The best solar generators for 2023, tested and reviewed
Tap the power of the sun to meet your power needs wherever you may roam.
This is a solid all-around mix of features and affordability.
This powerful pack is easy to transport to a site.
This is the pick if you need lots of scalable capacity.
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If you’re camping and want to charge up your lantern, phone, or other devices, a solar generator sure would be convenient. Or perhaps you’re van-living your way across the country, and you need to work on the go and keep your conversion electrified—yet another solid case for a solar-powered generator. Whatever the case, few things are as useful in today’s tech-driven world as source of reliable, renewable power. The best solar generators can reliably and sustainably meet various energy needs, and we’re here to help you find the right one for you.
- Best overall:Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro
- Best high-capacity:Jackery Explorer 3000 Pro
- Best for frequent use:Anker 767 Portable Power Station Solar Generator
- Best for camping:Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Core
- Best for off-grid living:Bluetti AC200 Max
- Best for homes:EcoFlow Delta Pro
- Best portable:Anker 545
- Best budget:Jackery Explorer 300
How we chose the best solar generators
As an avid outdoorsman, I’ve had the opportunity to test an extremely wide range of outdoor gear, including mobile and off-grid electrification equipment like solar-powered generators, as well as inverter and dual-fuel generators. These became particularly essential when the pandemic forced my travels to become domestic rather than international, which prompted me to outfit a van for long-term road-tripping.
To bring my work along for the ride, I needed a constant power source to charge my laptop, a portable fridge, lighting, and a myriad of devices and tools … even ebikes. As a result, I’ve tried all the leading portable power stations (and plenty that aren’t leading, too), so I know precisely what separates the best from the blah. I’ve written all about it (and other outdoor tech) for publications, including the Daily Beast, Thrillist, the Manual, and more. There were cases when my own opinion resulted in a tie, and I, therefore, looked to reviews from actual customers to determine which solar generators delivered the most satisfaction to the most users.
The best solar generators: Reviews Recommendations
The solar generators on this list span a wide range of budgets, from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. They span several use cases, from camping to a backup for your home. Only you know all the factors that make one of these the best solar generator for you, but we think that one of these will get the job done.
Best overall: Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it made the cut: This Jackery solar generator delivers the best blend of capacity, input/output capability, portability, and durability.
- Storage capacity: 2,160Wh
- Input capacity: 1,200W
- Output capacity: 2,200W (4,400W surge)
- Dimensions: 15.1 x 10.5 x 12.1 inches
- Weight: 43 lbs
- Price: 2,498
- Fast charging and outstanding capacity
- Durable and easy to use
- Plenty of ports
- Can connect to six 200W solar panels
The biggest portable power station from Jackery, a leading solar generator manufacturer, the Explorer 2000 Pro offers a tremendous 2,160 watt-hours of power, making it capable of charging a full camping setup for a few days. When plugged into six 200W solar panels, an upgrade over the four-panel setup available on the Jackery Explorer 1500, you can fully charge this portable power station in just 2-2.5 hours. That’s less than half the time of the smaller model.
On top of all that, it’s extremely user-friendly. Numerous output ports ensure that you can plug in a wide range of devices and electrical equipment. Its functions are highly intuitive, and the digital display is easy to understand. Like other Jackery generators, it’s incredibly durable, too. The one potential downside is its weight: At 43 pounds, it’s a bit heavy for its size. Even so, for all the power you can store, and the Rapid-charging time, the Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro will keep the lights on wherever you need power.
For more on the Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro, check out our full review.
Best high-capacity: Jackery Explorer 3000 Pro
- Ample power storage for long trips or outages
- Sturdy handles and wheels make it easy to move
- Smooth design makes it easy to load and unload
- High peak output for power-intensive tasks
- Lots of ports for connectivity
This is the big sibling to our best overall pick. Inside the Jackery Explorer 3000 Pro, you’ll find 3,024Wh of power storage, which is enough to power even large devices for extended periods of time. It can charge a high-end smartphone more than 100 times on a single charge. It can also power full-on appliances in an RV or emergency situation.
Despite its large capacity, we learned firsthand that the Jackery Explorer 3000 Pro is relatively easy to move around. Sturdy handles molded into its case make it easy to pick up, while an extending handle and wheels make it easy to roll around at the campsite or any other location.
It can charge in less than three hours from a standard outlet or, under optimal conditions with the 200W solar panels, it can fill up as quickly as eight hours. That full solar array can get large and unwieldy, but a smaller setup can still provide ample charging if you don’t need to max out the capacity daily.
This portable power station offers the best of everything we loved about the Explorer 2000 Pro, there’s just more of it. When you’re living the van life, powering an RV, or trying to ride out a power outage, more is definitely better if you can justify the extra cost.
Best for frequent use: Anker 767 Portable Power Station Solar Generator
Why it made the cut: High capacity and fast charging make this long-lasting battery a solid everyday driver.
