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Solar Generators: A Modern Complete Guide to Backup Power

Posted 7/14/23 | Filed under Solar Education | Comments (0)
What is a Solar Generator?

A solar generator is a device that collects and stores energy within a battery, that is then converted to a common low voltage output (USB for example) or inverted to AC power to imitate energy from the grid. It consists of several components, including a battery, an inverter, solar panels and a charge controller.

The primary purpose of a solar generator is to provide a source of clean and renewable power for various applications, especially in situations where access to electricity from the grid is limited or unavailable.

What Components Make up a Solar Generator?

Solar Panels: Solar panels consist of numerous solar cells that utilize the photovoltaic effect to transform sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity, generating a sustainable and renewable source of power. This is the most common method used in recharging a powerstation/solar generator.

Battery Bank: Within the solar generator, there is a battery bank that effectively stores the electrical energy produced by the solar panels or AC input. This component plays the most critical role in these systems, as all energy capable of being used is maintained here. This component should be sized to handle your daily power requirements two times over.

Inverter: The inverter is responsible for converting the DC electricity stored in the battery bank into alternating current (AC) electricity. AC power is the standard form of electricity used to operate household appliances and electronic devices.

Charge Controller: This component regulates the charging process of the battery bank and the pass-through of power coming from your input sources (solar panels for example). It prevents overcharging and safeguards the battery from damage, ensuring efficient and safe charging.

Click Here to View our Top of the Line Solar Generators.

Understanding Solar Generators

Having a general understanding of how these systems work is crucial to getting the most out of your Power Stations. This means coming up with a clear list of essential items to power and knowing your limitations/setting realistic expectations.

We often see folks compare solar generators to gas generators apples to apples. This is a mistake, and we would like to take the time to explain the differences.

Gas Generators are actively burning a fuel source to create power. So as long as you’re consuming that fuel, you can output the full capacity of the inverter wattage rating (say 1,000 watts). This is not the case with solar, the inverter rating simply tells you how much you can output at any given time. But since that power is stored in the battery instead of created as you burn a fuel, you cannot continue to output that much power.

For Example: If your inverter can output 1,000 watts, but you can only store 2,000 watts, you will run out of power in roughly 2 hours (2000w / 1000w = 2 hours).

Incoming solar energy can offset some of this power in many cases (allowing you to run the example 1,000 watts for more than 2 hours), however, you are still limited to your battery storage + input wattage).

Let’s take a look at the Pros and Cons of Solar Generator Systems vs Gas Generators.

Pros of Gas Generators

1. High Power Output: Gas generators are known for their ability to provide a substantial power output, enabling them to efficiently manage heavy loads and effectively power large appliances and equipment.

2. Availability of Fuel: Gasoline & propane are typically available at gas stations and can be easily stored in fuel cans or tanks, ensuring a constant fuel supply.

3. Sub-Panel Integration: Gas generator transfer switches are commonly used to power circuits in the home directly with the assistance of a licensed electrician.

4. Cost-Effective Initial Investment: Gas generators are often more affordable upfront when compared to other types of generators, making them a cost-effective option for individuals with limited budgets.

Cons of Gas Generators

1. Noise and Emissions: Due to the combustion of gasoline, gas generators generate both noise and emissions. Their operation can be characterized by noticeable noise levels, which might pose concerns in noise-sensitive environments or residential areas.

2. Environmental Impact: Gas use releases carbon emissions and pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution and environmental degradation.

3. Fuel Dependency: Gas generators require a constant supply of gasoline, and during extended power outages or emergencies, obtaining fuel may become challenging.

4. Maintenance Requirements: Regular maintenance is essential for gas generators, involving tasks such as oil changes, spark plug replacements, and air filter cleaning.

5. Storage and Safety Concerns: Gasoline needs to be stored safely, following proper guidelines to prevent fire hazards. The storage of fuel in larger quantities may also pose safety risks if not handled properly.

Solar generators offer several advantages as a backup power source, but it's important to consider their limitations as well. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Pros of Solar Generators

1. Clean and Renewable Energy: Solar generators offer a clean and renewable energy source (the sun). They operate without emissions or harmful pollutants, making a significant contribution to creating a greener and more sustainable environment.

