solar generator

Is a solar generator right for you? Solar generators and pros and cons compared

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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 on an RV or boating trip. Read on to learn more about home solar power generators.

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What is a solar generator?

The term solar generator can technically refer to any energy system being powered by the sun. However, people using the term are most often talking about portable solar setups with a specialized battery system attached. These systems use solar panels to harness the sun’s energy and then store that energy in a portable storage system for later use. While a solar-powered generator setup may not be the right solution to power a whole home or property, they can be useful for boats, RVs, or as an emergency backup if your power goes out.

How do solar generators work?

Solar generators typically consist of two main products: solar panels and some sort of storage system. You can store solar energy by placing the solar panels in direct sunlight while they are connected to a storage system. Later on, when you need to draw power, the stored energy can be pulled from the battery system to power appliances. Many solar generators sold today come as complete all-in-one kits; however, there are always options for buying components like panels and batteries separately.

Solar generator solar panels

The solar panels that are used for solar generators are not the same as typical residential or commercial solar panels. These panels tend to be smaller (both in physical size and wattage) and more portable, meaning you can easily move and position them wherever the sun is shining.

Solar generator batteries

Solar panels can’t act as a solar generator on their own – the power they produce needs to be stored somewhere for later use. This is where batteries come in: just like solar batteries used in residential solar panel installations, the battery component of a solar generator stores power from solar panels so that you can use solar electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. However, unlike the batteries used for home solar installations, solar generator batteries are typically smaller, more portable, and include built-in outlets for you to plug chargers and appliances into.

Additionally, home solar batteries are usually made using lithium-ion technology. Batteries used in solar power generator setups can be lithium-ion, but are also made using lead-acid technology. Both technologies can often be combined with other battery units, commonly known as “chaining”. This means that you can add extra batteries onto your generator system for more robust storage capacity.

Solar generators vs. fossil fuel generators: pros and cons compared

Solar generator prosSolar generator cons
Free energy from the sunLimited power supply
Low maintenance costsHigh upfront price
Clean and quiet operationSlow recharge time

Pros of solar generators

There are many benefits that come with owning a solar generator for home use when compared 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 getting 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 a 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, fossil fuel generators lead 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 generating systems 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 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 in the daytime – 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 set.

Best solar generators

We’ve compiled a list of some of the top-rated solar generator products available. These products are all “all-in-one” options that don’t involve buying separate components and wiring them together yourself.

ProductWatt-hours per chargePriceLink
Peppermint Energy Forty2 Max Portable Solar Power Generator2,000Wh$2,499.99Amazon
Nature’s Generator Solar Powered Generator720Wh$999.99Amazon
Goal Zero Solar Generator Kit with Briefcase Solar Panel1,250Wh$1,399.90Amazon
PowerSurvival Solar Generator Kit1,230Wh$1,159.49Amazon

When comparing solar generators, one of the most important metrics to consider is Watt-hours (Wh), which is analogous to the amount of energy the generator can hold. More specifically, a generator that has a capacity of 1,000Wh can supply 1,000 Watts of power continuously for 1 hour. This also means that the same generator could supply 100 Watts of power to a small device like a lightbulb for 10 hours. As a point of reference, a TV might use somewhere in the ballpark of 100 Watts, meaning a 1,000Wh generator could operate that TV for about 10 hours straight.

Should you buy a solar generator?

If you’re looking to charge small appliances on the go on an RV or boat, 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 for 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 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 home battery with solar panels is a great way to up your property’s resilience against electrical grid issues.

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 Solar Marketplace. By registering your property, you can begin receiving solar quotes from high-quality, local solar professionals. If you are interested in receiving quotes that include a storage system, simply indicate your interest in your preferences when setting up your account.

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About Jacob Marsh

Jacob is a researcher and content writer at EnergySage, where he focuses primarily on current issues–and new technology!–in the solar industry. With a background in environmental and geological science, Jacob brings an analytical perspective and passion for conservation to help solar shoppers make the right energy choices for their wallet and the environment. Outside of EnergySage, you can find him playing Ultimate Frisbee or learning a new, obscure board game.

9 thoughts on “Is a solar generator right for you? Solar generators and pros and cons compared

  1. AvatarRobert Jiroutek

    Considering the many new more powerful and more functional portable systems now entering the market, this article needs to be revised.

  2. AvatarKevin Walker

    I am looking to run a couple of power tools (drill and portable sander), will they work for about an hour?

  3. AvatarE

    Mostly interested in solar generator to keep refrigerator functional during power shutdown, emergency and such. Will a portable style suit my needs or do I need standard panels/battery?

  4. AvatarMark

    Thanks for putting together the list of Pros & Cons for solar generators. I wanted to let you know I have added a link to your post from my own article at I have also created a step by step series on how to build your own solar generator there. Check it out if you are interested.

    Thanks you!

  5. AvatarLucinda Bernard

    I already have solar but without a battery. Now wanting to add battery. Question is… I have to go through my solar co Or can I shop for a better deal?

  6. Avatarkirk nickey

    We want some power during hurricane storm outages.
    Running our refrigerator and some fans is our priority.
    Can that be done by a solar generator?
    Also, I know that lithium batteries are much better.
    ps- I really do NOT want to store gasoline with a traditional generator.
    Plus, I don’t want the fumes.


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