Guide to Portable Solar Generators and Our Best Picks

What’s a Solar Generator?

Solar generators harness Sun’s energy and convert it into electric energy. Solar panels used in solar generators have photovoltaic cells that capture photons and use them to charge batteries, which can later be used to power electronics. Most generators convert the charge stored in batteries into AC (alternating current) as most home appliances need AC to work.

Use of renewable and alternative energy sources such as solar energy in becoming popular, especially in a portable format. Advancements in technology and falling prices have enabled homeowners to get their own power backups that don’t require power grid to charge or work.

A solar generator is a package that comprises of different components, including the solar cells, the charge controller, batteries and the invertor. Once setup, a solar generator harnesses energy from sunlight (solar cells), converts it into electric current (charge controller), stores it in a battery and converts the stored charge into AC (inverter).

  • A solar generator has two main components: solar panel and power generator
  • Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity (DC)
  • A power generator has a battery, an inverter and power outlets (both DC and AC)
  • An inverter converts DC to AC, which most home appliances need to work

Why a Portable Solar Generator?

In addition to their utility as backup power, portable solar generators are increasingly becoming popular due to a variety of reasons. They are compact, portable and bring electricity to off-the-grid or remote areas and also interest campers and preppers who don’t want to leave anything on chance. Due to their small size and compact form factor, portable solar generators are easier to carry around than traditional generators.

Although portable solar generators might not be good enough for powering large appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners, they provide sufficient power to keep smaller devices running such as lights and fans. They are a reliable source of power in case of an emergency or power breakdown and very useful for outdoor activities including camping, RV trips and fishing.

Portable Solar vs. Fuel Generators

Sure, fuel generators generally provide more power than solar generators, but they also come with their own set of disadvantages. First of all, they depend on fuel to work, which preppers would have to store all the time. Secondly, preppers are not a big fan of fuel generators as it might be hard to find fuel in critical situations such as earthquakes, power blackouts, hurricanes and wide-spread fires.

Fuel generators are also noisy and pollute the environment. Even portable fuel generators are not truly portable as you also need to carry fuel with them. That’s what makes them unsuitable for camping and other outdoor activities. On the other hand, solar-powered generators don’t require you to keep stock of or carry fossil fuel and just need some sunlight to keep devices powered.

Solar generators provide green and renewable energy without burning any fossil fuel. Since there are no moving parts, they also require very little maintenance. The only factor that limits the performance of a solar generator is the availability of sunlight, which can be a problem if you live in an area that does not get direct/consistent sunlight.

  • Solar generators produce free, clean and renewable energy
  • No recurring fueling costs when using a solar generator
  • It can be difficult to find and acquire fuel in emergencies and the stock does not last for long
  • No need to stock fuel, which can also be dangerous, it’s not easy and safe to stockpile liquid fuel at home
  • Fossil fuel has limited shelf life, you ‘d have to use a fuel stabilizer or rotate fuel (replace old fuel with new) to keep stock ready
  • A solar generator can be stored safely almost anywhere, while care is needed when storing traditional generators and fuel containers
  • Solar generators operate silently, your neighbors will certainly notice a fuel generator
  • Solar generators don’t generate fumes traditional fuel-based generators do
  • Solar generators have their own limitations too, including limited power output, more upfront cost, time needed for charging batteries, limited expandability options and comparatively difficult repairability

Things to Consider when Buying a Portable Solar Generator

Although there is no rocket science involved in buying a solar generator, there are a few things you might want to consider before buying one including:

Solar Panel/PV Input and Charging Time

Not all solar generators come with a solar panel and you may have to buy one separately. Choosing a solar panel depends on the type of load and backup time you want. You might also need to buy additional components to connect a solar panel with the generator such as an adapter.

The watt-generation capability or PV input of a solar panel represents how much power it can generate in ideal conditions (clear weather, sun at its peak, sunlight falling directly on the solar panel). The higher the PV input, the faster a solar panel charges the battery.

