Top 7 Solar Generators  + Complete Buyer's Guide
*WARNING: This is the biggest solar generator guide ever written (over 12k words) so bookmark this page for future reading now! - Read time: 33 minutes
Are you looking for the best solar generator money can buy? But feeling completely lost on how to chose the best one? Still not even sure what a solar generator is or how they work? OR if a solar generator will even work for you? If any of these questions apply to you, this guide is the answer.
We’ve taken years of experience, tons of real world experience and laid it all out here with hopes that by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be a solar generator expert.
You’ll learn everything from how to determine what solar generator makes the most sense for your needs, how solar generators actually work, the pros and cons compared to gas generators, PLUS what type of solar panels you’ll need for recharging your solar generator, how to connect the solar panels, how and where to mount the panels and more! So let's dive in..
We've outlined a table of contents below, so if you just want to know what the best solar generators are, skip to the Top 7 solar generators section. Or if you're trying to figure out which solar panels will work with your solar generator, skip to the choosing solar panels section.
Solar Generator Guide - Table of Contents:
- What is a solar generator?
- Why are they called a solar generator?
- The evolution of solar generators
- What are solar generators usually used for?
- What can a solar generator power?
- 3 things to know when choosing a solar generator
- 2 important solar generator equations
- Top 7 Solar Generators 
- Solar Generators to AVOID
- Complete Solar Generator Comparison Chart
- Solar Generator Tiers (Tier 1, 2 & 3)
- Solar Generators vs Gas/Fuel Generators (Pros & Cons)
- Solar Generator as Whole Home Backup (vs a Generac)
- What CAN’T you use a solar generator for?
- How do solar generators work? (Internal Components)
- How to use & maintain a solar generator
- How to charge a solar generator’s battery
- How to choose solar panels for a solar generator
- How to wire solar panels for a solar generator
- How to use & mount the solar panels
- Solar Generators vs DIY Hard Wired Solar Power Systems
- Frequently asked Solar Generator Questions
What is a Solar Generator?
The easiest way to think of a solar generator, is just like a standard gas generator you might see at a campground or in your dads garage, but instead of twisting the top off and putting fuel in, a solar generator is built to take-in solar power (from panels), then it stores that power in its battery (AKA fuel tank) and converts it to useable AC power just like a normal gas generator does. A solar generator offers a clean, quiet, maintenance free alternative to your standard gas generator which requires you to buy fuel, do routine oil changes, worry about noise, and more.
Solar generators are very similar to gas powered generators in that they vary in size/power output but are still generally compact, portable machines capable of supplying you with power when camping, in an emergency power outage situation, or anywhere you might think of using a traditional gas generator.
You might be thinking, what’s the catch then, why the heck would ANYONE buy a gas generator anymore if you can get a solar generator instead? It’s a valid question, that being said, there are a number of things to consider when it comes to figuring out IF and WHICH solar generator makes the most sense for you. There are also some pros and cons worth considering as well as a number of different factors you need to take into account when shopping for the best solar generator to meet your needs.
Keep reading to learn more about why they are actually called solar generators and what the pros and cons are compared to gas generators.
Should We Really Call it a Solar Generator?
There are plenty of opinions about the word “solar generator”. You’ve probably seen people arguing in Youtube and Facebook comments about whether or not they should even be called a solar generator. Often the logic goes something like “they don’t even generate anything, so how can you call it a solar GENERATOR?”. Which is fair enough, however, it begs the question, does a gas generator actually generate anything?
They both turn a different source of “fuel” into usable power, which we’ve come to know as a generator. So for sake of keeping things simple, we’ve decided to go with the term solar generator.
The only major difference between gas generators and solar generators, is the fact that a solar generator requires solar panels to input (fuel) solar power, whereas gas generators require some type of fossil fuel to generate the electricity.
The Evolution of Solar Generators:
Solar generators have been around for years, popular amongst the DIY community back in the early 2000’s with Goal Zero coming along around 2007 with the first form of a done for you portable power station. From there, many brands have entered the market with some of the most well-known solar generators being the Inergy Kodiak, the Inergy Apex, the Jackery Honda, Bluetti Solar Generator by MaxOak, the Titan solar generator by Point Zero as well as the EcoFlow Delta by EcoFlow.
*Right-Click and open image in new tab to see full size*
The solar generator market has evolved a ton in the past 10 years which is why you’ve probably started considering one more and more. Just a few years ago solar generators weren’t nearly as powerful and cost twice as much. As time goes on, we believe they are only going to become more powerful and more cost effective.
What are solar generators usually used for?
Electricity is such a part of daily life that often we take it for granted. Unfortunately, when it is unavailable, we tend to realize how much of modern society relies on electricity.
As a convenient way to create, transport and use electricity, solar power generators can be extremely useful to have in many different scenarios.
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand that solar powered generator is very similar to a gas powered one, except it’s burning solar energy instead of gas. Below, we will outline some of the most common uses for solar generators.
An Emergency Back-up Source Of Power
If your home loses access to electricity from the utility, it can be extremely stressful. For your safety and well-being, you will want to have a source of electricity that can power your fridge, fan, medical devices (CPAP machines), phones, and more. In certain areas, grid blackouts can last for hours, days and weeks on end without any real indication of when service will resume.
As an emergency source of electricity, solar generators are especially useful in areas that are subject to:
- Hurricane season
- Heavy Winds
- Or Frequent Blackouts
In critical conditions, it may be unsafe to travel and stay with loved ones. For homes in areas with potential to lose power, it is important to have life sustaining resources available in your home. With an emergency back up solar generator kit, you can keep your appliances and communication equipment powered by a completely free source of energy. So long as the sun is shining, you can harness and deploy solar energy wherever it is needed.
PG&E Grid Blackouts
In 2019, Pacific Gas and Electric, a California utility company, cut off the electricity of 179,000 customers in the face of a new wildfire threat. Although designed as a safety precaution, the company received extreme backlash for disconnecting thousands of families’ access from their electricity during a critical and dangerous situation. Rightfully so, as homes in the midst of wildfire threats need electricity more than ever to power cell phones, food storage devices (fridges & freezers), fans, and medical devices.
Unfortunately, this may be a growing trend, as preemptive grid blackouts have been reported in 2020 and threatened by additional California electric providers. The worst aspect of this new practice is that there is no definitive timeline on how long the outages will last. Without the option to opt out, the utility is in complete control of your power. As the food spoils in the fridge and your cell phone battery begins to deplete, it is crucial to have access to a backup source of electricity.
The best way to set up and use an independent electricity power station is with a solar powered generator kit. Even in smoky conditions, a solar generator can charge and continuously run lifesustating devices like cell phones, small electric appliances, CPAP machines, refrigerators, lights and more.
SHTF (Sh*t Hits the Fan) - Emergency Preparedness
For emergency preparedness and survivalists, there is nothing more important than being ready for when “shit hits the fan” (SHTF). Although this is not the prettiest way to describe the event, neither a slow or immediate collapse in society is certainly not going to be easy to watch. For this reason, a solar generator kit is an essential part of any emergency plan for when SHTF.
Here are the main reasons why people love solar generators for emergency backup:
- Nearly Silent Operation (stealth)
- Rated for Indoor Use
- Extremely Portable (Grab and Go) Power
- An Unlimited Source of Free Energy
As you can see, solar power generators are perfect for when SHTF. A solar generator is stealthy, in that it can be used indoors and does not create a lot of noise. If you are on the go, a portable power station is ideal because the battery can be recharged anywhere the sunshines. Oh and don’t forget, sunlight is free! The last thing you will want in the end of times is to have to stop at the gas station.
Recreational Uses for Solar Generators
Of course, you don’t need to be prepared for the end of the world to enjoy an exceptional amount of use out of a solar generator. For outdoor enthusiasts and sports fans alike, having a little extra power around is always a great idea.
Most commonly, solar powered generators are used recreationally for:
- Overlanding (Road Trips)
- And Enjoying the Outdoors
For all of these instances, a portable power generator can keep the fun going while powering mini fridges, electric coolers, speakers, phones, and more. In sunny conditions, solar generators can be used to supply an essentially unlimited amount of power during festivals or long excursions into the wilderness.
