What are the pros and cons of a solar generator?

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Updated

best solar generators for 2023
Solar generators let you take the power of the sun anywhere you go! Image source: Amazon 

A solar generator is essentially made up of two parts: a portable power station that combines batteries with an inverter and solar charge controller, and one or more solar panels.

Modern advancements in battery and inverter technology have led to solar generators that are fairly powerful and can hold a good deal of energy, but can they stack up against conventional gas-powered generators? Yes!

On the plus side:

  • Whether you need to keep your lights on when the grid goes down or you want to charge your phone on a camping trip, solar generators are a great way to have extra electricity on hand.
  • Solar generators are usually more portable than their gas counterparts.
  • They require no fuel when paired with solar panels, but can also charge from the wall in preparation for a power outage.
  • They run quiet and exhaust-free, and require almost no maintenance.

That said, there are some cons to be aware of:

  • While inexpensive smaller solar generators are great for small jobs, you need to make a big upfront investment to get the same power output as a gas generator.
  • Solar generators can be slow to recharge from solar alone, and if you need extra “fuel,” you’ll need another battery.

Below, we discuss more of the details in this comparison. But if you’re just looking for product recommendations, check out our breakdown of the best solar generators on the market.

On this page

    What is a solar generator?

    Technically, a solar power generator is any system that runs on solar power. But what most people mean when they say ‘solar generator’ refers to a portable power station that uses solar panels, instead of fossil fuels, to provide electricity. 

    A portable solar generator uses solar panels to capture the sun’s energy and then stores that energy in a battery to be used later. Most solar generators are used for RV camping, boats, and as a backup power source in the case of a grid power outage.

    How do solar generators work?

    Solar generators have four major components:

    The solar panels convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity that is then passed through the charge controller. The charge controller regulates the voltage of the electricity into the battery, where the solar energy is then stored for use later. 

    infographic depicting a solar generator

    The diagram above is helpful to understand how everything works together, but it’s important to know that nearly all solar generators sold today integrate the charge controller, inverter, and lithium iron phosphate batteries into a single unit.

    When you need to use the energy stored in the battery, the inverter converts the electricity into alternating current energy, or AC power, which is what most appliances and devices use.

    Solar generators typically have USB ports, AC outlets, and 12-volt car outputs to allow you to charge multiple devices.

    How much can you save with solar?

    What are the pros and cons of solar generators?

    Pros and cons of solar generators
    Pros Cons
    No fuel Expensive upfront investment
    Clean renewable energy Slow recharging
    Quiet and low-maintenance Limited available power

    Advantages of solar generators 

    Free fuel from the sun 

    Traditional gas-powered generators require you to constantly purchase fuel. With a solar generator, there are no fuel costs. Simply set up your solar panel and enjoy the free sunshine! 

    Clean renewable energy 

    Solar generators rely entirely on clean, renewable energy. This means that not only do you not have to worry about the cost of fossil fuels to power your generator, you don’t have to worry about the environmental impact of using gasoline either. 

    Solar generators release no pollutants when they produce and store energy. You can rest easy knowing that your camping or boating trip is powered by clean energy.

    Quiet and low maintenance 

    Another great thing about solar generators is that they are quiet. And unlike gas generators, solar generators don’t have any moving parts. This significantly reduces the amount of noise they produce while running. 

    Plus, no moving parts means the chances of solar generator parts breaking is low. This greatly reduces the amount of maintenance required for a solar generator as compared to a gas generator. 

    Disadvantages of solar generators 

    High upfront costs 

    Solar generators require a much higher initial investment than traditional gas generators. The average cost of a gas generator is around $1,000. Solar generators will usually cost about $2,000. 

    However, solar generators have much lower operating costs. So, you’ll spend less over the lifetime of a solar generator.

    Slow recharging 

    Solar generator batteries can only be recharged when the sun is out. And even then, it takes time for the solar panels to charge the battery. A solar panel with a power output of 100 watts would take over 9 hours to charge most mid-sized solar generator batteries. 

    Generators that run on fossil fuels can be refueled at any time, so you can get more power right when you need it without having to worry about the weather conditions or the time of day. 

    Limited power supply 

    The size of the solar generator battery will limit how much the generator can power, as well. A solar generator probably won’t be able to power your entire home. However, it can charge phones and laptops and keep small appliances running for a short period of time.  

    Gas generators aren’t as limited in what they can power and for how long since they can be refilled at any time.

