Advantages of a solar generator
When we think of the penetration of solar energy in the market, driving in a rough, parched country road with long stretches of rocky terrain, shorter ones with narrow, ditch-like gulleys scattered all across the road, and even longer stretches of dusty terrain disappearing into the horizon comes to mind.
As precious as solar energy is, as humankind, we’re yet to find a way to tap into its richness and make it widespread and affordable. Still, we’ve advanced quite a bit from where we were 40 years ago, and the increasing popularity of solar generators is all the proof you need to believe this. Solar generators may still be a long, rough way from being mainstream, but they’ve come a long way. Here are some of the advantages of using a solar generator.
1. It’s easy to operate
Unlike electric connections which require adherence to particular connecting patterns, setting up your solar generator for use is comparatively easy. The generator comes ready-to-use, so all you have to do is connect the charging cable to recharge it and later plug in the cables connecting the generator to the devices you want to charge.
Even the process of harnessing the energy from the environment is fairly straightforward. The solar panel does the harvesting and transmits the energy to the generator, which then stores this energy in the battery. When you connect your appliances to the generator, the stored energy (DC) is converted to AC and fed into the appliances to power them up. This is the most simplified explanation of this four-step process you’ll come across, deliberately made so to mimic the easy connection process in a solar generator. There are complex engineering procedures and systems behind the whole process, but for you, the end user, everything’s made easy.
2. Cuts electricity costs
The effect of using solar energy on your finances becomes evident when the electricity bill comes in and it’s less than what you paid on average before you started using the solar generator. Stick to the habit, and you’ll be spending less on electricity over time.
3. It’s virtually maintenance-free
A solar generator doesn’t need special handling or intensive maintenance. It has built-in, automatic processes to safeguard against voltage/current surges and dips and manage battery performance and the charging and discharging process.
Other than the initial cost of purchase and maybe the cost of replacing the battery, there are no other expenses attached to running a solar generator.
4. It’s portable
You can take your solar generator with you wherever you go if need be. It provides easy access to energy anytime, anywhere.
5. It makes it possible for you to access the widely-available solar energy
Having a solar generator gives you ready access to the cheap and clean solar power.
6. It provides steady power backup
A solar generator can offer emergency power backup during outages, providing a reliable way to keep important devices and appliances powered when the grid connection is lost.
7. It’s renewable
Renewable energy like solar power is readily available and does not harm the environment. Double win.
How solar generators work
Solar generators are powered by solar panels, which get the energy directly from the sun in a photovoltaic process. This energy is passed to the generator where it is stored in a battery. A built-in converter in the generator then converts the energy into AC for your end uses.
Features to consider before buying a solar generator
Several factors should always guide your decision to purchase any solar generator. Below are the most important ones.
The size of the battery determines how much energy is stored and subsequently available for use. A small battery will keep a correspondingly small amount of energy. Likewise, a large battery will store more energy.
Check the battery capacity as indicated by the manufacturer and cross-check this figure with the specific applications such a battery can support. The goal is to choose a generator with a big-enough battery for your requirements.
Wattage refers to the maximum output the generator can handle. A 100W-generator can only connect devices that draw less than or up to 100W either singly or combined. So if you’re connecting five devices, the total draw should be 100W or less for the generator to work.
Manufacturers usually include a wattage safeguard that shuts down the generator when a high-capacity device is connected to it. This is done to protect the generator, and your device too, from electric damage.
Generally, a solar generator can be charged by a solar panel/panels, an AC wall outlet, and a 12V DC car charger. Confirm if this is the case with any solar generator you’re interested in buying. Check also the type of adapters (both AC and DC) that need to be used with the generator and ensure that you get the right one.
Most manufacturers will include adapters and charging cables in the generator package, so this won’t be a problem. In case you chance upon a generator that doesn’t come with these, confirm that the manufacturer has indicated what adapters/cables/solar connectors are needed.
Size and weight
Some solar generators are small; some are large. All of them are portable. Size does not necessarily indicate performance, and a large generator may only have a medium capacity. Similarly, you may have a small generator with a high capacity. It’s best not to get stuck up on size and falter on the more important property: performance and capacity.
However, if this is your traveling power source, you want it to be light enough to carry around with you. If you are hauling it in the car, then you can make do with a slightly heavy generator. But bear in mind that you’ll probably need to carry it to and from the car, distances which may not be very small. Make sure you can lift it and carry it with ease, either on your own or with help. If it’s too heavy to carry, it will become more of a liability than the convenience you hoped it would it would be.
Solar generators range in price from the downright affordable to the mind-bogglingly-expensive. Like with size, the price is not an indicator of quality. Some low-priced generators deliver quite a punch, while some exorbitantly-priced models have little to offer.
The gold is in the details. Before looking at the price tag, confirm that the generator has the capacity to deliver what you want.
Out of all the solar generators we’ve checked out, only a few reach the 2-year warranty period. Many manufacturers give a 1-year warranty, with a few others extending it to a year and half.
A longer warranty on your generator means your peace of mind in using the generator lasts a lot longer than what someone with a short warranty period has. Still, the warranty period shouldn’t be a deal-breaker because solar generators are generally solid and can be used for a long time without malfunctioning.
Try and buy from a manufacturer who also offers a separate warranty for the battery. This is the one part that you’ll eventually have to replace no matter how careful you are with your generator.
The battery wears out naturally, and if the manufacturer can guarantee it for a given period, you’d have nothing to worry about if the battery suddenly dies before the warranty expiration.
What else should you buy to use your solar generator?
You need a solar panel to charge your solar generator. Charging through a solar panel is swift and takes 4–5 hours on average. Contrast this with charging via a wall outlet where it can take up to 25 hours to get a full charge, and getting the solar panel makes sense.
Unfortunately, most solar generators don’t come with a solar panel. You must buy one separately. Good thing is: these generators are compatible with most solar panels. Many small-sized generators are paired with a 13V–22V solar panel. Bigger solar generators can use 24V and 48V solar panels.
Always ensure that you pair the generator to the recommended solar panel voltage to eliminate the risk of short-circuiting it or other related electrical faults. A lot of manufacturers also make solar panels to go with their generators.
If it makes you feel more reassured, buy the same brand of solar panel as the generator. But when it comes down to the practical bit of it, the brand doesn’t matter.
How to connect and set up a solar generator?
To set up your solar generator, follow these simple steps:
- Plug the charging cable to the input port and connect the charging cable to the wall AC outlet to charge the generator. If using a solar panel, use the indicated connectors to connect the generator to the solar panel.
- Leave it for the indicated duration to get a full charge.
- Connect any device you want to charge to the generator. Most generators come with three or more output ports for this purpose.
- Once the device is full, disconnect and turn off the generator and store it away. The generator will probably still have some charge left in it. You can store it with the charge. Anytime you want to power an appliance, connect it to the generator.
- Once the charge is depleted, recharge the generator as in Step 1 and repeat the process to charge appliances.
Many solar generators can be used while they are charging, meaning they can charge and discharge at the same time. Some models do not support this and will only either charge or discharge. Be sure to confirm if the generator you want to buy can charge other devices while it’s charging or not. The ECOFLOW River is an example of a solar generator that supports discharging and charging at the same time. A generator like the Suaoki 220Wh does not support simultaneous charging and discharging.