The vast majority of homeowners do not have any kind of backup or supplemental energy source for power outages. This means that, if there is an extended power failure, refrigerated and frozen foods stand to be lost, there is no way to circulate air or run devices to assist in staying warm. Additionally, there are security concerns when there are no lights or signs of habitation in a home at night during power outages.
Reasons you may want to consider a solar generator include:
- Power during extended power outages
- Portable power when you go camping or tailgating
- No need to select and wires inverters, batteries, etc.
- Noise-free power solution (stealth power)
- Power to supplement your existing electrical needs
- Powering medical devices during outages
- A level of energy independence
What Is A Solar Generator
If you were to build a DIY solar system, there would be several components that would be used. An inverter to convert the DC power generated by your solar panels from DC to AC power, a charge controller to ensure that batteries receive the correct charging voltage, and of course the batteries themselves.
A portable solar generator is essentially an all-in-one solution that incorporates the inverter, charge controller, and battery storage. Varying in size and power, these solar generators have many benefits over traditional fuel generators as we will outline below. They do, however, have limitations as compared to fuel generators. For example, they generally are not able to provide as much power.
Depending on your needs, a fuel generator may make more sense in certain situations. I prefer to have both as each offers unique benefits over the other. You can pull more power from a fuel generator, generally speaking, but access to and cost of fuel may inhibit your ability to run one indefinitely. A solar generator, by contrast, doesn’t provide as much power but is able to be charged using solar panels. So, as long as you have access to the sun, you can run them indefinitely so long as you ration the power reasonably.
But A Solar Generator Is Not A Generator, It’s a Battery!
Another term for a solar generator is “solar storage system”. Many people argue that solar “generator” is not an accurate term because it is not a generator in the same sense that a fuel generator is. While it is true that solar generators do not use fossil fuel to generate power, a solar generator does have the ability to generate power, it just uses the sun as its fuel source.
At the same time, is accurate to refer to these systems as solar storage devices as they do have the ability to store power. For example, if you were planning a weekend camping trip and needed a couple of days of energy to charge cell phones, power lights, etc. then you could easily reach for one of these devices. You can have it charged and ready to go before you leave and you have the ability to carry
But remember, these devices do not just have the ability to store energy, they have the benefit of actually generating energy from the sun (through the use of solar panels). So, while either term is technically correct, for our purposes here, I will be referring to these systems as solar generators.
My Hard Lesson About The Need For A Solar Generator
In 2005, Hurricane Rita tore across the East Texas coastline and forever changed the lives of thousands of people who live in this area. Beyond the damage of the hurricane itself, the weeks that followed brought with it a sobering understanding of just how dependent we are on electricity. Fuel generators were great for a while, but when supplies dried up and there was no fuel available for purchase, gas generators quickly became super-heavy paperweights.
You would think that I would have learned my lesson, but it took two more hurricanes (Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017) for me to finally realize that living with a sole dependence on the electrical grid for essential power needs is fool-hearty. Beyond the miserable temperatures that were endured with no way to circulate air to keep cool, I cannot begin to calculate the amount of food that was lost from refrigerators and freezers due to the inability to have access to electricity.
Couple that with multiple ice storms through the years and you have countless weeks that my family has gone without any electrical power.
Although you may not be in an area where hurricanes or ice storms impact your access to electricity, there is a multitude of other scenarios that can hinder the electrical company’s ability to provide you with power for extended periods. I would strongly encourage you to have a contingency plan for dealing with those situations.
And so, let’s begin our list of reasons that a solar generator might make sense for you with this….
#1 – Extended Power Outages
I love gas generators for their power. Depending on the size you have, they can power a hefty load. The problem with gas generators, as I discovered in the weeks following Hurricane Rita, is that gas generators are great until there no gas available. Then, they are pretty much useless.
I still believe that everyone should own a gas generator. I am a huge fan of the Champion 3400-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Generator. It has an electric start and can run on gasoline or propane. It’s a great generator to have in your power outage arsenal.
