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The portability of the best solar generators makes them ideal for traveling, camping, and outdoor events because they are easy to pack, store, and move. The units are also a solid backup source for when emergencies occur at home due to severe weather or blackouts.
While solar generators are a clean energy source, they do have limitations because of a low wattage capacity and slow recharging. The power they produce can keep the lights on and run portable televisions and electronic devices like smartphones and laptops for hours. However, they don’t harness enough power to run all of the large appliances in a residence at one time or for an extended period.
For individuals who live in areas with frequent power outages, a generator allows them to have an interim source of electricity. Two types of solar generators are available for at-home use: solar backup generators and portable solar generators. Both generators provide solar power but differ in terms of wattage capacity, energy storage, and cost.
Solar backup generators are designed to power up when the electrical grid fails and are an efficient alternative to installing a complete system. These generators use several batteries to store energy for high-wattage output. They provide sufficient power to turn on lights, televisions, computers, and small to mid-sized appliances.
Typically, it takes less than 48 hours to charge a solar backup generator to full capacity, but the time can vary depending on the size of the solar panels and the amount of sunlight. You can keep these generators either indoors or outdoors. The disadvantage of solar backup generators is their weight, making them somewhat difficult to move. Additionally, a generator that is large enough to power an entire residence is expensive.
Portable solar generators are lightweight, so you can take them anywhere. They are ideal for homes, cabins, campsites, recreation vehicles (RVs), cars, and boats. Some generators are equipped with a pull handle or attached handgrip for effortless transporting. Solar panels recharge the battery in a portable solar generator.
Portable solar generators do have drawbacks. They may either have inadequate wattage capacity to power larger appliances, such as refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, hot water heaters, and sump pumps, or not be capable of powering multiple devices at the same time. If they use low-wattage solar panels, it may take a long time to recharge the generator. On the plus side, portable solar generators don’t emit noise or carbon dioxide, are affordable, and are low maintenance, as they don’t use fuel or have moving parts.
When choosing the best solar generator for your needs and budget, consider your intended use. How and where you plan on using a solar generator will help you choose a unit with suitable size, power, and capacity.
The reasons for purchasing a solar power generator may be different for everyone, so it’s important to zero in on your purpose for purchasing a solar power generator and the activities you hope to accomplish with it. Solar generators are useful for anyone who travels and stays in remote places that are off-grid. Conversely, you may simply desire a reliable backup source of energy for your home to prepare for the occurrence of a natural or man-made disaster.
If your primary purpose is travel, look for solar generators that help make traveling simpler. RV connectivity allows you to power appliances when you’re on the road. Car charging capabilities make it convenient for travelers to drive and charge their solar generators without having to stop and set up solar panels.
Many solar generators can keep portable electronics, smartphones, tablets, small appliances, and cordless tools powered up for hours. However, you may need a separate generator to also keep a refrigerator running for an entire day.
Solar input refers to solar panels, which collect and convert sunlight into energy stored in the generator’s battery. Ample solar input controls a generator’s operating time and how long it takes to recharge.
The solar panels used in conjunction with a portable solar generator are mobile and easy to manipulate. Unlike the panels found on residential or commercial properties, they are smaller in size and have a lower wattage capacity, which means less solar input than their larger counterparts.
The output of power from a solar generator should match your electrical needs. Battery power is measured in watts (W), which is the maximum amount of power a generator provides when it’s running. Battery capacity—referred to as watt-hours (Wh)—is the total amount of stored energy.
When the generator is in operation, the watts represent the rate of power flowing from its battery to an electrical device, and the watt-hours are the maximum level of energy it can deliver. For example, a solar generator with 500 Wh can store a total of 500 W when it’s fully charged. Thus, a 500W solar generator is only able to power electrical appliances and devices that don’t exceed 500W to run.
The battery in a solar generator is where the energy captured from the solar panel is stored for later use. Solar generators usually have lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries. Battery storage allows you to run the generator at night or on days with limited sunlight.
The capacity of the batteries determines the duration time of the generator. The more power an electronic device requires, the faster the battery charge will run out. The length of the battery charge is also based on the number of devices drawing power from the generator at the same time.
A larger battery capacity is necessary to power electrical appliances that require higher watts. Lower capacity is sufficient for lights, cell phones, and laptops. For instance, a 500W solar generator can power an LED light for 100 hours, while it will only power a mini-refrigerator for about 10 hours.
Direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) are the two forms of electricity. DC is electricity that flows only in a forward direction. AC is electricity that flows both forward and backward. The energy harnessed by solar panels is DC. A solar generator inverter converts low DC power from the batteries to AC power for usage.
The inverter rating translates to the maximum watts a solar generator can extract at any time. For example, a 1500W inverter can draw up to that amount of wattage in AC power. Keep in mind that the inverter size or rating doesn’t always correlate to a solar generator’s overall firepower. Battery storage is also important.
Eventually, you may want to expand the capability of your solar generator, especially if you find you need more power. However, upgrading a solar generator is not always feasible.
Expanding your power is based on the sustainability of the charge controller, which sends power in one direction from the solar panels to the batteries. As the integral component of the solar generator, the primary job of the charge controller is to protect the durability of the batteries.
The charge controller can only process the maximum number of watts and voltage that it’s built to manage, so you may not be able to expand beyond its charging ability. If your battery capacity doesn’t support additional solar panels, your power expandability is unachievable.