Can Solar Panels Power a Generator? An In-Depth Discussion

Are you wondering if solar energy can be used to power up generators as an alternative source of energy?

Read through this article to know if you can do this with the help of solar panels.

Power Up with the Unlimited Supply of Energy – The Sun.

Of late, nations across the globe are trying to tackle climate change and pollution.

They are turning to the sun as the most promising form of renewable energy. It is projected to be the next big revolution in the energy sector with solar power systems finding its way to homes, offices, and government establishments. 

Most people still have their own doubts about the success of these solar installations. Are you also one of them?

Are you wondering if you can cut down on fuel or electricity costs associated with running your conventional generators?

The answer is yes. You can use solar panels to generate enough power to be able to run generators. A solar generator uses solar panels to recharge its battery or batteries.

Let’s take a detailed look at how these panels can become the most bankable and efficient alternative source of energy.

Throughout this article, we will discuss how the solar panels can be used to power a generator, benefits, downsides, and more. 

Solar panels on roof

What is a Solar Generator?

Let’s start with the basics; solar generators are a combination of different components such as panels, charge controllers, batteries, and an inverter. These parts work together to convert the solar energy absorbed through the panels to form AC power that can be consumed by electronic appliances.

The solar panels draw the energy from sunlight, which is, in turn, stored in the high-capacity batteries. Energy absorbed by the panels cannot be used directly by the appliances; it must be converted to an AC form for which we will use an inverter. The inverter will convert the energy and make it available for use.

Similar: Can a Solar Generator Power a Mini-Fridge?

Solar Power – Teamwork of Three Components

To know how the solar generator works, it is worthwhile to understand how each of the components works together to produce the power required for running household appliances. We will examine each one in detail.

  •       Charge Controller –This part is like the brain of the generator. It decides when to charge up the battery and when to discharge it. It will start charging when the battery has reached critical levels and will cut off the supply when the charge is full. It is imperative to have this component to ensure the solar batteries last longer and don’t burn out.
  •       Batteries –Energy from the sun is stored in batteries so it can be used for later consumption. Lithium-ion batteries are the most favored ones for use in solar generators and solar kits. These are more affordable over time and generally last longer than the standard lead-acid batteries. They also require less maintenance.
  •       Inverter –The power that is stored in the batteries is in DC (Direct Current) form. The work of the inverter is to convert the DC power into AC (Alternating Current) form so that it is consumable by all the household appliances.

It is indeed perfect teamwork by all three components in conjunction with the panel’s conversion of solar energy into the electricity that can be used by household appliances.

Similar: Your Next Solar Generator – The Complete Guide

How Much Energy Can a Solar Generator Provide and What Appliances can it Run?

Titan solar generator front view

Most solar-powered generators come with a storage capacity ranging from 0.1 to three kWh. This should be ideal for running standard household appliances for a short duration of time, but this can be extended with a large solar generator.

Solar generators can provide power to small electronics, lights, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It can also run your refrigerator for a few hours depending on the generator’s size. Not using any of the heavy-duty appliances will make sure you have enough power to keep the lights on for an extended period of time.

Advantages of Having a Solar Generator

Installing solar generators can be an expensive affair. Are you still wondering if it is worth the money to invest in these alternative power sources? Well, here are some of the benefits which may convince you to go solar.

  1.    Eco-friendly source of power – By opting for a solar power source, you are being a part of the society that is aiming for a green source of energy that does not have any significant negative impact on our environment. Also, this allows less reliability on fossil fuels. This is one inexhaustible source of energy available to you in abundance.
  2.    Low-cost option – There is a one-time cost that is involved with installing solar devices. However, these installations predominantly last for a lifetime and do not involve a high price in maintenance. The batteries also do not need to be maintained as extensively as a gas generator may encounter during its lifetime. In addition, there is no cost associated with a recharge. With a gas generator, this is obviously a cost that will continue to grow over time with each refill.
  3.    A clean source of power – Solar energy does not produce any form of pollution, and it also is known for its quiet operation. It does not have any moving parts that are involved besides its cooling fans. Therefore, it does not produce any annoying noise, which fuel-powered generators tend to accomplish quite easily.
  4.    Subsidies – Most nations are promoting the use of solar energy and encourage people to use them by way of providing subsidies on the cost of installing solar units in their homes.

