In recent years, American use of solar generators escalated more than 400 percent. Especially for people living in areas that are at high-risk of severe storms, or for electrical grid failures resulting in widespread blackouts, portable alternative energy solutions are becoming rapidly recognized as a critical backup resource.
Gas-powered generators become useless when electricity is out and gas pumps cannot work, or where travel to gas supplies is impeded. So, for extended power outages, uses in the RV or remotely located weekend getaways, solar power can be one of the simplest, safest, most readily accessible, abundant, and most inexpensive options for electrical energy.
Here is some information to help you understand how a solar energy generator works and whether or not a solar generator is a good alternative to gas-powered generators for your needs.
What is a Solar Electricity Generator?
In basic terms, a solar generator is an electronic box containing three integrated components — the batteries, charge controller, and inverter. There are actually no solar components in solar generators. Solar panels must be purchased separately.
- Battery — The solar generator is actually a battery-powered electricity generator. As long as the battery remains charged, the generator can power your home’s electrical devices. You can actually use sunlight or a regular 110 V electrical wall outlet to charge the battery inside the portable backup solar generator. Some solar generators can even be charged with a car charger. Some solar generators conveniently allow changing the batteries, to significantly increase longevity of the unit.
- Charge Controller — An essential component of the solar generator is the charge controller. It protects the generator’s built-in battery to maintain its life expectancy. The various types of batteries (Gel, AGM, or Lithium-ion) have their individual charging and discharging properties. The charge controller manages these processes automatically.
- Inverter — The inverter converts the battery’s output into AC power when can then be used to power AC devices. Solar generators are not for powering very large AC equipment such as air-conditioning units. But, they work well for televisions and other electronics, and lower-powered household appliances.
How Do Solar Electricity Generators Work?
Solar power is a very simple form of energy production. Portable solar generators use external, separately purchased, photovoltaic (PV) panels (known as solar panels) to charge the generator’s batteries.
- The solar panels capture photons coming from the sun.
- The photons are converted by the PV panels into electricity.
- The electricity is then sent to the charge regulator.
- The inverter changes the power into alternating current (AC) electricity.
- The inverter then allows power to be extracted from the generator to supply electronic devices and electrical appliances in your home, or anything that fossil-fuel-produced electricity can power.
Benefits of Portable Solar Power Generators
A solar generator is an excellent emergency backup energy source for residential use, RV, log cabin, or even for tent camping. Here are some of the key benefits of using solar-powered backup generators:
- Safe to operate indoors
- Easy to move from place to place
- After setup, you can forget about it (keeps running without any attention/fuel needed)
- No operating/fuel costs after setup
- Does not emit noxious fumes
- Solar panels can recharge solar generator batteries with just a day of bright sun
- An AC electrical wall outlet, or even a car charger (for some types) can be used to recharge a solar generator
- Provide reliable power
- Noiseless (gas powered portable generators are extremely loud)
- Do not need refueling
- No reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to the decline of your living environment
- Comparatively maintenance free
Problems with Solar Generators (CONS)
Like anything else, solar generators, for all of their benefits, do come with their own (comparatively quite small) downsides. Here are the disadvantages of solar generators, compared to conventional generators:
- More space is needed to place solar panels in your yard or on your deck
- Setting up takes a little time, and requires learning a few basics
- Re-charging batteries takes time
- Batteries eventually must be replaced
Solar Generators vs. Portable Gas Generators
To fully appreciate the benefits of portable solar power generators, it is helpful also to consider the pros and cons of regular gas-powered generators, and compare these with the above list of pros and cons of the solar alternative.
Portable Gas Generator PROS
- Can purchase from regular store shelf
- Lower purchase cost
- Quicker to set up
- Refueling is quick, if gas is easily accessible
- Simple repair and maintenance
Portable Gas Generator CONS
- Must be operated outdoors for ventilation
- Extremely noisy during operation
- Produces noxious fumes
- Requires buying gas routinely and frequently
- Needs maintenance regularly
How Much Electricity Can a Solar Generator Produce?
Portable solar power generators come in very small sizes, to power single devices like cell phones. And, the largest portable solar generators can output enough electricity to power multiple household appliances for hours.
A portable solar generator that is capable of generating 2-3 kilowatt hours per standard charge can generate up to 10% of the power used by the average US American household (which is approximately 30 kW hours per day.
Heavy duty solar power generators, like regular gas generators, can provide several hours of backup for your home (without powering HVAC), but are not suitable for long-term regular daily use to power an entire home or business. To live full-time off the grid, or to power your home’s HVAC system as well as all of your home appliances during an extended period of power outage (after a hurricane, for example), you should invest in a whole-home solar panel system with battery backup.
How Long Does it Take to Charge a Solar Generator?
Naturally, charging time depends upon the intensity of the sunlight on any given day. To fully recharge a portable solar generator battery takes, on average, about eight hours of direct sunlight. Though charging time varies, generally, if you start charging the unit before leaving for work in the morning, you can usually expect a full supply of electrical power when you return home.
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