What are the Components of a Solar Generator?
Unlike your traditional electric generator, a solar powered generator features additional components such as a rechargeable battery, a charge controller, and an inverter. These are not often referred to in solar generator reviews, but they are necessary because unlike diesel or similar units, a solar generator cannot output power at any given time. It depends on sunlight, rather than the flicking of a switch and the availability of gas.
A solar powered generator is connected to solar panels, which are made of specific silicone materials and chemicals in order to absorb energy from the sun. The energy thus received by the unit is converted into electricity by means of the charge controller, which also ensures that the electricity is stored at the voltage required by each battery.
The purpose of the battery is simple. Because solar power is an intermittent source of energy, it is not necessarily available at the moment when you need to turn it on. The battery resolves this shortcoming and ensures that you can use the generator even when there’s no sunlight for the panels to absorb.
Finally, the inverter converts DC power (the type of electricity stored in the battery of your solar generator) into AC power (required by most appliances). Furthermore, it ensures that the power stored at 12V, 24V, or 48V can be turned up to 110V or 240V, which is necessary to charge modern devices.
Though you cannot see them by looking at an assembled unit, all these components are essential for optimal use. That’s why, as a potential buyer, you should make sure that all, and not just one of the components, are up to par.
Can You Use a Solar Powered Generator for Backup?
Solar power has come a long way, but it remains slightly expensive and furthermore less reliable than traditional sources of energy in terms of backup power during emergencies. Yes, some models features more powerful batteries and can, theoretically, provide enough energy to run a household during a power shortage that lasts for several hours.
However, not even the best solar generator can power several large appliances over the course of more than one day. In most cases, the energy stored in a solar powered generator at any one time is enough to keep a fridge running for a few hours, if that. Better generators will keep the fridge running for a day or so, but will not do so while also charging a PC, a TV, and a laptop.
At this point in time, solar powered generators are particularly useful to charge your devices on the go, while traveling or camping. They can also do a wonderful job during a power shortage, but only short-term. To transform them into reliable backup generators, you’ll likely have to chain them with several other identical batteries, as well as to additional solar panels.
How to Accurately Assess a Solar Generator
Like with any other marketed product, solar generators are often advertised by their producers in such a manner that brings out their qualities, but not their shortcomings. This is not necessarily a bad thing in general, but in the case of a solar power generator for homes, if all components are not up to par, the efficiency of the entire unit will suffer greatly. Here are a few things to look for when sifting through solar generator reviews.
Battery Storage Capacity
This is perhaps the most important feature of a solar generator. How much power can it store when fully charged or, in other words, how long will it actually be able to power your appliances when connected? It’s also one of the main drawbacks of solar powered generators on the market today. Because their in-built batteries can only store anywhere from 0.5kWh to 3kWh, generally, they cannot keep a household running for long during a power shortage. Still, they remain an ideal solution for a more sustainable lifestyle, they are perfect for charging small devices on the go, and they can be connected to your main power grid to significantly reduce your monthly electricity bill. They’re just not yet as strong as traditional electric generators.
The Watt-Generation Capabilities of the Solar Panels
Solar generators run on electricity converted by solar panels from solar energy. As such you should care about the quality of the solar panels you buy just as much as you do for the generator itself. How ample is the solar PV input or, in other words, how many watts can the solar panels generate per hour? The higher this number, the faster the solar powered generator will charge, provided, of course, that it has sufficient battery storage capacity.
Inverter Rating vs. Actual Wattage
Browsing through solar generator reviews, you’ll notice that many units are advertised together with a number of watts. In most cases, this number represents the inverter rating or the maximum watts you can pull from the generator at one time. It does not, as you might be tempted to think, represent the battery storage capacity, which tells you how long you’ll actually be able to use the generator for. Inverter ratings are important, but they are misleadingly placed in the title of products in order to make potential customers think that a unit will last longer than another. To make sure a certain solar powered generator is the one you are looking for, check both its inverter rating and its battery capacity.
What Appliances Will Your Solar Generator Power?
At the end of the day, this is what matters when you look for the right solar power generator for homes. What will it power and for how long? Unfortunately, there is no one answer to this question. It depends, rather, on each unit and, most importantly, on in-built rechargeable batteries.
To calculate whether a solar generator can power a certain appliance, you’ll first have to figure out what the battery’s storage capacity is. The latter can be expressed in Ah (or Amp per hour), Wh (or Watt per hour), and kWh (or kilowatt per hour). Each producer might use any of these measurement units to express battery capacity for a solar generator. Use these approximations to convert the listed capacity into your unit of choice:
- 100 Ah ~ 1200Wh (for a 12V battery) or 2400Wh (for a 24V battery)
- 1kWh = 1000Wh
Say, for instance, that you’d like to assess a solar power generator for homes that advertises a battery capacity of 1200Wh or 1.2kWh. This unit would likely be able to power an average fridge (consuming at least 1kWh per day) for approximately 24 hours or less. Small devices such as phones or tablets require significantly less power, so the same generator would be able to charge a phone for 125 to 250 hours or more than 30 times. A laptop, on the other hand, will consume an average of 65 to 90Wh, which means the generator could power it for up to 18 hours.
How to Choose the Best Solar Generator for your Home
As most solar generator reviews will tell you, there are many great options to choose from, but each model has its own advantages and drawbacks. To find the optimal solar powered generator for your home, ask yourself a few essential questions.
Will you use it for backup or daily?
If you intend to use your solar generator for backup, then you’ll want to prioritize high battery capacity above solar PV input. You’ll also need a decent inverter rating, which will ensure that an appliance can pull sufficient electricity from the generator in order to power up. On the other hand, if you want a solar power generator for homes that is permanently connected to your power grid in order to reduce bills, you should prioritize solar PV input. The higher the latter, the faster the generator will recharge from one day to the next, allowing you to ultimately save more money on traditional electricity.
What appliances do you want it to power and for how long?
This is an obvious, but essential question. There’s no need to purchase a monstrous 3000Wh solar powered generator if you’ll only be using it to charge your phone and other small devices while camping. Conversely, you won’t get much out of a 700Wh battery during a power shortage that lasts more than a few hours.
Will the generator stay at home at all times or will you use it to travel?
If you permanently install the solar powered generator indoors or in your back yard, then you can look for options with higher battery capacities, but overall very heavy builds. If, on the other hand, you’d like to bring the unit with you on your next camping or fishing trip, you should look for lighter models, even if their batteries don’t store as much in one go.
Obviously, there is no one best solar generator available for purchase in 2019. Instead, there are a number of good options on the market and the best fit is the model whose strengths best match your interests. So long as you have real expectations and you research your potential purchase beyond the wattage mentioned in its title, you’re likely to be satisfied with your choice.