11 Tips for Finding the Best Solar Generator
There are a plethora of different solar generators out there on the market. Many people want to get better prepared for blackouts, hurricanes, storms or just want better camping, RV or tiny house options.
I have been studying and learning about all the different solar generators out there now for over 3 years. One thing for sure is there can be A LOT of confusion. That’s why I found these 11 tips for finding the best solar generator very helpful.
SHORT ANSWER: Check out this page for the absolute best solar generators I have found. Point Zero and Inergy make the best.
EXPLAINED ANSWER: Focus on these 11 points when searching for your solar generator:
- Battery capacity
- Charge speed
- Life cycle
- Number of plugin ports
- Inverter size
- RV connectivity
- Car charging capability
- Lithium based battery
- Customer support and warranty
After studying for over 3 years all the different brands of solar generators out there and trying to find out what is best for my family, I have found that these are the most important points to look for in a solar generator.
For me I truly couldn’t care less about a brand, I have no problem moving onto another brand that offers a better setup. There are so many people that absolutely love their generators and that’s perfectly fine, no problems here. However, once I have asked those people about these 11 points, they began to question their decision.
Let’s take each point into account and break down why each point is so important in deciding on a solar generator.
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First of all, it can get quite confusing how some brands advertise their units. They say they have 1500 watt of power or that it can run a fridge all day or anything like that. Well, the unit may have 1500 watts of power meaning that it can run 1500 watts at a time, but may only have a 600-watt battery, not so good. That means you could run six, 100-watt light bulbs for 1 hour. Or you could run 15, 100-watt light bulbs for about 20 minutes. So, don’t always assume up front that the number they tell you is the battery size.
Secondly, don’t assume that it’s the inverter size either; some units have 1500-watt batteries and a 750-watt inverter. Still doesn’t make sense why they advertise that way.
Really battery capacity with a solar generator comes down to what you need to run. For my friends who are into preparedness, my family and I there are various things to run. Running items such as a full-size fridge, full-size deep freeze, lights, fans, TV if wanted, blender, juicer, microwave, wheat grinder, chargers, radios and so on.
We are not running those items all the time though. We only run a few LED lights at night so that hardly any power. The biggest energy consumer for us is the fridge and freezer. Since we won’t have solar panels connected during the day, we need to run that at night on pure battery power. Since no one will be getting in and out of the fridge during the night we hardly run it at all during the night, thus saving battery.
During the summer however, we need to run fans all night long since it’s so hot. Others may need to run items such as CPAP machines or ventilators and so on. So really battery capacity comes down to your own needs.
I have found that 1,000 to 3,000 watts of battery capacity is plenty depending on energy requirements as well as how many solar panels are attached to the system.
Weight & Portability
Portable is a little subjective because a 25-year-old man who goes to the gym every day can probably carry a 50lb solar generator no problem. Whereas a 75-year-old man may not be able to easily carry a 50lb generator. Know your limits and your strengths.
When it comes to weight, I recommend something that can be carried in one hand. For me, I can carry about 35lbs in one hand and not fall over. 20lbs though is much nicer. So, I find anywhere in the 20 to the 35lb range is perfectly fine for most people regardless of age.
I highly discourage systems that use wheels. If it’s on wheels that means it’s too heavy. Going up and down stairs, loading it into a vehicle, setting it on a counter or table all become really hard chores or two people are needed. There are some units out there that range from 50lbs to 110lbs and are still called “portable” because they had some wheels attached to them. Make sure it works for you and don’t go with ones with wheels in my opinion.
Many people are getting a solar powered portable generator because they want to have power during emergencies. Others simply want an easy solution in their RV, tiny home or just for camping. So, if it’s for an RV then weight and portability aren’t huge factors. Camping and emergencies though weight and portability really matter.
I know many people, especially in the southern and eastern states, that prepare for hurricanes and storms every year because they know they those storms are definitely coming. Those storms are not decreasing in how often they happen, they’re actually increasing. When looking for your solar generator you need to consider the option that you may need to grab it and go to another location. That means you need to be able to grab it quickly and load it easily.
Charging speed is where I see most brands under building their units. The generator needs to be able to charge in a day from 0 to 100 while being used still to run necessary items like previously mentioned.
For the US, the average amount of hours in a day that solar panels can produce full power is 5 to 6. The further south you are the more light you get, the further north the less. To play devil’s advocate let’s say it’s 5 hours a day are all there is to create full power from the solar panels. If there are 500 watts in solar panels that means 2,500 watts will be made.
Here’s the example: 2,500 watts will be made on a daily basis and the battery is 1,000 watts, and the battery is at 0%. That means during the day the battery will get fully charged from that 2,500 watts produced, leaving an excess of 1,500 watts. However, items such as fridges, freezers, fans or maybe even a 5,000 BTU A/C unit will need to run during the day as well. That means that extra 1,500 watts will run those items during the day at come nightfall the battery will be back to 100% ready for the whole night of use.
