You’ll probably agree that finding the best solar generator in today’s market is like trying to find a grain of sugar in a salt shaker.
You may feel a little like Sherlock Holmes trying to decipher critical spec facts among mounds of numbers. What’s an average consumer supposed to do?
Well, let us fill you in on a little secret that will help you in your search for the Holy Grail of solar generators…
There is NO "ONE" BEST SOLAR GENERATOR!
Let me explain...
I know, this little secret goes against every marketing line seeping from the mouths of internet marketers. So let me explain…
I never said there are “zero” great systems out there. In fact, there are some really good quality systems on the market. What I am saying is there there is NO BEST solar generator for EVERYONE. However, there IS a BEST solar generator for YOU.
And we’ll help you find your best solar generator in 3 SIMPLE STEPS.
step 1: know what you want
In today’s market of solar power systems, you’ll find all shapes, sizes, and qualities. In fact you can find pretty much anything for a variety of applications. While one person may want a solar charger for his phone while camping, another might prefer a heavy duty solar generator for home backup power. Because of this, it’s important to realize that no ONE application is better than the other, and the best solar generator for you will be the one that meets your specific needs.
Let’s say you want to charge your cell phone when you’re camping. It would be ridiculous to spend thousands of dollars on the most powerful heavy duty solar generator on the market. Can you imagine unloading hundreds of pounds of solar on your next hiking trip?!
Likewise, the same is true if you want a solar generator for your home- something to power all your basic essentials when the power goes out. You can’t expect to run much with a 20 watt solar charger. You’ll be sitting in the dark with only the smell of rotting food from your fridge to keep you company.
In our opinion, there are 3 categories of solar generators:
- Small (up to 1500 watt inverter): These will be small and compact systems that provide minimal power for smaller loads like a laptop, a few lights, TV or computer and charge your cell phones, These are usually the best solar generator for camping, or for minimal emergency backup, where you still need to keep it very light and portable.
- Mid-Size (up to 3000 watt inverter): These systems can power lights, a TV or computer, a fridge, a microwave, and most kitchen appliances. These are the best solar generators for emergency backup, camping, running a small cabin or tiny home.
- Large (anything over 3000 watt inverter): These systems are the best whole house solar generator, providing ample emergency backup power. Depending on the amount of solar and batteries with the system, these units can power a fridge, freezer, microwave, lights, TV, computer, well pump, and more long term (days or even up to a week without sun, and forever as long as we don’t go for too long without any sun).
Why does this matter?
If you’re wanting the best solar generator for camping, you won’t be looking for huge, off-grid system. On the other hand, if you want serious emergency backup to prepare for power outages, you’ll be looking for a whole house solar generator with off-grid potential.
In short, the best solar generator for you will depend on your needs.
step 2: DETERMINE WHAT SIZE YOU NEED
The expectation of any power source is that it will power what you want for a certain amount of time. This is one advantage solar generators have over traditional gas generators: they can provide power as long as you have sun and it’s sized correctly.
So, what will determine the size of your solar generator?
WHAT you want to run and HOW LONG
But here's the catch:
To size your solar generator properly,
you need to know how long you need power
why is this important?
If you're using a generator system for emergency backup, chances are those situations are not ideal. Usually, those situations are stormy, cloudy, windy, and with little to no sun!
Think of your solar generator as an energy storage tank and your solar panels are the energy collector for your tank. On days with sun, your solar panels can collect enough energy to fill the energy storage tank (batteries) and power your appliances. During nights, and days where there is little to no sun, your energy collector (solar panels) will not be collecting enough energy to fill your storage tank (batteries). Therefore, your storage tank will be drained slowly by the appliances being used. Simply put, if your system is designed correctly, it will continue to run your appliances as needed until the sun returns and refills your tank.
What will happen if your system is NOT sized correctly?
Imagine you buy a solar generator for home to run your fridge and freezer during a power outage. You then experience a really bad lightening storm that takes the grid down for weeks (this is actually more common than you think). As a result, you hook up your solar generator and begin to power your fridge and freezer. Now, lets say you sized your system to be able to run your fridge/freezer for 24 hours without sun (assuming you’ll be able to recharge daily when the sun is out). However, with the storm, your solar panels are NOT getting enough sunlight to recharge your system, and therefore, your batteries will be drained within 24 hours.
