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.
Pros of solar generators
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. Daytime charging
Unlike fossil fuel generators, you can’t instantaneously get more power from your solar setup. Recharging needs to be done in the daytime. With a gas generator, you can simply hook up a fresh gas tank whatever the time is and you’ll be set.