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?

A solar generator is a battery storage system hooked up to solar panels. They’re used for a similar purpose as traditional gas-powered generators, but instead of using fossil fuels, they store and output solar energy. 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, on camping trips, or as an emergency backup if your power goes out.

Best solar generators: top options

We’ve compiled a list of some of the top-rated solar generator products available:

ProductWatt-hours per chargePriceLink
Yeti Portable Power Station1,516Wh$1,999Amazon
Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 10001,002Wh$999Amazon
BLUETTI Portable Power Station2,000Wh$1,696Amazon

When comparing solar generators, two important metrics to keep in mind are Watts (W) and Watt-hours (Wh).

Watts (W) 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 supply that rating. To understand how long a generator can supply a certain amount of Watts, take a look at the generator’s Watt-hours rating.

Watt-hours (Wh) 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.

Yeti 1500X Portable Power Station

  • Output: 2000W
  • Storage size: 1500Wh
  • Ports: 2 USB-A, 18W USB-C, 60W USB-C PD, 6mm, 12V, 12V Power Port, 2 120V AC Inverter

The Yeti 1500X is a solid solar generator with good but not great storage capacity, so (like most solar generators) it’ll be good for recharging devices and keeping a few appliances running, but not for too long.

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Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000

  • Output: 1000W
  • Storage size: 1002Wh
  • 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

A little smaller in both output and storage capacity than the Yeti 1500X, the Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000 is a great, rugged option for powering up devices. If you’re on a camping trip and want to make sure you have a few charges for essential devices, this solar generator could work well for you.

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BLUETTI Portable Power Station

  • Output: 2000W
  • Storage size: 2000Wh
  • 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 and 2 12V/3A

The biggest option of the our three featured solar generators, the BLUETTI Portable Power Station’s most notable feature is its massive 2000W 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 may actually be able to be used as an emergency backup device, albeit for a short period of time.

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How do solar generators work?

Solar generators typically consist of two main products: solar panels and some sort of storage system. When you’re researching solar generators, you’ll most likely come across the battery storage system, which is usually marketed as a “solar generator”.

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. 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.

Storage for a solar generator

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 panels for a solar generator

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 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.

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.

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

  1. Kathleen Bailey

    Yeah, solar generators have cons and pros. Despite that, a professional generator installation company can cover you! Don’t hesitate to approach them as they know how to solve your problem if any.

    Reply

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