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Choosing The Best Solar Generator [2020]: The Definitive Buying Guide

If you are searching for the best solar generator in 2020, it may not be as easy as it seems.  With a growing number of different solar generator brands, sizes, and capabilities on the market, choosing the best solar generator can be a bit overwhelming.  

We’ve put together this buying guide to help answer some of the common questions associated with solar generators as well as recommended our top 5 handpicked recommendations to help you choose the best solar generator suited for your power needs. 

An Introduction to Solar Generators

What is a Solar Generator?

A solar generator can refer to any energy producing system powered by the sun.  Most commonly the term solar generator, also known as a portable power station, refers to a portable, easy to use package for utilizing solar power wherever it is needed.

Common uses for solar generators include: 

  • Back-up power systems 
  • Camping
  • RV or van life
  • Job sites
  • Festivals and tailgating
  • Disaster relief and emergency situations. 

    Choosing to use a solar generator over a traditional gas generator provides an enormous amount of benefit to the end user.  Gas generators are noisey, produce harmful fumes, and require the use of an expensive resource to run. Solar generators are relatively quiet and run on clean, renewable energy.  This allows solar generators to be used indoors and saves time and money for users that no longer need to go to the gas station every time they wish to refill their generator. 

    How Does a Solar Generator Work?

    Although the technology behind the operation is a bit complicated, solar generators are fairly simple, user friendly  machines. In short, a solar generator is able to store and convert energy to power devices that require electricity. 

    Obviously, solar generators can generate electricity by way of solar power.  However, a solar generator does not always need to be wired to solar panels in order to store energy.  Some solar generators can be plugged into either a wall outlet or a car charging port to charge their batteries. 

    Once the battery of the system is fully or partially charged, electric devices can be powered by the solar generator. With variants between models, most solar generators have the ability to charge electronics that require a traditional AC plug, a DC automobile plug, or a USB port.

    The shelf life of a solar generator refers to the amount of time a fully charged battery will remain charged and ready to be used.  

    Components of a Solar Generator

    Solar generators are made up of many components that make it possible to generate, store and use electricity.  It is important to note, however, that solar generators generally are not sold with solar panels included. If you do not already own solar panels or plan on acquiring them separately, purchasing a solar generator kit may be the easiest solution for an all-in-one solar power system.  

    Most solar generators are made up of the following components.

    Batteries 

    A solar battery is probably the most important part of your solar generator.  Batteries come in a variety of types (lithium ion, lead-acid, etc.) and capacities (1500Wh, 500Wh, etc.).  In general, you will want a lithium battery that has enough storage for your planned use of the solar generator. Some solar generators allow for extra storage capacity to be added in a battery bank, whereas others do not.   


    Charge Controllers 

    To prevent the battery from overcharging and becoming damaged, solar generators come equipped with a solar charge controller to regulate the input voltage from the solar panels. This component is crucial in maximizing the life and efficiency of the solar generator.  The two main types of charge controllers are MPPT & PWM, with the MPPT being the most efficient. 

    Inverters

    Solar power is generated and stored as a DC current.  In order for the energy to be used to power household electronics that run on AC current, a solar inverter is necessary.  It is important to know the inverter’s size and its continuous power and surge ratings when determining what can be powered with the solar generator. 

    Inputs

    A solar generator is charged by inputting power into the system’s battery.  Solar generators will almost always include both a port for charging the battery using solar panels as well as a port for charging the unit using a traditional AC outlet.  Some solar generators include an additional port for DC charging, like by way of a vehicle, but often that is not a capability or can be purchased as an add-on.

    Outputs

    Once the solar generator is ready to be used, electronics can be plugged into the various outputs on the unit’s exterior.  Nearly all solar generators on the market have some amount of AC, DC, and USB plugs to power whatever is necessary.  

    Display Screens

    All of the best solar generators have some sort of display (usually an LCD screen) that reports everything happening within the system.  Display screens are crucial in knowing the rate at which electricity is entering and leaving your solar generator as well as the amount of power left in the battery.

    What to Consider When Finding the Best Solar Generator

    What will the Solar Generator be used for?

    The primary use of your soar generator should ultimately drive the decision making process in choosing the correct brand and size to fit your needs.  

