In today’s climate, people are more concerned with preparedness than ever before. From power outages in California due to wildfires, to rioters taking down city blocks, people are worried and losing confidence in societal structure to keep them safe.
A solar generator gives you the capability of running your important electrical appliances independent of what else is going on. Even if gas stations go down, and you can’t get more fuel for your gas generator, you can still harness the power of the sun!
Today I am going to dive into a new company on the block, Lion Energy. Although they are new to the solar generator world, they bring some impressive features and specs to the scene. They have been making amazing batteries, such as the UT 1300 for quite some time that rival the famous Battleborn batteries.
I’m going to break down all the important points that should be considered when purchasing a solar generator, and we will find out if the Lion Energy Safari ME is good enough for your needs.
The Safari ME is their biggest solar generator to date and uses a 922Wh 24V Lithium Iron (LiFePo4) battery. Most solar generators use lithium-ion batteries, but Lion Energy is one of the few to use Lithium Iron Phosphate. I’ll get more into the specifics of what that means later on.
922Wh is great for smaller applications like RVers, Vanlifing, camping, and short emergency needs. But it’s a little on the low side for large scale operations. If you needed it to power a fridge during a power outage, and that fridge used let’s say 100Wh/hr, then you could keep it powered for about 9 hours. If it was a small DC powered fridge that used 50Wh/hr, it could run for about 18 hours. And that doesn’t factor in the solar input during the day to offset the battery usage.
922Wh is not as much energy as I’d like for off-grid living. I think at a minimum 1500Wh is needed to keep the necessary appliances running and be able to recharge fully in a day. And that is a bare minimum. 1500Wh wouldn’t be enough to power AC units or heaters. Thankfully the Safari ME has the ability to expand its total battery capacity. But you will have to read on to learn more about that.
I do like that it is a 24V battery. This increases the efficiency of the unit and means you get more usable power. Amps equal electrical current. Electrical current equals heat, and more heat means energy is lost through heat dissipation.
Let’s do some quick math. Watts ÷ Volts = Amps. If the inverter is running 1000W, you would have 1000W/24V = 41.6 Amps. But if it was a 12V battery it would look like 1000W/12V = 83.3 Amps. Twice as many amps running through your copper lines equals more heat and more inefficiency of the system.
Also, it’s simply easier to convert 24v power to 120v power rather than going from 12v to 120v.
The system comes in at 45.5 pounds and compact size of 19”x13”x13”. It has two carry handles that make it easy to move around. It is heavy for its size, but that is due to the Lithium Iron Phosphate battery vs the Lithium-ion. Compared to the lightest 1000Wh generator on the market, the Jackery 1000 comes in at 22 pounds and boasts a slightly larger battery.
The ME Expansion battery weighs 44 pounds on its own. Thankfully they are two separate pieces so you don’t have to carry both at the same time. It is heavy, but think of how much you’ll save by not having to get a gym membership.
Everything is a compromise, and while the Safari ME is heavier than I like it makes up for its weight by its life cycles, and we’ll talk about that here in a bit. But I do have to consider the weight for certain applications. 45 pounds is OK for me, but I know my wife would have a hard time pulling it out of storage and getting it up the stairs if she needed it. That being said, it is still lighter than a lead-acid battery generator or a gas generator by a long shot.
You have to consider charge speed when considering a solar generator. I typically require a system that can be recharged fully in one day with solar panels. On average, there is 5-6 hours of usable sunlight and so I like to see how a system can do in that 5-hour window.
The Safari ME uses an MPPT charge controller. To keep it simple and not go down the rabbit hole, the MPPT charge controller works smarter and maximizes the efficiency of the solar power input. According to the user manual, the Safari ME has a 600W maximum charge rate. That means if you were drawing in the full amount of solar capability, 600W, it would take just over 1.5 hours to fully charge your battery. That falls well below the 5-hour minimum I shoot for.
Another way to charge the system is with a wall charger. When I go camping or on a short road trip for the weekend, it’s not convenient to have to setup solar panels when I get back to recharge my battery.
The wall charger is simple, easy, and gets me ready for my next adventure. The wall charger is even faster than solar panels, coming in at 1 hour and 23 minutes according to their website. The Goal Zero Yeti 1400 takes 25 hours to charge with their wall charger. That is way too long in my book so I’m very impressed with the speed of the Safari ME.