Similar: Gas vs Solar-Powered Generators

Drawbacks of Using Solar-Powered Generators

Solar generators are not free from flaws. We will discuss the downsides and how you can overcome these.

  1. Not an unlimited source of power – with traditional fuel generators, you can power up just about any appliance, whereas the solar generators have minimal capacity in comparison. For example, depending on which solar generator you intend to buy, a one-time charge may not last long enough to keep all the lighting and appliances running for the whole day. Large solar generators can (on average) provide a maximum continuous output of 1500W. This number is important to keep in mind when considering which household items will be powered via solar energy.
  2. Expensive when compared to fuel-based generators – Solar generator installations are way more costly upfront than portable fuel generators. But over time, the cost starts to even out as the fuel costs rise after extended usage. Find out how much money you can save each year using rooftop solar with this solar calculator
  3. Needs more time to restore the used-up power – Solar generators take time to recharge, and this can only happen only during the daytime.

Possible Solutions to Overcome the Downsides

  • Solar generators may not be able to provide all the power required for your home; however, you can use your judgment to run only those appliances and lighting that are extremely important. The need for a greener source of power will definitely require small compromises. Plus, if the power goes out from the grid, you will still be able to use your desired appliances normally.
  • Cost-wise, installing solar panels on your roof is expensive compared to other traditional alternatives. However, it does not involve any refill costs (and barely any maintenance costs) once you have installed it.
  • Set up a time to check on the battery and follow a simple routine to promote the longevity of the battery.

The benefits of using solar generators far outweigh the drawbacks if it is used judiciously.

I have two articles that will help with understanding both the tax incentives of installing a solar generator as well as the installation process, found below:

Additional great resources for understanding the overall cost of solar panels (maintenance, installation, taxes) can be found in EcoWatch’s solar panel cost guides.

Types of Solar Generators

Solar generators available in the market fall into two broad categories:

Solar Backup Generators 

Yeti 3000 on roll cart

If you’re looking for a solution from constant power outages, then solar backup generators are a good option. These are constructed in such a way to serve as an emergency source of power at the time of unexpected power outages. For this reason, these generators come with high capacity batteries. In this type of generator, there are a greater number of batteries for maximum power storage. Examples of this would be the Point Zero Energy’s Titan or Goal Zero Yeti 3000 Lithium (pictured).

These backup generators can provide a steady supply of power to run essential devices at home, such as lights, computers, televisions, and lights. You can safely use them to run your small to mid-range devices, such as a refrigerator, for a reasonable duration. While operating the solar generator, make sure it is charged regularly.

Solar backup generators can take more time to get charged. The use of high-wattage capable solar panels will charge the batteries anywhere from one day to three days. This is entirely dependant on the size of the batteries and the input wattage from your solar panels. Weather conditions have a major role to play in determining the time required for the unit to get charged. If there is plenty of sunlight, then your batteries should be charging up optimally. Even if there is some cloud cover, the solar panels will still be able to capture a fraction of the energy compared to being out in full sunlight. After the system has charged to its full capacity, you can be rest assured to have an uninterrupted power supply even in times of prolonged power outages.

You can safely install the generator system inside your homes as it does not emit any kind of fumes nor do they create any loud noises while charging or when in use. The only noise that is made in a solar generator is from the fans to cool down the batteries.

This happens when the batteries either have been in use for an extended period of time or if they have surged in power usage. Sometimes there is noise from the inverter as well under similar conditions.

These solar generator systems can be bulky and difficult to move around as they come with many batteries. In light of this, you can go for the versions that come with removable battery packs so that you can move it around conveniently.

Solar generators consist of a battery, charge controller, and inverter so you can use it right when you get it. Unless you purchase a solar generator kit, you will need to purchase solar panels separately. It’s important to note that not all solar panel connections are the same. When looking at solar panels for your generator, check the connections/plugs to make sure they work with your generator.

Portable Solar Generators 

If you want a renewable source of power while you are outdoors, or if you need a smaller battery backup for the home in case of an outage, then you can settle for portable solar generators. These are lighter in weight when compared to the backup versions as we just discussed. It comes in a design that is easy to store, pack, and move around. 