    Best Solar Generators for Camping, Tailgating, or Festivals

    The best solar generators for recreational use such as camping, tailgating or festivals are ideally portable, with a large battery capacity and ample charging ports.  Below, we outline in detail why the Jackery 500 & EcoFlow Delta 1300 are the best solar generators for camping and recreational use.

    Best Solar Generators for RV or Van Life

    If you plan to use a solar generator every day in an RV, van, or permanent dwelling, the best solar generators would have efficient solar charging, a long lasting battery, and high output capacity to power all of your appliances.  These components make the Inergy Apex & the Bluetti by MaxOak some of the best solar generators for a van, RV, or skoolie.  Find more details about each of these generators below.

    Best Solar Generators for Emergency Situations

    Solar generators are also perfect as a back-up source of power for emergency situations.  The optimal solar generator for an emergency situation will have a long shelf life and high continuous output.   Last year, we compiled this list of the best solar generators for disaster scenarios.  In this article, we outline in detail why the Titan Solar Generator is your best option for emergency situations or as a full home back-up. 

    What will the Solar Generator be powering?

    Once you’ve determined the primary use of your solar generator, having a full understanding of what the system will be providing electricity for will give you the most accurate information in determining the best solar generator for you.  For more specific information, you can use our watt hour calculator or free solar kit consultation to help appropriately size your solar capacity.

    Price Range and Quality of Solar Generators

    Of course, there are plenty of cheap options for low quality solar generators on sites like Amazon and eBay.  If you are on a budget and thinking something cheap may be able to suffice, you may want to think again.  Whether you are using your solar generator for everyday use or as a back-up source of power, you are relying on the quality of the system to provide electricity when you need it most.

    Our Top 5 Solar Generators for 2020

    Inergy Apex

    Inergy Apex

    Inergy made a name for itself with the Kodiak Solar Generator, an amazing device with room for improvement.  The company was able to take the feedback from its first launch and create one of the best solar generators available today:  the Inergy Apex. 

     Key Components 

    • Battery: 1100Wh capacity, Lithium NMC
    • Inverter: 1500W /, 3,000W Surge
    • MPPT Charge Controller
    • Charging Options: Solar Panels, AC, & DC 
    • Outputs:  6 AC outlets, 2 DC outlets, and 4 total USB outlets
    • Weight: 25 lbs.

    Pros of the Apex

    • Extremely Portable. The compact design weighing in at just about 25 lbs, makes the Apex perfect for solar on the go.  It even comes with a shoulder strap for easy transport!
    • Battery Life & Expansion.  With the Apex, you are able to connect any additional 12V lead acid or AGM deep cycle battery in order to maximize your energy storage.  With the included battery rated at 2,000 cycles (80% capacity), you may not even need to expand. 
    • 3 Position Power Switch.  In previous models, powering the USB ports would require a running inverter and therefore loss of power.  With the new 3 position power switch, the Apex is able to save more battery while charging multiple devices.

    Cons of the Apex

    • Required Add-ons. If you would like to charge the Apex with your car, or charge it faster throughout your home, you will need to purchase an extra chord.  Additionally, if you want to plug in the solar generator to 3rd party solar panels, this requires a EC8-to-MC4 adapter.
    • Limited Output.  Although the inverter is 1500W, the actual continuous output capability of the Inergy Apex is only 550W continuous.  This increases the price tag without adding much benefit.

    Conclusion

    The Inergy Apex is one of the best solar generators for multiple uses.  It’s physical size, dependable battery, and expansion options make the Apex perfect for both recreational use as well as the main source of power for an RV, van, or skoolie.  It’s MPPT charge controller and LCD screen also make it perfect for solar panel charging and monitoring the systems battery during continuous use.

    Learn more about the Inergy Apex Solar Generator

    EcoFlow Delta Solar Generator

    EcoFlow Delta 1300

    After a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over 2.8 million dollars, the EcoFlow Delta 1300 is one of the most exciting solar generators available today.  With its record breaking 2 hour AC charge time, attractive retail price, and lightweight design, the EcoFlow Delta 1300 consists of high quality features at an affordable rate. 

