Solar Power Station Generators—What Can and Can't They Do?
Solar power has been around in one form or another since the beginning of time. From allowing the sun to passively warm water to reflecting sunlight for use as a cooking tool, it’s a natural and endlessly renewable resource.
However, solar power alone is a slow and inconsistent form of energy. The modern era has introduced technology to more efficiently collect, funnel, store, and access solar power. This comes in the form of solar panels.
When one mentions solar panels, it probably conjures images of rooftops or fields filled with large panels. But, solar panels come in a range of sizes, some of which are the size of a handheld device, and others are even smaller than that.
There is a solution that can power your home, or parts of it, your boat, your RV, or your off-grid camping without the expense and maintenance of a full solar panel array.
It takes shape as a generator that recharges using solar power rather than running off of gasoline. The generator can then provide power for appliances or even the entire house.
Advantages of Solar Power Station Generators
There’s a reason they are becoming so popular. In fact, there are several reasons.
1. Clean Energy
One primary advantage of solar-powered generators is that they provide clean energy. That means there are no emissions from burning fuel.
This is good for the environment, but it also allows the generator to be used indoors—something that is not an option with gas-powered generators due to the toxic release of carbon dioxide.
Another advantage of solar-powered generators is they are whisper quiet. Since they run on a battery or feed power straight through from a solar panel, operation is non-disruptive.
Many people choose to use solar power station generators for the sheer convenience of portability. These generators are available in a range of sizes, some as small as a radio and weighing around six pounds.
Having a power station that can power computers, tablets, cell phones, and other small devices is handy and convenient.
Larger units can provide a lot more power and still weigh in under 100 pounds. Although not all units are considered portable, if it fits your needs, it’s a valid reason for investing in one.
4. Free Energy
Of course, you have to buy the unit up front. But once you have it paid for, the energy it produces is free. There are no trips to the gas station or fluctuating fuel prices to deal with either.
5. Built-in Converter
With a standard solar power system, you’ll have solar panels to collect solar energy along with other supplies required to transport the energy, convert it into usable energy, and store energy if you choose.
Solar power station generators encompass all the needed parts and connect directly to the solar panel. With an electrical cord, the generator receives the solar-created energy and converts it into AC power.
The power station can then be used by devices that rely on USB or AC plugs. Many solar generators have the solar panel built-in too.
Disadvantages of Solar Power Station Generators
While they are user and environmentally friendly, there are some disadvantages to be aware of with solar generators.
1. Upfront Cost
The smallest units can only ding you for around $75, while the largest units can be closer to $4,000. Depending on what you plan to use it for, the upfront cost can sting.
2. Inconsistent Power
In an area with full sun, solar generators are a reliable source of power. However, if the weather changes and shadows move in, there may not be enough sunlight to keep the system running.
Downtime is an inevitable potential side effect of solar power generation in any form. However, most solar-powered generators can also be charged in other ways.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
The process is the same, regardless of the size of the system. It begins when the solar panel collects sunlight and converts it to DC electricity.
The energy then travels through a charge controller that regulates the voltage in order to protect the battery. The battery then stores the energy for later use.
When the time comes, the energy then passes through the inverter, where it’s converted to AC power that most devices require.
What Can I Use a Solar-Powered Generator for?
If you’re considering a solar-powered generator for your home or camping lifestyle, you’ll need to analyze your usage goals.
Before you can figure out what power output you need, make a list of what you would like your generator to power.
There’s a big difference between wanting a portable power pack for camping and needing an off-grid power supply for your home.
Do you plan to use the generator as back-up power? If so, do you need it for days at a time or just a few hours? Are you looking to simply keep the freezer working or do you need a full-house energy source?
For portable use, do you hope to charge small appliances such as a toaster, or do you need to power an energy-consumptive unit like an air conditioner?
How many devices do you need to charge, and how often?
Solar generators essentially all include the same components of solar panels, a rechargeable battery, the solar charge controller, and the inverter. However, different generators offer differing amounts of power.
Perhaps the most essential bit of information to find out when shopping for a solar power generator is the wattage rating for the system.
You’ll typically see wattages between 150 and 3,600 in solar-powered generators while gas-powered generators provide a much higher range of watts. Some systems can be linked together for even more power.
When reviewing wattage, you’ll want to compare apples to apples, which is to say you’ll want to make sure you’re looking at the available working, or running watts. This is the rated power that is available for running appliances or devices.
You may also see a listing for start-up watts. Most appliances require more energy to kick on than to continue running. The same is true for your car that uses more gas to start than to idle.
You’ll need to know the starting watts to make sure you’re providing enough power.
As an example, a fridge or freezer may only require around 200-watts to run. However, they can each suck up more than 1,200 watts to start.
If you want to run a fridge, a freezer, and a washing machine (1150/2250), you’ll have a hard time finding a solar generator that can power the startup total of 4,650.
However, if you just need to maintain power to the same appliances you’d only need 1,550 watts.
