Last updated on October 20th, 2019
The market for solar generators is slowly but steadily growing. All-in-one portable power stations that use solar energy are a new alternative to conventional fuel-powered portable generators.
How do these sources of off-grid electricity compare to each other? Are solar generators better than a portable generator running on gasoline?
Read on to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages or a solar power portable power station and how to know if they are suitable for your needs.
What Is a Solar Generator?
A solar generator is actually a misnomer. The machines that are often referred to as solar generators are often a rechargeable battery that can be powered by a solar panel.
How a so-called solar generator works is quite different from how a conventional fossil fuel-powered generator runs. The mechanics are different and the technical specs tend to be quite different, as well.
The basic setup of a solar generator is a rechargeable battery, an inverter, solar charger and solar panels. Energy drawn from the solar panels pass through the solar charger to the rechargeable battery and then the inverter converts the DC electricity into AC electricity.
A different and more appropriate label given to solar power rechargeable batteries is remote portable power station. Sometimes these units are also called all-in-one portable power stations when the battery can also be charged through a regular wall outlet or a car outlet.
Advantages of a Solar Power Portable Power Station Compared to Fuel-Powered Generators
There are many advantages to using solar power for remote off-grid places. The sun is free to everyone and shines all over the world so in that sense using solar power is a safe bet.
Let’s consider the main advantages of using portable solar power stations. How do solar power generators compare to conventional fuel-powered generators?
No Noise: There is no engine in solar powered portable power station which cuts out the biggest source of noise pollution that all conventional fuel-powered portable generators have. Also, there are no moving parts in a solar power generator – the shaking in a fuel-powered generator is another reason why they are noisy.
The only noise that you might hear from a solar power portable power station is a buzzing from the inverter but this sound is minimal. This makes solar power generators a great choice for outdoor activities since there is no noise to bother people.
Free Energy Supply: Using the energy from the sun is free in a way so, solar panels allow you to use a free and unlimited source of energy. However, it is not completely free since it requires an investment in the solar power gear, first.
Also, solar energy is more readily available in most remote areas compared to gasoline or diesel. You cannot run out of solar energy as long as you are in a spot where the sun shines.
Another cost related advantage is that solar energy is not subject to volatile price fluctuations like gasoline and diesel are. Once you have the solar power equipment, your ‘fuel’ costs remain steady.
Multiple Power Sources: As mentioned, many solar generators are actually all-in-one portable power stations meaning that they can also be charged by power sources other than solar power. Besides solar power, the basic power sources are regular AC electricity from a wall outlet or from a car using the CIG port.
Low Running Costs: Compared to a fuel-powered portable generator, a solar generator has lower running costs. You do not need to buy fuel since the sun’s energy is free to extract and there is no oil that needs changing.
Not having any moving parts also reduces the risk of spare parts getting damaged or needing replacement. So, despite solar generators being a bigger initial investment, their running costs are lower compared to a fuel-powered portable generator.
No Fumes: The carbon monoxide released by a conventional fossil fuel-powered generator is a serious health hazard which is why they can only be used outdoors and at a safe distance from any buildings. Solar power generators do not release any fumes making them the safest option, even safe enough for indoor use.
Environmentally Friendly: Solar power is one of the most environmentally friendly renewable energy sources. Using a portable power station powered by solar energy is much more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel-powered generators.
A conventional portable generator releases carbon dioxide and other environmentally damaging gases while a solar power portable generator does not releases any fumes. So, not only is the input clean energy but so it the output.
Lightweight: The heaviest parts in a conventional fuel-powered generator are the engine, (filled) fuel tank and battery. A solar powered portable power station only has a battery which means that a lot of the generator weight is cut out.
This is why many solar power generators are more lightweight with plenty of models weighing less than 25 pounds. Also, manufacturers are able to create more portable designs, like the briefcase style portable solar power stations, when there is no need to include a fuel tank and engine.
Disadvantages of a Solar Power Portable Power Station Compared to Fuel-Powered Generators
As with anything, there are disadvantages to solar power portable power stations. In certain aspects the conventional portable generator has the winning hand.
Take a look at the main disadvantages associated with relying on a solar power portable generator compares to a fuel-powered portable generator. How do these disadvantages weigh against the advantages of a solar power portable power station?
Temperature Sensitivity: Ironically, certain all-in-one portable generators cannot stand prolonged exposure to hot temperatures. So, if you are using them in a very hot climate you need to make sure that the power station itself is kept at cooler temperatures while still positioning the solar panels for maximum sunlight exposure.