2. Silent Operation: Solar generators operate silently. This makes them suitable for noise-sensitive environments or when being discreet is key, ensuring a peaceful and undisturbed atmosphere during power outages.

3. Fuel Independence: Solar generators do not require any fuel, eliminating the need to store or obtain fuel during emergencies.

4. Low Maintenance: Solar generators have fewer moving parts, resulting in far lower maintenance requirements.

5. Long-Term Cost Savings: Once installed, solar generators provide free and unlimited energy from the sun. While there is an initial investment, the long-term cost savings can be significant, especially considering the rising costs of conventional fuel sources.

Cons of Solar Generators

1. Weather Dependent: Solar generators depend on sunlight to recharge the internal battery. During extended periods of cloud coverage, limited sunlight, or inclement weather, their charging efficiency will decrease, potentially affecting the backup power supply.

2. Limited Power Output: Solar generators have a limited power output compared to traditional generators. They may not be able to support heavy loads or power high-consumption appliances simultaneously, requiring careful management of energy usage during emergencies.

3. Initial Cost: The initial investment for installing a solar generator is typically higher when compared to conventional generators. Nevertheless, it is crucial to take into account the long-term savings that solar generators offer.

4. Space and Installation Requirements: Solar generators require sufficient space for solar panel installation, ideally with unobstructed access to sunlight. Additionally, the installation process may involve technical expertise or professional assistance (if connecting to your home breaker box), adding to the initial setup costs.

5. Limited Backup Run-Time: The backup power duration provided by a solar generator depends on factors such as available sunlight, battery capacity, and energy consumption. Extended power outages or high energy demands may deplete the stored energy, requiring alternative backup options.

Using Solar Generators Effectively:

To make the most of your solar generator, consider our top #4 tips:

1. Panel Placement: Make sure your area has a clear path to a sunny area where you can place your solar panels. This should be a place that is unobstructed and within 200 feet from your breaker box/ solar generator.

2. Autonomy Factor: Storms and cloud coverage are not uncommon with power outages. Be sure to factor in enough battery power to make it through X number of days based on your energy needs. Be sure to consider nighttime hours when you have no sunlight.

3. Conservation: Practice energy conservation by using energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting and battery powered electronics.

4. Heating/Cooling: Understand that the most power-hungry items are devices that create heat or cool a space. Whenever you can rely on propane or natural gas for things like cooking or air conditioner, certainly do so. (For example: you can power an energy star fridge for 25 hours or a single room AC unit for only 1 hour!)

What You Should Be Looking For

When deciding on a solar backup system for your unique needs, consider the following data carefully:

Battery Size: As we mentioned, the most important part of any solar generator is the Battery. Be sure to choose a system that can store your daily load requirements times two (For example: If you need 3,000 watts per day, your system should store at least 6 kW).

Battery Composition: Battery type is more important than ever. With battery technology being improved year over year, it is crucial to choose a system with the longest lifespan, discharge/recharge tolerance and features to fit your needs. LFP Lithium is currently the battery of choice due to its longer cycle life, high energy density and safety features. Who knows? Maybe semi-solid state will be the next big thing!

Solar Input Wattage: In an outage or off-grid setting, solar panels may be your only source of input power. Therefore, having a large enough solar array to maintain your daily power requirements while recharging your system to full going into the evening hours is key! When calculating solar panel size, it is important to factor in your location, anticipated peak sunlight hours, cell efficiency/line loss and lastly, your daytime power requirements.

Application Specifics: Considering your location and desired use environment is not to be forgotten. Are you installing your panels permanently or will you be setting them up each and every time you need power? Do you need a generator that is portable to take from a camping location to a home backup location? All of this should be considered when making a decision.

Expansion Capabilities: Be sure to determine if you ever plan on expanding to increase your scope of power output. If you intend on powering more down the road, be sure to go with a system that can accept expansion batteries, more solar panels or a transfer switch.

Final Thoughts

While this may be a lot to consider, our experts have spent over 17 years perfecting this craft and growing with the market. If at any point you feel overwhelmed or don’t quite understand a concept, you can speak to an educated US based representative in 3 rings or less. This is our guarantee (877-548-3387)! Simply tell us what you are interested in powering and a bit about your application, and we will have a tailored recommendation within minutes.
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