How to Choose the
Best Solar Generator
for Your Needs
Are you in search of a reliable power source for your outdoor activities or as a backup for emergencies? Look no further than the best solar generators on the market! These versatile devices pair a large-capacity rechargeable power station, essentially a big battery, with portable solar panels to provide a sustainable and eco-friendly source of power. They’re perfect for camping, tailgating, DIY projects, and can even provide backup power for your home during an emergency to keep the refrigerator running or those digital door locks, well, locked.
Compared to traditional gas generators, solar generators are much safer to store and use, and simpler to maintain. As the threat of natural disasters like storms and wildfires becomes more prevalent, investing in a solar generator for emergency preparedness makes a lot of sense.
But how do you choose the best solar generator for your needs? We put some of the top devices to the test for an entire summer to determine which could reliably provide the most power with the least fuss. We considered factors such as portability, ease of setup, price, design, technology, and innovation. If you want to learn more, read on!
What Exactly is a Solar Generator?
When looking for reliable power sources, many people turn to solar generators. While they’re called “generators,” they’re actually rechargeable battery packs equipped with surge protection, an uninterruptible power supply, and an inverter and line conditioner to provide AC power.
The beauty of solar generators is that they can be charged using solar panels, which makes them ideal for emergencies and off-grid situations. Of course, they can also be charged using a wall outlet. Available in a wide range of battery capacities, solar generators can be found in larger models that can keep your critical appliances running during an emergency or smaller, lightweight models that are perfect for camping or tailgating.
Solar generators come equipped with a variety of ports for powering different devices. Along with AC outlets, 12V DC ports, and a cigarette lighter port, solar generators can also come equipped with 5521 barrel-type ports and Anderson power ports. Higher-end models may also have 125V 30A outlets that are suitable for powering an RV. In fact, some solar generators can even integrate with home generator transfer panels to provide AC power.
If you need to charge your phone or other small devices, some solar generators also come with USB ports. Smaller models may have two or four USB ports, while larger models can have as many as six to eight USB ports, featuring a mix of USB-A 2.4V and 5V ports and USB-C with power delivery (PD) ports with capacities ranging from 18W to 100W.
When it comes to finding the best solar generator for your needs, it’s important to consider factors such as power output, battery capacity, portability and weight, and charging time. By keeping these factors in mind, you can find a solar generator that meets your needs and keeps your devices running even when you’re off the grid.
Components of a Solar Generator
Solar generators are made up of various components that work together to provide power, including:
- a Battery Management System (BMS),
- an Inverter, and
- The solar panels
Let’s take a closer look at each component and its function.
When it comes to the batteries in a solar generator, they are the heart and soul of the unit. These batteries store chemical energy that is then used as electrical energy to power your devices. There are different types of lithium-based chemical formulations that are used in solar generator batteries. The most common battery type is the Lithium-Ion Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) battery.
While NMC batteries are lighter and more energy-dense, they have relatively slow charge and discharge rates, which makes them less efficient in use. In comparison, Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) batteries, also known as LiFePO4 batteries, have gained popularity in the industry recently due to their faster charging and discharging times, longer lifespan, and ability to handle more charge cycles.
LFP batteries have a much higher C rating than NMC batteries, making them faster and more efficient. They can handle over 3,000 charge cycles, which is significantly more than the 500 cycles of NMC batteries. Additionally, LFP batteries generate less heat, which makes them safer and more ideal for use in solar generators and electric vehicles. So, when it comes to choosing the best solar generator, pay close attention to the type of battery it uses.
Battery Management System (BMS)
The BMS, short for battery management system, is a little computerized wizard that lives inside the solar generator, using its software smarts to help keep the battery happy and healthy. The BMS works hard to keep the battery in top condition by managing the charging and discharging process of the cells. To do this, the BMS keeps a close eye on the voltage and current of each cell in the battery pack and makes adjustments to keep everything in balance. Safety is a top priority for the BMS too, and it has built-in sensors that shut the system down if anything goes awry, such as if the voltage gets too high or the temperature gets too hot.