This scenario can be played out any different way. If there are 300 watts in panels it’ll make 1,500 watts in a day. What are the energy requirements? That’s what it comes down to.
Now, all that being said, most solar units out there DO NOT charge at 500 or more watts per hour. It’s more common to find a charge speed of 150 to 250 watts per hour. If the 1,000-watt battery is dead and there are 5 hours to charge it in and it’s 200 watts input power, that means 1,000 watts will be made that day. But that would mean nothing could be run all day long because the battery would be charging.
Sadly, this is a common theme. Every year my family actually does a week-long preparedness camping trip with hundreds of other people. Many of them have solar generators and at least 80% have slow charging speeds. After 1 or 2 days max they are completely out of power and can’t charge fast enough to run anything the rest of the week; a bit ridiculous.
Going back to the scenario of making an excess of 1,500 watts a day, some would ask, “why not just store that energy in another battery?” That’s a great question! Some people don’t need to use all 2,500 watts produced in a day, or maybe they only need it some days but not every day.
Let’s say the battery capacity of the solar generator is 1,000 watts and only 500 watts max will be needed during the day to run different items such as fans. If 2,500 watts will be produced then that means the extra 1,000 watts goes to nothing. Unless the solar unit can add extra batteries. If the solar generator had an extra 1,000 watts in batteries connected to it that means that extra power could be used during the night or during a time when high energy requirements are needed.
Being able to add extra batteries is a must. Whether the plan is to expand or not, having the option is a very important option. People don’t know what the future holds, so why limit the option of growing the solar power bigger if the need arises?
There are many people who have taken their solar generators and added extra batteries. Now they use them in their RVs, tiny homes, camping or just for power outages. Now they can run heavier equipment or charge more for longer just because they added an extra battery.
How long will the unit last? Thousands of dollars is a normal price for one of these solar generators so how long is this investment going to last?
Sadly, most lithium-based generators will only last 500 cycles. 500 cycles sound like a lot but it should really be closer to 2,000 cycles.
A cycle is using the battery from 100% down to 0% (or whatever the minimum drain point is) then back up to 100%. Especially those out there who need this for emergency preparedness or even more so RV and tiny homes this is a big issue. A tiny home will likely use at least half a cycle a night on a solar unit. That means it will only last 1.5 to 3 years max.
For those preparing for an event such as an EMP attack, it is expected that the grid would go down for a minimum of two years but likely 10 years before being restored. That means the battery needs to be able to handle working that long.
2,000 cycles can reach that length of time. If a generator has 2,000 cycles and is cycled 1 full cycle per 24-hour period it would last 5.5 years. So that being said if the unit were not drained a full cycle but only half a cycle per 24-hour period it would last 11 years. Also adding extra batteries will help share the load of the cycles which is another reason why it’s good to expand.
Number of Plugin Ports
Another area that is hugely under-fulfilled in the solar generator industry is how many spots there are to plug stuff in. The vast majority have two 110v (normal house wall outlet) plugs. The power goes out, I pull out my generator and plug in my fridge and then my freezer… now what? I can’t run lights, chargers entertainment, fans, medical devices or anything unless it’s running off another DC plug like a car cigarette lighter plug.
There needs to be a bare minimum of four 110v plugs on a solar generator. Having other DC ports such as a car cigarette lighter and USB ports are also very handy but are generally used much less than the 110v plugs. Having 6 110v plugs has proven to be plenty and leaves options for plugging in a fridge, freezer, light, fan, tv, and chargers without straining the system at all. DC ports are nice because they are always on even if the unit is off, which means using car chargers will work for smaller devices like phones or radios.
Now, this was mentioned earlier back in the battery capacity section. Don’t go with numbers you see in a title, name, tag or anything; actually, read what the inverter capability is. For most portable solar generators out there 1,500 watts is pretty average and has proven to be a pretty good size.
A 1,500-watt inverter means that it will run 1,500 watts of energy continuously without turning off, going into safety mode or hurting anything. 99% of the time the peak wattage
is double that of the continual wattage. That means a 1,500-watt inverter will peak at 3,000 watts. As an example, if you turn on a blender it uses more energy to get going than it does to keep going. Just like accelerating onto the freeway in a car, we burn more gas accelerating quickly but once we’re on the freeway it uses much less gas.
The next question comes in on how long that peak can go? Sadly, most inverter peaks can only last about 2 seconds, not very long. That means if it takes 3 seconds for the device your using to get its motor to full speed that it will likely cause the inverter to shut off and stop. Really 5 seconds or more is what should be aimed for in the peak length.
To add to this, it’s also important to get a Pure Sine Wave Inverter. It will run everything normal as you can in your house. If a Modified Sine Wave Inverter is in the unit it will only run certain types of items so it is definitely not recommended.
