Unlike the conventional generator, solar generators are unique insofar as they’re more eco-friendly (naturally, being solar-powered, they require no fuel), portable, and lightweight. All of which paves the way for a more sustainable and carbon-friendly future.
But how do solar generators actually work?
That’s simple. Solar generators function by using solar panels which generate power by collecting solar energy from the sun that “fuels” a built-in solar battery. The generator also has a built-in inverter that allows for the energy to then be converted into an electrical current, which then enables whatever electrical appliances are connected to the generator to source power. Clever, huh?
What is a Solar Generator?
In Layman’s terms, a solar generator is just like a standard generator. The only difference is they are powered by the sun and not by fossil fuels. They are portable power stations that allow the user to have access to a non-electrical or non-fuel power supply. They can then be used to charge household appliances and other electricity-based devices.
Typically, they’re similar in purpose to a regular generator, meaning they can be useful as a power outlet on a smaller scale (e.g.: during a boat or camping trip), but the smaller and more portable options generally don’t hold the ‘oomph’ to run an entire household. Ideally, they are used for ‘off-grid’ purposes, or in case of an emergency when a backup power supply is needed. You can however invest in larger home backup generators.
A solar generator consists of four main components: a battery, an inverter, solar panels (known in the industry as photovoltaic (PV) panels, and a charge controller.
How a Solar Generator Works: An In-Depth Guide
A solar generator works by using the three internal components mentioned above with built-in solar panels that store solar rays from the sun, which are then converted into an electrical current.
A solar generator will typically contain lithium-ion batteries to store the solar energy collected, which the charge controller will then protect and sustain. Effectively, the charge controller is the “middle man” between the batteries and the solar panels, and it plays a crucial role in the functioning and longevity of the generator.
The inverter will then convert a low direct current (DC) to an alternating current (AC) through the batteries, which are then used to power your electronics. Your average solar generator will contain USB ports, AC outlets, and 12-volt sockets, allowing you to power/charge various devices without the use of electricity. Some solar generators even have wireless charging pads so you can avoid extra cards!
There are different types of solar generators on the market, some of which require purchasing the batteries/panels/other accessories separately; others, like BLUETTI, offer all-in-one solutions. Shop complete solar generator kits here.
Why Use a Solar Generator?
Eco-Friendly & Cost-Effective
Like most solar devices, the solar generator serves to supply power in a more carbon-neutral and eco-friendly way, because they do not require the use of standard energy sources.
Because standard generators rely on fossil fuels to function, they aren’t sustainable, and they certainly aren’t cheap to use. So, a key reason why more people are investing in solar power is that it is an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective way to create power.
Useful for Off-Grid Activities
Those who love camping, caravanning, fishing trips, hiking, or live in unconventional manners (van-lifers, canal barges, houseboats, etc.) can use a solar generator to supply power to run household appliances, like minor lighting, mini-fridges, televisions, etc., as well as charging cameras, smart devices, and so on. Be sure to check what wattage your solar generator can handle before plugging your appliance into it.
More Pleasing for the Senses
Traditional generators are known to be both noisy and stinky, which holds little appeal. Because they rely on fuel, they come with an obligatory waft of petroleum - and because they are combustible engines, they are loud… and that’s when they’re functioning properly. A malfunctioning traditional generator will kick off quite a waft and make an unholy racket to boot.
None of that is a factor with solar generators. They emit zero noise or smell which makes them far superior to their traditional brethren.
The Pros & Cons of Solar Generators
- They are far better for the environment.
- They cost nothing to run.
- They’re more portable than traditional generators
- Low maintenance and require far less servicing and repairing.
- Easier to use because they require no oiling, starting, and maintenance.
- Lower energy storage, meaning they aren’t ideal for high demands on power, and may not power all devices and appliances. Typically, they function best when they only have a small number of items they need to supply power to.
- Upfront costs are often higher than that of a traditional generator. However, because they cost nothing to run, they often work out more cost-effective in the long-run.
- They can be slow at supplying power (if not previously charged) and aren’t ideal if instant power is required.
- Weather can be a factor. Because they rely on the sun to fully charge the batteries, bad weather can impede their power.
Solar Generators Battery Options
Typically, your solar generator will have lithium-ion batteries; however, they can also function with lead-acid batteries and saltwater batteries.
Most solar generator users rely on lithium-ion batteries because they last much longer than the other two types, and they are also more lightweight and compact. They are more pricey, but because of their longevity, they often make the best investment for your solar generator.
Lead Acid Batteries
Lead-acid batteries are cheaper, but they also don’t last long. However, lead acid batteries can make a perfectly fine option for your generator, particularly in the summertime when they can charge easily.
Saltwater batteries are the most eco-friendly option because they contain salt electrolytes, instead of heavy metals, meaning they can be easily recycled (unlike the above options). However, research on their reliability (particularly when it comes to solar generators) is still pretty scarce.
Solar Generators: FAQs
How long do solar generators take to charge?
There are varying factors that can change the charging time of a solar generator. Typically, it can be any number between 1.5 to 48 hours. The time it takes for your solar generator to charge will come down to:
- The size of the generator
- The size of the batteries
- The number of solar panels
- The positioning of the solar panels
- Time of day
- Availability of sun
- Time of year
- Charging source (AC, solar panels, DC)
When purchasing a solar generator, there should be information provided on the estimated time it takes to charge the solar generator.
How much electricity can a solar generator provide?
This all depends on the size and make of the solar generator. BLUETTI recently launched one of the most powerful solar generators to date. The AC300 can generate as much as 24,576 Wh, or 24,6 kWh at full capacity.
What are solar generators good for?
Solar generators are ideal for smaller-scale energy needs, such as outdoor events, construction sites, camping, off-grid lifestyles, and any situation where access to electricity or other energy sources is limited. They can also be used as a renewable energy solution for electrical grid failures.
Because solar generators can run off of 100% renewable energy, they are a great solution for protecting the environment and not needing to rely on less ethical energy sources, such as fossil fuels.
Can a solar generator power a house?
At present, a portable generator of any kind doesn’t hold the ability to provide power for an entire house. Solar power can be used but a large number of solar panels would need to be installed on the roof and wired into the house itself.
The idea behind a portable solar generator is to provide sustainable energy for a small number of appliances, particularly in the case of a temporary emergency, such as a power outage.
What to look for when buying a solar generator?
You will need to take the following into consideration:
- Your energy requirements: what/how many items do you expect to run via the generator?
- How long will you need to use the generator before charging it again?
- The weather conditions for when/where you plan to use your generator.
- The features: for example, how many USB ports the generator has, and whether you’re able to charge multiple devices at the same time.
- Weight: this is particularly important for those using the generator for outdoor activities, such as camping, fishing, and hiking. Finding a solar generator that is lightweight will make your outdoor experience less tiresome!
- The warranty of the generator and what it covers. This can include damage, loose/missing parts, replacements, length of coverage, and so on. Obviously, the more reputable the retailer, the better the warranty.
- Good reviews. Taking the time to find a generator with the best reviews will likely point you in the right direction for the best product for you.
Are Solar Generators Worth Investing In?
A solar generator can be a cost-effective and eco-friendly solution for providing energy for smaller-scale energetic needs. The traditional oil-fuelled generator has its advantages over its solar counterpart, however, the latter is the obvious solution for watching your carbon footprint, as well as the pennies!
Because renewable energy is constantly evolving, who knows - in the not-too-distant future, you may even be able to run your entire household through one!