Power Capacity

Most portable generators are designed to run small appliances and provide you with power to run the essentials in case of power failure/emergency or when you need power outdoors. Power output is represented in Watts and the more the wattage, the more power a generator can provide. Portable solar generators usually provide a power output of something around 100-400 Watts. To understand how much power you actually need, consider the wattage of devices/appliances you want to power using the generator.

Another factor to consider is the surge power capacity, which is more relevant to bigger generators, but you should still consider it while buying a smaller one. Many appliances, especially larger appliances such as refrigerators have an instantaneous current surge (usually in milliseconds).

Make sure to check the surge power demand of appliances you want to power using the generator, which should be lower than the max surge power capacity of the solar generator. The ratio between generator’s power and inverter should not be less than 1.5:1 as an imbalance could lead to system inefficiency or failure.

Charge Storage Capacity

Represented in watt-hours (Amp/hr x Voltage), the storage capacity of the battery is another important factor to consider. The higher the storage capacity, the longer your appliances can stay powered. High capacity batteries take longer to charge and you would ideally want a battery that can fully charge in 8 hours in good weather conditions. The actual capacity is usually less than what the manufacturers claim because of battery inefficiency (2/3rd if using lead-acid batteries).

Higher capacity also means more weight and less portability so you need to balance backup time, weight, charge time and charge storage capacity keeping your own requirements in mind.

Charging Modes

It’s good to have other charging options available when there is no sunlight to charge the batteries. You might be living in an area where there isn’t plenty of sunlight to charge the batteries fast enough. In such situations, the ability to charge from an AC source directly or through 12V car battery socket can be very useful.

Additional Features

Reputable brands do charge a premium for their products, but they also go the extra mile and offer additional features that can justify the price difference. This includes multiple charging options, integrated charge controller, more efficient charging kits for faster charging, multiple output options such as USB ports and quick charging, built-in flashlight, surge protection and BMS (Battery Management System) protection.

 

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
Goal Zero Yeti 400 Portable Power Station, 400Wh Battery Powered Generator Alternative with 12V, AC and USB Outputs
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station, 150Wh Small Generator Alternative with 12V, AC and USB Outputs
CHAFON 346WH Portable Power Station Generator,UPS Lithium Battery Backup,Pure Sinewave 110V/500W Triple AC Outlet 12V DC,USB Output for CPAP Camping Travel Emergency-Orange
WAWUI Portable Solar Generator 42Wh
Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240, 240Wh Emergency Backup Lithium Battery, 110V/200W Pure Sinewave AC Outlet, Solar Generator
100-Watt Portable Generator Power Station, 40800mAh 151Wh CPAP Battery Pack, Home Camping Emergency Power Supply Charged
monerator Portable Generator Power Station 128 Wh Rechargeable Solar Generator Lithium Ion Phosphate (LiFePO4) Battery

 

Best Portable Solar Generators

Goal Zero Yeti 400

For those who need good battery backup and can handle the weight associated with larger batteries and sturdy built. Can be chained with more batteries for longer runtime.

Key features and specifications

  • 396Wh/33Ah @12V lead-acid battery (sealed)
  • Can simultaneously power up to 7 devices (33ah/12V)
  • Continuous 300W/600W pure-sine AC inverter
  • Can be recharged through both solar panels and AC outlets
  • Can be chained with more 33Ah lead-acid batteries
  • Charting time: 3 hours from AC, 12 hours with car charger and 8 hours from GZ’s solar panels
  • USB ports for charging mobile devices, tablets and more, 12V ports
  • Built-in LCD display, real-time input/output calculation
  • Item weight: 29 lbs.

Goal Zero Yeti 150

Portable and reliable solar power generator, but weighs more than other generators in its class (possibly because of sturdy build quality).

Key features and specifications

  • 168Wh/14Ah @12V lead-acid battery (sealed)
  • Can simultaneously power up to 5 devices (14ah/12V)
  • Can be recharged through both solar panels and AC outlets
  • Continuous 80W/160W pure-sine AC inverter
  • Can be paired with Goal Zero’s rugged solar panels (3rd-party panels require an adapter)
  • USB ports for charging mobile devices, tablets and more, 12V ports
  • AC charging time 6 hours, solar recharging time 3 hours

CHAFON 346WH Portable Generator

Good balance between portability and backup time. Risk-free purchase with 45-day money back guarantee. Comes with all the ports you’ll need in power outages, emergencies and outdoor activities.