Portable Power for a Mobile Lifestyle
Of course, if you enjoy overlanding and the outdoors as much as some people, you may be inclined to go out and explore the world full time. For those that are living in an RV, van, or skoolie, a solar generator is one of the easiest ways to establish an easy, reliable source of electricity.
Although there are some road warriors out there in an old box truck or ambulance, solar power generators are extremely popular in:
- Recreational Vehicles (RVs)
- Vans (Van-life)
- Schoolbuses (Skoolies)
- Boats (at Sea or on the Lake)
Despite how glamorous it may seem on social media, life on the road can be tough. So if you’re not an electrical engineer, a solar generator kit is a quick way to set up an off-grid power system. Not only is this sure to rid any anxieties you may have had about the often-intimidating process of setting up solar, a solar generator is extremely easy to use on a day to day basis.
With a variety of available plugs and ports, solar power generators are great for:
- Setting up Mobile Workstations
- Powering Interior Lights
- Kitchen Appliances (Fridge, Blender, etc.)
- Entertainment (TVs, Video Games, etc.)
- Medical Devices
Solar Powered Generators for Professional Services
If there is a blackout, it becomes more dangerous than ever to be in the need of a professional service. Luckily, many hospitals in North America have plenty of backup power sources, but what about smaller practices or those in remote locations?
In addition to emergency power, there are actually many practical and professional uses for solar generators that people take advantage of everyday. This includes:
- Medical Offices
- Vet Clinics & Mobile Animal Businesses
- Remote Job Sites
- Construction (Primarily Indoor)
In California, the PG&E blackouts have caused many life-saving professionals to rely on alternative, affordable sources of energy to continue working. Solar generators can be easily transported and do not emit any harmful toxins that would prevent them from being used indoors. For this reason, they are great for safely powering medical devices, computers, and construction equipment in areas where utility power is temporarily or permanently unavailable.
Solar Generators for Medical Devices (CPAP Machine, Oxygen Concentrators etc.)
If you rely on an electric medical device for sleeping, breathing or anything else, the thought of a power outage can be extremely stressful. Until recently, the main options for this type of situation was going to a friend or family members or having a gas generator running outside.
Solar generators are quickly becoming the most popular options for people looking to power a cpap machine, run their oxygen concentrator and more. Wether it’s running your cpap machine in a power outage or on a weekend camping trip - you can set your solar generator directly beside your bed and enjoy a good nights sleep.
What Can A Solar Generator Actually Power?
The sky's the limit in terms of what a solar generator can power. Some solar generators are like marathon runners, they don’t output a ton of power at once, but will last a very long time whereas other solar generators are like sprinters, they can output a ton of power, but don’t last quite as long.
This means some portable solar generators are designed to merely charge a few cell phones, high powered generators can handle loads of electricity to meet the demand of most households. Although this list is certainly not definitive, solar energy generators are most commonly used to power:
- Food Storage (Refrigerators and Coolers)
- Electronic Devices (Phones, Laptops,Tablets, etc.)
- Entertainment (TVs, gaming systems, speakers, etc.)
- Appliances (Kitchen, medical, power tools, etc.)
- Lights, Fans, Electric Blankets & More!
3 Steps to Choosing the BEST Solar Generator for YOUR needs
This is usually the hardest part of shopping for a solar generator, trying to figure out which one is best for you. You can watch YouTube videos until you’re blue in the face but it can still feel daunting! Not to worry though - we’re here to save the day and make buying a solar generator super simple.
The first step in determining which solar generator makes the most sense for you, comes down to one question: what are you looking to power? So with this in mind, write down or take a mental note of the 3-5 main things that you would like to power with a solar generator so that the rest of this section makes more sense.
It’s also important to note here that although solar generator technology is moving quickly, it’s still fairly unrealistic to think a solar generator would be capable of running your entire home including heating, cooling, water pumps etc. As mentioned before, these work more like portable gas generators than a whole-home Generac solution.
That being said, it’s not unrealistic to get a solar generator capable of powering multiple fridges, freezers, lights, electric blankets, charging phones, laptops, tv’s and more all while the generator is sitting on your dining room table!
Now that you know what you’d like to power. It’s time to get a little more technical. There are 3 main specs/numbers on every generator that you really need to be paying attention to when it comes to choosing the best solar generator for your needs:
The 3 main numbers/features we need to pay attention to when sizing our solar generator are:
- Battery Size / How long it will last - Measured in watt hours (wH)
- Input / Recharge rate from solar and/or AC/DC - Measured in Watts (W)
- Output / Inverter size - Measured in watts (W)
#1. Battery Size / How Long It Will Last - Watt Hours
Your solar generator's battery size is basically it’s fuel tank. So we want to be looking at the watt hours when trying to figure out how big the battery is. This number has nothing to do with “what can it power” but more “how long could it power X” (more on this shortly). The size of the battery is almost always directly proportional to the cost of a solar generator, as the more lithium battery, the more expensive the generator. However, this almost always means, more storage capacity = you can run your electric devices for longer periods of time.
#2. Charging Rate / Solar Input
When weighing your options, the efficiency and speed at which you can charge a solar generator’s battery is one of the most important real-time factors to consider. If you’re hoping to continuously run your system with solar energy, you will want to find a generator that is rated to quickly charge your battery with PV solar panels.
On the other hand, if you mainly plan on charging your solar generator at home by plugging it into the wall before your next adventure, then you will want to pay close attention to AC (wall outlet) charging times. In both solar and AC charging, time is everything when it comes to generating and using your electricity. High efficiency charging systems lead to the best overall user experience.
Input / Recharge rate from solar and/or AC/DC
The second thing to consider is “how long will it take to recharge the generator from 0%”? This is determined but the amount of input on each generator. So you might see, up to 500W of solar input, or 1200W of AC input when charging from the wall. Generally the bigger the input, the quicker the generator will recharge but more on this in our video below!
#3. Output / Inverter Size
Lastly, the size of the inverter is very important to consider when thinking about what devices you want to power with your solar generator. This number is what determines the “can it run X” question since you’ll need a big enough inverter to handle something like an air conditioner for example (the battery size just tells you how long you can suck that much out via the inverter before it’s drained.
Inverters are rated at continuous and surge wattage load levels (i.e. 1500W continuous, 3000W surge). The continuous wattage is rated so as to illustrate the electric load a solar generator can handle for a long period of time. The surge rating is more of a “safety net” for small periods of high demand, such as when you start up an air conditioning unit. If you want to power high wattage devices, then you will have to get an inverter that is rated to a capacity higher than the sum of your electrical appliances.
2 MUST Know Solar Generator Equations:
We created this short video to teach you 2 equations you need to know when trying to figure out 1. How long will X solar generator last? AND 2. How long will it take to recharge X solar generator from the wall and/or solar panels?
Keep these in mind, or write them down so you can plug and play the numbers with each solar generator.
Top 7 Solar Generators  - Pros & Cons
One thing to be clear about is that solar generators come in many different shapes, sizes, and qualities. Although it can be difficult to pin down the “best solar generators in 2020,” there are definitely products that are atop the list for their reliability and performance.
Below, we will showcase some of the best solar generators available today, breaking down their components, weighing the pros and cons, and recommending best uses for each product.
#1 and #2 are both made by MaxOak. For a few years now, the company MaxOak has been producing high quality solar generators under the Bluetti product line. Although they are rated at different capacities and price points, it is hard to go wrong with a reliable, Bluetti power station.
Without breaking the bank, the Bluetti EB150 is a fully-functional solar generator with great battery life, quick solar charging, and plenty of options to plug in devices in a variety of power outlets. With the Bluetti EB150, you get a 1500Wh battery that can be fully recharged with 400W of solar panels in as little as 4 hours. This massive battery bank and efficient recharging speed make it great for continuously using large amounts of power throughout the day and overnight.
For even more battery life, those who use a lot of daily electricity may also consider the Bluetti EB240. With this model, users receive a huge 2400Wh battery bank This is enough storage to power a television for 30+ hours or run a CPAP machine for over 80 hours.
