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It’s always good to have a backup in life — especially when the power goes out. Gas-powered generators can do the trick, but they’re loud, emit smelly fumes, and require a place for storing gasoline safely. They also contribute to climate change.
Solar generators, on the other hand, are clean, easy to use, don’t require fossil fuels, and are becoming more and more affordable as solar technology improves. They can be particularly useful in emergency situations where other fuel supplies are cut off or difficult to access. Solar generators typically capture the sun’s energy via solar panels that are sold separately, convert it into electrical power, and store it in a battery for later use.
What’s the best generator for you? First, estimate how much power you need to run appliances, laptops, and televisions in your home should a power outage occur or for whatever you’ll need to power up while you’re camping, living off the grid, or traveling in an RV. An average household refrigerator requires 100 to 400 watts. This handy calculator offers info on the watts needed to power other commonly used items.
Once you know how many watts you’ll need; consider the other features you want such as USB charging ports and rechargeable batteries. You can avoid blowing your budget by selecting a generator with features that make the unit more efficient rather than more expensive.
We researched the market to recommend the top generators that are compatible with solar panels.
If you’re looking for something high powered to help you weather a storm, choose a high-capacity generator like the Bluetti Portable Power Station (view on Walmart). If you need something portable for a camping trip, then the Jackery 500 (view on Jackery) might be your best new travel buddy.
What To Look for in a Solar Generator
When deciding what solar powered generator is right for you, consider which types of appliances, tools, and devices you need to charge and how often you’ll be without a traditional power source. Here are some other tips to help guide your decision-making.
There are three common types of solar panels — monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline solar cells, and thin film, or amorphous crystal panels. They each offer different efficiency levels. Monocrystalline panels are most common and slightly more efficient than polycrystalline cells. Thin film panels are a newer technology and are light, flexible, durable, and more affordable than the others, but about half as efficient as the other types. Sometimes they’re included with the generator and sometimes they’re sold separately.
Battery Capacity and Power Rating
Solar generators run on stored energy so you’ll want to consider the battery’s capacity (the total amount of electricity stored). You’ll also want to know the power rating (how much power is delivered at a time). A battery with a high capacity, but low power rating typically delivers less electricity for a longer period of time.
Lead-acid and lithium-ion are the most common options. Lead acid are used to power things like automobiles, while lithium-ion options are often used to run power tools. They’re increasingly used in solar-powered generators because they’re lightweight. While they tend to be more expensive than lead-acid varieties, they typically have a longer lifespan which saves money on replacement batteries and keeps them out of landfills.
In order to regulate the current between the solar panels and the battery, the simplest controllers cut the power when maximum voltage is reached. This isn’t as efficient as models that use three- power point tracking (MPPT).
Converting direct current (DC) from solar panels to alternating current (AC), inverters carry a watt rating to show the maximum output of power they can generate. Pure sine wave inverters are more expensive, but more efficient. But they’re not necessarily a cost-effective option if you only plan on using the generator occasionally.
Will you be using your solar generator in your home or on the go? For portability, look for units that are easier to carry and maneuver, and that house parts in a sturdy box rather than as separate pieces.
Note presence of multiple USB ports and AC outlets, replaceable batteries, and LED panels that help you monitor your system when it’s dark. Finally, consider units with warranties and made by companies with a solid solar industry credentials.
Why Trust Treehugger?
Treehugger is committed to helping our readers transition away from fossil fuels. Being a travel and adventure writer for many years, author Heidi Wachter knows how handy the sun’s rays can be for keeping her phone and camera charged.