Most generators have a separate attachment for the wall charger, and some require that you even buy it separately. The Safari ME has the wall charger built-in, and the cord wraps up nicely in its own groove on the back of the unit. I like the way they did that a lot. Clean, simple, and I don’t have to carry a separate item.
There is a ME Battery Expansion. It should be noted that if that is connected, it takes an additional 3 hours to charge with the wall charger and 3.5 hours through solar. That means that if I was charging the base unit and the Battery Expansion with solar panels, I would be right at 5 hours if using the max solar input of 600W.
As I mentioned in the Battery Capacity category, 922Wh is a little on the low end for what I look for in my solar generators. But depending on your application, it could be perfect. But for those who want to increase their capacity, Lion Energy offers a battery expansion pack for the Safari ME.
The Expansion Battery has a capacity of 2048Wh, more than twice as much as built-in battery. Added all together, this gives me a total of 2970Wh. That’s plenty of power to run my fridge, freezer, etc through the night, and I can still get it charged fully the next day.
The ME Expansion Battery is very similar to a Titan Expansion Battery in that they are both basically 2,000wh of usable capacity. The Titan Expansion Battery is Lithium-Ion and is only 35lbs with 2,000wh of capacity at $1,395. The ME Expansion Battery is Lithium Iron Phosphate and is 44lbs with 2,048wh of capacity.
It was really smart for Lion Energy to make this expandable. I love to have options with my solar generators. I can go on a weekend camping trip with just the base unit and it’s plenty for my needs. And when I get home, I can add the battery expansion and have an emergency backup power supply to run all the important appliances in my house. I don’t have to buy two separate solar generators, and because of the incredible life cycle of the Safari ME batteries, I’ve got a system I can use for years on end.
Here is where the Safari ME really shines and the Lithium Iron battery shows its benefit. The main battery is good for 2,500 life cycles. The Battery Expansion is good for 3500 life cycles. A life cycle is defined as going from 100% to 0% and back to 100%.
The advantage of the Titan battery is it is 35lbs, but the disadvantage is that it’s only 2,000 cycles (most lithium-ion units are 500 cycles). The advantage of the ME expansion battery is it has 3,500 cycles but its disadvantage is that it’s 44lbs. That’s the difference between Lithium-ion and LiFePo4.
Most people don’t drain their batteries all the way down to 0% each day. But let’s say you were using it every day and completely draining it and charging it, that would mean you could get 6.8 years of use out of the main battery, and 9.5 years out of the expansion battery. That is impressively long. And that would be hard use. If you were only running your battery down to 50% and back to 100% you could double those numbers.
Even after the rated life cycles, the battery will still work but just at a reduced capacity. Typically, they drop down to 80% capacity after the stated life cycles.
80% x 922Wh = 737Wh
80% x 2048Wh = 1638 Wh
737Wh + 1638 Wh = 2375 Wh
That’s still enough battery capacity to power some necessary appliances during a power outage or for an off-grid setup.
Number of plugin ports
This is where the rubber meets the road. It doesn’t matter how powerful your inverter is or your battery size if you can’t get that power to your appliances. The most important ports for me are the AC wall outlets. I need those to run my fridge, freezer, AC unit, you get the idea.
The Safari ME comes with only two 120v wall outlet plugs. While that is ok for minimalist needs, if I was running the battery expansion and using this as an off-grid setup, I would like to see at least 4 ports. They are spaced out well enough that if you are using a boxy plugin cord, you won’t cover the other one so that is good.
It has 2 USB-A ports and 2 USB-C ports. This is convenient for charging laptops, cell phones, Bluetooth speakers, and more.
And it has the 12V car charger port and a 12V Anderson port. This is nice for HAM radio operators. A 12V car port can also be used with an adapter to give you another USB port.
The inverter size determines how much usable power you have. I like to think of the inverter as if it is the engine of a car, and the battery size is the gas tank. You can have a huge gas tank and a small engine, and the engine will determine how fast you can go. The inverter converts the direct current (DC) that comes from solar and converts it to alternating current (AC), which is what most appliances use.