- Charges up to 80% in less than two hours
- Solid output and storage capacity
- Optional battery pack doubles capacity
- LiFePO4 batteries survive more charge cycles than traditional models
- Plenty of ports
- Built-in handle and wheels for transport
Anker has equipped its massive portable power station with LiFePO4 batteries, which stand up much better to repeat charging and discharging over the long term than common lithium-ion cells. Anker claims it can charge and discharge up to 3,000 times before it reaches 80% battery health compared to 500 in a similar lithium-ion setup. While I haven’t had the chance to run it through 3,000 cycles, LiFePO4 batteries have a well-earned reputation for longevity.
Regarding overall performance, the Anker 767 does everything you’d want a unit with these specs to do. The bad weather has given me [Executive Gear Editor Stan Horaczek] ample chances, unfortunately, to test it in real-world situations.
The built-in battery offers a 2048Wh capacity and pumps out up to 2,400W. It does so through four standard AC outlets, an RV outlet, two 120W car outlets, two 12W USB-A ports, and three 100W USB-C ports.
I used it during a blackout to keep our Wi-Fi running while charging my family’s devices. Filling a phone from zero barely makes a dent in the power station’s capacity, and it ran the router for several hours with plenty of juice left.
In another instance, it powered our small meat freezer for four hours before the power came back on with some juice still left in the tank. It does what it promises.
There are a few nice extra touches as well. Built-in wheels and an extendable handle allow it to roll like carry-on luggage. Unfortunately, those are necessary inclusions because it weighs a hefty 67.3 pounds. It’s manageable but definitely heavy compared to its competition.
The Anker 767 is compatible with the company’s 200W solar panels, which fold up for easy transportation. I mostly charged the unit through my home’s AC power, a surprisingly quick process. The 767 Portable Power Station can go from flat to more than 80% charge in less than a half hour with sufficient power. It takes about two hours to get it fully juiced.
Anker also offers a mobile app that connects to the power station via Bluetooth if you want to control it without actually going over and touching it.
Best for camping: Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Core
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it made the cut: Thanks to its outstanding portability, high storage capacity, and Yeti’s famous durability, the Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Core is great for packing along for camping or van-living.
- Storage capacity: 983Wh
- Input capacity: 600W
- Output capacity: 1,200W (2,400W surge)
- Dimensions: 9.86 x 15.25 x 10.23 inches
- Weight: 31.68 lbs
- Price: 1,198.95
- Highly portable
- Incredible durability
- Rapid recharge rate
- Plenty of plugs
Yeti is long-renowned for making some of the best outdoor gear money can buy, so when the company launched its Goal Zero line of solar generators, it was no surprise that they turned out to be awesome. While the whole line is great, the 1000 Core model’s balance between capacity and portability makes it perfect for taking on the road.
While the 1000 Core has a third less capacity than our top pick, it charges up faster, making it a great option for Rapid solar replenishment. That said, its capacity is no slouch, offering 82 phone charges, 20 for a laptop, or upwards of 15 hours for a portable fridge (depending on wattage). Suffice it to say, that it’s more than capable of powering your basic camping gear.
Beyond its charging capabilities, the Goal Zero 1000 Core excels at camping thanks to its hearty build quality. Built super tough—like pretty much everything Yeti makes—its exterior shell provides solid protection.
The biggest issue it presents is the cost. Like pretty much everything Yeti produces, its price tag isn’t small. While there are other 1000-level solar generators for less, this one offers a great balance of power storage and portability.
For more on the Goal Zero Yeti 1000 Core, check out our full review.
Best for off-grid living: Bluetti AC200 Max
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it made the cut: Thanks to its high solo capacity and ability to daisy-chain with additional batteries, the Bluetti AC200 Max is perfect for bringing power off the grid.
- Storage capacity: 2,048Wh standalone, expandable up to 8,192Wh
- Input capacity: 1,400W
- Output capacity: 2,200W (4,800W surge)
- Dimensions: 16.5 x 11 x 15.2 inches
- Weight: 61.9 lbs
- Price: 1,999
- Massive capacity
- Daisy-chain capability
- Lightning-fast input capacity
- 30A RV plug and two wireless charging pads
- Surprisingly affordable for what it offers
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a solar generator better suited for living off the grid for an extended period than the Bluetti AC200 Max. It boasts a substantial 2,048Wh capacity, allowing you to power your whole life off it longer than most portable generators. Even better, you can daisy-chain multiple Bluetti batteries, expanding its capacity to a massive 8.192Wh. That’s flat-out enormous and translates into the ability to power a full-sized fridge for over a day or several hours of air conditioning. For the more modest needs of people who are used to living off a generator, it will last for a very long time.
At the same time, the AC200 Max has an outstanding input capacity of 1,400W. That means you can plug in a pretty hefty array of solar panels to replenish its stores quickly. This allows you to keep your off-grid setup going with little to no interruption. It also features some specialty charging options, including a 30A plug, which lets you plug it directly into an RV, and multiple wireless charging pads for smaller devices.
