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.
Lithium solar generator
Last Updated on June 12, 2023
Shop the 10 best options for a solar generator for the house. I’ve rounded up models to keep your lights on while camping, during blackouts, or to sustainably power your home!
Whether you want a solar powered generator for camping or a solar generator for the house, these are the absolute best solar generators on the market, with pros and cons to each one. These are some of the best solar powered generators due to their versatility, power, and sustainability, making them stand out across the market. There’s even a whole house solar powered generator on this list, capable of generating enough power for your home in the case of an emergency or blackout!
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links; for more information please see my disclosure policy.
the best solar generators
Going camping or looking for backups in case of a power outage? Unlike their gas-powered counterparts, the best solar generators are quiet, smell-free, and don’t contribute to climate change.
Solar generators create power through solar panels (typically sold separately), converting it into electrical power, then storing it in a battery for later use.
Before investing in a solar powered generator, make sure to estimate how much power you’ll need to run appliances, tools, and tech in case of a power outage or whatever you’ll need in the wilderness. The best solar powered generator for you will be the one that provides enough power for your needs.
Once you know how many watts you’ll need, be sure to look for a generator that has the right weight, dimensions, and outlets. Here are the 10 best options for a solar powered generator for house or camping needs, and beyond!
what is a solar generator?
A solar generator is a device that works alongside solar panels to provide essential automatic backup power to your home when you need it.
This comes in handy during power outages, but it can also be used for off-the-grid living and camping. There are many different types of generators that range in style, size, function, and brand.
For more information on how solar energy works, check out my post Is Solar Power Worth It?
how does a solar generator work?
A solar generator works when a solar panel converts sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity that passes through the charge controller.
Then, the solar energy is stored inside the battery. The inverter turns the electricity into accessible alternating current (AC) power.
best whole house solar powered generator for off grid living
If you’re going off the grid or looking for a whole house solar powered generator, the Bluetti Off-Grid Solar Generator AC200P is perfect for you.
This model can charge most high-power appliances such as fridges, window air conditioners, hairdryers, microwave ovens, coffee makers (Max 2000W), heaters, electric grills, drills, etc.
You can also power up to 17 devices simultaneously thanks to the wide arrange of output options.
best solar powered generator for camping
For camping, a Jackery Explorer 500 is ideal because it’s portable and lightweight with an easy to use handle.
It can also be charged multiple ways via solar panels, wall sockets, a vehicle’s 12V output, or an electric generator — which makes it very versatile.
You can also charge up without having to worry about wall outlets or long extension cords. That makes this generator perfect for the great outdoors – use it to power your blender, tools, pellet smoker, heated blankets, etc.
pros and cons of a solar generator
For your convenience, I’ve made a list of the top pros and cons of a solar generator.
- Free energy from the sun
- Clean energy
- Quiet operation
- Low maintenance costs
- Lasts several years
Just remember that every solar generator is different, so this is a generic list. For example, there are several solar generators that won’t break the bank. It’s really just a matter of what you need.
Keep in mind — the more watts a generator can dish out, the pricier it will generally be.
what to look for in a solar powered generator
Not all solar powered generators are created equal. When deciding which solar generator is right for you, there are some things to consider.
- Solar panels: Some generators come with them, while others will have to be purchased separately, so be mindful of this. There are three common types of solar panels — monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline solar cells, and thin film. Each varies in efficiency, with monocrystalline panels being the most common and efficient. However, thin panels are the lightest and most affordable.
- Weight: Are you planning on using your generator on the go? If so, weight is something to factor in – you don’t want to lug something heavy around the wilderness. Look for additional portability aspects like an easily accessible handle too.
- Battery capacity: Battery capacity indicates the total amount of electricity a generator can store. It’s good to also know their power rating (how much power they’ll deliver at a time). If they have a low power rating, but high battery capacity, they’ll likely deliver less electricity for a longer period. Always check the Watt (W) for a unit of power and Watt-hour (Wh) for the total amount of watts generated or consumed in an hour.