    Key Components of the EcoFlow Delta 1300

    • Battery: 1300Wh capacity, 100 Cell Lithium Ion 
    • Inverter: 1800W, 3300W Surge
    • MPPT Charge Controller
    • Charging options:  Solar Panels, AC, & DC 
    • Outputs: 6 AC outlets, 1 DC outlet (12V), and 6 total USB outlets
    • Shelf Life: 1 Year
    • Weight: 30.9 lbs (14 kg)

     Pros of the EcoFlow Delta 1300

    • Really Fast Charging.  The EcoFlow Delta 1300 is the fastest charging solar generator on the market.  With an AC charge time of approximately 2 hours, it charges more than ten times the rate of most of its competitors.
    • High Output.  The EcoFlow Delta 1300 includes a 1800W inverter rated for 3,300W of surge protection.  The Delta can comfortably run a full sized fridge, charge a laptop, and power a light simultaneously. 
    • Portability.  Despite its massive power, the EcoFlow Delta 1300 weighs only 30 lbs.  It’s high quality design makes it durable and easy to bring wherever power is needed.

    Cons of the EcoFlow Delta 1300

  • Battery Degradation.  The battery included in the Delta 1300 is rated to hold a 60% capacity after 800 charges.  If used everyday, 800 charges may sneak up on you in under 3 years.
  • Round Trip Efficiency.  Although the system charges extremely fast, when tested under continuous input and output use, the round trip efficiency of the Delta 1300 is actually quite low.  This would have a negative effect for sustained, continuous use. 
  • Conclusion

    The EcoFlow Delta 1300 may be the best solar generator for recreational use or as a backup source of power.  It’s super fast charging and portability make it the perfect solar generator for plugging in, charging up, and throwing in the car for a weekend of camping, tailgating, or helping in an emergency situation.  Additionally, both the shelf life and inverter’s high level of output capacity also make the EcoFlow Delta 1300 a great backup source of power for a home or even an electric vehicle. 

    Learn More about the EcoFlow Delta 1300

    Bluetti Solar Generator

    Bluetti 1500wH Solar Generator by MaxOak

    The Bluetti 1500wH Solar Generator by MaxOak is one of the best selling and highest reviewed solar generators on the market today.  In a highly competitive market, here’s a quick overview of what makes the Bluetti such a popular device.

    Key Components

    • Battery: 1500wH Lithium Ion 
    • Inverter: 1000W / 1200W Surge
    • MPPT Charge Controller
    • Charging Options:  Solar Panels, AC & DC (Adapter required)
    • Outputs:  4 AC outlets, 1 DC outlet (12V), 5 total USB plugs
    • Shelf Life:  3 Months
    • Weight: 37.9 lbs

    Pros of the Bluetti

  • Battery Life.  With 1500wH capacity and high and low temperature regulation, the Bluetti’s battery is massive enough for long stints of power and smart enough to protect itself from damage.  It is rated at 1,000 cycles at 80% efficiency. 
  • Charging TImes.  In ideal sunlight conditions, 400W of solar panels at 12V will fully charge the Bluetti’s battery in 3.5-4 hours.  If plugged into a home’s AC wall outlet, the battery will reach 100% charged in 9-10 hours.  
  • Included Accessories.  Every Bluetti comes with an MC4 adapter, so that the generator can be used with any solar panel. 
  • Cons of the Bluetti

  • Only 2 AC Plugs.  Although there are plenty of USB charging options, only having 2 AC plugs truly limits the amount of items that can be plugged into the Bluetti at once. 
  • 1000W Inverter.  For the size and weight of the package, a 1000W inverter is simply not as powerful and capable as competing solar generators. 
  • Lack of Car Adapter.  If you plan on using the Bluetti as a mobile source of power in a van, RV, or skoolie, you will need to purchase an additional adapter to charge the generator with your vehicle's cigarette lighter port. 
  • Conclusion

    We are confident in saying that Bluetti is one of the best solar generators available at an affordable price.  Whereas the system may not be powerful enough to act as a full-home generator, the charging times, battery life, and compatibility make the Bluetti a perfect option for camping, RV, or van life.  

    Learn More about the Bluetti 1500

    Titan Solar Generator

    Titan Solar Generator from Point Zero

    The TItan solar generator is one of the most highly capable solar generators on the market today.  Point Zero’s technology combines the convenience of an all-in-one solar generator with the high powered capacity of a standalone solar power system.  This machine is a beast. 