Although the Bluetti is a great solar generator with a long lifecycle and great warranties, there are a few drawbacks to the devices. Both the EB150 and EB240 models are limited by a 1000W inverter, which may not be enough to run large devices like air conditioners. Bluetti’s are also slow to charge when plugged into an AC wall outlet (about 10 hours), taking twice as solar charging (<5 hours in ideal sunlight conditions).
Bottom line, Bluetti solar generators are great for people looking for large amounts of storage over a long period of time. Compared to the sum of their parts, Bluetti’s are inexpensive and offer thousands of cycles for large amounts of efficient solar power.
The EcoFlow Delta has quickly become one of the most popular solar generators on the market in 2020. With an 1800 watt inverter, 1300 watt hour battery and 400 watts of solar input, the EcoFlow Delta is a 30lbs beast. It also has an unmatched 1200 watts of AC input meaning you can recharge this thing from a wall outlet in under 2 hours from 0% to 100%.
EcoFlow Delta Pros:
First, let’s start with what separates the EcoFlow Delta from the rest of the pack: rapid AC charging. While some solar generators need 10 to 24 hours to fully recharge, the EcoFlow Delta can do that in under 2 hours. In fact, from a completely dead battery, the EcoFlow Delta can be plugged into a wall and brought to 80% capacity in just one hour.
This rapid charging speed has changed the game for solar generators, making it extremely easy to quickly charge your device and transport the power wherever it is needed. The Delta is a mere 14kg (30.9 lbs), and contains a 1300Wh battery. Even more impressive, the EcoFlow Delta has a 1800W continuous inverter. With that capacity, high powered electronics like power tools, medical devices, and air conditioning units can be run, no problem.
Watch our In-Depth EcoFlow Delta Review Here:
Ultimately, the EcoFlow Delta is the best “weekend” solar power generator. Even if you forget to charge it, 1 hour later, it will have enough capacity for you to hit the road. With that said, it can also be recharged with your vehicle (10-12 hours) or with solar panels (4-5 hours). Once at capacity, the Delta has a whopping 6 AC outlets in addition to ample USB ports.
EcoFlow Delta Cons:
The EcoFlow Delta is truly one of the best options available however it does have a few cons. The first is the fan, some say it can be a little noisy at times, the equivalent of a desktop computer or a ceiling fan in a home. For some, using this power a cpap beside the bed for example, might not be ideal. The other con for the Delta would be the lower lifecycles (800). Compared to others it doesn’t have as many lifecycles, the reasons for this though are that its EXTREMELY powerful solar generator. Because it can output 1800W of power and can take-in 1200W of input when charging, this takes a toll on the battery long term (but makes for a great user experience).
Although most people say the EcoFlow Delta is ideal for recreation, the Delta is also a great solar generator as an emergency backup source of power. The Delta can handle large, continuous loads, recharges quickly and makes it easy to transport and power many electric devices at once.
For those looking for the absolute best solar generator money can buy, look no further than the Titan Solar Generator from Point Zero. The Titan is an absolute beast of a unit, capable of backing up an entire home's power with solar electricity. That being said, keep in mind it’s in a category of its own when it comes to pricing.
To compare the Titan to other solar generators is like comparing Niagara falls to your kitchen faucet. The Titan comes with a 3000W continuous (6000W surge) inverter capable of powering nearly everything in your home simultaneously. Plus, the system is built on easily “stackable” 2000wH battery banks. If you continuously charge, swap and store batteries, you are left with essentially an “unlimited” supply of high-powered solar electricity.
Of course, the Titan solar generator is expensive, but startup costs are well worth the price for this incredibly powerful device. The Titan can handle up to 2000 watts (2kW) of solar power input, which means that it can be connected to large mobile or permanently mounted arrays of solar panels. The system is built around two separate MPPT charge controllers for the most efficient input possible.
Once you’ve got the power, the Titan solar generator also has a ton of output options. It has six standard wall outlets, six USB outlets, four 12V DC power outlets, and even a 30 amp RV plug. If you’re using this thing at an RV park, your neighbors will thank you for its silent operation (in comparison to a traditional gas generator).
The Titan really only has two main cons, the first being portability as it’s not the lightest of solar generators on the market and is not probably the best choice for those looking to put something in the back of the van for weekend getaways. The second con is the price. Starting at nearly $3k, the Titan is not an entry level solar generator and is meant for people looking for serious power.
So although the Titan is not the most “portable” power generator, it is absolutely one of the best ways to power large electricity demands with green energy. The unit itself weighs 32 lbs, with each battery weighing about 35 additional pounds. Thankfully, solar generators like the Titan are rated for indoor use, and can be transported and powered anywhere as a full-home backup system.
The Bluetti AC200 solar generator might be one of the most anticipated solar generators of all-time! Launched in November 2020, it has a 1700 watt hour lithium battery, a 2000 watt continuous output (inverter) and a whopping 700 watts of solar input making it one of the best all around solar generators.
The AC200 is powerful enough to run appliances such as your fridge, freezer and even microwave as well as air conditioners, power tools and more.
The AC200 is largely touted for its ability to output 2000 watts continuously. This means you could run multiple fridges and even an A/C at the same time. The other big benefit of the AC200 is the fact it has 700 Watts of solar input. This means that if your battery dies overnight, you’ll be able to recharge it in under 3 hours from the sun (1700wh/700w = 2.5 hrs) and then use all of that extra energy to run appliances and charge devices.
The biggest con on the AC200 solar generator is the battery size, coming in at 1700 watt hours, it’s quite a bit less than the Bluetti EB240 and only 400 watt hours more than the EcoFlow Delta 1800. The fact that you can input 700W of solar does offset this a bit, however it would have been nice to see something bigger than the EB240’s 2400wh of battery.
The other con is the sheer size of the AC200, weighing in at 70 lbs, the AC200 is on the verge of not being a very portable solar generator. At this size, it would be best suited for permanent applications in the home or RV.
The Lion Safari ME solar generator was launched in June 2020 and has received great feedback. A bit of a sleeper pick as Lion didn’t do much of a marketing push for the launch of this unit as it falls into their product line of other lithium battery products.
Lion Safari ME Pros:
With a 2000W continuous output (same as AC200) and a 922 watt hour base unit, you can add the 2,048 expansion battery and end up with a total of 2,970 watt hours of lithium battery. This makes the ME one of the biggest, most powerful solar generators on the market!
Lion Safari ME Cons:
The biggest con with the Safari ME is the fact that its base unit only has 922 watt hours, so you need to get the expansion battery in order to achieve optimal sizing. And with that, you’ve got 2 x pieces that are each 40lbs, so combined it’s an 80lbs unit.
Lastly, Inergy is an exciting company to watch when looking for the best solar generator in 2020. The company has released the Inergy Apex power station which is one of the best selling solar generators available today. The Apex is a follow up to the Kodiak Solar Generator, and the company is planning to release the Inergy Flex sometime soon.
Flex 1500 Pros:
With all of Inergy’s products, you get a reliable and portable power supply. Despite its high powered inverter and battery storage, the Inergy Apex weighs a mere 20 lbs. Plus, it has a handle for easy transport and plenty of ports for powering all of your devices.
The Inergy Flex is also aimed to continue the company’s tradition of providing the fastest overall PV solar panel charging available in a solar generator. The Flex is slated to charge its 1069Wh battery in as little as one hour in ideal sun conditions. For those looking for fast, usable loads of solar electricity, an Inergy solar generator is perfect for portable power.
Flex 1500 Cons:
The Flex is definitely a big improvement over Inergy’s last two solar generators, the Kodiak and the Apex. That being said, the 1500 watt inverter still seems low for such a big battery bank. For example, the EcoFlow Delta (launched a year earlier) comes with a bigger inverter and a bigger battery. The Flex’s batteries are 1,069 watt hours whereas the Delta is 1260 watt hours to be exact, so it feels like they could have gone bigger on both of these. That said, it’s still a VERY portable solar generator which is what Inergy is going for.
Top 7 Solar Generators Conclusion:
For most people, the best option here is going to be one of the EcoFlow Delta, Bluetti EB240 or Bluetti AC200. These each have a nice mix of battery and output and fall within most peoples budgets.
However, if you’re looking for as much power as possible, you may want to consider one of the modular solar generators in the Titan, Lion Safari ME or Flex 1500.
