Solar isn’t just for rooftops – you can use portable solar products like solar generators as a backup power source if the grid goes down, or as a source of electricity for your campsite, RV, or boat. But what is a solar generator exactly? And how does it compare with typical fossil-fuel powered generators? In this article, we’ll break down the key things you need to know about solar generators so you can decide if they’re right for you!
- Solar generators are portable battery storage systems powered by solar panels
- Unlike solar-plus-storage systems, solar generators are not designed for backing up major appliances in the event of an outage
- You can compare solar generators by assessing the Watts and Watt-hours of the systems, as well as their battery chemistries
- The pros of solar generators include free energy from the sun, low maintenance costs, and clean and quiet operation, whereas the cons include limited power supply, high upfront price, and slow recharge time
- If you decide a solar-plus-storage system is a better fit than a solar generator, visit the EnergySage Marketplace to receive custom quotes from pre-vetted installers
In this article
- What is a solar generator?
- How do solar generators work?
- Can you design your own solar generator system?
- What about generator-powered storage?
- What are the best generators available?
- Solar vs. fossil fuel generators
- Should you buy a solar generator?
What is a solar generator?
At its simplest, a solar generator is a portable battery storage system powered by solar panels. The key word you’ll want to focus on here is portable – unlike solar-plus-storage systems, which are the best option to provide backup power for your home, solar generators don’t require an electrician for installation and can be transported to different locations. They’re a great solution if you want electricity while boating, traveling on your RV, camping, or providing a small amount of emergency backup power in the event of an outage.
How do solar generators work?
Solar panels can’t act as generators on their own – the electricity they generate needs to be stored somewhere. So, solar generators typically consist of two main products: solar panels and a battery storagesystem. When you place your solar panels out in the sun, they generate direct current (DC) electricity. A component called a charge controller regulates the power output from your solar panels so the DC electricity can be easily stored in the battery storage system.
Later on, when you want to use the electricity you’ve stored, it passes through an inverter which converts DC electricity to alternating current (AC) electricity – the type of electricity used by most appliances. You’ll be able to plug your devices directly into the generator and use this newly generated AC electricity to power them.
Can you design your own solar generator system?
Some solar generators sold today come as complete all-in-one kits; however, there are always options for buying components like panels and batteries separately. Here some of the things you’ll want to consider when buying panels and batteries to design your own solar generator system:
Solar panels for a solar generator
When searching for solar panels, it’s important to understand that the panels used for solar generators are not the same as typical solar panels you see on rooftops or on solar farms. Panels used for solar generators tend to be smaller (both in physical size and in wattage) and are much more portable – meaning, you can easily move and position them to maximize their sun exposure.
Storage for a solar generator
If you’re looking for backup options for your home, you’ve probably come across home solar battery systems in your search. These are designed to be installed as part of your solar system by a qualified electrician and are not the same as the storage system in a solar generator setup. Solar generator batteries are typically smaller, more portable, and include built-in outlets for your devices.
Additionally, home solar batteries are generally made using lithium-ion technology. Batteries used in solar power generator setups can be lithium-ion, but are also often made with lead-acid technology. Both technologies can often be combined with other battery units through “chaining” – meaning, you can add extra batteries onto your generator system for more robust storage capacity.
What about generator-powered storage?
Generac just launched their new PWRgenerator (available in Q1 2022) – the first solar generator of its kind designed specifically to recharge home solar batteries directly. The PWRgenerator integrates with Generac’s PWRcell batteries to keep them charged in the event of an outage, even when the sun isn’t shining. To learn more about this exciting new technology, check out our article on Generac’s recent product launch.
Key metrics for comparing solar generators
When comparing solar generators, two important metrics to keep in mind are Watts (W) and Watt-hours (Wh).
Watts is equivalent to the amount of power a generator can output at one time. Devices and appliances you’ll want to power with a solar generator have a wattage rating, and you need to make sure your generator can support that rating. To understand how long a generator can supply a certain amount of W, you’ll want to take a look at the generator’s Wh rating.