- Battery type: Lead-acid and lithium-ion are the most common types. Lithium is lightweight and often used to power tools, whereas lead-acid batteries are better for powering things like automobiles. Lithium-ion batteries are a bit more expensive, but they also last longer.
- Charge controller: Check for three-power point tracking (MPPT) as these are the most efficient charge controllers. This will help regulate the current between the solar panels and the battery.
- Inverter: These convert direct current (DC) from solar panels to alternating current (AC). They’re built into the solar generators. A pure sine wave inverter is the most efficient inverter but also the most expensive.
best solar powered generators
So, now you know what to look for in solar powered generators.
If your head is spinning from all this information – don’t fear! I’ve rounded up a list of solar powered generators that get the Going Zero Waste seal of approval. All these brands are reliable, gas free, and efficient.
I’ve gone ahead and highlighted some of the most important features of each generator, but it isn’t an exhaustive list. Be sure to check out their websites for more information.
jackery explorer 500 solar portable generator
- 500W portable power station with 518Wh power capacity
- Pure sine wave inverter
- Relatively light 13.3 pounds
- 7 output ports
- Lithium battery
- Charged from an AC wall outlet or with a Jackery SolarSaga solar panel
Solar Panels vs Generator for RV
One of the biggest benefits of RV travel is the ability to camp just about anywhere your wheels can take you. But most RVers will agree that camping without the benefit of your full electrical system leaves something to be desired. When it comes to keeping the lights on and the juice flowing while on the go, the choice often comes down to two methods. solar panels vs. a generator for your RV. Each has its own unique pros and cons that may make it more suitable for one type of RVer or another. We’re taking a deep dive into these two options to figure out which one’s best for you.
Comparing Solar Panels and Generators
To start, let’s FOCUS on what both solar panels and generators do well. Without being connected to shore power and the general electrical grid, your RV needs some way to create power. Both solar panels and generators do this with different inputs. Unlike running solely on your rig’s batteries, both generators and solar panels allow you to enjoy full AC electricity for all the conveniences of home.
Solar panels take the energy of the sun and transform it into usable DC electricity. This energy typically flows from the panels to a solar charge controller, which regulates the flow of power to prevent overcharging of your batteries. This charge controller also prevents energy from flowing out of your batteries back toward the panel during hours when power isn’t being generated. After passing through the controller, the energy is either used by your RV’s electrical system or stored in a battery bank. In the past, these batteries were usually deep-cycle, lead-acid batteries or modified versions like AGM batteries. These days, many solar users are opting for lithium-ion batteries, which offer advantages in size, weight, battery capacity, and the ability to discharge fully. While purchasing a lithium battery will cost more up front, many owners find the extra expense worth it as they also have a substantially longer lifespan than other types of batteries.
In contrast, generators (more specifically, inverter generators in most cases) run on ordinary gasoline, which is burned to create usable AC power. This power flows directly into your rig’s electrical systems until you turn off the generator or run out of fuel. Many generators can rev up with the push of a button, providing on-demand juice for your RV. They can even be used to charge your rig’s batteries for later off-grid use. Generators come in a variety of sizes, with larger models naturally being able to provide more power.
From here, the two systems can differ widely. Let’s take a closer look at the particulars of the generator vs. solar panels for RVs debate.
Benefits of Solar Panels
Among the most significant benefits of solar panels is their entirely green and renewable nature. Those concerned about climate change can reduce their carbon footprint by relying more on these environmentally friendly sources of power, as opposed to typical fossil fuels. Even better, the green energy that panels run on is entirely free and available in nearly unlimited quantities. This means no ongoing costs for fuel or materials once you’ve got your system set up. They’re also notably quiet, especially compared to alternative off-grid power options. With the combination of solar panels, an inverter, and a battery bank, you may never need to connect to the fossil fuel grid again!