Key features and specifications

  • 45-days money back guarantee, 1-year risk-free replacement in case of failure
  • 346Wh/30Ah Lithium-ion battery (12V)
  • 500W AC inverter (pure sine wave)
  • 4 DC/12V ports
  • 4 USB ports for charging mobile devices
  • 3 110 receptables (peak load 1000W, continuous load 500W/110V)
  • Surge protection
  • Rechargeable through 12V car charger, AC outlet and solar panel
  • Good balance between portability and backup, weighs only 7.4 lbs./3.3 KG
  • Up to 7 hours backup time on 40W load
  • Battery Management System (voltage/temperature control)
  • Short circuit, over-current, over power protection

WAWUI Portable Solar Generator 42Wh

A reliable emergency portable generator that is enough to power your home during unexpected power outages, campings, and other outdoor activities. It has camping lights with battery plus USB DC outlets.

Key features and specifications

  • 42 Wh (max)
  • built-in camping lights
  • USB Direct Current Outlets
  • Constant current IC driver
  • brightness guaranteed above 100LM
  • Equipped with an Integrated packing Portable Energy Storage Lighting System
  • Ant-dust System
  • Easy-to-Install
  • Utilized safe LiFePO4 battery
  • More than 12 years of lifespan guaranteed

Jackery Explorer 240

A great balance between features, backup time and mobility.

Key features and specifications

  • 240Wh/16.8Ah @ 14.4V Lithium-ion battery
  • Pure sine wave inverter
  • Weighs 6.6 lbs./3 KG
  • Sturdy carry handle
  • Rechargeable using 50W solar panels (up to 10 hours), car charger (8 hours), AC outlet (8 hours)
  • Suitable for appliances/devices that require less than 200W (total load)
  • Up to 7 hours backup on 30-Watt load
  • 2 USB ports
  • AC outlet
  • 12V car port
  • Built-in LCD display

PAXCESS 100W Portable Power Station

A great budget option for people who just need power to keep their mobile devices, laptops, lights and small appliances running.

Key features and specifications

  • Continuous 100W and Peak 150W
  • Dual 110V AC
  • 3 DC 12V ports (for under 180W load)
  • 2 USB charging ports
  • 3-way recharge (solar panel – 7-9 hours, AC outlet – 8 hours, 12V car adapter – 9 hours)
  • Battery Management System protection
  • Voltage/temperature control
  • Built-in flashlight
  • Item weight: 3.3 lbs./1.5 KG

Monerator Portable Solar Value Kit

A little expensive, but comes with LiFePO4 battery that weighs less and lasts longer than Lead-acid batteries. Value kit for people who don’t have time to hunt for solar panel/board separately.

Key features and specifications

  • 128 Wh Lithium-ion Phosphate battery
  • Max 80W load
  • 110/220V output
  • 3 USB ports
  • 4 DC 12V ports
  • Can be chained with additional batteries for longer backup time
  • Weighs 5 lbs. / 2.7 KG
  • Up to 10 years of expected battery life (If maintained properly)
  • Battery management system

Conclusion

Cheap solar generators can be costly in the long run. That’s why it’s recommended to avoid no-brands and cheap knockoffs even if you have to compromise on the total power output. Solar generators designed as a briefcase/suitcase with a collapsible handle (and preferably sturdy wheels) provide better mobility and make it easier to move the generator around. Generators that are expandable with more solar panels and batteries make your investment future proof and enable you to increase power output down the road.  To find the best solar panel you will need to do research, here’s a great review on sunpower solar panels.

The market for portable solar generators is still growing and, in the beginning, it might seem like a difficult task to choose the right one. However, considering different aspects of solar generators as discussed above and sticking with known brands make the choice easier and help pick a durable power source that can last for years to come.