Complete Solar Generator Comparison Chart (Only the best solar generators made our comparison chart):
*Right-Click and open image in new tab to see full size*
If you’re looking for a solar generator in the sub $1,000 range, there really isn’t much different between a lot of the brands and specs. Something like the EcoFlow River 600 or the Jackery Explorer 500 are going to be the best option here but more on smaller solar generators next..
Best Small Solar Generators:
Not everyone needs upwards of 1000W of power, that being said, the focus of this article is on helping people make a big buying decision. However, for those looking for a small battery to bring on weekend trips or to have handy in the case of an emergency, there are some solar generators available that can deliver a reliable amount of electricity at a low cost. In fact, there are many small, portable solar generators that can do the trick.
One of the biggest names in recreational solar generators is Rockpals. Rockpals units, like their 300W solar generator, are capable of storing enough electricity to run your phones, laptops, lights, and minifridges in a device that weighs less than 10 lbs. Plus, at around $250, rockpals are one of the cheapest ways to safely run medical devices like CPAP machines silently throughout the night.
Top 3 Small Solar Generators:
#1. EcoFlow River 600
#2. Jackery Explorer 500
#3. RockPals 520
Additionally, those with smaller electricity demands should consider a solar generator from Lion Energy. Both Lion’s Safari LT and Cub Go are handy for bringing and harnessing solar energy on the move. These devices weigh just 11 and 3 lbs respectively and are great for continuously powering devices like laptops, phones, cameras, and other small electronic devices.
Solar Generators to AVOID!
Patriot Power Generator
Launched in 2015, the Patriot Power Generator has built a name for itself in the prepper community as a backup power option in case SHTF. However, at $2400+ for a solar generator that’s half the size of the top 7 solar generators listed above, it’s VERY hard to recommend the Patriot Power Generator. For a more in-depth review on this, read our patriot power generator review article here.
Compare The Patriot Power Generator to the EcoFlow Delta 1800
The most popular and best patriot power generator alternative is by far the EcoFlow Delta 1800 Solar Generator Quad kit with 4 x 100 watt solar panels.
The Delta solar generator has twice as much battery capacity, same size inverter with a bigger surge and comes in 15lbs lighter and charges up twice as quick!
Patriot Power Generator Vs EcoFlow Delta 1800 Solar Generator:
Jackery 1000 Portable Power Station
The Jackery 1000 falls on this list because based on its specs and price point, it feels as though you’d be better off going with a Bluetti EB150 or even the EcoFlow Delta. For the extra $150-$300, the value far exceeds the additional cost.
For example, the jackery retails for $1000 and has a 1000 watt hour battery and 500 lifecycles whereas something like the Bluetti EB150 has a 1500 watt hour battery and 2,000 lifecycles for around $1200. The Delta also has a 1300 watt hour battery and 1800 watt inverter (output) compared to the Jackery’s 1000 battery and 1000 output for around $300 more.
Goal Zero Yeti
For the same reasons as the Jackery, it’s hard to recommend the Goal Zero options as their price points come in much higher and the specs are usually less than those of the 7 solar generators listed above. They have a built a very good name for themselves and are a socially responsible company but when it comes to value for dollars, we believe there are better options available to you.
Solar Generator Kits - What are they? Pros & Cons
Bluetti EB240 Quad Kit (#1 Best Selling Solar Generator Kit)
Before we dive into the best solar generators available today, let’s quickly talk about solar generator kits. What are they, how they work and the benefits of getting a complete solar generator kit.
Solar generator kits are a done for you package that comes with everything you need to get up and running including solar panels, branch connectors and mc4 pv extension cables.
Pros of Solar Generator Kits:
- Include everything you need! - You won’t have to worry about getting anything else.
- Panel Compatibility - It’s important the solar panels are compatible with the solar generator and that they meet the proper specs.
- Bulk Pricing - Usually, when you buy a complete kit, the pricing will be better than buying everything separately.
Cons of Solar Generator Kits:
- Solar Panel Options - You may be limited to the type of solar panels included with the kits.
- PV Extension Cable - There may not be long enough extension cables included with the kits so you will have to add more to your order.
Aside from this though, buying a complete solar generator kit is usually the way to go as it’s much easier, less complicated and gives you peace of mind knowing everything will work together.
Watch our video on which solar panel connectors you'll need / come in the kits:
Looking at the tiers of solar generators below will also help you get an idea of what tier solar generator you should be looking at. By doing this, you’re going to eliminate a lot of “potential” options that are not in the tier of generator you need.
Solar Generator Tiers
Now that we’ve covered what are the best and worst solar generators available, we want to give you a way of thinking about all of them so we’ve come up with three tiers of solar generators.
Tier three being the smallest and least powerful and Tier one being the biggest and most powerful.
Tier 3 Generators - 100-1000 watt hour batteries & 50-500 watt inverters
These solar generators have less than 1000wH batteries and inverters of 500 watts or less. This means they would be great for charging cell phones and laptops as well as running a little 12V DC camping fridge for a weekend.
These generators are NOT really an option for home back up and full size refrigerators.
Popular Tier 3 solar generators are:
- EcoFlow River 600 Solar Generator
- Jackery 500 & Jackery 1000 portable power station
- RockPals 520wH solar generator
- Goal Zero Yeti 500 solar generator
Tier 2 Solar Generators - 1000-2000 watt hour batteries and 1000 watt+ inverters
These solar generators have between 1000wH and 2000wH batteries and inverters of 1000W or more. This the most popular tier of solar generator, especially when it comes to home backup, RVing, Van life and emergency preparedness. These size solar generators are great for running a full size fridge, TV, lights, fans and even small air conditioners.
These generators usually have 400W+ of solar input as well meaning they can take in lots of power during the day while the sun is shining, allowing you to use power all day, while still going into the evening at close to 100% battery.
Popular Tier 2 solar generators are:
- EcoFlow Delta 1800 Solar Generator
- Bluetti EB150 Solar Generator
- Bluetti AC200 Solar Generator
- Inergy Flex Portable Power Station
- Goal Zero Yeti 1400 solar generator
Tier 1 Solar Generators - 2000+ watt hour batteries and 1000+ watt inverters
These solar generators have 2000wH+ batteries and 1000W+ inverters/output. This the top of the mountain in terms of biggest and most expensive solar generators on the market. These are also the closest to a home backup power supply that you can get These size solar generators are great for running just about anything around the house, camp or off grid property.
These generators usually have 500W+ of solar input which means they can take in lots of solar power during the day while the sun is shining, allowing you to use power all day, while still going into the evening at close to 100% battery.
Some popular Tier 1 solar generators are:
- Titan Solar Generator
- Lion Safari ME Solar Generator
- Bluetti EB240 Solar Generator
Now that we’ve established what to look for in a solar generator and the different tiers. You should have it narrowed down to at least which tier generator you’re going to need.
Solar Generators vs. Gas Generators - How do they compare?
As we’ve already alluded to, solar generators are most commonly compared to their predecessors, gas generators. Gas generators have been used for decades for home backups and remote work sites, however, solar generators are steadily growing as competitive alternatives. Below, we will outline some of the major advantages and disadvantages when comparing solar and gas generators.
Let’s start with the reasons why more and more people are adopting solar generators over traditional gas generators. Here are solar powered generators strongest advantages:
Pro: Indoor Usage
Above all, the ability to be used indoors is one of the most convenient innovations that solar generators have brought about. Unlike gas generators, when a solar energy station is in use, there are no toxic fumes released. If the power goes out, a solar energy generator can be utilized to run electronics, appliances, and medical devices anywhere in your home.
Pro: Silent Operation
Compared to the racking noises of gas generators, the silent hum of a solar generator at work allows for a peaceful user experience.
This also makes solar energy generators popular for those in small spaces like vans and RVs. If you’re camping, you can even bring one in your tent to charge your phone or power your CPAP machine.
Pro: Unlimited Source of Power
You read that correctly, solar generators run on an unlimited source of power: sunlight. With the right set of solar panels, a solar generator can provide a continuous source of electricity in any location where the sun shines. Even in areas where sunlight is scarce, a few hours of direct sunlight may be enough to charge highly-efficient solar generator kits. Solar generator can also be charged off of your standard wall outlet, or from the cigarette port in your vehicle. Giving you three ways of recharging the battery.