Once they’re installed, solar panel systems are generally low maintenance as well. Unless they’re physically damaged, or a battery degrades over time, they’ll typically just operate as expected day after day. Solar installations also have the advantage of longevity. In some cases, panels can last two decades or more, two to four times as long as generators. Finally, they’re relatively lightweight compared to generators. This is particularly important for RVers who move around a lot, as decreased weight improves gas mileage and drivability.
Finally, solar panels are an investment in the future. They’re becoming more and more common on newer high-end motorhomes and trailers, meaning buyers are coming to expect them. If you ever plan on selling your RV, having a functioning solar system may end up nearly paying for itself in increased resale value.
Drawbacks of Solar Panels
One of the biggest drawbacks of solar panels should be apparent. In poor weather conditions or without ample direct sunlight, your panels may not generate enough or any electricity. If you’re relying on them as your primary source of power, this could present problems during periods of extended stormy or cloudy weather.
Getting solar panels ready to use is also more complicated than revving up a generator, either in the initial installation time for permanently mounted panels or each time for portable models. Between this and the costs (which we’ll discuss later), solar panels tend to be a less ideal fit for casual campers and more suitable for frequent or full-time travelers.
The sun only puts out so much energy per square foot, and solar panels can only harvest a small portion of that— about 35W/SF which can generate about 100Wh per square foot per day. If you don’t have the roof space to mount enough panels to cover your loads, you will need a back-up power source.
Also, it may seem minor, but you’ll need to ensure your RV is parked in a place where it can receive direct sun. This means no shady tree-lined campsites, nothing near the walls of a canyon or mountain, and other restrictions on your campsite and views.
Benefits of Generators
Generators offer the benefit of providing on-demand energy day or night, regardless of weather conditions. So, all you’ll need is some fuel, and you’re in business. Usually, the juice is flowing with just a push of a button or flick of a switch. This flexibility and convenience can come in handy when you need to get powered up fast.
Compared to solar panels, generators are also relatively easy to install and use. Portable generators can be put into place in just minutes, and even permanently installed RV generators can be set up by most RVers. This makes them a suitable choice for occasional campers.
Drawbacks of Generators
Generators only work if you’ve got fuel on hand, forcing you to either draw from your rig’s gas tank or supply your own from other storage containers. If you’re boondocking deep in the woods and run out of fuel, you’re simply out of luck until you return to civilization. Your generator also needs regular maintenance, like any other machine. This means more time and money just to keep things working as expected.
Another generator drawback will be very familiar to those who’ve used them or even camped near someone using one. noise pollution. While some generators are specifically designed to reduce noise, many models range from loud to practically deafening. This can be annoying for both you and those nearby, especially since they don’t even get to enjoy the benefits of the generator! Plus, many campgrounds and RV parks have quiet hours rules that prohibit the use of generators, potentially leaving you powerless once the late evening arrives.
All these advantages and disadvantages aside, the price may be a determining factor for some buyers. On a per-watt basis, generators are almost always going to be the cheaper option at the time of purchase. Gas RV generators that provide 2,000-3,500 watts can often be found for just a few hundred dollars. Most average solar power systems cost upwards of a thousand dollars up to several thousand or more as an initial outlay.
Another critical thing to keep in mind looking at costs when comparing solar panels vs. a generator for RVs is the ongoing costs associated with each. As mentioned above, solar panels draw their energy directly from the free, unlimited rays of the sun. As a result, owners don’t need to worry about purchasing fuel to keep the lights on. In comparison, generators require owners to continually buy a supply of gas or diesel. As anyone who’s filled up their tank recently knows, this can be a significant expense, and one you need to keep paying or else your generator will be useless. Therefore, while solar power systems require more of an upfront investment, it’s possible to end up spending the same or even more on fuel costs over the life of a generator.
Power Up with AM Solar
By now, it should be clear that it’s not necessarily an either-or situation. Generators can undoubtedly have their place in an off-grid power setup, thanks to their ability to produce electricity on-demand and relative affordability. But solar panels are a crucial and underused source of clean, renewable energy that can go anywhere. They’re quiet, lightweight, and low maintenance as well, providing distinct benefits compared to generators. And there’s nowhere better to get started on your solar energy journey than with AM Solar. Reach out today to learn about the solar power system that’s right for you!