Best for homes: EcoFlow Delta Pro
Why it made the cut: The EcoFlow Delta Pro delivers the standalone and expandable power capacity necessary to power your entire home.
- Storage capacity: 3,600Wh standalone, expandable up to 25,000Wh
- Input capacity: 6,500W
- Output capacity: 3,600W (7,200W surge)
- Dimensions: 25 x 11.2 x 16.4 inches
- Weight: 99 lbs
- Price: 3,699
- Enormous capacity
- Daisy-chain capability
- 30A RV plug
- Lightning-fast input capacity
- Wi-Fi and Smartphone connectivity
If you’re looking for the best solar generator for home backup in the event of a power outage, the EcoFlow Delta Pro stands apart from the pack, thanks to an unrivaled power and output capacity. The Delta Pro alone packs a 3,600Wh wallop, and you can expand that to 25,000Wh by chaining it to extra EcoFlow batteries and generators. That’s a ton of power and it has the substantial output capacity necessary to power an entire house worth of electronics when you need it to.
The Delta Pro also offers a companion app for iOS and Android that allows you to monitor energy usage, customize its operation, and monitor and manage a number of other elements.
While it’s not overly large for what it does, the Delta Pro is a heavy piece of equipment. It has wheels, so it is technically portable, but this is meant to be put down in a home or other semi-permanent site. Given its size and power, it’s also a much more expensive device, especially if you’re springing for the add-ons. As the best solar power generator to provide backup power for your entire home, however, it’s worth every penny.
Best portable: Anker 545
Buy it used or refurbished: eBay
Why it makes the cut: If you’re looking for highly portable power, the Anker 545 delivers.
When portability is a priority, the Anker 545 offers the compact size and reduced weight you’re looking for and packs fairly substantial power to boot. Roughly the size of a shoebox and lighter than a case of beer, it’s easy to pack along with camping gear and move around without too much effort.
To get something so light, though, you have to compromise on power. The Anker 545 has a capacity of 778Wh and an output capacity of 770W, which is plenty of power for keeping your devices charged. Specifically, that should provide about 55 phone charges, 10 for a laptop, or 38 for a camera. Unfortunately, the outlets only output at up to 500W, so it cannot power more demanding devices like hair dryers or electric stoves.
That said, the Anker 545 has some bells and whistles, including an integrated flashlight and ambient light. All told it’s a solid option if you need a highly mobile generator.
Best budget: Jackery Explorer 300
Buy it used or refurbished: Amazon
Why it made the cut: With its reasonable capacity, compact size, and solid build quality at a low price, the Jackery Explorer 300 is a great budget pick.
Though it isn’t quite as impressive as our top picks for best overall and best high-capacity, Jackery’s smaller Explorer 300 solar generator is super compact and lightweight with a decent power capacity for its price. Less a mobile power station than an upscale power bank, the 7-pound Jackery Explorer 300 provides plenty of portable recharges for your devices when you’re camping, on a job site, driving, or just need some power and don’t have convenient access to an outlet. Its modest 293Wh capacity isn’t huge, but it’s enough to provide 31 phone charges, 15 for a camera, 6 for the average drone, 2.5 for a laptop, or a few hours of operation for a minifridge or TV. A built-in flashlight would have upped its camping game somewhat, but at 300 (and often considerably less if you catch it discounted), this highly portable little power station does a lot for a little.
We tested this portable power station for several months, and it came in handy numerous times, especially during the winter when power outages abound. At one point, we had it powering two phones, a MacBook, and a small light.
The built-in handle makes it very easy to lug around. It feels like carrying a lunch box. The screen is easy to read, and the whole package seems fairly durable. Our review unit hasn’t taken any dramatic tumbles yet, but it has gotten banged around in car trunks, duffle bags, and other less-than-luxurious accommodations with no issues. If you catch one of these on sale, get it and stick it in a cabinet. You’ll be extremely glad to have it around when the need arises.
What to consider before buying the best solar generators
Over the past few years, solar generators have exploded onto the market. There are now dozens of different brands that largely look more or less the same at a glance. The fact is there are only a few standouts amidst a sea of knockoffs. Here’s what to look for to ensure you’re getting a great one:
How much power can it store?
A portable solar generator comes in an extremely wide range of sizes, but a generator’s size doesn’t automatically make it capable of storing a lot of power. In fact, most are disappointingly limited and unable to store much more juice than a portable charger.
To properly check a generator’s storage, you must look at its capacity, measured in watt-hours (Wh). One watt-hour is the equivalent of 1 watt flowing over the course of an hour. The best solar generators offer capacities of several hundred and sometimes several thousand watt-hours. That doesn’t mean, however, that it will provide power for several hundred or several thousand hours. Any generator will ultimately last a different amount of time, depending on what’s plugged into it.