Watt-hours is analogous to the amount of energy the generator can store. For example, a generator that has a capacity of 1,000 Wh can supply 1,000 W of power continuously for 1 hour. This also means that the same generator could supply 100 W of power to a small device like a lightbulb for 10 hours. As a point of reference, a TV might use somewhere around 100 W, meaning a 1,000 Wh generator could power that TV for 10 hours.
What are the best solar generators available?
Based on W and Wh, we’ve compiled a list of some of the top-rated solar generator products available for under $2,000. All of the batteries on our list use lithium-ion technology, but vary in their specific chemistry – check out our article on comparing lithium-ion battery chemistries to learn more about the differences.
|Goal Zero Yeti 1500X||2,000 W||1,516 Wh||NMC||$1,999.95||Amazon|
|Jackery Explorer 1000||1,000 W||1,002 Wh||NMC||$999.00||Amazon|
|BLUETTI AC200P 2000WH/2000W||2,000 W||2,000 Wh||LFP||$1,599.00||Amazon|
|Renogy Lycan 5000 Power Box||3,500 W||1,075 Wh||LFP||$4,299.99||Manufacturer|
|EF Ecoflow Delta Max (2000)||3,400||2,016 Wh||Li||$2,099.99||Amazon|
NOTE: these prices do not include the cost of the solar panels.
Goal Zero Yeti 1500X
Goal Zero’s Yeti 1500X is a solid generator with good – but not great – storage capacity, so (like most generators), it’ll be good for recharging devices and keeping a few appliances running, but not for too long.
- Power output: 2,000 W
- Storage size: 1,516 Wh
- Battery chemistry: Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC)
- Ports: 2 USB-A, 18W USB-C, 60W USB-C PD, 6mm, 12V, 12V Power Port, 2 120V AC Inverter
Jackery Explorer 1500
Looking for a solar generator under $1000? Jackery’s Explorer 1000 is a great option! A little smaller in both output and storage capacity than Goal Zero’s Yeti 1500X, this solar generator is a great rugged option for powering a few essential devices on a camping trip.
- Power output: 1,000 W
- Storage size: 1,002 Wh
- Battery chemistry: Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC)
- Ports: 2 USB-C ports with PD, 1 USB-A port, 1 quick charge 3.0 port, 3 110V AC outlets, 1 12V DC outlet
BLUETTI AC200P 200WH/2000W
The biggest option of our three featured solar generators is BLUETTI’s Portable Power Station featuring 2,000 W output – that’s even enough to keep a fridge or window air conditioner running for some time. More than the above two options, the BLUETTI solar generator can actually be used as an emergency backup device, albeit for a short period of time.
- Power output: 2,000 W
- Storage size: 2,000 Wh
- Battery chemistry: Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP)
- Ports: 6 120V AC outlets, 1 12V/25A RV port, 2 15W wireless pads, 1 PD 60W USB-C, 4 USB-A, 1 12V/10A car port, 2 12V/3A
Renogy Lycan 5000 Power Box
Renogy’s Lycan 5000 is an all-in-one energy storage system. Compared to other generators, it is extremely sturdy. Its cost, however, makes it less accessible than other options. More than 10 devices can be powered using AC and DC ports, meaning it can be used for blackouts or home powering services.
- Power output: 3,500 W
- Storage size: 1,075 Wh
- Battery chemistry: lithium-iron-phosphate
- Ports: 110V AC port, 60VDC~145VDC Input
EF Ecoflow Delta Max (2000)
The EF Ecoflow Delta Max can be used for many applications including powering an RV and providing blackout coverage. It charges quickly but does not have a comparatively long battery life.