The inverter is a crucial component of a solar generator since it changes the direct current (DC) output generated by the batteries and solar panels into the alternating current (AC) used in homes to power appliances and gadgets. The inverter’s wattage output rating is a measure of how much power it can deliver to devices. A small solar generator can produce around 500W, whereas a medium-sized generator typically produces around 1,200W, and a large unit can produce 2,000W or more.
Therefore, the output wattage rating provides an estimate of how many devices can run on the generator simultaneously. While a single electric fan has a maximum draw of approximately 70W, a hairdryer or a portable induction burner running at maximum power can draw up to 1,600W to 1,800W, which can overtax a medium-sized unit. Additionally, inverters can manage the combined input wattage from AC and DC power, so the inverter’s capacity determines the maximum solar panel capacity that can be used. For instance, if the inverter has a maximum input capacity of 400W, only two 200W panels or four 100W panels can be utilized.
Solar panels are the backbone of any solar generator, converting sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity using photovoltaic (PV) cells. In turn, the DC current can then be sent to an inverter in a home setup, which is then converted into alternating current (AC), the type of electricity used in homes. Alternatively, in a solar generator, energy is stored in battery cells for later conversion to AC or use as DC. To integrate with solar generators, solar panels use MPPT (maximum power point tracking) controllers, a standard technology that manages the conversion from panel output.
When it comes to selecting solar panels, any MPPT-compatible panel from any manufacturer can be used with any solar generator, provided the correct connector cables and adapters are also used, and the maximum voltage and combined input wattage into the inverter are not exceeded. However, cable incompatibilities and capacity mismatches can occur, so it’s best to pair panels sold by your generator manufacturer with your generator for optimal performance and the highest compatibility.
A solar panel’s performance depends on atmospheric conditions and panel efficiency. Although inverters are about 95% efficient, panels rated at 100W may not work as well in cloudy or hazy weather or if they are not in direct sunlight. Therefore, when making recharge calculations against the watt-hour capacity of your generator, assume a panel efficiency of 50% or less, depending on typical weather conditions.
Solar panels are rated by their power output in watts, and portable panel sizes range from as small as 50 watts to as high as 400 watts. However, make sure not to exceed the maximum input capacity of the generator from the panel array, as most MPPT charge controllers do not allow you to hook up panels that exceed voltage requirements.
Depending on the design, a solar generator may be able to accommodate multiple solar panels hooked up in parallel, connected by long cables that use a variety of different types of connectors that vary by manufacturer. Portable panels come in two types of designs, foldable metal or flexible and floppy. Foldable metal panels are rugged, heavier, and easier to set up due to their rigid structure, while flexible, floppy panels are lighter but more challenging to set up and not rated for continuous outdoor use. Regardless, if cable connections are sealed with duct tape, there’s no reason why they can’t be left outside for days at a time.
How to Choose the Best Solar Generator
If you’re looking for a reliable source of power when camping, tailgating, or during a power outage, a solar generator is an excellent choice. Be aware that there are different types of generators from which to choose, including portable, standby, and grid-tied models.
- Portable solar generators are the most common and are designed to be used on the go. They’re compact, lightweight, and can be easily transported.
- Standby solar generators are larger and are designed to provide backup power in case of a blackout.
- Grid-tied solar generators are connected to your home’s electrical system and can be used to supplement your electricity usage.
Once you know what type you need, then you need to consider these key factors:
The power output of a solar generator is measured in watt-hours (Wh). To determine the best solar generator for your needs, you’ll need to consider the power requirements of the devices you’ll be using with it. If you plan on using high-wattage appliances, such as refrigerators or power tools, you’ll need a solar generator with a higher watt-hour capacity. Conversely, if you’re using low-wattage devices, such as cell phones or laptops, a lower watt-hour capacity generator may suffice.
The battery capacity of a solar generator determines how long it can power your devices. In general, the larger the battery, the longer it will last. However, larger batteries also mean heavier generators. Consider your needs and portability requirements when selecting the appropriate battery capacity.
