Do You Need A Generator With Solar Panels? (Plus Alternatives)

Selling solar energy from your roof to the grid is one way to reduce utility costs, but doing this may keep you from having power when the grid is down.

According to SolarReviews, grid-tied systems “are currently the most common type of solar panel system in American homes.”

Utilizing an off-grid power system as a backup can keep your home powered when the grid cannot.

In most cases, a generator is needed with solar panels if they are connected to a community grid. This is because grid-tied panels cease production entirely during grid outages. Using a generator or battery backup can keep power running to essential appliances in the event of an outage.

I’ll be going over the following off-grid power options throughout this post:

  • Gas generators
  • Solar generators & solar batteries
  • Microinverters
  • Hybrid inverters

From the reasons why your panels are not enough on their own, to possible solutions that are best for your home, read on to find out more. 

Solar Panels During A Blackout 

You have probably invested (or are considering investing) in a solar-powered system for your home in order to generate your own electricity and save money on your monthly power bill.

So, since you have solar panels, you should have electricity all the time, no matter what, right? The answer is no because your home is likely connected to the same power grid that you share with your neighbors.

Any electricity that is generated by your and your neighbors’ solar panels is all stored on a local grid that is designed to manage the power as needed. When a severe storm hits and the power goes out, you will be left in the dark unless you have an off-grid system in place.

This is the major reason why a backup generator is so valuable – it can power your necessary appliances until the power is restored in most cases. 

There are some exceptions to this fact, however, depending on what other steps you have already taken to ensure your home remains powered during a storm. In addition to having a backup generator, there are a few other ways to keep the lights on during a blackout in a home with grid-tied solar panels.

  • You may be able to add backup solar batteries to your home’s system, if it is capable. 
  • Upgrade your home’s solar inverter to an Enphase IQ8 Microinverter system, which is capable of switching itself to an off-grid inverter to power the home during a blackout. 
  • Purchase and use a generator that is solar powered, rather than a traditional gas generator.

The options listed above are great alternatives to using a traditional gas generator. However, the purchase of a large backup solar battery or solar inverter system is quite expensive compared to the price of a solar or gas-powered generator. 

What Type Of Generator Do You Need?

Determining what type of generator you need to power your solar-paneled home during a blackout is dependent upon a few things. First, the size of your home is a major factor when choosing a backup generator.

You need to make sure that the generator you purchase is capable of supplying power to your home throughout the duration of the blackout.

For most homes, a gas generator with at least 7,500 running watts is powerful enough to keep power running to your fridge along with a few other appliances. The generator should also give you enough juice to power the lights in your home, charge your phones, and keep other needed small appliances running.

However, there are a few downsides to purchasing a gas-powered backup generator:

  • Fuel-powered backup generators put off a very strong and unpleasant odor due to the fact that they run off of gasoline.
  • Gas-powered generators are also very loud while running. This means that for however long your power outage lasts, you will have to endure the sound of your generator working. 
  • Using a gas-powered generator adds to the amount of pollution that is already in the air. This may be a huge drawback for those who chose solar primarily to lessen their carbon footprint. 

Also, keep in mind that the major drawback of choosing this option is that you will need enough fuel on-hand to keep this generator working.

Now that we have discussed the use of a gas generator as a backup source of power, even with solar panels, it is time to explore some other options.

Solar Generators, Batteries, and More

If you are currently a homeowner with solar panels, you can protect yourself from potential power outages with the use of an installed solar battery.

Tesla Powerwall
Tesla Powerwall

The type of battery you purchase depends upon the brand of your panels and how much you are willing to pay.

Ultimately, you can purchase any brand of solar battery, so long as it is compatible with your current solar panel operating system.

Certain solar battery installations can detect power outages when they occur and switch your solar panel system from operating on the community grid to operating solely to power your home.

This ensures that you can maintain power, even through lengthy storms, at home.

An example of this is the Tesla Powerwall and Powerwall+. These are large batteries that can run power to your home when desired.

However, in order to get a Powerwall, you have to use Tesla’s solar panels or solar roof tiles.

Moving on, you also have the option of purchasing many varieties of solar generators that are currently on the market. The majority of solar generators available at this time are aimed more towards partial home backup, rather than powering your entire house.

That being said, these are still viable options to consider while shopping around for your generator.

I have an article rating the most powerful solar generators that you can find here: Top 3 Most Powerful Solar Generators (Overview + Analysis). These systems can also expand their batteries to provide longer running times.

Other Options To Consider

In addition to purchasing a gas or solar generator, there are a few other options you can look into.

IQ8 Microinverter(s) – Enphase

Enphase is a solar panel installer that also creates battery storage systems (similar to Tesla’s PowerWall). They created the IQ8 Microinverter, which converts the DC output from solar panels into AC power for the grid (grid-tied inverter).

Unlike previous Microinverters from Enphase, the IQ8 also acts as an off-grid inverter. It can detect grid outages and switch from supplying the grid to supplying your home with power.

In addition, the IQ8 doesn’t need to run the solar panels’ power to a battery in order to run appliances inside the home. Without the need for a battery, the IQ8 can adjust its output to appliances and keep them powered for as long as sufficient sunlight is available.

Hybrid Inverter (Ex: Sol-Ark 12K)

As opposed to a solar inverter, a hybrid inverter can help your home operate successfully throughout the duration of even some of the longest power outages.

The system is essentially the CEO of sorting power from different sources, which can heavily reduce your risk of losing power at home even when the grid shuts down.

“A hybrid inverter (sometimes referred to as a multi-mode inverter) is an inverter which can simultaneously manage inputs from both solar panels and a battery bank, charging batteries with either solar panels or the electricity grid (depending on which is more economical or preferred). Their capabilities may go beyond this however – some devices also handle inputs from wind turbines, generators and other power sources.”

solar choice

The following power sources can connect to the Sol-Ark 12K hybrid inverter:

  • Solar panel arrays (up to 13kW)
  • Gas generators (up to 12kW)
  • 48V batteries
  • Grid power

Another feature that benefits someone with one of these is peak shaving. This means that the hybrid inverter will utilize off-grid sources of energy connected to it (direct solar, battery power, gas generator) to reduce the cost of utilities throughout the day when demand is high as well as utility costs. Plus, it can sell solar power back to the grid.

The Sol-Ark hybrid inverter doesn’t need a battery to function, but it can be a great benefit to have powerful batteries as a backup power supply.

A hybrid inverter converts DC to AC power as well as AC to DC power.

Going Completely Off Grid

Arguably the most expensive option, going off the grid makes your home self-sustainable and provides access to any energy you produce whenever you need it.

You will have to put a considerably larger amount of planning, time, and money into going off-grid.

The size of your home is a large factor when deciding whether to purchase a generator or go with another option.

The amount of money you are willing or able to spend is just as important, especially when considering an inverter system.

Weather is another important factor if you live somewhere more prone to storms and blackouts.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the last thing you want is to be left without power during a severe storm. You may decide to purchase a solar generator like those offered on my website or go with a traditional gas generator. Consider all the options listed above, and your own personal factors, before making that choice. 

Whatever your final decision may be, remember that solar panels alone will not keep your home lit and running after a severe storm hits. Do your research and find the best option for your family, so that when the next storm or emergency comes your way, you are prepared.

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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