What is a Solar Generator?
A solar generator is a portable battery storage system that uses the power of the sun to produce and store electricity. They are becoming popular as energy solutions for camping, boondocking, RVing and boating.
Unlike fuel or gas generators, they have no moving parts and don’t require refueling. Learn how they work, their best uses, pros/cons & maintenance in this article.
Solar generators pair a large-capacity rechargeable power station — a big battery — with portable solar panels. They’re ideal for backup emergency power and off-grid adventures like camping and tailgating. Most solar generators use lithium-ion or LiFePO4 batteries, which are solar generator safer and lighter than the lead acid batteries used in gas generators. They also have a longer lifespan and can be stored in colder temperatures without degrading their performance.
Most PV systems use silicon solar cells, which are basically two layers of specialized semiconductors that capture and convert sunlight into electricity. Individual silicon solar cells generate only a few watts of electricity on their own, so they’re grouped together into modules or panels that produce larger quantities.
During the day, solar panels convert direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC) that can be used to run appliances and other devices. To get the most power out of solar panels, they should be mounted to a south-facing roof or other flat surface. There are a variety of mounting options, including fixed mounts and sun-tracking systems that follow the sun throughout the day.
One solar panel produces about as much electricity as burning 500,000 tons of coal. Unlike conventional fuels, PV produces no harmful byproducts such as carbon dioxide, so it reduces the need for fossil fuel backup generation and helps mitigate climate change. PV also reduces electricity demand peaks, which saves money for consumers and the electric grid. In addition, PV creates jobs in local communities that pay higher wages than fossil fuel-related industries.
The solar generator inverter converts the direct current (DC) power produced by your batteries and solar panels into alternating current, the type of electricity used by lamps and appliances in your home. It’s a critical component of solar-plus-battery storage systems that can be used as backup to the grid or to operate off the grid.
The capacity of the inverter determines how many electrical devices you can run at once; it’s typically rated in output watts (W). A small solar generator may have an inverter output rating of 500W, while medium-sized units have ratings of up to 1,200W. Larger solar generators have 2,000W inverter output ratings.
Besides inverter ratings, it’s important to consider the solar water pump vendors overall watt-hour capacity of your solar generator, which is how long it can power devices before running out of power. For example, a 100W load (a large fan and portable refrigerator) would run for about 10 hours before the generator’s battery power is depleted (assuming no interim recharge by solar panels at night).
In addition to an inverter, some solar generators feature a battery management system (BMS), which optimizes the performance of the batteries by balancing charging and discharging. Some models also have ports for connecting an external AC adapter and a DC-to-AC converter, which allows you to use appliances that require more power than your solar generator can produce.
Other features found on some of the best solar generators include LED and LCD displays that show basic data such as state of charge, current wattage output, input and estimated times until charge or depletion. Some have remote visibility and management capabilities via mobile application, which allows you to change settings from anywhere with an internet connection. You can also see real-time battery-usage data and adjust your inverter output to maximize device performance.
The battery is where the solar energy is stored for use later. This is usually a lithium-ion battery that can power your devices for hours and has a good lifespan depending on how often you use it. A high quality lithium battery can offer up to 1500-3000 charge cycles and will not lose its efficiency over time like lead-acid batteries do.
The type of lithium battery used in a solar generator can also affect its longevity; lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries have a higher C rating and do not generate as much heat over time as nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) batteries. They are also safer to use in solar generators compared to other types of lithium batteries.
Another important factor to consider is the charging speed of your solar generator battery and its capacity. It will take longer to recharge your battery if it has a low power output or has a larger capacity, especially with less powerful solar panels. Lastly, make sure to check the charger’s ability to maintain its internal voltage. This will help prevent overcharging and prolong the battery lifespan.
Besides being an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fuel generators, solar generators have no moving parts and require very little maintenance. They can run for 25-30 years with very few repairs needed if they are well-maintained and used properly. Make sure you clean your solar panels regularly to avoid build up of dust that can block sunlight and reduce the amount of power they generate. Additionally, it is a good idea to keep your solar generator battery recalibrated every few months so that it is running at its optimal performance. It’s a small investment that can save you big in the long run.