Pro: No Extra Costs
The main thing to understand about sunlight is that it is free. Free! Until they figure out a way to tax it, solar generators can be run at absolutely no additional costs after buying the equipment. With a fuel generator, refueling requires additional trips to the gas station, costing both time and money.
Pro: Off Grid Capabilities
As they can be run continuously in remote locations, solar generators have a much higher off-grid potential than gas generators. Whether you are overlanding, out at sea, or tucked away in your remote mountain cabin, a solar generator can be used to generate electricity without having to go to the store or pay a utility bill.
Solar generator kits are essentially miniature power plants that can sustain your electricity needs so long as you would like to remain off of the grid.
Pro: No Maintenance Required
Throughout the lifespan of a solar powered generator, very little maintenance (if any) is required. Although, like all electronics, device parts may fail, high quality solar generators are typically protected in thorough product warranties.
On the other hand, gas generators are high maintenance devices, requiring parts, fuel, and filter changes necessary after specified periods of run time. This requires additional tools, skills, and time taken to monitor and upkeep a gas generator to its fullest potential.
Solar generators deliver not only a better, but also a longer lifespan than most similar sized-gas generators. While diesel generators typically last 20,000 to 30,000 hours, smaller residential gas generators only deliver between 2,000 and 3,000 hours of power.
Solar power generators lifespan is measured in battery “life cycles”, meaning how many times the battery can be fully charged and discharged. Most solar generators are rated between 1,000 and 2,500 lifecycles. The crucial difference here is that each lifecycle can last any amount of hours, all depending on your usage. If typical usage takes 5 hours to drain your solar generator’s battery, 2,000 life cycles at 5 hours each equals 10,000 hours of power. This is the equivalent of 4 to 5 gas generators.
Con: Higher Upfront Cost
In today’s market, gas generators typically have a much lower price point than solar powered generators. If you are looking for the cheapest way to get a lot of electric power, a gas generator will be the easiest option.
Of course, a gas generator incurs more cost over time with the need to purchase fuel. This, combined with a longer lifespan, often makes a solar generator a better long-term investment in terms of cost per watt hour of electricity.
Con: Limited Power Output
Of course, the most common criticism solar generators have in comparison to gas generators is the limited amount of power output. Solar generators are limited to the capacity of their inverters, and are generally less powerful than gas generators overall. Whereas you may be able to power 500W of continuous electricity with a solar generator, for the same price, you may be able to run 3000W of current with a gas generator. (This is the biggest determining factor when it comes to solar generators and something we’ll go more in-depth on later in the article).
That being said, there are more and more solar generators that are pushing the envelope in terms of power output (The Titan and Lion Safari ME for example). However, in order to run large loads for a sustained period of time, solar generators require large battery capacities for when sunlight is not directly available (which gets expensive since most solar generator batteries are lithium). This can make solar generators extremely costly, when compared to lower-priced, high-power gas generators.
Con: Limited Sunlight Hours
In a remote setting, a solar powered generator is limited to the amount of sunlight hours it can utilize each day. Solar panels still work on cloudy days, but in a limited capacity. This makes it challenging to sustain use of a solar powered generator in areas that experience long periods of overcast or limited direct sunlight hours per day.
Although it requires a steady supply of fuel, a gas generator can be recharged anytime, day or night. To compensate for this limitation, many solar generators can also be recharged using a wall outlet or vehicle port.
Solar Generator vs Whole-Home BackUp Generator (Think Generac)
When it comes to whole-home backup power solutions such as a Generac natural gas generator, there are some things we need to consider when comparing this option with a solar generator.
A Generac whole-home backup solution is going to enable you to live like normal, when everyone else is without power. You won’t be able to flick the lights on and run the central air off of your solar generator, that being said, you won’t have a monthly gas bill with your solar generator.
A Generac also means you’re relying on a gas company to ensure your home has a power source, so this doesn’t always sit well with people looking for a truly self-reliant back up power system. Overall, the cost of going with a Generac + installation will almost always far outweigh that of a solar generator, but with those added costs do come some serious benefits.
If you’re looking for more of a cost effective way to ensure you have some sort of power supply during outages, then a solar generator is a great alternative. It’s important to understand though that this means pulling out panels, setting up cables and running extension chords throughout the house, which to some people can seem like a lot of work.
What can’t you use a solar generator for?
Although they are great for a lot of applications, solar generators are not always the best choice for generating remote electricity. Most solar powered generators are rated to provide a continuous amount of low demand electricity over a long period of time. Limitations in battery and output capacity typically limit a solar generator’s ability to run:
- 1 HP Well Pumps
- Full Home Backup Systems
- Air Conditioning Units
- Large Construction Sites
Although some solar power generators, like the Titan solar generator and Lion Safari ME, are technically large enough to run bigger electrical loads, they may not always be the best solution.
For bigger watt draw applications like well pumps, 240v electricity and whole home back up situations, a traditional gas generator may make the most sense. Well pumps typically require 4000 to 6000 watt pumps whereas the biggest solar generator on the market right now is the Titan solar generator at 3000 watts of output.
If you’re set on doing solar for your well pump or other big appliances, you may want to consider a standalone solar energy system, with large and separate components, rather than an all-in-one package.
How Do Solar Generators Work?: The Components of a Solar Generator (What’s Inside)
Okay, now that we know what a solar generator is, the pros and cons compared to gas generators, let’s get technical! Solar power can seem both confusing and complicated, but a solar generator is actually a fairly simple machine and the goal of this guide is to dumb things down. We’ll go over each part inside a solar generator and then tie it all together at the end.
The Battery (Usually Lithium)
We all know gas generators have a fuel tank that you pour gas into, right? Well a solar generators “fuel tank” is simply the lithium battery inside of it. The bigger and more expensive the generator, usually the bigger the lithium battery or fuel tank. The battery size of your solar generator will determine the length of time you can use it, before having to recharge the system again. Most commonly, the size of the battery is measured in watt hours (Wh).
Today, most solar energy is stored in a lead acid or lithium ion battery. For solar generators, lithium batteries are the best choice. This is because they can be discharged to full capacity, used in any position, require no maintenance, and have longer, more efficient lifespans.
We will dive into how to figure out which battery size makes the most sense for you and “how long it will last” further down in the guide.
Inputs & Charging
You can input power into a solar generator via solar panels (DC power), your car cigarette port (DC Power) or from any standard wall outlet (AC power) and being able to charge your solar generator from multiple sources is a huge advantage.
In general, most solar generators come with MC4 (or MC-4) cable adapters that allow you to easily connect any standard solar panel. An MC4 cable is the most widely used wiring for DIY solar energy systems. With some generators or panels, an adapter may be required. This could be included with your product or may need to be purchased separately. Most people opt for a solar generator kit since these include EVERYTHING you need.
The Solar Inverter (Outputs / Pure Sine)
Solar energy is always generated and stored as direct current (DC) electricity. Direct current is a form of electricity that only flows in one direction, making it ideal for small, closed systems like the battery of a cell phone or a flashlight. Most of what you will want to power with your solar generator though will require AC power.
Alternating current (AC), is a form of electricity that can travel any direction. Because of this, it is able to power many different devices at a variety of voltages. For this reason, AC power is what is most commonly used in homes.
So the solar panels input DC charge into your battery and the power inverter inside the generator takes the power off of the battery and allows you to suck out AC power into common household appliances.
All solar generators have different size power inverters, which are usually measured in watts (W). The size of the inverter in the generator will determine what sort of appliances you can and can’t run. A coffee maker or air conditioner for example will require an inverter of at least 1000 watt or more, whereas cell phones and light recharging, may only require a 500 watt inverter.
Outputs / Plugs
Obviously, solar generators have many plugs and ports so that the energy stored within can be used. Most solar power stations have a variety of USB ports (type A and C) for charging small devices like phones, laptops, and portable speakers.
You will also find one or more standard 110V AC wall-plug outlets to power standard devices. Some power stations also include a 12V DC outlet, similar to the “cigarette lighter” in a vehicle.
These plugs are what allow you to suck power out (via the inverter).