You’ll also need to consider how long the generator can power the appliance.
For example, a standard full-size refrigerator-freezer combination might run briefly through a 200-watt generator, but it will take a 2,000-watt generator to run it for a full day.
With your list of necessary mandatory appliances and devices you need charged, you might find a small portable model will fill the requirements.
However, for a complete home back-up system, a single, solar-powered generator is unlikely to do the job.
Consider your needs and create a watt-total to aim for.
What Can I Power?
We’ve put together some examples of what you can expect to power, based on the running watts provided by your solar power generator.
150-watts—You can expect a generator this small to be effective at charging smaller electronic devices like your phone, tablet, and laptop. It will likely also power a smaller LED TV or lights, so it’s great as a backpacking companion.
200-watts—The list of devices is similar to the one above, but with the extra wattage you can power them for a bit longer.
In addition to the list above, you may be able to charge lamps, printers, fans, and small appliances like a toaster or coffee maker, but not reliably. This might be enough for tent-trailer camping.
500-watts—Again, this is best for small appliances. The 500 will provide a longer stream of power, so even though it might not provide a high level of charging capacity, it will last much longer than lower-wattage models.
1,000-watts—This amount of power will reliably run most small kitchen appliances, although only one at a time. You may be able to run a small air conditioning unit for a time. You can likely meet your power needs for RV camping with this size.
2,000-watts—This is typically the minimum size for use as a home backup.
2,000 watts can power a small air conditioning unit, washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, microwave, electric skillet, blow dryer, and power tools, but again it’s best to run at a time. This size should also be able to handle sump pumps.
3,500-watts—If you’re looking for reliable backup power for nearly every power tool, device, and appliance in your house, this amount of power will fit the bill.
What is the Best Portable Power Station?
Again, it depends on what you’re looking for. Below we earmarked several options that might do the job.
The brand has made a name for itself as a reliable power source. Customer reviews are nearly five-star across the board on Amazon.
Review sites also put Jackery at the top of the recommended list.
There are several models to choose from, each with their own features to consider.
Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 300
Starting with the smallest model, the Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 300 runs about $300 on sale. It features two AC plug in ports and three USB options with 300 watts.
This small unit weighs only 7.1 pounds, recharges in a few hours, and can be charged using your car’s outlet when you’re on the road. It can also be paired with a solar panel.
Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500
This is a slightly more powerful 500-watt model at around $200 more. It features one AC outlet (110V 500W 1000W Peak), three USB-A ports, two DC ports, and one car port.
Still small and compact, the Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500 weighs 13.3 pounds and is also compatible with solar panels. The power provided can charge a laptop four times or run a television for over seven hours.
Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000
For around $1100, this model brings a lot more to the table. The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000 has enough power to charge smaller appliances like an electric grill, coffee maker, or even a microwave. It can also power a refrigerator if needed.
Paired with solar power, the 1000 can provide nearly endless energy, and it features three AC ports so you can plug in multiple devices. It also has two USB-C, and one quick-charge 3.0 port.
The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000 is still quite portable at around 22 pounds.
Double the power again with the Jackery Explorer 2000 Pro. Of course, the price nearly doubles as well. However, this model offers generous charging power for offgrid living or power outages. Plus, it still only weighs around 43 pounds.
Anker Portable Power Stations
Again, there’s a lineup here.
The Anker 521 Portable Power Station is the smallest option. It weighs around 8 pounds but provides 200 watts of power that can charge small devices, like a laptop or cell phone, multiple times on a single charge.
The Anker 535 Portable Power Station offers 500 watts of charging power with fast recharges and four AC charging outlets alongside three USB-A and one USB-C port.
From there, you can jump to the Anker 555 Portable Power Station with 1,000 watts and a weight under 30 pounds. Power a portable fridge or fan alongside your smaller electronics.
There are also larger models and all options can be paired with solar panels for better output and charging capacity.
HOWEASY Portable Power Station
The HOWEASY Portable Power Station is another budget-friendly option at around $150 for the 330-watt model or $340 for the 600-watt option. Both are highly rated on Amazon.
They are easy to charge via car, solar panel, wall outlet, or PD type-C charger. The built-in flashlight offers three settings from SOS to strobe or standard.
EF Ecoflow Delta
This beast will take care of any charging needs, which it should for its high price. Still fairly compact for what it offers, the EF Ecoflow Delta will take up about a two-foot by one-and-a-half-foot space.
It weighs in at 99 pounds, so the portability is questionable here, but it is equipped with wheels to make the process easier.
With a whopping 3,600-watts of power, the EF Ecoflow Delta can provide power to pretty much anything. Use it in the RV, count on it for home power backup, or use it as supplemental energy to save on utility bills.
It can be charged by your home’s solar power source or electric vehicle charging station, in addition to the standard 110v plug in option.
As a smart device, you can monitor all your EF Ecoflow Delta activity with an App on your phone.
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