The Safari ME has a 2000W continuous Pure Sine Wave inverter with a surge capacity of 4000W. That’s great! Let’s unpack what all of that means. 2000W continuous inverter means that it should draw 2000W of power continuously until the battery runs out. If the battery pack expansion isn’t being used, that means the battery would run out in about 30 minutes if being drawn at 2,000w. With the battery expansion, it would run for about 90 minutes.
It has a 4000W surge capacity, which means that for a short amount of time it can pull 4000W of power to get an appliance running. Typically, appliances require more power to get started but once going they don’t pull as much power.
It uses a Pure Sine Wave inverter which is a must with today’s solar generators. Cheaper companies will use a Modified sine wave which will work with simple electronics but may not work with more complex ones. Modified Sine Wave is becoming very uncommon now which is good. Just remember, Pure Sine Wave means it will work with everything. Don’t cheap out and get a Modified sine wave and then find out it can’t run your electronics.
They clearly overbuilt the inverter so that it works well with the battery expansion pack. Typical inverter size on the market right now is 1500W, so 2000W is a great size. While easily being able to power a fridge, freezer, computer, etc that is also big enough to run a microwave, space heater, or an AC unit. That makes it a day to day off grid capable system.
I want my solar generator to have a 30-amp RV plug. So many RVers are setting up their campers to work with solar, but only a few solar generator companies are incorporating an RV plug. With an RV plug, I can plug in once and use everything in my RV instead of having to run extension cords everywhere. Unfortunately, the Safari ME does not have an RV plug, but I can always use my 15a to 30a RV Plug adapter.
Car Charging Capability
This is another thing that surprised me. The Safari ME does not have car charging capability. I like having options and redundancies. If I was road tripping with a DC fridge, I could have the solar generator charging off the car and the DC fridge plugged into the generator. That way I could be running the DC fridge and charging at the same time. Hopefully, they incorporate a car charger in their future models also.
The main reason they didn’t add that feature is that vehicles make 12v power off the alternator and recharge the 12v batteries. Since the Safari ME is a 24v battery you can’t charge a 24v battery with a 12v charger. The Titan uses a “step-up” device to allow it to charge the 24v Titan battery but the Safari ME does not have that option. Not a deal-breaker but car chargers are nice bonuses.
Lithium Based Battery
I’ve harped a lot about the benefits of a Lithium-based battery over a lead-acid battery. Lighter, longer life span, zero maintenance, and that Lithium batteries can stay charged for up to a year. This means you don’t have to be recharging your battery every couple of months to make sure it doesn’t get damaged. But how does Lithium Iron Phosphate compare to Lithium-ion?
One advantage of Lithium Iron over the Lithium-ion is that Lithium Iron has better chemical and thermal stability, and it’s also considered as a nontoxic material. In other words, it is safer. That isn’t to say that lithium-ion batteries are dangerous, but just that the Lithium Iron is more stable.
Another advantage that the Lithium Iron offers is life cycles, which we’ve already gone over. To me, it’s a trade-off between life cycles and weight. If I want something lighter, I’m sacrificing life cycles, and if I want it to last forever, it’s going to be heavy. Everything is a compromise.
Customer Support and Warranty
Lion Energy offers a one-year warranty on their units. They are based out of Utah and as far as I can tell don’t outsource their customer support. I had multiple questions for them and they emailed back within twenty minutes every time. I like to see that kind of responsiveness. It makes me more confident in my purchase knowing they are available to talk to or email.
The price is a little on the high side in my opinion. For just the base unit with no solar panels or battery expansion, you’re looking at $2350. With the extra battery you’re looking at $4000. That puts you in the same performance category as the Goal Zero Yeti 3000 which comes in $800 cheaper. For a Deluxe kit which has the base unit, battery expansion, and six 100W solar panels, you are looking at $5000. That is the same price as the Titan 1000 kit, which outperforms the Safari ME in every category.
The big advantage of the Safari ME is that it has the LiFePo4 battery which both the Titan and Yeti 3000 do not have.
The Lion Energy Safari ME has some great features and for being new on the market I think they’ve got a really good thing going. It can work really well for smaller applications but also expand to fill larger needs. But the price is a little daunting compared to similar or better units.
One thing I absolutely love is the screen on the unit. It is noticeably clear, good looking and intuitive. It is easy to use and understand what is going on with the system. More solar generators need nice screens like the Safari ME.