- Power output: 3,400 W
- Storage size: 2,016 Wh
- Battery chemistry: lithium ion
- Ports: USB-A Output: 2 ports, 5V, 2.4A, 12W max per port, USB-A Fast Charge: 2 ports, 5V, 2.4A / 9V, 2A / 12V, 1.5A, 18W Max per port, USB-C Output: 2 ports, 5/9/12/15/20V, 5A, 100W Max per port, DC Output: 2 ports, 12.6V, 3A, 38W Max per port, Car Power Output: 12.6V, 10A, 126W Max, AC Charging Input: 1800W max, 15A
Solar vs. fossil fuel generators: pros and cons compared
When deciding between a solar generator and a fossil fuel generator, there are definitely some factors you’ll want to consider. We’ll explain some of the key pros and cons of solar generators to help you make your decision:
|Solar generator pros||Solar generator cons|
|Free energy from the sun||Limited power supply|
|Low maintenance costs||High upfront price|
|Clean and quiet operation||Slow recharge time|
Pros of solar generators
There are many benefits that come with owning a solar generator for home use in comparison to fossil fuel options:
1. Free energy from the sun
When you get power from a solar generator, you’re harnessing the sun’s energy for free instead of using costly fossil fuels. You can continue to get free energy from the sun for the lifetime of the solar panels you’re using, which is usually between 25 and 35 years.
2. Low maintenance costs
Unlike fossil fuel generators, solar generators have no moving parts and don’t use liquid fuel, which significantly lowers the likelihood you’ll need to pay for repairs on your generator.
3. Clean and quiet operation
Aside from potential monetary benefits, choosing a solar generating system over a fossil fuel system has environmental upsides. Importantly, using fossil fuel generators leads to air pollution and added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which contributes to global climate change. Additionally, gas generators are often loud when they’re running – with no moving parts, solar generators don’t make any noise when you’re using them.
Cons of solar generators
Solar generators aren’t without flaws – here are some potential drawbacks to keep in mind if you’re purchasing a solar generator:
1. Limited power supply
Storing solar energy with a solar generator has limitations when it comes to energy capacity. If you’re looking to power your entire house on a backup generator system, solar may not be the way to go. You can easily recharge small electronics and operate certain appliances with a solar generator, but don’t expect to be able to keep your fridge, TV, and lighting systems all operational for very long.
2. Higher upfront cost
Although the operating costs associated with solar generators are much lower than those associated with fossil fuel options, you can safely expect a higher upfront price tag for solar generator products. Don’t be surprised when you see solar generators costing a few hundred dollars more than comparable fossil fuel products.
3. Slow recharging
Unlike fossil fuel generators, you can’t instantaneously get more power from your solar setup. Recharging takes time and needs to be done during the day. Therefore, solar generators may not be your best option if you aren’t able to take the time to recharge them. With a gas generator, you can simply hook up a fresh gas tank and you’ll be all set.
Should you buy a solar generator?
If you’re looking to charge small appliances when camping, travelling on an RV, or boating, a solar generator might be right for you! Given their portability and ease of operation, solar generators offer a unique energy solution for those people on the move who need some extra electricity. That being said, the limited power capacity, slow recharge time, and dependence on the sun limit the usability of solar generators as whole home power backup systems.
For property owners interested in backup energy supply from a renewable power source, the best option is to install a rooftop or ground-mounted solar system with a home solar battery attached. During the day, your panels will produce energy and store anything unused in your battery so that you can draw from that battery when the grid goes down. Importantly, a solar energy system without a battery usually cannot operate during a power outage, so installing a solar-plus-storage system is a great way to up your property’s resilience against electrical grid issues.
Start your solar-plus-storage journey today on EnergySage!
The easiest way to shop for solar-plus-storage systems and save money at the same time is by comparing multiple quotes on the EnergySage Marketplace. By registering your property, you can begin receiving solar quotes from high-quality, local solar professionals. If you’re interested in receiving quotes that include a storage system, simply indicate your interest in your preferences when setting up your account.