As a green, renewable energy source with ever improving technology, solar energy is becoming more and more popular. Nonexistent carbon emissions along with freedom from dependence on fossil fuels make this kind of energy especially attractive – it’s good for the environment and it saves you money.
Solar energy is available to the individual household thanks to the solar generator. This device takes energy from the sun captured by solar panels, converts it into electrical power and stockpiles it in a battery. An inverter makes this energy available as an alternating current (AC) power source, the kind used by most household appliances.
A solar generator purchase is the kind of decision that you can be proud of. That being said, finding the right solar generator for you can be more difficult than many people expect. There are a wide variety of generators on the market, and it can be confusing to know which features are important and what is worth paying for.
To determine which solar generator is right for you, start by figuring out how much energy you are going to need for how long. That will help guide you to a reasonable price range. To stay within it, the main feature you will be looking for is generator efficiency. Here is the basic information that you will need to make a better decision:
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Classes of Solar Generators
Small (1,500 watts or less) – In this class, you’ll find compact systems that will provide enough power to charge all your essential devices (cell phone, laptop, portable charger, etc.) and even power a few appliances. Their advantages are that they are usually portable and light, making them ideal for camping or other outdoor activities.
Medium (from 1,500 watts to 3,000 watts) – Solar generators in this class provide a solid middle ground. They can handle more appliances than small generators, including refrigerators and microwaves, while still remaining relatively portable. They might be the right choice if you’re interested in powering an RV or small cabin.
Large (3,000 watts or more) – Heavy duty solar generators are likely the best option if you are interested in a back up energy source for your home. They can power various high energy demand appliances like freezers, window unit air conditioners, and well pumps, for an extended period of time – especially if they’re getting a good deal of sunlight.
Tips and Tricks for Buyers
Do not let yourself be intimidated by the plethora of solar generators available to you. Just keep these handy guidelines in mind.
Figure Out What Size Generator You Will Need
As with any power source, you will want your solar generator to be able to provide enough juice to for your essential devices for as long as you need it to. Meeting this requirement is as simple as finding the right size solar generator. The “right size” will be determined by what appliances you want to run and how long you want to run them for.
The “how long” question is a tricky one, because with enough sunlight, you could likely power a moderate load indefinitely. Unfortunately, how much sun you will get can be almost impossible to predict. To account for that, you will want to figure out how long you will need power for in the absence of sunlight.
A Solar Generator without Sunlight?
If you want your generator to provide back up power in the event of an outage – as many people do – you can not be entirely dependent on constant sunshine. Most power outages are accompanied by storms and cloud cover, meaning that you will not have sunlight exactly when you need power.
Fortunately, solar generators don’t just convert sunshine into electricity. An important component of the system is the battery, which stores the energy collected by the solar panels over long periods of time, if necessary. When you connect appliances to the generator, they drain the battery, which is only refilled when there is sunlight for the solar panels to collect energy from. That means you’ll want your battery to be able to store enough energy to provide power for your appliances for a substantial amount of time, even if there is no sun.
To find out how much electricity you will need your generator to provide, list the items that you will need to be able to run off of the generator. Check their labels or instruction manuals to see how much power they require. Finally, estimate how long you’ll need to use each item for on a daily basis. Some appliances, like a hairdryer, will use lots of watts for a short amount of time, while others, like a lamp, will use little wattage for a longer period of time.
Multiplying watts used by an appliance by the amount of time you will need it for, and then adding up that product for each appliance, will give you a good estimate of a daily energy requirement for your solar generator battery. You will want to find a system that can provide you with at least this much energy.
Features and Perks: Do You Need Them or Not?
After you’ve figured out roughly how much energy your solar generator will need to provide, then you can start think about the other characteristics that you will want it to have. There are lots of options and it’s important to decide which ones are going to be useful for you. Here are a few features that you will probably want to think about:
USB ports – these are great for charging cell phones, laptop computers and tablets
Outlets for three prong plugs – allow you to plug a greater range of appliances into your generator
Many outlets – especially convenient on a construction site with multiple power tools
Built In Flashlight – can be handy for camping in dark woods
Multiple charge options – batteries that can be charged by your car or a solar panel give you more flexibility
Complete systems – sometimes solar panels, batteries and inverters are sold separately, but a complete system is usually more convenient
Lightweight system – best for camping and mobile activities
Heavy duty system – stands up to the elements and is harder to steal if left outdoors
Long battery life – varies among models
A pure sine wave inverter – easier on appliances
Wheels and a carrying handle – increase portability
Interface that shows remaining battery – often LCD screens will give a precise picture of battery life
Weather resistant materials – especially for use when camping
Customer support – some makers provide it, some don’t
Frequently Asked Questions
Solar generators always include the solar panels, right?
Not always. Products labeled as solar generators sometimes do not actually include solar panels, including only the battery and inverter. If this is the case with a product that you are interested in, check for solar panel compatibility. Some of theses products will be limited to use with solar panels sold by the same company.
Do solar generators make much noise?
Nope, unlike noisy gas, diesel, or propane generators, solar generators are virtually silent. This can be a big plus if you are interested in keeping your neighbors happy or preserving the sounds of nature in a wildlife environment.
Does a solar generator emit any fumes?
Nuh-uh, unlike conventional generators, which emit carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, solar generators do not produce any fumes or carbon emissions while producing energy.
Are solar generators portable?
Many solar generators are lightweight and designed to be very mobile, but not all are. Sturdier, heavier models designed as home back up generators can be difficult to move.
Will a solar generator be able to provide me with the energy I need?
That depends to a certain degree on the amount of sunlight where you live. But even you can not count on constant sunshine, many solar generators offer alternative charging options, allowing you to store a good deal of energy in the battery with the help of a wall or car outlet.
Can a solar generator be used inside?
Sure, since solar generators don’t emit deadly fumes like their conventional cousins, you can use them indoors – assuming that your set up allows the solar panels to collect enough sunlight to charge the battery.