There are 2 big reasons why this made it onto the tip list. The first is pretty obvious, connecting to an RV makes life much easier, if you’re in an RV. But having the solar generator plugged into the RV isn’t the only use for RV connectivity.
Your average 110v plug is rated to 10 to 15 amps. Now in this article, we won’t be getting into the nitty gritty details of amps, volts, and watts. But since the average 110v plug will only run 10 to 15 amps that means items that drain more energy yet are still useful cannot be run on them. But what kind of items use that much amperage?
Luckily for me, I have a propane stove and oven in my house. So even if the power is out I can still light it and cook with ease. However, not all have that option. I have a single burner stove top that is electric that can be used with my solar generator. However, it uses about 15 amps at once because the heating coils take so much energy. Using the normal 110v plug pops the breaker and I then have to reset my solar generator to use it again.
Lucky for me my solar unit also comes with a 30-amp RV plug. So, I simply went and bought an RV plug to 110v plug adapter and now I can use my stove top without any issue. There are other items out there besides electric burners that use lots of amps and so having the ability to increase how many amps can be used with that port gives more options and helps long term.
Car Charging Capability
This is the most overlooked part of solar units by consumers. A solar unit needs to have the option to charge by a vehicle. Let’s use a camping scenario: You’re going on a camping trip but you pulled out your solar unit to find it’s only at 50%. It’s still mid-day but you can’t strap the panels to the roof of your vehicle. Luckily you have a car charger and so by the time you arrive at your location your unit is fully charged. Happy day.
It’s very surprising how often this type of situation happens. Simply being able to charge the generator while driving allows many people to get it up to 100% before reaching a destination. Many people use this option in their RVs or travel vans.
Keep in mind though that sadly some manufacturers or brands have a very slow charge speed even with their car chargers. So again that charging speed point comes into play and needs to be addressed. Make sure it charges quickly with a car charger, 5 hours or less is great.
Lithium Based Battery
It is no secret that lithium technology has come a long way over the years and is currently the absolute best readily available option for lots of power in a small package. There are different types of lithium though. Lithium Ion has been the most popular over the years because it is the lightest weight for the highest amount of energy output as well as life cycles. There’s a newer trending lithium battery though called Lithium Iron. It’s much heavier like normal lead acid batteries but uses the same power as lithium ion.
Then within lithium batteries, there are different grades of lithium. You can commonly see this just doing a search for 18650 lithium-ion batteries. How can the exact same battery have the option to have 2,400mah (mili-amp hours) of capacity whereas another identical battery can have 3,500mah? And how can some have only 500 cycles and other 2,000 cycles? The answer: Quality.
Lithium is by far the best way to go because it reduces weight significantly but also increases power output significantly over lead-acid type batteries.
Customer Support & Warranty
Finally, is the need for help before and after the purchase. Now most companies stink when it comes to customer support. They don’t answer phones, they hide contact info so they can’t be called or emailed, they take days to respond etc. It can drive someone up the wall crazy when they paid thousands of dollars and they can’t get any help.
First of all, that’s why I’m here =). Just like how I am writing this article to bring you help, I am always available to help people and generally respond within hours not days unless it’s the weekend. However, even on the weekend I generally answer questions at any time of day or night.
Bottom line though is I can’t fix something if a solar generator is having issues, that’s where the manufacturer and warranty take over. So, it’s imperative that whatever company makes the generator you’re using or going to be using be able to help.
It’s so sad when companies finally get big because then they act big. Big companies have 9 different phone options when you call or will respond to your email within 48 to 72 hours. It’s best to be big and act small. A good solar company will answer questions promptly and fix any issues that come up.
1-year full manufacturer warranties are plenty for solar units. If the unit is being used at least every now and then during the first year of purchase and has no issues, then there’s no reason to believe that after that first year it will begin to have issues. I have only had a couple of warranty claims ever cross my desk in the 3+ years I’ve been doing this. That’s because I only use quality items and only recommend quality items.
It is important to not get confused when some listings say 25-year guarantee on items such as solar panels. That doesn’t mean 10 years from now a replacement panel can be shipped out because you cut a cable on the panel. It means that the materials used in the construction of the unit are high quality and have shown that it should last 25 years at 80% or better efficiency.
When it comes to getting prepared, powering a dwelling, or just some fun camping, a solar generator is a great way to power items. If the right unit is purchased, then it can power lots of items for months on end without any concern. I personally use my units all the time and am constantly testing them to make sure I have the absolute best setup and kits for my family.
Like I said before I have zero commitment to a single brand. That is why you will see in the kits I have on my SHOP page are a composition of the absolute best products put together to make awesome solar generator kits.
Follow these 11 steps to finding the best solar generator and you will have a powerful tool at your disposal.