Rockpals 540Wh generator front view

Apart from being a lifesaver during emergencies, outdoor activities, and while camping, it also doubles up as a smaller version of a backup solar generator. These portable versions have a lower wattage; however, it can power up small electronics, computers, smartphones, lights, etc., for a reasonably long duration. The example in the picture is of the Rockpals 540Wh generator.

Charging these devices is also easy as you can charge it up using an AC power source, a car adapter, and of course, solar panels. Some of the leading brands of portable solar generators come with a pull-up handle to facilitate smooth movement.

While portable solar generators are an excellent and convenient way to power your devices while you are on a trip or during an emergency, it is essential to note that it may not be sufficient to power up your large devices or appliances.

Similar: Top 15 Best Solar Generators for Camping (Small to Large)

What are Solar Kits?

Buying solar panel system components separately usually will not come with the instructions to put it all together. It may also be a mammoth task to identify the parts that are compatible to work as one unit. This is where solar kits come to your rescue.

In these kits, you will get all the necessary parts such as charge controllers, panels, batteries, and the inverter as part of the package. These are also ones that are manufactured by the same company, and thus, you will not have to be worried about the compatibility of the parts.

Having these products in a kit allows you to assemble the entire system and use it right out of the box. Note that not all solar kits come with an inverter or battery. If you’re buying a solar generator kit, which is just a solar generator with solar panels, this does not apply to you.

But if you’re purchasing a solar kit like Renogy 200 Watt Complete Solar Kit, it does not come with a battery or inverter. The Go Power! Weekender Solar Panel Kit comes with everything except for the battery. As you can see from the links above, solar generator kits are much simpler because they are basically plug-and-play systems that require little setup – Whereas the solar kits are typically for more advanced users.

What Are the Factors to Consider While Investing in a Solar-Powered Generator?

Harnessing solar power is increasingly becoming a profitable business proposition, with more companies coming forward to exploit this renewable form of energy. Hence, you will also find that the market is flooded with many options, making it difficult to choose one. Here are some criteria which you can consider before choosing a solar generator.

  •        The wattage you need – Choose batteries based on the total wattage of power you will need. The capacity of the batteries is what will decide the efficiency of the generator. If you need the generator to run many appliances for longer periods, you will have to invest in a set that has a greater number of batteries with high capacity. Lithium batteries will be the best option, but lead-acid is cheaper upfront and is still a great option.
  •       Choose an inverter that has a good rating – An inverter with a low score will not give optimum results even if you use high-capacity batteries. You should keep in mind to choose an inverter with a score that works well with the high-capacity batteries. An example of a solar generator with a high-capacity inverter is the Alpha2700 – its inverter is rated for 2000W of power. 
  •       Heavy/Light – If you want one that is easy to move around, then you can choose the portable ones that are relatively light – Something like the Yeti 400 Lithium. On the other hand, the solar backup generators are heavy, and you should get wheels attached to them if you want to move them around a lot. Portable solar generators should have adequate gear to enhance their mobility feature.
  •       Affordability – Using high-capacity batteries and inverters that match its power storage might call for a significant investment. Therefore, it is essential to understand if it is worthwhile to invest huge amounts of money for a backup source of power. Portable versions are less expensive but provide you a lower overall wattage capability.

Similar: Your Next Solar Generator – The Complete Guide

What do the Best Solar-Powered Generators Offer?

From the available options in the marketplace today, we tend to rate a brand to be the best if it is both affordable and exceptional in its functioning. It is always possible that a device of the best quality comes with the most modern and sophisticated technology. At the same time, it should also be easy to assemble. Depending on the use, it can either be portable or stationary.

Final Thoughts

Solar energy is the most abundantly available form of energy on the planet and has the potential to become commonplace on residential rooftops.

Backup or portable solar generators are a matter of choice based on your power consumption needs. Portable solar generators are a great option to power your electronics while on the go. On the other hand, if you need a stable and steady supply of power, you should be opting for the solar backup generators that work well for all of your household appliances.

You could also use the solar kits to provide for an easy and convenient set up of the solar-powered generators, so you do not have to go through the pains of finding compatible parts.

Should you have any concerns or comments on the article, please write to us in the comments section below.

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Max Peters

Hi! I'm Max and I am passionate about off-grid solar technology and adventure! I'm using my knowledge of solar generators, solar panels, and everything in between to provide you with the best tools to keep you powered while off the grid. Read more about me here: About Max Peters."

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