When choosing a solar generator, consider how portable you need it to be. If you plan on taking it with you on camping trips or other outings, a lighter, more compact model may be ideal. However, if you need a generator to power your home during an outage, a larger, more robust model may be necessary.
The charging time of a solar generator is how long it takes to fully charge the battery using solar panels. Some models may take several hours, while others may take several days. Consider the charging time when selecting a solar generator, especially if you plan on using it during an emergency.
Ease of Use
Finally, consider the ease of use of the solar generator. Some models may require extensive setup or technical expertise, while others may be more straightforward. Consider your comfort level with technology and the amount of time you have to devote to setting up and operating the generator.
Shielding and Placement
When using a solar generator, it’s crucial to protect it from the elements. While some solar panels are weatherproofed, the generator itself should not be exposed to water, rain, or extreme heat. Therefore, it’s advisable to place the generator in a covered area, such as behind a door or on a covered porch or patio. Additionally, it’s recommended to purchase extension cables to optimize the placement of the generator and panels. In our testing, we found that 25-foot extensions provided sufficient length between the panels and the generator.
Maintenance and Care of Solar Generators
Proper maintenance and care can significantly increase the lifespan of your solar generator. Here are some quick tips:
- Keep the solar panels clean and free of debris.
- Store the solar generator in a cool, dry place when not in use.
- Charge the battery regularly, even if you’re not using it.
- Check the battery and inverter regularly for signs of wear or damage.
The Best Solar Generators
When it comes to choosing the best solar generator, there are several top-performing products available on the market. We have a much more comprehensive review of The 7 Best Solar Generators for Emergency Preparedness if you want more detail, but for now, here are our top three picks.
Solar generators are an excellent alternative to traditional gas-powered generators for those looking for a more sustainable and eco-friendly option. When choosing the best solar generator for you, determine what type of generator you really need and then consider factors such as power output, battery capacity, portability, charging time, and ease of use to find the one that suits you best.
And don’t forget to take care of your new tool – be sure to shield your generator from the elements as best you can and purchase additional extension cords to optimize the solar panel placement. Keep it clean and dry, and store it in a safe place when not in use. And don’t forget to charge it periodically. It’s really good for the batteries.
Q. How long does a solar generator last?
A. The lifespan of a solar generator can vary depending on the model and usage. However, most high-quality solar generators are built to last for several years and come with warranties ranging from one to five years.
Q. Can a solar generator power my entire home?
A. No, a solar generator is not powerful enough to power an entire home. It is designed to power small appliances and devices such as phones, laptops, and small refrigerators. For powering an entire home, you would need a larger solar panel system with a higher output capacity.
Q. How do I know how much power output I need?
A. To determine how much power output you need, you should make a list of the appliances and devices you plan to power with your solar generator. Then, check the wattage of each item and add up the total. This will give you an idea of how much power output you need from your solar generator.
Q. Can I charge my solar generator using an AC outlet?
A. Yes, most solar generators come with an AC charging cable that allows you to charge the battery using a standard electrical outlet. This can be useful if you need to charge the battery quickly or if you don’t have access to solar power.
Q. Are solar generators waterproof?
A. Most solar generators are not completely waterproof and should be protected from rain and water. However, some models are water-resistant and can be used in light rain or damp environments. Always check the manufacturer’s specifications before using your solar generator in wet conditions.
Q. What will a 1000 watt solar generator run?
A. A 1000 watt solar generator can power small appliances such as a mini-fridge, a television, a laptop, and lights. However, the exact number of devices that can be powered depends on the wattage of each appliance and the total wattage capacity of the solar generator.
Q. Can a solar generator run a refrigerator?
A. Yes, a solar generator can run a small refrigerator or freezer as long as the wattage of the appliance is within the capacity of the solar generator. However, it’s important to note that refrigerators and freezers use a lot of energy, and running them continuously on a solar generator can quickly drain the battery. It’s best to use a solar generator for short-term power outages or outdoor activities rather than as a long-term solution for powering a refrigerator.