What are the pros and cons of a solar generator?

Updated

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 energy on hand. 

But, how do portable solar power generators stack up compared to conventional gas-powered generators? We take a look at how solar generators work, weigh their pros and cons, and discuss if a solar generator is the right investment for you.

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    solar generator

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

    What is a solar generator?

    Technically, a solar power generator is any system that runs off of 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. Most solar generators sold today are lithium ion batteries. 

    infographic depicting a solar generator

    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 carports 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 solar generators available?

    One of the most important things to look for when buying a solar generator is the battery capacity (or how much energy the battery can hold), in order to know if the generator will meet your power needs. This is usually measured in watt-hours (Wh). 

    The higher the capacity, the longer the battery will last. For instance, a 1,000 Wh solar generator can power a 60 watt lightbulb for almost 17 hours! 

    Some of the best solar generators on the market include: 

    Brand Capacity in watt-hours (Wh) Price Shopping link
    Goal Zero Yeti 1500, 100 watt Solar Kit 1,516 Wh $2,199.95 Buy now
    Point Zero Titan* 2,000 Wh $2,995.00 Buy now
    Jackery Explorer* 1,002 Wh $999.99 Buy now
    Paxcess 330W Portable Power Station with Solar Panel 288.6 Wh $419.00 Buy now
    Renogy Phoenix 300 Power Station* 337 Wh $399.99 Buy now

    *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. 

    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. 

    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.
    • 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 power stored and available for you to use.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Catherine Lane

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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