But if the power outage runs too long, gas can be in short supply and propane can eventually run out. A solar generator, by contrast, is always able to recharge through the power of the sun by using some portable solar panels. That means you can sustain for weeks, even months if you had to and still have some type of power to charge and run essential devices. With solar generators, you never have to worry about not having access to fuel.
The odds of ever having a sustained power outage may seem far fetched to you. I’ll admit, it did to me until living through those hurricanes and ice storms without access to electricity. Those were life-changing events that taught me
#2 – Portability
One of the great things about a solar generator is how portable they are. Not only compared to a whole-house solar array system but even compared to a traditional fuel generator. These things weigh a fraction of what a fuel generator weighs and while they don’t offer the same level of power, they do provide a surprising level of electrical energy for essential power when electrical access is not available.
Let’s explore just a few of these.
Roughing it out in the wilderness or next to a lake can be a lot of fun. Fishing, roasting marshmallows, and just being out in nature is a healthy and relaxing experience. Still, there are certain amenities that are nice to have on a camping trip.
Examples include lighting, the ability to charge cell phones, and maybe even running a small refrigerator or fan to keep cool. These are excellent power solutions for hunting and fishing camps.
A portable solar generator allows you to take the power for those amenities with you. Since it runs virtually silent, it can power devices during the night without disturbing your family or other campers. And since they don’t put off fumes like fuel generators, you can use them indoors keeping them safe from the elements and late-night looters.
If you are into tailgating, you already know how beneficial access to electricity can be.
A great example of this that a friend recently introduced me to is a cooler that runs off a DC power using a cigarette lighter plug. Many solar generators include this type of plug which means you can power your electric cooler without draining your vehicle’s battery.
Cohorting For Emergencies
This is something my family has done on multiple occasions. Misery loves company but there is also safety in numbers. In the weeks following the hurricanes we experienced a large number of “looters” who were going into houses and stealing. There is a vulnerability in a home appearing unoccupied. If a looter were to enter a home and be surprised by a family, something terrible could happen.
Because of this, it is better to have more people together in a home at one time. It provides a greater level of protection when there are more people there.
Another advantage to people gathering together during an emergency is the rationing of resources. Our families can to my house, brought their frozen and refrigerated foods, and we consumed them together until they at risk of spoiling.
We also were able to combine our fuel resources for a single gas generator. This resulted in our ability to produce power to last longer than most, though sadly it was still not long enough.
A solar generator would have been an amazing resource to have for this. The family members could have all kept their cellphones charged, we could have watched television for the latest news updates (yes, a solar generator will easily power a TV), and we could have kept lamps lit at night to discourage looters.
Most importantly, we could have kept the space fans going in the days after our gas generator ran out of fuel. You would not believe how hot it can get in Southeast Texas in the late summer.
What’s important to remember is that, even though a solar generator cannot push a power load equal to a gas generator, it has the ability to recharge itself each day through solar panels. This means you are able to continuously obtain electrical power for FREE!
Take It With You When You Move
You may be starting to realize the benefit of a solar generator and starting to think that maybe you should just invest in a whole-house solar system. While there are definitely advantages to this, there are also some very serious disadvantages.
First, is cost. A whole-house solar system can run well over $20,000. That is a hefty startup cost. Additionally, if you are not sure that you will be living in that home for the next 30 years, you may never really see a return on investment.
A portable solar generator, by comparison, costs significantly less (close to the cost of a gas generator depending on its size and capacity), and can be taken with you when you move. It won’t run your entire home but it will go with you when you relocate and continue to power essential items for you for years to come.
#3 – All-In-One Solution
As stated earlier, a portable solar generator is an all-in-one solution. Granted, you do need solar panels to charge it when off-grid, but you do not have to deal with the hassle and perplexity of selecting and wiring up the various components (inverter, charge controller, etc.).
This makes a portable solar generator an excellent solution for many small to medium power needs when the electrical grid is inaccessible.
