A solar generator is a portable power station that uses portable solar panels to charge a battery, and the stored electricity can be used to charge or operate other devices.
As climate change continues to impact our planet in the form of extreme weather, higher temperatures, rising sea levels, and more, we must look for sustainable solutions to more parts of our day-to-day life. This includes the move to using portable solar power generators to create and store renewable energy for all your backup power needs.
Not only do solar generators create reliable clean electricity from the sun, but they also reduce the emission of harmful greenhouse gasses associated with traditional portable generators. As a result, manufacturers are working hard to make solar backup generators better and more reliable than their fuel-powered counterparts. This mirrors the growth and popularity of home solar power systems as an alternative to powering your home with fossil fuels.
With this article, you will better understand what a solar generator is, why solar generators are worth an investment, how to shop for a portable solar generator that’s right for you, and why solar-powered generators should replace traditional gas-powered generators.
What Is A Solar Generator?
The term solar generator usually refers to the combination of portable solar panels, battery, battery charger, and inverter into a single device that allows you to capture, store, and distribute power from the sun.
Solar generators are popular for camping trips, boating, RV trips, and as emergency backup power.
Unlike a traditional generator, which is normally powered by gas, diesel, or propane and includes an engine, fuel tank, and alternator, a solar generator lacks any moving parts. They’re essentially comprised of four elements:
- Portable Solar Panels - Captures energy from the sun
- Rechargeable Battery - Stores the energy captured by solar panels
- Solar Charge Controller - Manages how much energy goes into the battery
- Solar Inverter - Converts the sun’s energy into usable electricity
Thus, a solar generator is basically a portable battery with some photovoltaic (PV) panels attached to collect sunlight.
A portable solar generator turns out to be a great power supply, whether you’re on the road, camping, or needing electricity during a power outage. Depending upon your situation, you might want a solar generator with a variety of outlets, especially in emergencies where you have multiple power-dependent devices and appliances.
Typically, solar generators have 12-volt sockets, AC outlets, and USB ports to allow you to charge different devices. The beauty of having several charging options with your portable generator is that you can get the power you need on your terms. For example, you can plug a smartphone directly into the USB port to charge, and then connect an extension cord to the AC outlet to power a set of string lights.
In most cases, you will have the option to buy components like solar battery storage and panels separately, though you can also buy them as a complete all-in-one kit. We recommend purchasing the accessories you need to generate and store enough electricity for your intended use.
How Do Solar Power Generators Work?
A solar battery generator works by creating electricity from sunlight and storing it in a battery for future use. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the process:
- Solar panels convert sunlight to DC electricity and pass it through the charge controller.
- The charge controller regulates the voltage of electricity before storage, ensuring the right amount of current goes to the battery.
- The battery stores all the solar energy for later use.
- The inverter converts the stored energy from the battery to the AC power that most appliances and devices use.
Who Benefits From Using Solar Generators?
Solar generators don't burn fuel to generate electricity, making them ideal for anyone looking to reduce reliance on gas-powered generators, combat blackouts and other power outages, and have a reliable backup power source option in case of emergencies.
You can use the energy stored in a solar generator during a power outage, to charge your devices when camping, and as a source of energy on an RV or boating trip. Essentially, a solar-powered backup generator is ideal for a range of real-life situations, meaning it’s useful to have around for more than just emergencies.
People Who Want to Make More Eco-Friendly Choices
Traditional generators run on fossil fuels that pollute the environment. If you're conscious of the danger these fuels possess, then a solar backup generator is ideal for you.
People Bothered by the Sounds and Smells of Traditional Generators
Traditional generators are noisy and stinky because they’re combustion engines running on fossil fuels. Over time and even with proper maintenance, they can become noisier and smellier. If you're looking for a generator that creates zero sounds and smells, a solar power generator will not let you down.
People Who Enjoy Spending Time Outdoors
You will find solar power generators are helpful if you enjoy being outside, yet still want to bring along a few modern perks. For example, during a camping or boating trip, solar batteries come in handy to ensure you have continuous power access. You could string up lights after sundown, charge your phones, run small kitchen appliances, and any number of conveniences you had to do without in the past.
Key Factors When Shopping for a Solar Generator
Solar generators come in different sizes and shapes, so picking one that will address your personal needs should be your priority. Choosing a solar generator can be challenging, especially when you are presented with different options, so we created this shopping list as a good starting point.
Since not all portable solar backup power generators are the same, people need to know what the generator can and cannot do. Knowing how you intend to use your generator should help guide you to the right solution.
Some of the top brands to compare include Jackery, Goal Zero Yeti, Bluetti, EcoFlow, Point Zero Energy, Renogy, and Tacklife. Each company makes its products unique, so a closer look at what each one offers can help you make a sound decision.
Your Energy Requirements
The amount of electricity you need should be your top consideration for determining the size of your solar powered generator. For example, if you plan to use it outdoors, you should calculate how much energy your devices and appliances use when comparing the storage capacity of potential solar generators.
How Much Electricity The Solar Generator Can Provide
The longer a generator can provide power, the better. (This is usually calculated in watt hours.) Considering you don't always know when you will have an opportunity to recharge it, it is best to have one that can run efficiently for a long time. That way, it will be easier for you to go about your daily activities or complete what you were doing, knowing you have enough backup power.
