In today’s world, there’s nothing worse than having the power go out when you need it the most. Power outages are inconvenient for everyone, which is why it is incredibly important for every home and business owner to make sure that their houses and workplaces have some kind of backup power system.
While there are several options available on the market today when it comes to power during electricity outages, solar generators are the top ones. You can set them up in just a few minutes and only have to press a single button to start generating usable energy to juice up your devices and appliances. Here’s everything you need to know about preparing for power outages with portable solar generators.
What Are Solar Generators?
Generally speaking, the term solar generator refers to any device that can get powered by the sun’s energy. However, when people use this term, they are mostly referring to a portable power station setup such as the ones available at BLUETTI.
These special systems can capture the sun’s energy through integrated solar panels that then supply the energy to an internal storage system (typically consisting of lithium-ion batteries).
While solar generators might not be the right choice to power large homes and offices, they can be extremely handy for camping, off-grid living, boats, campervans, or as an emergency backup if your area undergoes a blackout.
How Do Solar Generators Work?
A solar generator works by combining solar panels, a battery, a charge controller, and an inverter into a compact system that can convert solar energy into usable electric current.
To better understand how solar generators work, let’s take a look at all the components separately.
- Solar Panels: Solar panels are the most essential part of a solar generator. Silicon solar panels are available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. However, they all work the same way. That is, they convert sunlight into electricity, more specifically, direct current. Every cell within an array can produce small watts and voltage. However, when these cells are wired together, they can produce significantly more.
- Battery: Solar generators need to have a high-quality battery backup system to store excess energy for later use. The best solar generators today have lithium-ion batteries which have higher efficiency and are lightweight compared to lead-acid batteries.
- Charge Controller: A charge controller is an essential component of every high-quality charge controller. It regulates the current and voltage coming from the solar panels and prevents the batteries from getting overcharged.
- Inverter: The inverter converts the direct current flowing in from the battery into an alternating current that is used by your household devices and appliances. If your house or workplace runs on DC power, you might not need an inverter.
Solar Generator vs. Gas Generator
Solar generators and gas generators are the two most widely used power solutions. Both these options have their advantages; however, solar-powered generators are more resilient, sustainable, and cost-effective than conventional, gas-fired generators.
In this section, we take a look at the differences between solar generators and gas generators.
While both kinds of generators can power your appliances in an outage, gas generators require more supervision for optimal performance over the long term compared to solar generators.
Moreover, gas generators require yearly maintenance to keep the warranties valid and must be run frequently (a process known as “exercising”) between uses. This ensures that the mechanical systems are tuned up and safe to use when you actually require backup electricity. On the other hand, solar generators require minimal maintenance to run optimally. All you have to do is dust the system, remove cobwebs, check the connections, and apply an anti-corrosive paste once in a while.
Another disadvantage of a gas-powered generator is that you are dependent on external fuel sources. Thus, there’s a chance of you running out of fuel during a natural disaster when there’s none available. Plus, purchasing fuel continually over time can become very costly.
2. Air and Noise Pollution
Gas generators create noise and air pollution. They emit carbon monoxide along with other dangerous pollutants, which makes them more eco-unfriendly and dangerous. As gas generators have to be placed outdoors for safety, they can really reduce the aesthetic appeal of your property, and the noise they produce can disturb the peace of your house. In fact, several homeowners’ associations might not allow you to use it in the first place as they can disrupt the landscape of an area and create disturbance for neighbors.
Conversely, a solar generator reduces your carbon footprint by eliminating air pollution. Our new range of BLUETTI solar generators is available in modern and sleek designs and offers more placement options. They aren’t too noisy and won’t impact the visual appeal of your property.
3. Interaction with Grid Supply
Backup generators are only designed to be used in case of a power outage. Thus, when the grid is stable, the generator is switched off and accumulates dust. However, if you use solar, you can charge your battery-powered solar generator using the excess solar energy generated during the day and utilize the stored energy at night. As a matter of fact, your solar generator can even charge from the grid when there’s low demand and discharge when the demand and cost of electricity are high. Consequently, this can significantly reduce your energy bill.