It’s easy to predict how long a generator will last when you use it to power one thing. For example, if you were to power a 100-watt bulb using a power station with a capacity of 500 watt-hours, it would stay lit for five continuous hours. Add a portable fridge that requires 50 watts per hour, your phone which uses 18, a mini-fan that uses three … you get the picture. The more capacity, the better.
No solar generator will hold a charge forever, so you want one capable of charging as quickly and easily as possible. This is where we put the “renewable” into “renewable energy.”
All of the power stations included in this roundup can be charged by connecting them to solar panels (hence the designation “solar generators”). Still, you also want to look for the ability to charge via other sources like wall outlets and your vehicle’s 12-volt plug. This ensures that you can charge up whether you’re off-grid in the sun, plugged in while preparing at home, or using your dash socket on the go.
You must also monitor a model’s charging input capacity, measured in watts (W). For example, a solar-powered generator with a max input of 100W can take in a continuous flow of up to 100 watts, which is about the minimum that you’ll reasonably want to look for. Most of the generators below have input capacities of at least a few hundred watts when charging via solar, so a few 50- to 200-watt solar panels will max them out.
Solar generators need to keep the power coming in and going out. The best solar generators can simultaneously charge all your intended devices via whatever plugs are necessary.
Any portable power station worth your money will have a high output capacity so you can charge many devices, even if they require a lot of juice. A generator’s maximum output should be much higher than its max input. While a particular model might only be capable of taking in a few hundred watts at any given moment, it will usually put out exponentially more. At a minimum, you’ll want a generator that can put out 300 watts at a time, though you’ll want at least 500 for larger tasks.
The best solar generators should also offer a variety of output plugs, including AC outlets, USB-A, USB-C, and even 12-volt DC outlets like the one in your vehicle dash. This ensures you can charge several devices simultaneously regardless of their plug. The number of ports you’ll need will vary depending on how many devices you need to power, but it should have at least a couple of AC outlets and a few USB-A ports.
While portable battery sources have been around for a while now, over the past several decades, they’ve been pretty heavy, unwieldy things. One of the most exciting aspects of the latest generation of solar generators is that they’ve become much more physically compact.
Suppose you plan on taking a generator camping or working it into a van conversion where every square inch matters; well, size and weight become major considerations. All of the products we’ve recommended are about the size of one or two shoeboxes—three at the most. The lightest is about the weight of a 24-pack of soda, while the heaviest is 100 pounds. Most fall somewhere between 30-60 pounds.
If you’re using your generator as a more or less stationary source of backup power at home, portability isn’t a huge issue. Still, we generally recommend keeping weight and size in mind; You never know when you’ll need it for something other than a backup. (Plus, who wants to lug around something heavy and awkward if they don’t have to?)
Another consideration regarding portability involves the necessity for accessories, which can impact how easy it is to move and use your generator. Some generators, for example, require a lot of removable battery packs, which can be a hassle when you’re on the go or packing a vehicle. All of the inclusions on our list require some accessories—you can’t get solar power without connecting cables and solar panels—but they work well with minimal add-ons.
As with any product you expect to last, durability and all-around quality craftsmanship are essential. This is especially true if you plan on lugging your generator around on camping and road trips. Many subpar power stations are made from cheap components and flimsy plastic that doesn’t feel like it will hold up under the rigors of the road.
Durability isn’t something you can determine by reading a spec sheet off the internet. You’ve actually got to take the generator out, use it a bunch, and see how it holds up. I’ve verified the durability of these recommendations via a combination of my own actual field tests and reviews culled from countless real product owners.
Q: What size solar generator should I get?
It’s easy to underestimate how much capacity you need. A 1,000 watt-hours might sound like a lot, but if you’re going to power a converted van with a portable fridge, lights, and occasional phone and laptop top-off, that 1,000 watt-hours will go faster than you expect. I used a setup like this and know from personal experience that you should always overestimate how much power you’ll need.
A generator with a capacity under 1,000Wh can keep electronics charged. A larger one with 1000-1500Wh should be the minimum for road trips where you’ll need it to last multiple days between full charges. For a house or worksite where you expect to use some serious energy—like a full-sized refrigerator or power tools—you’re going to want to start looking at the biggest possible power stations that can be daisy-chained to external batteries.
If you want to get precise, there is an equation:
Estimate how many hours you’ll need to power various devices. For example, if you want to power two light bulbs for 2 hours: you need 4 hours of operation.
Add up the total wattage necessary: the two bulbs are 60 watts each, so you need 120 watts.
Multiply these together to find the total watt-hours needed: 4 x 120 = 480. So, in this case you’d need at least a 500Wh solar generator.
That might sound like a lot for two lightbulbs, but remember that, in most situations, you won’t really be powering 60-watt light bulbs for hours on end. You’ll be charging phones and laptops for an hour here or there, cooling a fridge that kicks on and off every once in a while, using power tools in short bursts, and whatnot.
Q: How many years will a solar generator last?