What will happen in 24 hours?
You guessed it! Your standby solar generator will shut down because the batteries are empty, and your solar panels can’t charge them due to the storm. Consequently, your fridge and freezer will start to warm up, and if the storm lasts much longer your food will spoil.
This is why it’s important to design your system to run your essential appliances without sun for at least 2-5 days. If you have non-essential appliances that need power (like a light or TV), then you can turn these off when there’s insufficient sun. However, if you have something like a fridge or freezer that must be kept cool even when there is little to no sun, then you need to size your system large enough to handle this. The number of days you can go without sun will likely depend on your location. If you live in Oregon, you will expect much longer times without sun than if you live in Arizona. However, on average, this number is about 2-5 days.
how to DETERMINE WHAT SIZE YOU NEED:
FIRST: Make a list of all the devices and/or appliances you will want to power and for how long.
Let’s say you want a home solar generator to run basic essentials when the power goes out. Normally, when the grid goes down, it’s only a few hours at a time. But let’s say you want to play it safe and have enough power for 48 hours.
Now, most people don’t really need to power their whole home during a blackout; they just need the basics.
However, your list of “basics” may include a lot of devices: a refrigerator, a chest freezer full of food, a microwave a couple times a day, charging cell phones, indoor lighting and perhaps a laptop or TV a few hours at night.
In order to figure out how much power you need, you need to know who much power (watts) those devices and appliances use. Then, note the power rating for each and for how long they’ll be used (watt-hours). You can calculate the watt-hours by multiplying the watts of the appliance by the number of hours you will use it.
However, appliances like refrigerators and freezers are a little more difficult to calculate, because they constantly turn on and off. For these it is best to measure the power consumption using a P3 P4400 Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor. Or if it is a newer appliance, it will list how much energy it will use in a year (just divide this number by 365 to get the daily usage).
If you don’t know how much your appliances use, and don’t want to go through the trouble of using a Power usage monitor, a less accurate way to figure out how much power you use would be to use the chart below. However just be aware your particular appliance may use more or less than this chart.
For this example, your list would look something like this:
Total: 2,230 watt hours per day
Total: 1,300 watt hours per day
SECOND: Calculate battery, solar panel and inverter size.
To calculate battery and solar panel size, simply use our calculator to the right and enter the information gathered in the previous step. For this example, using 2 days of backup, 2,230 watt hours of essential appliances, and 1,300 watt hours of non-essential appliances, we would need:
5,626 watt hours of battery storage
1,336 watts of solar
Also, you’ll need to calculate the maximum watts you will use at any given time (this will be used to determine the minimum continuous output of your solar generator). For this example, you could expect your fridge and freezer could be on at the same time as your microwave, TV, and maybe even your lights. However, if you want to be careful and never use your TV the same time you’ll be using your microwave, then it would lower your maximum usage, reducing your solar generator price.
In this case, the most you will ever use at the same time would be:
Refrigerator: 600 watts (running)
Freezer: 550 watts (running)
Microwave: 1500 watts
Lights: 100 watts
Total: 2,750 watts
What does this mean for you?
As you can see from this example, it doesn’t take much to use up your power!
In this case, to run a few basic appliances, requires a solar generator with the minimum
2750 watts AC Output
5,626 watt-hours of battery storage
1,410 watts of solar
If you’ve been in the hunt for a solar generator, you know that to run these minimum requirements would take a very heavy duty solar generator- and there are very few that meet those requirements. Yet, our picks for the best solar generator can run this and much more.
step 3: Harness Sherlock homes and search for quality
Unfortunately, the solar industry is one that attracts people and companies that really have no other motive than chasing your money- and they’ll be ruthless in doing so. Since most people don’t understand the intricacies of how solar components should work together to create a reliable system, consumers are being misled by false claims and downright lies in solar generator marketing. Furthermore, some of the worst false claims come from those promising to teach you how to build a solar generator for a fraction of the cost. This is a great article addressing the lies behind DIY Solar generators. Consequently, if you want reliable backup power, you must understand the 5 main components of solar generators to find the best one.