The key advantage of using a solar generator is that the power source is entirely free! As long as the sun shines and the system is free of damage, you will have constant access to electricity. Keep in mind that the upfront cost of a solar generator might be higher than a conventional generator. However, the total cost over the lifetime of a gas generator will be equal to or higher than that of a solar generator. This is because of some important factors:
- Service and Maintenance: Solar generators require minimal maintenance, whereas gas generators require annual service to ensure they operate efficiently and safely.
- Cost of Fuel: Your solar generator can produce electricity using free energy from the sun. However, if you have a gas generator, you will have to purchase costly fuel to juice up the machine.
- Government Incentives: The US government offers several incentives for investing in energy-efficient upgrades, which include using solar energy to power your home. On the other hand, gas generators are typically not financially incentivized.
How to Purchase a Solar Generator for Power Outages?
Once you have made up your mind to purchase a solar generator to prepare for power outages, you need to ensure that your system provides you with the power you need. There are various measurements that are going to help. Making your decision while keeping these factors in mind will help you pick the right system for your needs.
1. The Capacity of the Generator
The capacity – or watt-hours – of the solar generator help ensure it can power appliances for the period of time you require. The measurement indicates how much continuous energy the generator can provide for an hour when its battery is fully charged. It even allows you to estimate how much power the generator can provide before requiring a recharge. For instance, under ideal conditions, a 600-watt-hour solar generator can run a 50-watt bulb for approximately 12 hours or two 100-watt devices for almost three hours before the battery dies.
Note that the calculations given above are mere estimates, and you might not be able to use the full capacity. For instance, the temperature can impact the battery’s capacity.
2. Your Power Requirements
Apart from the capacity, you also have to consider your power requirements. For instance, in case of a power outage, do you only need to charge your laptop or phone? In that case, you can choose a portable solar system with a lower capacity of around 300 – 400 watt-hours.
On the other hand, if you wish to keep your refrigerator and heaters running during an outage, you will surely have to choose a portable solar generator with a higher battery capacity of approximately 1400 – 1500 watt-hours.
To find out the battery capacity that matches your requirements, multiply the total wattage of the devices you have to power by the time you will power them. Get a generator that has a watt-hours capacity higher than the result.
3. Charging Speed
The charging method and battery size impact the amount of time it takes the battery to charge fully. Moreover, a bigger battery will take longer to charge compared to a smaller battery.
The guide provided by the manufacturer will have an estimate of charging time depending on the generator’s charging speed and the specific power input from solar panels. This mostly depends on the maximum solar power input that you cannot always expect. For instance, cloudy weather conditions can slow down the charging.
Thus, a solar generator with a 200-watt solar panel that charges for ten hours might need a few days to charge completely. Factor this in with the power requirements and battery capacity. For instance, if you need a portable solar generator to power a TV, lights, and mobile devices for multiple days, ensure the charge rate and the capacity will give you the energy you require during that period.
4. Starting Watts Measurement
The starting watts measurement, also known as the peak power output of a solar generator, indicates the power the generator can briefly provide before it settles into the running output. This measurement is going to be higher than the running watts. This short surge of additional power is required to start an electric motor on devices such as a fan or a mini fridge. If you need to power a device with a motor, check its starting watts measurements and ensure the generator’s peak power output is able to accommodate it.
5. Charging Outlets and Ports
Various solar generator models have different ports and outlets to power appliances and devices simultaneously. Some common plugs include AC outlets, USB ports, etc. Your portable solar generator should have multiple charging ports and outlets so that you can easily charge your devices.
6. Type of Battery
Solar generators either use lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries for energy storage. Generators with lead batteries will usually be cheaper than those with lithium-ion batteries. However, lithium-ion batteries are going to last longer. Moreover, lithium-ion batteries are lighter, which can be quite a useful feature if you need your system to be portable.
Portable solar generators are an excellent way to keep yourself powered during a power outage. At BLUETTI, we have a variety of solar generators that you can choose according to your needs. For instance, the BLUETTI EP500 + 6*PV200 | Solar Generator Kit with a capacity of 5,100 watt-hours can run your entire house for 3 to 5 hours. To learn more, click the link below.