Most modern generators are rated to last upwards of 25 years. The best-designed power stations are pretty sturdy, with few to no moving parts, so they should likely keep kicking for a long time, provided that you care for them properly. I’ve been pretty rough with a few of mine, and they show no signs of stopping.
Q: Can I run my house on solar power only?
Yes and no. While it’s absolutely possible to power your house with solar power, you’re unlikely to do so with a portable solar generator unless you use several at once while limiting your power usage. The largest of our recommendations—the EcoFlow Delta Pro—will come fairly close when bolstered with extra batteries. If the power goes out, you’ll be able to keep your fridge cold and use basic electronics for a couple of days without recharging. With quality solar panels, good sunlight, and Smart energy usage, your power should theoretically go uninterrupted.
Final thoughts on the best solar generators
We’re living in a “golden age” for portable solar generators. When I was a kid, and my family was playing around with solar gear while camping in the ‘90s, the technology couldn’t charge many devices, so it wasn’t all that practical.
By contrast, the solar generators we’ve recommended here are incredibly useful. I’ve relied on them to power my work and day-to-day needs while road-tripping nationwide. They’re also great when the power goes out. When a windstorm cut the power at my house for a couple of days, I was still working, watching my stories, and keeping the lights on.
We haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the potential offered by portable, reliable, renewable, relatively affordable power. What we can do now is already incredible. The potential for what may come next, though, is truly mind-blowing.
Why trust us
Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.
Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.
Nick Hilden writes reviews and recommendations coverage of fitness, outdoor and tech gear for Popular Science. He’s spent over a decade writing about lifestyle and culture topics for a slew of publications, including Scientific American, the Los Angeles Times, Vice, and Men’s Health, among others.
Comparing solar power to traditional power generation the open way
Considering all of the benefits, it seems anyone can generate excitement around open organization community projects regarding either solar or wind power.
This is the second article in a two-part series on energy disruption that could lead to open organization projects. In the first part, based on the book, Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, by Tony Seba, I discussed disruption in the use of electric vehicles over internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, the use of self-driving over human-driven vehicles, and the use of solar power generation over nuclear power generation.
In this second part, I will discuss additional potential projects likely to introduce more disruption, specifically the use of solar power generation over other sources. Solar power has advantages over other primary power generation methods, including:
Finally, another area of disruption is managing distributed electricity generation (small and simple) over conventional large utilities.
It’s useful to compare the power generation potential of solar with each of the technologies above in more detail.
Solar power generation versus oil power generation
As mentioned in part one of this series, solar power generation costs are falling rapidly. These innovations provide opportunities to replace fossil-fuel sources. The costs are projected to continue falling due to various factors, including:
- Increased use and a fast learning curve.
- Practical use for many devices.
- Ability to be resold to other parties.
Solar cost has improved by 5,355 times from 1970 to 2014 compared to oil. Furthermore, for new power plants, on a levelized cost of generating solar electricity (LCOE), solar is already cheaper than power from oil-powered plants. Even Saudi Arabia is building solar plants, as it might need 30% of its oil production for desalination plants. It is cheaper for desalinating water. Saudi knows that solar is the future, and oil is the past.
Natural resources are also a consideration with oil power generation. Oil supply is a geopolitical concern for energy-dependent nations, as seen daily with the Ukraine War. Sun energy is everywhere and doesn’t have that worry. Oil power uses four times as much water as natural gas, which is 10,000 times more than solar power plants.
With upcoming electric vehicles, autonomous cars, solar energy grids, and individual production, oil as an energy source will not be competitive in the years ahead. In many countries, oil (and coal) is government subsidized. If those subsidies stop, oil will be even less competitive. Solar power generation is cheaper than diesel-powered generation in many regions and is less expensive for heating and lighting than kerosene.
Even storage is a consideration. Battery storage is cheaper than running diesel-powered backup generators, and solar costs are dropping even further. Solar salt energy storage is more economical than large-scale petroleum generation.
Solar power generation versus natural gas (with methane) power generation
As mentioned above, solar power generation costing is falling rapidly and projected to continue doing so. With increased use and a fast learning curve, solar can be used for many devices and can be resold.
How does solar production measure up against natural gas? Solar cost has improved by 2,275 times compared to natural gas between 1970 and 2014. For new power plants, on a levelized cost of generating solar electricity (LCOE), solar is already cheaper than power from natural gas-powered plants. Wholesale natural gas can be low, but distribution costs are high, making retail high. It is difficult to ship natural gas long distances or for export, as it must be converted into a compressed or liquefied form. Then it has to be decompressed or un-liquefied at the destination.
Solar is far cheaper considering environmental costs from hydraulic fracturing extraction and pipeline leaks imposed on air, water, and soil. It is already more affordable in Europe, where investors are writing off their investments. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) uses a great deal of water, which is hard on the neighboring environment. Natural gas is very dangerous and leaks into the soil, water, and atmosphere. Most of the pipeline leaking is hidden from the public.
