Battery Bank Solar Panel Expansion

What is a Solar Generator & How Does it Work?

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 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!

Part 1 of our DIY video series on how to build a large solar generator. In this step we will be demonstrating the load ...
My step by step series for building your own DIY solar generator.

Most Solar Generators also utilize one or more batteries to store the DC electricity. The solar panels use a device called a charge controller to charge the battery(s). The battery bank smooths out the incoming solar power and acts as a battery power supply to the AC inverter. This allows the AC power inverter to continue running during cloudy weather, or even overnight in the dark.

The battery pack can also supply the AC inverter more power than the solar panels can provide, useful during surges of higher power demands. So long as the solar panels get enough sunlight to recharge the batteries before it is completely depleted, the generator will continue running. 

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 – When you build your own solar generator, if a part fails that 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.
We purchased an '86 Travel Villa 29' fifth wheel camper as an inexpensive means to travel out west with our dogs. The camper is an older model, but it has served us well. After building the solar generator, I have found that I am always wanting to bring it with us when we travel as we typically boon-dock without hookups.

Let me know in the comments below any questions you have 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!

2 thoughts on “What is a Solar Generator & How Does it Work?”

  1. I like the use of the case for the generator components but do you have any ideas for making the solar panels more portable and secure? If not possible, should I think about permanently mounting them, say in the backyard? How would that be done?

    1. Hi Mike, Yes, the larger solar panels can be pretty bulky. There are some options available on Amazon for flexible & fordable panels that are easier for traveling if you do a lot of that. Since I use mine primarily at home I went with the more traditional roof mount panels as they cost much less per rated watt.

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