Solar Charge Controller (MPPT)
In order to prevent the battery from becoming overcharged and damaged from any of the 3 charging methods we mentioned before (Solar panels, AC wall outlet, car port), most modern solar power stations come with a built-in charge controller.
The job of a charge controller is simple: to limit the amount of electricity being sent to the battery, even if the solar panels are generating electricity while plugged in and operating in the sun, in order to “protect the battery” from over charging. There are a few different names for solar charge controllers and they are sometimes simply known as “regulators.”
You’ve probably seen people talking about MPPT charge controller vs PWM charge controllers, but for sake of simplicity, you want to get a solar generator with an MPPT charge controller. This a more efficient, newer technology that will mean your generator will last longer.
The third and final number you’ll see people talking about when it comes to solar generators is the amount of solar input, usually measured in watts. Some solar generators can handle 100 watts input and some can handle 2000 watts of solar input.
The more solar input, the faster the battery will charge and the more power you’ll be able to use up during the day. We recommend going with a solar generator that has at least 200-300 watts of solar input.
Battery Monitoring System
With energy constantly being pushed in and out of the battery, a battery monitoring system (BMS) is a fancy word for a system that protects the battery from over voltage and other situations. It also works to allow screen displays, which provide you with a full detailed report of the battery’s current capacity level, current power input and output. A quality solar generator should allow you to see the rate at which electricity is being generated or used.
As their popularity grows, different solar generator manufacturers are included with interesting bonus features to make their products stand out in the marketplace. For most portable systems, a solar generator will include a handle or strap to make carrying a miniature power plant nice and easy. Some solar energy generators even include built-in LED lights or disntic operating modes.
How to Use & Maintain a Solar Generator
Without over-complicating things, using a solar generator is as easy as pressing the “on” button. Whenever the battery is charged, a solar powered portable power station is extremely user-friendly, in that it is incredibly easy to use.
From the simplest models to the high-powered machines, solar generators typically have a power switch and a number of outputs and ports. Simply flip the switch and plug in your electronic devices. From there, use the system’s monitoring capabilities to see when your battery will run out.
Solar generators can be recharged when the battery is completely dead, or while the battery is partially full and the system is in use. In this sense, they can be used continuously in the sunlight, or charged and taken to a remote location to be used overnight.
We recommend storing your solar generator fully charged and checking them every three to six months in order to ensure everything is working properly. It can also help to use them for a day every three to six months to keep them fresh and ready for when you need them most!
How to Charge Your Solar Generator’s Battery
As we’ve alluded to earlier, a solar generator gets its name from the ability to be recharged with solar energy. However, with new technologies developing daily, modern solar generators can also be charged using AC power from your home, or DC power from your vehicle.
Charging a Solar Generator with Solar Panels
Connecting solar panels to a solar generator is the best way to create a truly off-grid, renewable electricity system. With solar panels, you can recharge your portable power station anywhere in the world, so long as the sun is shining.
Each solar generator has a manufacturer's input rating, which recommends the maximum amount of solar power that can charge the battery without causing any damage. For small systems, a typical solar generator may be rated to handle anywhere from 50W to 500W of maximum solar input. Of course, there are outliers, as tiny systems may only handle 20W, while high-powered generators can handle upwards of 1000W of solar energy input.
Charging a Solar Generator with an AC (wall) Outlet
If you are headed out for a weekend of camping or tailgating, plugging your solar generator into an electrical outlet in your home is a great way to charge the battery. Although this may take a long time (Up to 20 hours for the Yeti Goal Zero) with some models, overnight charging is a convenient way to prepare your portable power station.
New solar generators, such as the EcoFlow Delta, have rapid AC (wall outlet) charging speeds as low as 2 hours to fill the battery to capacity. With this in mind, solar generators are now one of the best ways to quickly ready and deliver large amounts of electricity in an emergency or simply recreational situation.
Charging a Solar Generator with a Vehicle
For those on the go, whether as a full-time van-lifer or a weekend warrior, having a solar generator that can be charged with your vehicle is a convenient way to generate power on the road. Although some models may require a seperate adapter, many solar powered generators have a DC input port, of which you can connect to your automobiles auxiliary power outlet.
Although this source of 12V DC electricity was originally designed for a cigarette lighter, it can be used to steadily charge a solar generator’s battery. Because solar energy is stored as DC electricity, some generators DC charging may be faster than plugging the system into our home AC wall outlet.
Purchasing The RIGHT Solar Panels for Your Solar Generator
Solar generators are all rated to handle a specific amount of solar input. Depending on the size of the device, any given solar generator may be able to handle 100W or 1000W of solar power.
With that being said, it is not always recommended to push a generator to its limit at all times. In fact, wattage ratings are approximate, and ideal sun conditions may actually cause solar panels to “overproduce” electricity. In this sense, we usually recommend sizing your solar panel system slightly below a generators rated capacity. For example, a 500W rated power station is probably safest charging with 400W of solar input.
Watch our how to tutorial on how to connect solar panels to any solar generator:
Another important thing to keep in mind is that solar generators with an even amount of panels are going to work the best. These systems are easier to wire, and there are many options for convenient 100W, 200W, and larger solar panel packages.
Sunlight Hours Per Day: Why They Are Important
In any given area in North America, a piece of land usually receives approximately 5 to 7 “good” sun hours every day. This exact figure is highly dependent on location, weather conditions, and season.
In order to generate electricity at the absolute best rate, solar panels work much better during the middle of the day. Although it may be light out, the “good” or “ideal” sun hours for solar energy systems typically last between 11 AM and 4 or 5 PM.
When calculating how quickly your solar panels can charge a battery, it is important to remember that estimations are usually given in ideal sunlight conditions. This means that solar generators that require over 10 hours of sunlight to recharge will rarely be able to do so in one given day. For this reason, efficient solar charging speeds and large input solar capacities are important features of a high quality solar generator.
What Type of Solar Panels Can You Use With a Solar Generator?
Solar energy has been harvested from the sun to create electricity for decades, which means that the technology has been (and still is) evolving. With that being said, solar generators can be recharged with pretty much any kind of modern solar panel. This includes:
- Rigid Solar Panels Photovoltaic [PV]
- Flexible Solar Panels
- Foldable Solar Panels (Solar Suitcases & Blankets)
Flexible vs. Rigid Solar Panels? (Pros and Cons)
We are constantly asked, which is better, flexible or rigid solar panels? And to tell the truth, there is no correct answer. Like many of the individualized nuances that go into building the best solar energy system, there are instances in which flexible or rigid solar panels are the best choice.
Flexible solar panels are, well, flexible. They are ultra-thin and can be contoured to angles typically around 30 degrees. Because of these features, they are great for contouring to curved surfaces, such as the roof of an RV or the bow of a boat. Flexible solar panels are also very lightweight and easy to install or detach.
So although flexible solar panels will save you space and money on installation costs, they are also generally less efficient than rigid solar panels. Throughout its lifetime, a flexible solar panel is also much more likely to get scratched or damaged, which will limit its output potential.
Rigid solar panels are more commonly used in larger applications for their efficiency and durability. In general, rigid panels are permanently mounted on a fixed location, however new technologies like “solar suitcases” have made portable rigid panels a possibility. Although they are heavier and may require permanent installation, a rigid solar panel will almost always outperform a flexible solar panel over the course of its lifetime.
Standard Solar Panels vs Folding Solar Suitcases & Solar Blankets
You may have heard the term solar suitcase or solar blanket while doing your research on solar generators. Solar suitcases are basically just two solar panels, hinged together and that come with a handle so that when you fold them together (like a suitcase) they are extremely portable and easy to maneuver.
Solar suitcases also come with stands or legs already built-in, making them super simple to setup and angle into the sun. No leaning them up against the deck, house or picnic table and no need to mount them anywhere permanently.
Solar blankets on the other hand, are generally super slim solar panels that fold up like a blanket into the size of the blanket that would sit on the couch in your living room. These are generally less powerful but are a great portable option for trickle charging your generator while camping or outdoors.
Warning (Charge Controllers): Most solar suitcases have a built-in charge controller - when it comes to using these with solar generators, you must either remove the charge controller manually OR buy a solar suitcase with NO charge controller (because the solar generator already has a built-in charge controller).
Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Pros and Cons)
To get into even more detail, within both flexible and rigid solar panels, options are available for monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. Both mono and poly, as they are sometimes abbreviated as, are both types of high efficiency photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.
The difference between these two types of panels comes down to how they are constructed. Monocrystalline panels are built with solar cells all made up of one single crystalline silicon. Conversely, polycrystalline solar cells are created by melting together multiple fragments of the different silicon crystals.
Monocrystalline solar panels are generally more efficient and consequently more expensive than their polycrystalline counterparts. Generally speaking, mono solar panels are darker (usually black) than poly solar panels, which tend to be more blue in color.
Solar Panels That Cannot Be Used with a Solar Generator
What’s important to understand is that only photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can be used with a solar generator to create and store electricity. There are many people who are more familiar with thermal solar panels, which use solar energy to create heat. Thermal solar panels are generally used to heat a home’s water tank and cannot be used with a solar power generator to create electricity.
You must also pay attention to the amount of volts and amps that each solar generator is capable of handling since they generally can't take a full size residential panel.
How to Wire Solar Panels for your Solar Generator
Connecting your solar generator to one or more solar panels is not difficult, but can be intimidating for those without any experience. Thankfully, you do not need to be a licensed electrician to wire solar panels for an off-grid, DIY setup. Here, we will outline the different ways to connect your generator to a solar power source.
Wiring a Single Solar Panel to a Solar Generator
For most small solar generator setups, wiring solar panels is extremely simple. If you are connecting one solar panel (or multiple small panels packaged as one unit), to a solar generator, it is as simple as plugging your television into a wall.
For most standard setups, it is extremely easy to connect your solar panels and your solar generator with an MC4 (sometimes written as MC-4) cable. Plug the opposing connections into the panels and generator, and voila, you are now operating a small, off-grid electric power plant.
Of course, like a battery, solar panels have a positive and negative terminal. In general (like on your car’s battery), solar wiring is color-coded in that positive is red and negative is black. It's critical to plug-in the correct terminals to prevent damage to the system.
Solar Panels In Series vs. Parallel Connection for Solar Generators
For a little more power, many people connect multiple solar panels together in order to maximize the charging speed of their generator’s battery. There are two ways to connect multiple solar panels: series and parallel circuits.
The image above is of a series circuit. Here, the solar panels are connected as essentially one large panel. Series connections are the easiest way to wire together solar panels. In a series, all of the solar panels are required to have the same voltage and amperage rating, while being connected with a consistent wire gauge.
A series connection is achieved by connecting the solar generator to the positive terminal of the first panel and the negative terminal of the last panel. In between, connect all of the positive and negative terminals of each neighboring panel. To calculate the total input levels of your solar system, you can add up the wattages and voltages of the panels, whereas the total amperage remains at the level of one single panel.
In a series, solar energy follows the saying that a chain is only as strong as its “weakest link.” Series-tied solar panels are aligned in a continuous, closed loop that requires the current to travel in one direction through the system before heading to your generator. Therefore, if one solar panel were to malfunction and brake, the entire series would no longer generate electricity.
Solar Panels In Parallel
Alternatively, the image above showcases solar panels in a parallel connection. The difference here is that each panel is free to generate electricity as its own, separate unit. In a parallel circuit, the electricity is free to move directly from each panel to your solar generator.
In order to wire a parallel circuit, you must connect all of the panel’s positive terminals together, as well as all of the panel’s negative terminals together. Generally an MC4 “branch connector” is used to connect a generator’s positive or negative input to the output from multiple panels.
Here, the amperage of the entire system can be found just the same as the wattage. For each measurement, simply add together the solar panels’ individual ratings to get the total amperage or system wattage. The difference here is that the total system voltage is equal to each individual panel’s ratings.
Solar Panel Series vs. Parallel Connections (Pros and Cons)
For solar panels wired in a series, here are the main advantages:
- Less Wiring
- Low Amperage (current)
- Low Levels of Electricity Lost Across Long Wiring Set-ups
With those in mind, it is important to understand that series connected solar panels are only limited to performance of the lowest panel’s output. If your panels are mounted on a vehicle or receive partial shade coverage throughout the day, then a series connection is not ideal. Additionally, wiring together too many panels in a series may overload your solar generator’s voltage input rating.
Alternatively, let’s take a look at the pros of wiring solar panels in a parallel circuit:
- Panels Perform Individually (Great for Partially Shaded or Mobile Systems)
- Low Total System Voltage
- Protected Against Single Panel Malfunctions
Here, it is clear that parallel connections are the best for instances in which solar panels may be receiving different amounts of sunlight. However, most large residential systems are wired in a series. This is mainly to prevent wiring costs from escalating while panels are typically arranged and installed to receive the same amount of sunlight per day. Of course, with smaller DIY systems attempting to squeeze every bit of electricity from the sun, parallel connections are more popular for solar generator set-ups
Series AND Parallel (Combination) Solar Panel Connections
Okay, ready to get a bit more complicated? If you are looking to get the maximum amount of solar charging on a van, RV, or skoolie, then you may want to consider wiring your solar panels in a series and parallel connection. By combining the two of these methods together, you are able to generate the most electricity in varied-sunlight environments without overloading your systems amperage. For most people, a series and parallel combination is well worth the extra cost of wiring.
Above, you can see the simplest version of a “series + parallel” connection. Here, sets of two solar panels are connected in “series groups.” From there, each series group is connected together in a parallel, using an MC4 branch connector to receive the positive and negative terminals from each series group. In the image below, you can see how this system can be scaled to incorporate 8 solar panels.
Here, each solar panel group can function as a separate unit, generating its own maximum amount of electricity in varying sunlight conditions. Additionally, wiring together multiple panel groups in a parallel connection limits the systems overall amperage. In the image above, each series has an output of 5 amps, which combined together create 20 amps in a parallel connection. If each panel was only connected in a parallel (rather than in 4 different series), then the total amperage would be 40 amps. This would require a heavier wire gauge, which would not only cost more money upfront, but also increase the risk of power loss while being transferred.
How to Mount Solar Panels & Use with Your Solar Generator
We get asked a lot of questions about how to set up and mount solar panels so that they can be used to charge a solar generator. The truth is, solar panels can be positioned in any way shape or form, so long as they are facing the sun. This means that solar generators can work with both mounted and portable solar panels.
Permanently Mounting Rigid Solar Panels
Depending on what you are mounting it to, solar panels can be permanently installed using a few different methods. Most commonly these include the use of:
- Z brackets
- L brackets
- Rail Systems
- Tile Hooks (for tile roofs)
- And more
Solar panels can be permanently installed on roofs, ground mounted poles, large vehicles, boats and RV’s and used to charge the battery of a solar generator. If desired, a solar generator can easily be unplugged and transported to be charged or used in another location.
Mounting Flexible Solar Panels
Flexible solar panels are very easy to install, and can be done in a variety of ways. They are a practically attractive option for RV owners who do not wish to drill a hole in their roof.
Most commonly, flexible solar panels can be temporarily (or permanently) installed with specially designed two-sided tape. This allows the solar panels to contour to a curved surface and makes it easy to attach and reattach.
Setting Up Portable Solar Panels for Solar Generators
Of course, portable power stations sometimes work best with portable solar panels. Foldable and suitcase solar panels are becoming a popular way to transport high efficiency, rigid solar panels. Fairly often, portable solar panels come with attached hardware that make it easy to set up at an angle towards the sun.
Monitoring and Maintaining Your Solar Generator
One of the best things about a solar generator is that it is extremely easy to maintain. There are no moving parts in a solar generator and you will never have to worry about heading to the store to get more “fuel.”
Today’s top solar generators are generally warrantied under long periods of guaranteed use. As with any commercial product, it is not recommended to try and fix a solar generator on your own. Instead, it is advised to send the device back to the manufacturer in the event of a system malfunction.
Solar Generators vs. DIY Hard Wired Solar Power Systems (RV’s, Van Life & Off-Grid Homes)
As you can see from its components, a solar generator is nothing more than an all-in-one solar energy system or a mini off grid solar system in box. For those looking for renewable energy in remote locations, there is always the option to simply build your own DIY solar energy system by sourcing and installing each of the components. Below, we will outline the advantages and disadvantages to using a DIY solar energy system vs a solar generator.