5 critical components for the best solar generator:
The inverter converts the DC power you get from your solar panels to usable AC power for your appliances. However not all inverters are created equal, even if they have the same wattage. For instance just because it’s rated at 1500 watts, doesn’t mean it will run that! The efficiency and idle power consumption of the inverter will greatly effect what it can do. When looking for an inverter, stay away from modified sine waves and find one that have an efficiency above 90%. Because of this, it is critical that in order to be one of the best solar generators it must have an inverter that is high quality.
Even if you have the best solar generator on the market, if you get this wrong it could be useless.
The most important aspect of a solar generator’s actual usability is its battery storage capacity. Battery storage allows you to use the generator at night, in periods of limited sun, and when your energy needs exceed the amount of solar input coming in. The two most important aspects to look for in batteries are the size and quality. There are many different types of batteries for solar. It’s important to know what you’re looking for between types of batteries and how to spot quality when you find it. In my opinion, anything less than 2400 watt-hours is pretty much useless for any type of home backup.
Solar PV input (solar panels) is what powers a solar generator. Having ample solar PV input allows for continuous solar generator usage during the day and low recharging times after night usage. You’ll want a minimum of 200 watts of solar with your system. Stay away from roof mounted panels for solar generator systems since that’s basically defeating the purpose of portability. Keep in mind the amount of sun you’ll be getting. With less sun in winter and cloudy days, and none during the night, having manageable recharging times supports reliable usage. Any solar generator in consideration of the best solar generator must have plenty of solar power.
Did you know an MPPT charge controller could increase your solar panel output by 40%?
Usually when looking for the best solar generator the charge controller is neglected. However, it can effect the efficiency of your solar panels by 40%, or even more on poorly designed systems. Simply put, STAY AWAY from Pulse Width Charge Controllers (PWM) and opt for spending a little extra money and go with a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT)charge controller. You will need less solar to produce the same power with MPPT charge controllers. This will make your solar generator more portable, and more efficient. It will also do much better during cloudy weather. Also most solar generators base there recharge time off of a 100% efficient charge controller, which is completely false (especially if it is a pwm charge controller). Many solar generators claiming to be the best solar generator uses a PWM charge controller. If you notice this, stay away!
The ability to expand your system is critical, especially if you want a solar generator for your home. You many not have the money right now to get the system you really want, or you may later decide you would like to run more things on your solar generator. Either way, it is important to be able to upgrade your generator when you need to. However, there are some limitations to how much, or what you can actually upgrade. Stay away from solar generators with small charge controllers, or charge controllers with a narrow range of voltage input. The charge controller will limit how much you can upgrade your solar panels. Also, stay away from generators that offer no battery expansion at all, or have too small of an inverter. It would be hard to say you have the best solar generator if you cannot expand it later.
5 components for your best solar generator
If you’d like to read more detail about these 5 main components you need the best solar generator, read this article:
the Best Solar Generators on the Market in 2018
Due to the insane amount of solar on the market today, instead of listing hundreds of systems with their various specs and ratings, we’ll save your brain cells and list the BEST solar generators on the market today. Sure, you can find smaller and cheaper ones than what we’ve listed. However, in our opinion, anything smaller than what we’ve listed here is basically useless. Moreover if you’re looking for a system that can power anything useful, you’ve got to have something big enough to cut it, and a small 500 watt “solar generator” is basically a glorified solar panel that won’t do much other than charge your phone. Additionally we’ve captured a screenshot from our Solar Generator Comparison Calculator (please see the calculator for more details) to help you compare and find the best solar generator.
So with that, let's give you the details on these comparisons:
To keep the comparisons consistent, we are using the same power needs for all solar generators we have compared, running the following:
computer for 3 hours per day
microwave for 15 minutes
Run Time = The amount of time (in hours) the system
will run without any sun. For critical loads such a
refrigerators, freezers, furnace, etc. This time should
be at least 48 hours to last through stormy weather.
Recharge Time = The time in hours to recharge your
batteries if fully drained to there maximum level of
System Efficiency = The average of several efficiency
measurements. Anything over 70 is extremely good.
Anything under 50 is poor, and you should consider
a different system for your application.
Cost per hour runtime = The amount in dollars it will
cost you for each hour of Run Time you have.