for RVs and sheds, but if you want to run your entire home on the sun, hiring an installer is still the best option. Costs are falling each year, and by hiring an installer, you have the knowledge that your system is installed safely and lawfully. Check out some of the best solar panels and best solar companies if you want to get a full sized solar system for your house.

Of course, not all installers offer great service, so do your research and get estimates from a few different companies to compare costs and customer experience. Estimates are always free and the best companies aren’t pushy at all. The financial savings of installing solar typically sells itself, and the best installers know that no pushy sales tactics are required.

Until you’re ready to go full-on solar, solar panel kits are an easy way to get your RV or cabin running on clean, renewable energy, so get on it!

Image Credit: CC license via Flickr

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