    What are the best uses for solar generators?

    Solar generators are best used for charging devices and running small appliances. They’re a great source of backup power for a boating or RV camping trip because of their portability, plus they’re clean and don’t require you to keep lots of fuel on hand. 

    Solar generators can power some key appliances in your home in the event of an emergency. But no portable generator will be able to truly power your entire home off-grid.   

    Instead, you should consider installing a rooftop solar panel system paired with battery storage. Not only will this allow you to have backup power for most of your home in case of an emergency, it will help cut down your electricity bill all year long! 

    Use our solar calculator to get an estimate of how many solar panels you need to power your home and how much a home solar panel system costs in your area. 

    How to choose a solar generator

    The two most important things to look at when choosing a solar generator to meet your needs are power output and energy capacity. Simply put, you want a generator that can run the appliances you have for the time you need to run them before recharging.

    Power output is measured in watts (W). When choosing a solar generator, you need to find one that can meet the power output needs of your most power-hungry appliance (or combination of appliances you plan to run simultaneously).

    Here’s an example to break it down: You have a hair dryer that needs 1,500 W of power to run, which means you need a solar generator that can put out at least 1,500 W continuously. If you need to run the hair dryer while the 100W laptop charger is plugged in, look for a solar generator with a continuous output of at least 1,600 W.

    Energy capacity is measured watt-hours (Wh). You need a solar generator with enough Wh of capacity to run all your appliances for the length of time you need them.

    Say you only use the hair dryer for 15 minutes a day (aka a quarter of an hour). You’ll need 375 Wh for that (1,500 W x 0.25 hrs). But say you also have a coffee maker that needs 800 watts that brews for 10 minutes, That’s another 133 Wh. Add a couple of phones that charge at 15W each for two hours each day, and you need another 60 Wh.

    When determining your needs, add your total Wh per day together, and then determine if you need more than one day’s worth of storage to get through any days that aren’t sunny.

    Average usage guidelines

    Here are a few common combinations of output and capacity, and who they might be fest for:

    Output Capacity Best for
    ~600 W ~700 Wh Overnight and weekend camping trips with phones, laptops, small lamps, cameras, etc, with or without solar recharging
    ~1,200 W ~1,000 Wh Trips with more power needs (e.g. small coffee maker), with or without solar recharging
    ~1,800 W ~1,200 Wh Off-grid living in a van or small RV, with daily solar recharging. Suitable for toasters, hair dryers, microwaves, etc.
    ~2,400 W ~2,000 Wh Running all appliances in an RV with daily solar recharging, small home backup for emergencies

    Top solar generators

    Our list of the best solar generators on the market includes: 

    Brand/Model Output Capacity  Shopping link
    OUPES 600 + 100W solar panel 600 W 595 W $488 at OUPES

    (Use code “SOLARREVIEWS” for an additional 5% off)

    EcoFlow RIVER 2 Pro + 220W solar panel 800 W 768 W $889 at EcoFlow
    EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max + 220 W solar panel 2,400 W 2,048 W $2,299 at EcoFlow
    Anker SOLIX F2000 + 200W solar panel 2,400 W 2,048 W $2,099 w/coupon at Anker
    Bluetti AC300+B300 combo w/ 420 W solar panel 3,000 W 3,072 W On sale for $2,599 at Bluetti

    *Solar panel not included

    Most solar powered generators have all-in-one designs, so the solar charger and inverter will be included in the battery pack. However, not all solar generators include solar panels. These generators will typically just come with the battery and inverter.

    Check out our list of the best portable solar panels that pair great with battery power stations. 

    See how much solar panels will cost for your specific home

    Key takeaways

    • Solar generators are portable power stations that use solar energy, instead of fossil fuels, to create electricity.
    • Solar generators consist of four main parts: the solar panels, the solar battery, the inverter, and the charge controller. Nearly all consumer-grade solar generators integrate the battery, charge controller, and inverter into one unit.
    • Some key advantages of solar generators are that they don’t require fuel, they run on clean renewable energy, and they require very little maintenance.
    • The biggest drawbacks to solar generators are that they require a big upfront investment, they recharge slowly, and there is a limited amount of energy stored and available for you to use.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Catherine Lane

    Written Content Manager

    Catherine is the Written Content Manager at SolarReviews, where she has been at the forefront of researching and reporting on the solar industry since 2019.

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