Look for solar generators that mention having a Battery Management System or BMS. This is a special feature that among other things, controls the temperature of the portable power station.
Inconsistent Energy Supply: The sun’s energy is not constant. Certain places in the world only get limited sun hours and cloudy days and other weather conditions also limit how effective solar panels are at drawing in energy.
In reality, a solar generator works best in tropical and sub-tropical climates where sunshine is more reliable. A solar power generator is less effective in a region with seasonal differences in sun hours.
Price: There is a wide range of generator prices and solar generators tend to be in the more expensive category, especially when you look at how much power you get for the price tag. Solar power technology is simply more expensive than regular fuel engines.
So, a solar power portable power station is generally a bigger initial investment than a conventional fuel-powered generator. However, keep in mind that the maintenance costs and running costs of a solar power generator are lower than a conventional fuel-powered generator.
Big Size for Big Power: Solar power generators meant for light use are more lightweight than inverter generators and conventional generators. However, if you want to match the power of a solar generator to that of a conventional fuel-powered generator then the solar generator will be the heavier one.
In other words, how lightweight the generator is is directly related to how much power it holds. For light use, a solar power generator is the more portable option but as soon as you go for 1500 watts or more, inverter generators are the more lightweight option.
Slow Charging: Despite most all-in-one portable power stations having three different charging options, all charging options are generally slow. A charge time of 8 hours is not uncommon for an all-in-one portable power station.
This long charge time is not ideal for emergency situations. Manufacturers try to limit this inconvenience by using solar panels that can store power but this is always less than full charge.
Another way manufacturers try to compensate for this issue is designing rechargeable batteries that can be used while charging. Not every solar power generator model is capable of this and charging is slowed down with the models that can.
Verdict: Are Solar Power Generators Better than Conventional Fuel-Powered Portable Generators?
Most of the true advantages of a solar power all-in-one portable power station are how user-friendly and environmentally-friendly it is. Its limitations lie in how much power they hold and the consistency of the power supply.
In short, whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages really depends on what the generator is to be used for and the climate in that location.
Solar power portable generators are ideal for recreational use in outdoor activities like fishing and camping. They don’t make any noise so they cannot disturb the neighbors nor wildlife and they don’t release any hazardous fumes so they are environmentally friendly and safe.
All-in-one portable power stations are also the only real option as an alternative electricity supply for indoor use because they don’t release any fumes. For example, a common use for solar generators is for powering a CPAP machine.
A solar power generator is also the perfect travel companion for professionals working in off-grid situations like remote health care providers. Certain solar powered rechargeable batteries IATA approved so they can be brought on airplanes.
A solar power generator is also common gear for off-road trips. The battery can be used to power small electrical tools in case of a car breaking down or to jump start a car.
In short, a solar power portable power station is a versatile off-grid electricity source but it is not suitable for all purposes.
Small portable solar power generators are not suitable as a home backup generator simply because they tend to hold much less power than an inverter generator or conventional portable generator. The solar power models that do provide enough electricity to power the basic household appliances are much bigger and heavier than the fuel-powered alternatives making them the less portable option, in this case.
Solar energy is also not a reliable energy source in regions with limited sun hours or unpredictable weather conditions. For example, a solar powered portable power station would not receive enough sun hours for a full charge in Scandinavian countries during the winter.
How to Decide Between a Solar Generator and Fuel-Powered Generator
There is no standard answer to whether a solar power generator is more suitable than a conventional portable generator. It depends on the purpose, location and power requirements.
Still cannot decide between a solar power all-in-one portable generator and conventional fuel-powered generator? These are the questions to ask yourself.
- How Much Power Do You Need?
This is always the first question to ask yourself when looking for a generator. In general, the more power you need the less portable the generator will be.
- How Portable Must the Generator Be?
The follow-up question to question 1 is how often you need to move the generator around. Light use solar generators are more portable but as soon as you need more power an inverter generator with parallel capabilities might be the more suitable option.
- Where Will You Use the Generator?
Solar generators are the only option for indoor use. Them not releasing any fumes nor making noise also makes them the more suitable option for outdoor activities like fishing.
Remember that a fuel-powered generator must run at least 15 feet away from any buildings and windows.
- Will You Get Enough Sun Hours?
Solar generators have a long charge time so make sure that the number of sun hours is long and reliable. The alternative is using a regular wall outlet or car outlet to charge the battery.
- What Is Your Budget?
Solar power portable power stations are not cheap. Consider your generator budget and then decide whether the initial investment for a solar powered generator is worth the lower running costs and maintenance costs, in the long run.