A Solar Generator is a term for a device that can convert solar energy from the sun into electrical AC power. Most Solar Generators use one or more solar panels to generate DC electrical power. The DC electricity is then converted to AC electricity with an AC power inverter.
Solar Generators Defined:
Solar Generator is a relatively new term, and definitions can vary. EnergySage defines it as: ” The term solar generator can technically refer to any energy system being powered by the sun. However, people using the term are most often talking about portable solar setups with a specialized battery system attached.”
If you are interested in building your own DIY Solar Generator, you should check out my instructional step by step series for my expandable large solar generator here!
How Does a Solar Generator Work?
There are several main components to a typical solar generator. We will go over each below!
Solar Panels are the heart of any solar generator. They collect the sunlight and convert it to DC electricity. The amount of power available is based on the size of the panel, and how much sunlight is available at that moment. The power output can vary widely throughout the day due to weather, clouds, shade, etc.
Because the available power from the solar panels varies throughout the day, they are often wired to a device called a charge controller that is responsible for taking extra power and charging one or more batteries.
The batteries stores the energy, much like a fuel tank does on a gasoline or diesel generator. The battery bank smooths out the incoming solar power and acts as a reserve power supply for the devices the generator is powering. This allows the solar generator to continue running during cloudy weather, or even overnight in the dark.
The battery pack can also supply larger bursts of power than the solar panels can provide, useful during surges of higher power demands. As long as the solar panels get enough sunlight over time to recharge the batteries – then generator will continue running.
Power For Devices
Most Solar Generators provide several types of power output. Some small solar generators only provide low voltage DC power. 12 volts is a very common power output since it is used extensively in the automotive wold, 12 volt devices are plentiful and inexpensive. This output can be used for automotive style phone / laptop chargers, lights, audio systems, tire infiltrators and more!
Typically there is also USB charging ports available as well. This is most often use to charge cell phones & tablets, but they can be used to charge any USB powered device as well.
Many solar generators also provide 120 volt AC power by using an additional device all an AC Power Inverter. The device will convert the DC battery power to conventional AC power so household devices and appliances can be powered as well.
Pros & Cons of a Solar Powered Generator
There are many advantages to a solar powered generator as compared to a fossil fuel generator. The biggest ones are:
- Silent Operation – Many Solar Powered Generators emit no noise at all. Some units may have a cooling fan that will turn on during operation, but even then it is far quieter than a traditional fuel-powered generator.
- No Emissions – Because the generator is powered by the sun, it does not need to burn fossil fuel, and as a result there are no CO or CO2 emissions.
- Safe to Operate Indoors – Another advantage of the zero CO (Carbon Monoxide) emissions is that the unit can be operated indoors.
- Wide Range of Size – Solar Generators can be purchased or built in a vast range of sizes. This allows for either an extreme portable solar generator for backpacking & camping, or much larger units for backup power, RV’s, and even powering a whole house or off grid cabin.
However, there are some drawbacks as well. Solar Generators will generally cost more than a conventional gas fuel generator of equal power output.
Gas generators can also run at their full power for as long as they have fuel in the tank. Solar Generators on the other hand can have a hard time maintaining enough solar power to keep the battery charged for long and heavy power demand.
What are the Best Solar Generators?
The best solar generator depends on a lot of variables. The best solar generator for backpacking or camping will be relatively small and lightweight. These can be very useful for charging cell phones, laptops, or other electronic power devices in remote places that are otherwise without power.
The folks at ClimateCounts have also put together a list of Top Rated Solar Generators if you would like to look at some more specific models.
For larger power needs you will want a much larger unit. Large solar generators can be used as an emergency solar backup generator, running large power tools, or even powering a whole house or off grid cabin.
Should you Build Your Own DIY Solar Generator?
While some prefer the convenience of buying a manufactured model, there are many reasons you might consider building your own DIY Solar Generator.
- Cost – the cost to build a DIY solar generator from a kit or your own parts is considerable cheaper. You can usually save 50% or more compared to a manufactured model.
- Easy to Repair – By building your own solar generator, if a part fails the component can be easily replaced. With a manufactured model your repair options are much more limited.
- Flexibility – You can custom tailor the options you would like when you build your own solar generator. You can add USB ports, LED utility lights, and many other options. You also can size your main components to your specific needs.
- Fun – It can be a very fun and rewarding project to build a solar generator. Not only will you have a very useful tool when finished, but you will also understand how it works and be able to repair it in the future if needed.
What Solar Generator Topics Did We Miss?
Let me know in the comments below any questions you have that I didn’t already cover. I will do my best to answer them, and plan to have more articles in the future on this topic. Thanks!