#4- Stealth Grid-Down Survival
I’ve already spoken to the importance of safety in numbers when it comes to grid-down survival. Another consideration, however, is the ability to generate power quietly. Power-generating resources become a necessity when during a sustained power outage and as with any necessity item, there are those who will want what you have.
I heard many stories of stolen generators following Hurricane Ike. During a power outage that lasts for weeks, the steady drone of a gas generator is like a calling to those who value what you have but have no reservations about taking what they want or need.
A solar generator is essentially silent. Some models will have a small fan that runs in them to keep them cool but the noise is not enough to attract looters. This means you can power essential devices and keep your family relatively comfortable without blaring an alert to looters that you have something they may want.
#5 -Supplemental Energy
I was recently introduced to an intriguing concept on how to use a solar generator. I have traditionally thought of these as something that is stored away for power outages only but a friend shared with me a concept that he is working on to provide ongoing supplemental energy and electrical savings to his home.
The concept involves powering his ceiling fans and perhaps a few LED lights throughout his home from his solar generator, thereby reducing his draw on the grid. It’s a small benefit but I must say that I was intrigued by the concept.
A solar generator wouldn’t make sense for this purpose alone but it does provide an ongoing use for it versus just pulling it out when the power goes down. As he explained, even during a power outage, his ceiling fans and a few lights would still work, not only helping to keep the house cool by circulating air but also lessening the temptation of looters who would be discouraged by the lights.
You can read my complete post on this here.
#6 – Emergency Power For Critical Needs
I work in the healthcare industry and prior to each hurricane, we have to evacuate our patients from locations that are vulnerable to the oncoming disaster. One of the priorities that are used in determining which patients will be evacuated first is their dependency on medical devices that require electricity.
CPAP machines are one of the most common devices that meet these criteria. There are many people who are required to use these devices at home. Without electricity, their health is at risk.
A portable solar generator is an excellent system to have on reserve for these patients. They can continue to use their CPAP machine and the solar generator can be recharged each day using solar panels.
Another consideration is patients who are dependant on insulin. Medications such as this are not supposed to be left out in the heat. We keep the medication refrigerated in our healthcare clinics but without electricity, it would be very difficult for a patient at home to ensure that their insulin stays at, at least, room temperature.
Portable solar generators can be used to power refrigerators. I like the idea of having a small refrigerator like college students often keep in their dorms for essential items during a power outage. Because they are small and require less electricity than a full sized refrigerator, a solar generator would be able to keep them running for much longer.
#7- You Want Some Sense Of Energy Independence
Above all else is this. Being solely dependant on the electrical company for your power needs places you at risk. If they are, despite their best efforts, able to provide your home and family with power, you are vulnerable unless you have supplemental energy resources ready and available.
If you have read this far, I suspect you already realize this. You know that you need to establish a means of providing essential electrical power for your family regardless of what situations may arise that prevent access to the power grid.
A solar generator is an excellent tool to have in your power outage survival plan. The ability to produce power for your family when the electrical grid is down will make you the hero of the family and provide a sense of security in a time of uncertainty.
I want to re-emphasize that I am not opposed to gas generators and do, in fact, recommend that everyone have a gas generator. But I also have learned that gas generators are only viable in certain situations and only when fuel can actually be obtained. A portable solar generator should serve to complement your energy production plan, not replace it.
If you are ready to ensure a grid-down solution to essential power for you and your family through the use of solar, I highly recommend the Goal Zero brand.
For smaller needs, the Yeti 400 is an excellent choice. Amazon has the Yeti 400 bundled with a portable solar briefcase for an all-in-one solution.
If you are wanting to store large amounts of power, the Yeti 1400 lithium is Goal Zero’s top-of-the-line system. This system does not come with solar panels but you can purchase Goal Zero’s
I sincerely hope that the information provided in this article has been helpful to you. If you would like some ideas on simple solutions to get started benefiting from solar power, read this post: How To Get Started With Solar Power (Simple Solutions!)
If you want to really get a handle on the energy efficiency of your home, read Is My Home Energy Efficient? Here’s How To Know!