    Key Components of the Titan

    • Battery: 2000wH Lithium Ion
    • Inverter: 3000W / 7700W Surge
    • 2 MPPT Charge Controllers
    • Charging Options: Solar panels, AC, & DC
    • Outputs: 6 AC wall outlets, 4 DC (12V) ports, 1 RV Plug (30amp), and 8 total USB ports
    • Shelf Life: 3-6 Months
    • Weight: ~35 lbs. (plus batteries)

    Pros of the Titan

  • High Power Output (and Input).  With 3000W of continuous output and an astounding 7700W Surge, the Titan can power nearly everything  in your home (including portable AC units). The Titan can also be powered with up to 2000W of solar panels, so continous use of high capacity electronics is a reality. 
  • Efficient Charging.  The titan comes with not one, but two MPPT charge controllers that maximize the efficiency of solar charging.  As a bonus, the AC wall charger is also very efficient, able to fully recharge the 2000wH battery in as little as 4 hours.
  • Tons of Plugs.  Not only does the Titan have 6 AC outlets, 4 12V DC ports, and a total of 8 USB ports, but this generator has a 30amp RV plug (and the capacity to power it).
  • Storage.  The flexible battery options of the Titan allow you to choose the amount of power you need to store.  Batteries for the Titan can be easily removed, expanded, or stacked and strung together. 
  • Cons of the Titan

  • Price.  With the Titan, you get what you pay for.  Retailing at nearly $3,000, unfortunately the Titan is not affordable for those on a tight budget.  
  • Weight.  The dual MPPT charge controllers, 3000W inverter, and 2000wH battery weigh the unit down to about 35 pounds.  Additional batteries make the unit even heavier.  
  • Conclusion

    As far as a whole home power source goes, you’ll be happy you have the Titan Solar Generator.  Although it may be a bit expensive and bulky for recreational use, if you are looking for an emergency backup power system or the main source of power for your cabin, van, or RV, the Titan Solar Generator is the best solar generator available today. 

    Learn more about the Titan Solar Generator

    Jackery Solar Generator

    Jackery Explorer 500

    The Jackery Explorer 500, from Honda, has gained a lot of notoriety online as the most portable solar power station available today.  It’s sleek design, light weight, and top handle make it perfect for clean energy on the go.

    Key Components 

    • Battery: 518Wh Lithium Ion
    • Inverter: 500W / 1000W Surge
    • Charging Options:  Solar panels, AC, & DC
    • Outputs: 1 standard AC outlet,  1 DC outlet (12V), 3 USB ports
    • Shelf Life: 3-6 months
    • Weight: 13.3 lbs

    Pros of the Jackery 500

  • Powerful Enough.  Although it isn’t going to power your home, the Jackery Explorer 500’s 500W inverter is more than powerful enough to charge laptops, phones, or medical devices.
  • Truly Portable.  Without a doubt, the portability of the Jackery Explorer 500 is what sets it apart from its competitors.  At half the weight of most solar generators on the market, you can take this anywhere.
  • Warranty.  The Jackery Explorer 500 comes with a 2 year manufacturer's warranty!
  • Cons of the Jackery 500

  • Not Enough Outlets.  This generator only has 1 AC outlet, which truly limits the charging capabilities of multiple devices.  Additionally, all 3 USB ports are standard, with no class-C available. 
  • Slow Solar Charging.  Under ideal solar conditions, the Jackery Explorer 500 is estimated to fully charge in 9 hours. Whereas the estimated wall and vehicle charging times, 7.5 hours and 11.5 hours respectively, are impressive, sustained use from the sun alone is difficult. 
  • Limited Life Cycle.  Rated at only 500 battery cycles to 80% efficiency, long term use of the Jackery will quickly diminish the power. 
  • Conclusion

    The Jackery Explorer 500 is a great lightweight option for a portable source of power.  We cannot recommend the Explorer as a permanent source of power, however, it is a great solar generator for camping, festivals, tailgating, or in an emergency situation.  There is also a LED flashlight built right into the hardware as a cool, added bonus. 

    Learn More about the Jackery 500

    Conclusion

    When it comes to buying a solar generator there are many things to consider. We hope this guide helped clarify some things for you and that you feel much more confident in terms of what generator will best meet your needs.


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