Besides costs, fracking uses around two to four million gallons of water in a single natural gas well. That is 10,000 times more water than solar uses. With water stress coming in the future, fracking is not recommended long-term. Here is a second reference supporting Seba’s position. How Fracking Became America’s Money Pit. Here is another source, Should The U.S. Ban Fracking?
Natural gas claims that it produces half the greenhouse gases compared to coal, which Bill Gates hates, because methane (a main component of natural gas) is 72 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. He has a target of it being zero, which natural gas will not obtain. Solar and wind are zero. Natural gas production is only a very short-term solution to climate change.
From the residential perspective, with affordable financing, solar panels on home roofs (and even stores and commercial buildings), the natural gas market should decline, becoming obsolete and uncompetitive. Today, companies can design solar panel arrangements on any home roof from an office using Google Earth and easily give a quote. The cost of design and installation is coming down with improved processes.
In addition to the above, there is now solar-as-a-service, in which the electricity user need not purchase the solar panels. A company called SunEdison offers to finance, install, own, and maintain solar panels on its customers’ rooftops in a 20-year contract. The customer could purchase this solution for cash, buy it on credit, or lease it.
Solar power cooperatives are being formed in some communities to provide electricity to targeted neighborhoods. This can reduce the cost of electricity even more, making natural gas even less competitive. Imagine open organization communities formed strictly for community electricity generation, resident panel installation, maintenance, and power distribution. Some web-based companies are now creating these communities.
Solar power generation versus biofuels power generation
Biofuel pricing is not falling, yet, as seen above, solar power generation costs continue to drop.
Resource utilization is a major concern with biofuels. Producing biofuel requires a great deal of water, putting further stress on the global water supply. Currently, 15% of the world’s water supply is used to produce energy. Biofuels are one of the heaviest users of water, and solar is one of the lightest. It takes 13,676 gallons of water for soybean production for a gallon of biodiesel (WaterFootprint). Biofuels use an astonishing 1.78 million times more water than solar. With a global water shortage coming, biofuel production is just crazy. Significant land, pesticides, and fertilizer are also required for production.
Ethanol is a popular fuel in Brazil, but the government heavily subsidizes it to support the sugarcane industry, not because it is economical but for national security. With solar technology available, Brazilians should move away from ethanol-powered vehicles and remain secure as a nation. In terms of energy production, solar panels are 123 times more efficient than sugarcane-to-ethanol production. Against other biofuels, solar might be up to 550 times more efficient.
Why the Best Path to a Low-Carbon Future is Not Wind or Solar Power
Editor’s Note: In this blog, Charles Frank answers five questions on low and no-carbon electricity technologies. For a more detailed look at alternative technologies for reducing emissions, read Frank’s latest paper.
As the science on climate change and its impacts on the global economy become clearer and more urgent, governments are increasingly looking for ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The largest source of these emissions comes from the combustion of fossil fuels—including coal, oil and natural gas—to produce electricity, an effort that in 2012 made up about 40 percent of emissions globally and 32 percent in the United States. and more, countries are seeking to lower emissions in the electricity sector by turning to low and no-carbon generation options. However, until now, there has been little thorough, empirical analysis of which of these technologies is most efficient, and which provides the best “bang for our buck” as we seek to reduce emissions.
My new Brookings working paper breaks down the comprehensive costs and benefits of five common low-carbon electricity technologies: wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, and gas combined cycle (an advanced, highly energy efficient type of natural gas plant). Using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the paper asks the question, “Which of the five low-carbon alternatives is most cost-effective in lowering emissions?” The results are highly policy-relevant, and offer enlightening answers to a number of questions that can help governments aiming for a low-carbon future.
What’s it going to cost me?
This is an important question because energy costs are private and owed by everyday consumers, whereas the benefits of reducing carbon use are shared as a global public good. So, what would it cost you and I to move toward a world where we generate electricity through mostly low-carbon technologies? How would the cost per megawatt hour (MWH) and kilowatt hour (KWH) change?
One of the best scenarios for our proposed low-carbon alternatives would be for each of them to replace the use of coal-fired plants when electricity demand is moderate, which is most of the time, and gas simple cycle plants during shorter periods of peak energy use.
The table above compares the cost per kilowatt-hour (KWH) of each of the five low-carbon technologies compared to the cost per KWH of the high-carbon technologies that it replaces. All of the low carbon technologies save on energy costs compared to coal and simple cycle gas plants: wind, solar and hydro because the energy from wind, sun and water is free; nuclear because uranium is cheaper than coal or gas per unit of energy; and gas combined cycle because it is much more energy efficient than coal or gas simple cycle. Four of the five low-carbon technologies, excluding gas combined cycle, have a much higher net capacity cost—that is, the cost of building and maintaining the low-carbon power plants—because all four are much more costly to build and maintain than a new coal or gas simple cycle plant. A gas combined cycle plant saves on capacity costs mainly because it costs about two-thirds less to build than a coal-fired plant.