Overall, portability is the one clear advantage that solar generators have over DIY solar energy systems. Solar generators are meant to be charged and taken to remote locations as easily as possible. Even if your solar panels are permanently mounted to your roof, you can still plug in your solar generator to charge and bring it elsewhere when it is full.
Here, standalone DIY solar energy systems are limited in that they can only be used where they are installed. Even in small spaces like cabins or RV’s the ability to bring your power station wherever you need is completely invaluable.
Pro: Multiple Ways to Charge
Of course, in addition to charging with sunlight, solar generators can also generally power their batteries with AC or DC power. If you’ve got a standalone solar energy system, then you are limited to electricity generated from sunlight.
Whereas this may be enough for low use or ideal locations, it is always a good idea to have a backup plan. With a portable power system, the battery can be recharged in a pinch if there is limited sunlight available.
Pro: Ease Of Use
More than anything, however, solar generators are designed to be flat out easy to use. As everything is packed into one convenient device, solar generator users do not have to worry about excess wiring or the quality and performance of individual components.
In addition to the helpful display screens, generating electricity with a solar power station is extremely user friendly. For the most part, all you have to do is set up your solar panels and then plug in the devices you need to power.
If you’re on the road as a full time van-lifer, or in an emergency situation, the last thing you will want to worry about is any extra step necessary to power your lifesaving equipment. Compared to a standalone solar energy system, solar generators take the time and stress away from installing and maintaining individual electrical components.
Unfortunately, it is true that a quality solar power generator may cost you more than you were hoping to spend. If you are only looking for a small bit of electricity, then you may be able to find all of the low-cost components of a DIY solar energy system at a fraction of the cost of a solar generator.
So, if you’re not afraid or too busy to install the components yourself, you will likely be able to lower your investment costs with a standalone DIY system. Of course, some solar generators come at a tremendous bang for the buck. In some cases, solar generators may even cost less than the sum of their components.
Con: Power Limitations
As we mentioned above, solar generators may not be the best option for powering an entire home. Although there are some devices capable of it, full-household setups are usually better as traditional solar energy systems.
With the freedom to size a battery and inverter to exact specifications, standalone solar energy systems can be sourced and installed to meet any residential demand. If portability or ease of use is not a factor, DIY systems may deliver the best overall ROI.
Solar Generators: Frequently Asked Questions
Can I keep the solar generator plugged in at all times?
Yes. Whether you have your solar generator plugged into your wall or a set of solar panels, there are generally no issues that would cause damage to the system. Most well-designed solar generators have charge controllers and internal functions to limit the amount of power going to a battery at full capacity. With that said, solar generators also have a significant shelf life. Many systems can retain a full battery capacity for 3, 6, and 12 months after charging the device.
How long will a solar generator last?
To calculate late how long a solar generator will last, follow this formula: The total watt hours (Wh) of battery divided by your electricity usage load in watts (W).
Your battery’s capacity is easy to find, as it will be included in your device’s manual. For this example, let's say you have one of Bluetti’s 2400Wh.
Calculating your electricity usage is a bit more complicated. In this example, let's say you are running 200W of lights with your Bluetti. Here, the Bluetti could power the lights for about 12 hours (2400Wh / 200W).
Of course, most people run multiple devices with their solar generator. From fridges and coolers, to cell phones and tablets, every single lifesaving and luxurious electronic device requires a different amount of electricity to run. We’ve created this solar load calculator to make it easy to calculate how much electricity you would like to use.
Additionally, what is important to understand is that a solar generator can be used while it is also being charged. In this sense, a solar generator can be run all day, without dipping into the battery’s reserve until the evening hours. Here, charging devices in the afternoon while your solar generator is being recharged is ideal. With a full battery capacity heading into the evening, a solar generator can be used to safely power devices indoors for entire nights.
How long will it take to recharge my solar generator?
It is very easy to calculate how long it takes to charge the battery of a solar generator. Simply use this formula: Battery Capacity (Wh) divided by solar panel wattage (W).
Let’s say your solar generator has a battery capacity of 1000 watt hours (Wh). You want to charge the battery with your 200W solar panel. This means that it will take approximately 5 hours (1000Wh / 200W) to fully recharge the battery.
Of course, this is not going to be an exact figure. Solar panel efficiencies and lost power in the generation process limit the amount of solar electricity that can be produced. In reality, a 200W solar panel many only produce 175Wh of electricity in one hour, rather than the full 200W it is rated to produce.
Furthermore, if you have multiple solar panels, simply add up the combined wattages in order to calculate the total solar input wattage of your array.
Can I use two different solar panels to charge my solar generator?
Yes, well, it depends. In order to increase the charging speed of your solar generator you can add as many solar panels as you would like, so long as it is below your device’s total solar input threshold. Similar solar panels can be wired together in a series or parallel connection.
On the other hand, using solar panels of two different wattages or voltages is not recommended and potentially dangerous.
Can I make my own solar generator?
By all means, yes, it is possible to make your own solar generator. By definition, any battery-backed off grid solar energy system is technically a solar generator. However, the term “solar generator” has come to refer more to an off-grid renewable energy system that is also portable.
In this sense, it is possible to create a DIY solar generator by privately sourcing each of the system’s components. In addition to the electric devices, you will also need to assemble the machine into one fixed, portable unit. When it is all said in done, DIY solar generators are rarely worth the price of labor and convenience that some of today’s popular commercially available power stations offer.
Can I use a solar generator indoors?
Yes. Solar generators do not emit any harmful gases when in use, so they are rated to be safely used indoors. This important feature, in addition to their silent operation, makes solar power stations great for powering CPAP machines and other devices indoors and throughout the night.
Why are solar generators so expensive?
In short, solar generators are expensive because they are made with expensive materials. The technology to store and convert usable electricity is expensive, especially when it is compressed down into the size of a small microwave.
Although high price tags may dismay some interested individuals, what really must be considered is the long term benefit of a solar generator. Sunlight is free, so there are no additional costs to maintain or run your portable power station. With some systems being rated for 1000’s of life cycles, the actual cost of a solar generator is minimal when compared to the amount of electricity it can produce.
What is the difference between DC and AC power?
Direct current (DC) and Alternating Current (AC) are the two main types of electricity. DC power moves in one direction, alternating current can move back and forth. Solar power is generated and stored as DC electricity. In order for it to be used by most household appliances, solar energy is sent through an inverter which “inverts” it into usable, AC power.
Can I use my solar generator while it is charging?
Yes, of course you can. Solar generators can charge and discharge their battery at the same time. For some devices, advanced interfaces display charging and discharging rates in real time. In general, it is very easy to use your solar generator to power your electronics and charge its battery at the same time with solar panels, AC or DC power.
With that being said, there may be some older technologies or portable power stations that cannot be used and charged simultaneously. Additionally, some solar generators may require you to manually turn on your inverter in order to use the device’s AC outlets.
Can I charge a solar generator with my vehicle?
Yes. Many solar generators can be charged using the 12V DC power from your vehicle’s auxiliary port. Some models may require an adapter and charging speeds vary depending on the battery size and efficiency.
Are there EMP Shields For Solar Generators and Do I Need One?
Yes. There are some high quality EMP bags available for solar generators and generators in general. It’s a smart investment in protecting what is already a valuable asset (your generator & electronics). If you’re interested in learning more about EMP bags, we recommend checking out our EMP shields here.
Do you have solar generator kits that include everything?
We do. If you’re looking for a done-for-you all in one kit that includes everything you need we recommend checking out our complete kits here or giving us a call today at 877-242-2792 as we’d be happy to help you pick the best solar generator kit for your needs.
We hope this solar generator guide has made you feel like an expert! We’ve poured everything we know into this and are going to keep updating month by month in order to ensure it stays fully up to date. If you still have questions, concerns or just want to talk solar generators feel free to give us a call at 877-242-2792 and we’d love to hear from you!
Once again, for a complete comparison of the best solar generators on the market, see our comparison chart below (feel free to save it!)