Lithium Solar Generator Battery Upgrade
5 years ago I created a series of how-to videos for a DIY solar generator. It has had a lot of traffic and is one of the most watched solar generator videos on YouTube. It has also had a lot of requests for a Lithium-ion version. Today we show you how to upgrade its battery bank to Lithium (LifePO4).
What are the advantages to Lithium Batteries?
There are several. First they can pack much more energy density in the same amount of space as well as significant weight savings. For example the Optima 12v lead cell / AGM battery with 55 amp hour capacity that we originally used in the build weighs 44 lbs. We are replacing it with a 12V LifePO4 battery of similar physical size, but it has a capacity of 100 amp hours, and only weighs 23 lbs!
Lithium batteries also can have much longer life. The one we are using today boasts a 10 year life span. Like all batteries though, the life can be shortened if it is over discharged or abused.
- 10-year life 3000 cycle Eco-Worthys 100ah LiFePO4 battery contains 3000 cycle times, each lithium battery can run for more than 10 years, which is equivalent to 3 lead-acid batteries.
- High Charging Speed Eco-Worthys 100ah LiFePO4 battery can reach 80% of power after one-hour charge, Under the same condition, the lead acid battery can only reach 20%. In the case of limited charging time, choosing a lithium battery can get enough energy faster.
- Lightweight Easy Installation Eco-Worthys 100ah LiFePO4 battery is lighter than Lead-Acid battery with the same capacity. Our 100ah LiFePO4 battery weight is 22.93 lbs, only 1/3 of Lead-Acid battery. convenient carrying, any mount directions, no leakage risk, safer usage.
- Capacity Expansion Eco-Worthys 100ah LiFePO4 battery can be connected in parallel and in series for larger capacity and voltage. Up to 4 identical batteries can be mounted as a series string as a 48V battery bank, and you can connect multiple batteries in parallel, while we suggest no more than 4pcs.
- Multiple applications Eco-Worthys 100ah LiFePO4 lithium battery is perfect for UPS backup, lighting, TV, e-Robot, loud speaker, coffeemaker, air conditioner, fridge, heater, e
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What is a BMS (Battery Management System)?
Many of the newer Lithium batteries comes with a built-in BMS system. This stands for Battery Management System and is built in circuitry to protect the battery from conditions that could shorten its life, or even pose fire / safety risks.
Because Lithium batteries have a higher energy density, they also have more requirements to keep the cells happy. They cannot be over charged like older technology batteries. In the past you needed to make sure everything connected to the battery was designed for lithium batteries, and would not overcharge it, over draw on current, run the battery too low, or it would risk damage to the battery or even increase the chance of a fire. The BMS system in newer batteries handles all that for us, so that they can now safely be used as a drop-in replacement in standard 12 volt systems.
Is a Lithium Solar Generator Better?
It terms of battery performance and portability, then yes, lithium batteries out perform the older technology used in lead acid based batteries. However there is a trade-off in cost. Lithium batteries still cost more than lead acid batteries, but the price difference is much less than it was ever a few years ago.
Do you need lithium batteries for solar power?
Whether you need to go with lithium battery technology for your solar generator is based on your needs. If you are building a large battery bank that does not need to be mobile, and you are not concerned about space or weight, you can still get more total amp hours per dollar with lead acid batteries. However when you factor in life expectancy of the batteries and other factors the argument for going with a lithium battery bank is getting stronger all the time.
How long does a lithium generator last?
Like most products, the useable life varies on a lot of factors. One of the biggest advantages to building your own solar generator is that can now easily replace any of the individual components when necessary. Solar panels are usually rated for a life of around 10 years. They can actually last longer, but the efficiency drops over time. A typical 10 year rated solar panel will be at or below 80 percent of its original efficiency after 10 years. Batteries are often rated in both years as well as charge cycles. However the total number of charge cycles will go down with deeper discharges of the battery. There are a lot of variables!