solar powered generator

Buying a Solar Powered Generator

A solar powered generator provides peace of mind when a power outage hits. Whether you want to power essential appliances or run more sophisticated electronics, finding the right one is key.

These portable power stations combine batteries with solar panels to provide electricity almost anywhere you need it. They come in a variety of sizes with different energy storage capacities, output ports and maximum power ratings.

Battery

A solar generator’s battery is the heart of its system. It stores energy from the sun and is rechargeable through its inverter, which converts DC electricity into AC power most appliances and devices use. The battery can be made of a variety of chemical formulations, but lithium-ion nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) and lithium iron phosphate (LFP) are popular choices. Each cell in the battery is monitored by a built-in microprocessor and software algorithms that manage charging and discharging. This helps to optimise the battery for a long lifespan.

The capacity of a solar powered generator is measured in watt-hours and indicates how much power it can provide on demand. For example, a large fan and portable refrigerator might draw 2,000 watts of power together. You can find out if a solar generator has enough capacity for your needs by comparing its stated battery capacity with the power draw of your chosen devices or appliance.

You should also pay attention to a solar generator’s surge output power, as some devices require a burst of additional electricity for startup. The higher the surge output power, the more devices a solar generator can support on-demand. The Jackery Xtreme Solar Generator, for instance, has the best surge output power with a maximum of 4,800 watts and supports devices that draw up to 1,024 watts continuously.

Inverter

A solar generator’s inverter converts the direct current (DC) solar powered generator energy that comes from batteries and solar panels into alternating current electricity. This AC power is what most lamps, appliances and gadgets use. The inverter is rated in output watts (W). A small power station’s inverter may have a maximum input capacity of 500W, while medium-sized models have capacities of 1,200W to 2,000W.

Many modern inverters offer internet connectivity and allow for remote system performance monitoring via the web. They also integrate with the grid, allowing the solar generator to sell its excess electricity back into the grid. In order to do this, they need to comply with grid voltage standards.

The inverter controls the battery charging process and ensures that a solar generator’s cell stack remains balanced as it is charged and discharged. It does this by monitoring each individual cell in the battery pack and shutting off the charger or the entire system when it detects an unsafe condition such as overvoltage or overtemperature. This prevents the cells from reaching their limit and limits wear and tear to your generator’s battery. Several solar generator manufacturers, including Jackery and Goal Zero, use custom microprocessors with sophisticated software algorithms to manage these functions. These systems are known as battery management systems or BMS. They are the brains of a solar powered generator and ensure its long-term performance and longevity.

Charge Controller

Powering solar generators requires a battery, an inverter and a charge controller. The battery converts sunlight to DC electricity, while the inverter turns that electricity into AC, the type of energy used by most devices and appliances. A charge controller regulates the voltage of the electricity before it goes into the battery and ensures that it gets charged evenly.

When comparing solar generators, look at their watt-hour capacities and the maximum inverter load they can handle. That way, you can be sure that the generator will be able to run your essential appliances and devices during an emergency or blackout.

Most solar generators have a variety of ports for connecting devices. They typically include standard AC outlets for plugging in larger appliances, USB-A and -PD ports that can power up smartphones and other mobile devices and XT-30 connectors that are compatible with off-grid solar panels. Some solar generators also have integrated power supplies for fast charging.

A charge controller helps a solar generator stay healthy by keeping its battery properly balanced, which extends its lifespan. It also prevents overcharging or overdischarging, which can lead to premature failure of the battery cells. Some chargers use microprocessor-controlled algorithms to perform these functions, while others outdoor waterproof solar lights rely on user input via a display panel or smartphone app. Some simpler systems will omit an LCD panel altogether, but more sophisticated options like the EcoFlow Delta 2 allow you to monitor essential battery and inverter information at a glance and control them remotely from a mobile device.

Panels

A solar generator pairs a large-capacity rechargeable power station — essentially a big battery — with portable solar panels, making for a powerful device that provides backup home power in an emergency and can double as gear for off-grid activities like camping and tailgating. Most solar generators offer a maximum output of 1,500 to 3,000 watts, which may not be enough to run everything in your home during a blackout, but it should be plenty to run essential appliances and equipment like room air conditioners, laptops, phones, and CPAP machines.

Unlike gas generators, most solar generators can be charged directly using sunlight. They can also be powered by a standard AC wall outlet or 12-volt vehicle port. If your primary goal is to get away from the grid, a hybrid solar generator with another energy source like wind or diesel can help you avoid electricity bills entirely.

Depending on their design, some solar generators can accommodate multiple solar panels hooked up in parallel, connected by long cables with different types of connectors. They typically have a panel connection port that can accept an MC4 or XT-60 wire, with the positive and negative poles of each panel keyed to the appropriate polarity. When comparing different solar generators, consider their max panel capacity, the wattage of each panel, and the time it takes for that panel to charge fully in your area.