Adding up the net energy cost and the net capacity cost of the five low-carbon alternatives, far and away the most expensive is solar. It costs almost 19 cents more per KWH than power from the coal or gas plants that it displaces. Wind power is the second most expensive. It costs nearly 6 cents more per KWH. Gas combined cycle is the least expensive. It does not cost more than the cost of power from the coal or less efficient gas plants that it displaces. Indeed, it costs about 3 cents less per KWH.
To place these additional costs in context, the average cost of electricity to U.S. consumers in 2012 was 9.84 cents per KWH, including the cost of transmission and distribution of electricity. This means a new wind plant could at least cost 50 percent more per KWH to produce electricity, and a new solar plant at least 200 percent more per KWH, than using coal and gas technologies.
Are the additional costs of wind and solar justified by the benefits of reduced carbon dioxide emissions?
The additional costs of wind and solar could be worthwhile, provided that the value of the emissions they avoid is great enough. However, as the following table shows, if we value the reduced emissions at 50 per ton of carbon dioxide, the benefits of wind and solar, net of their costs, is less than the other three low-carbon alternatives.
The emission benefits of four of the five low-carbon alternatives per KWH are roughly the same, about five cents per KWH. The benefits of wind and solar, minus their additional costs, are negative. The net benefits of the other three alternatives are positive and substantially higher. Gas combined cycle ranks number one in terms of net benefits while hydro and nuclear rank two and three.
A carbon dioxide price of 50 per metric ton places quite a high value on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. For example, the price for carbon dioxide emissions in the European Trading System reached a high of about 30 euros in 2006 and was trading around 5 euros at the end of 2013. Recent in trading systems in California have been around 12 and in several eastern U.S. states around 2 per ton.
Why are the costs per KWH of wind and solar so much higher, and the benefits not much different, than the other three low-carbon alternatives?
Costs are much higher for three reasons. First, the cost per MW of capacity to build a wind or solar plant is quite high (and much greater than that of a gas-fired plant). The cost per MW of solar capacity is especially high. Reductions in the cost of solar-voltaic panels have reduced the cost of building a solar plant by 22 percent between 2010 and 2012, but further reductions are likely to have a lesser effect because the cost of solar panels is only a fraction of the total cost of a utility-scale solar plant.
Second, a wind or solar plant operates at full capacity only a fraction of the time, when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. For example, a typical solar plant in the United States operates at only about 15 percent of full capacity and a wind plant only about 25 percent of full capacity, while a coal plant can operate 90 percent of full capacity on a year-round basis. Thus it takes six solar plants and almost four wind plants to produce the same amount of electricity as a single coal-fired plant.
Third, the output of wind and solar plants is highly variable—year by year, month by month, day by day and hour by hour—compared to a coal-fired plant, which can operate at full capacity about 90 percent of the time. Thus more than six solar plants and four wind plants are required to produce the same output with the same degree of reliability as a coal-fired plant of the same capacity. In the paper we estimate that at least 7.3 solar plants and 4.3 wind plants are required to produce the same amount of power with the same reliability as a coal-fired plant.
By way of contrast, a new low-carbon gas combined cycle or nuclear plant can operate also at 90 percent of full capacity and can replace a coal-fired plant on a one-to-one basis. A hydro plant with storage can operate at 100 percent capacity during peak periods and more than 40 percent during non-peak periods. In dollar terms, it takes a 29 million investment in solar capacity, and 10 million in wind capacity, to produce the same amount of electricity with the same reliability as a 1 million investment in gas combined cycle capacity.
The benefits of reduced emissions from wind and solar are limited because they operate at peak capacity only a fraction of the time. A nuclear or gas combined cycle plant avoids far more emissions per MW of capacity than wind or solar because it can operate at 90 percent of full capacity. Limited benefits and higher costs make wind and solar socially less valuable than nuclear, hydro, and combined cycle gas.
How can we be sure that a new low-carbon plant will replace a high-carbon coal plant rather than some other low-carbon plant?
We cannot be sure. If electricity producers do not have to pay a price for the carbon dioxide they emit, the likelihood is great than a new low-carbon plant will replace an existing, low-carbon gas combined cycle plant. The cost of running an existing coal plant is typically much less than running an existing combined cycle plant and the combined cycle plant will be shut down before the coal plant. The reduction in emissions will be far less than if the coal plant is shut down because a coal plant emits about three times as much carbon dioxide as a gas combined cycle plant.
However, if electricity producers have to pay a high enough price for the carbon dioxide they emit, then a coal plant will be shut down before a gas combined cycle plant. The price of carbon dioxide emissions required to tip the balance between shutting down coal and shutting down gas depends on the price of gas relative to that of coal. It also depends on whether we are talking about the short-term choice of running an existing gas plant rather than an existing coal plant or the longer term choice of investing in a new combined cycle gas plant rather than a new coal plant.