How Long The Solar Generator Takes To Charge
In addition to comparing the battery capacity of a solar generator, you should also pay attention to how long it takes for the battery to achieve a full charge. Some even have the ability to quick charge from a home AC power outlet. This will help with planning how much time you’ll need to be without power in the event a recharge is necessary.
What Features and Benefits are Included
You can do a lot with a solar generator that has helpful features. For example, more USB ports and power outlets give you the freedom to charge multiple devices at once.
Weight is another essential consideration, especially if you plan to use your generator for outdoor activities. Batteries can be heavy, so you might want to look for a solar generator that has focused on keeping the weight down if you plan to move it around a lot.
What the Warranty Covers
We recommend examining any benefits you might enjoy from the product warranty. The larger and more reputable the company, the more perks you will likely receive to support your solar power generator. The top options include replacement parts for any necessary repairs, as well as a longer length of time your solar generator is covered by the warranty.
Comparing Portable Solar Generators with Traditional Gas-Powered Generators
The Pros of Solar Generators
Investing in a portable solar generator is a good way of reducing your environmental impact and enjoying numerous other benefits:
Generally lighter than traditional gas-powered generators, solar generators are ideal for outdoor events, camping, emergencies, and general on-the-go activities. Some of them are even equipped with a luggage-like pull handle to enhance portability.
Wear and tear due to moving parts in traditional emergency generators can lead to high maintenance costs. Solar generators have no moving parts and don't rely on gas to generate electricity. This design helps lower the possibility of having to pay for repairs.
Solar generators generate clean, renewable energy that doesn't hurt the environment when running. Traditional generators run on fossil fuels which contribute to air pollution and climate change. As an added benefit, you can access solar energy freely instead of paying for pricey fossil fuels.
Solar generators are easy to use as they don’t require fueling, oiling, starting, and maintaining. Just turn it on, connect your devices, and draw power from it.
The Cons of Solar Generators
There are a few disadvantages to using solar generators that you should consider before making a purchase:
Higher Upfront Cost
Solar generators typically require a higher initial investment than traditional generators. However, the costs of operating are lower than traditional options, so you’ll save money over time.
Lower Energy Storage
Solar generators aren't ideal if your power demands are too high. For instance, during a power outage, your generator may not be sufficient to operate all devices and appliances in your house. In most cases, they are best for operating a few devices at a time, such as lighting, a television, or a refrigerator.
Slower Energy Generation
Compared to traditional gas-powered portable generators, solar generators are not the best option when you need instantaneous power. If your battery runs out of power, you have to wait for it to recharge to get power to your appliances and devices, which can vary depending on the weather conditions. With a traditional generator, you simply need to add more fuel to generate additional power.
The Pros of Traditional Generators
Generators powered by fossil fuels do have some advantages, including:
Traditional options are available in different sizes, and there are smaller sizes that you can bring with you when traveling. Just remember that you also have to carry gasoline, so they aren’t quite as portable as solar generators.
Having been on the market for years, traditional generators are more familiar to some people. However, that market dominance also means the technology hasn’t been dramatically improved because of the lack of competition.
Traditional generators produce electricity as soon as they receive fuel, while a solar generator must be recharged to provide electricity. Hence, gas-powered generators are more convenient when you need instant power.
The Cons of Traditional Generators
Despite their popularity over the years, traditional generators have their shortcomings. Here are some of the reasons why people are ditching them:
Traditional generators rely on costly fossil fuels to run, which increases their long-term costs over the initial purchase price. You may also have to pay more to access that fuel if you aren't near a gas station or other fuel source.
Traditional generators are notorious polluters. Each gallon of gasoline contains about 20.35lbs of carbon dioxide, and the average camping generator emits around 1-2 lbs of carbon dioxide per hour, even when running at 1/4 of the max rated load.
In addition to carbon dioxide, gas-powered generators can also release other harmful gases into the atmosphere, including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and sulfur oxides.
Because of all the moving parts that make up a traditional gas-powered generator, they produce a lot of noise when operating. This is especially true for smaller portable generators, which are designed to prioritize size and weight over noise prevention.
You have to continuously pay to take care of your traditional generator if you want to keep it in good working order. That regular maintenance occurs because the generator uses moving parts to process fossil fuels into electricity, and those moving parts need to be cleaned, oiled, and replaced over time. In addition, the fuel can go bad if it sits unused for a long period of time. Those routine costs definitely impact the total price of owning a gas-powered generator in the long run.
Solar generators are growing in popularity, and with advances in solar technologies, people who like clean energy are increasingly picking them over gas-powered generators. Solar generators offer low maintenance, portability, clean energy, and sustainable living to combat climate change. The numerous benefits of owning a solar generator make it worth the investment.
Before you buy a solar-powered generator, make sure you analyze the key features of different brands to pick one that will address your power needs. Brands like Jackery, Goal Zero Yeti, and Bluetti make a wide range of different solar generators to match your needs.
If you want to store even more backup solar power than even the best solar generator can provide, you should consider solar battery storage that connects to your home solar panel system. While your home solar panels can definitely charge your portable solar generator so you have on-the-go power whenever you need it, solar generators are not designed to act as a home standby generator for your entire home.
If you’re shopping for backup power options, the experts at Palmetto can help you understand the long-term solutions that are right for your electricity needs and system requirements. Get started today with a Free Solar Savings Estimate, and then speak with one of our solar professionals on how you can always have the energy you need when you need it most.