In the United States, where the price of natural gas is low compared to most other countries, the price for CO2 emissions had to be about 5 or more in 2013 in order to tip the short-term balance in favor of shutting down coal. At current U.S. gas prices, investment in new gas combined cycle is more profitable than an investment in a coal plant even without any price penalty attached to CO2 emissions.
In Europe, where the price of natural gas is much higher than in the United States, a CO2 emission price of 65 to 85 per metric ton is required to tip the short-term balance in favor of shutting down coal, far higher than the current price of CO2 emissions in the European Trading System. However, the price of CO2 emissions need only be about 12 to 22 per metric ton to tip the longer-term balance in favor of investing in a new gas combined cycle plant rather than a new coal plant.
What does this paper have for policymakers interested in reducing carbon dioxide emissions at a reasonable cost?
First, renewable incentives that are biased in favor of wind and solar and biased against large-scale hydro, nuclear and gas combined cycle are a very expensive and inefficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Second, renewable incentives in the absence of a suitably high carbon dioxide price are even less effective, because without a carbon price renewable energy will replace low-carbon gas plants rather than high-carbon coal plants.
Third, renewable incentives should be based not on output of renewable energy but on the reduction in CO2 emissions by renewable energy. They are not the same thing.
Fourth, a carbon price is far more effective in reducing carbon emissions precisely because it is not biased toward any one technology but rewards any technology that reduces emissions at a reasonable cost.
Fifth, the benefits of a natural gas combined cycle plant are not dependent on the natural gas fracking revolution in the United States. Combined cycle plants are highly beneficial even in Europe, where natural gas are higher and fracking more limited. The problem in Europe is that the price of CO2 emissions in the European Trading System is far too low to encourage production of electricity by gas rather than coal.
Sixth, even though the electricity sector accounts for only 40 percent of worldwide carbon emissions, cleaner electricity can reduce CO2 emissions in other sectors, for example by reducing the carbon footprint of electric vehicles and home heating.
Finally, the electricity sector offers one of the simplest and most cost effective ways of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Simply replacing all high-carbon U.S. coal plants with any of the five low-carbon alternatives can reduce U.S. CO2 emissions in the electricity sector by 50 to 70 percent. The potential reductions in other countries, such as China where coal is more important, are even greater.
Wind vs. Solar — Which Power Source Is Better?
Wind and solar are the heavy hitters of renewable energy. They create jobs. They cut pollution. They provide power to the densest populations and the most rural regions of the world.
We’re betting on green energy’s top two producers to break our dependence on fossil fuels. But can they both stand up to the giants of non-renewable energy, or is one sector a more promising investment? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of wind and solar energy.
But First, What Is Wind Energy?
Wind is technically a form of solar energy. When the sun’s radiation heats Earth’s uneven surface, hot air rises and cool air settles. This difference in atmospheric pressure creates wind, a kinetic (motion-based) form of energy.
Wind turbines capture that kinetic energy. When wind blows over the turbine’s blades, its generator converts the energy of the rotating blade into mechanical power — which can then be converted into power to pump water, grind grain, or provide electricity to homes, businesses, and schools.
What Is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is the sun’s radiation that reaches Earth. When sunlight hits the photovoltaic (PV) cells inside solar panels, these cells transform the sun’s radiation into electricity.
The Pros And Cons Of Wind And Solar Power
Which sustainable power source makes more sense for local and state economies? Check out this infographic that compares the good and bad of wind and solar energy.
Which Green Energy Source Is Better?
Wind is a more efficient power source than solar. Compared to solar panels, wind turbines release less CO2 to the atmosphere, consume less energy, and produce more energy overall. In fact, one wind turbine can generate the same amount of electricity per kWh as about 48,704 solar panels.
But the enormous power-generating capacity of wind turbines doesn’t make wind energy a clear winner. Wind turbines are an eyesore. They take up a lot of space. They can hurt wildlife. They aren’t suitable for densely populated areas, which means they’re mostly located in rural regions — far from the cities that are most in need of their power.
For suburban or urban regions, solar panels are a more practical option. Solar panels can be installed on the rooftops of buildings, schools, and businesses. They can be bought or leased at an affordable rate. They might even be used to generate power for future high-speed transit systems. Plus, transparent solar panels are being developed to retrofit roofs, Windows — and even your phone, laptop, or tablet.
Despite the advantages of green energy, there’s still the question of its economic sustainability. Both wind and solar power have grown rapidly in the last decade — but they only account for a small percentage of the world’s energy generation capacity. For wind and solar to compete with oil, coal, and natural gas, researchers will have to find a practical, cost-efficient way to store their power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
Plus, the costs of producing, installing, and maintaining solar panels and wind turbines will have to continue to fall in order to convince consumers to make the switch from non-renewable energy sources. When government subsidies for green energy expire in 2020, both sectors will have to rely on solid infrastructure and increased private investment.
Of course, no energy source is without its drawbacks. But if wind and solar can keep up their explosive growth rates, they might both stand up to America’s fossil fuel giants.