While gas-powered generators remain the most popular style of generator on the market today, consumers are beginning to recognize the value of solar-powered models, which offer specific benefits you won’t get from gas-fueled generators. Because solar-powered generators rely on new, largely unfamiliar technology, figuring out which generator to purchase may feel overwhelming. The information and reviews below will help you understand how these machines work, what features best fit your needs and which models have a steady track record of success. Below are the best solar generators.
Factors to Consider when Choosing the Best Solar Generator
A variety of factors can influence the price, functionality and features of a solar generator.
Solar generators typically use one of three main types of solar panel: mono-crystalline, poly-crystalline and thin-film.
Mono-crystalline panels represent the highest quality level and also the highest price. Their efficiency rate—the amount of energy produced from a given amount of sunlight—averages between 15 and 20 percent, and they perform well in high temperatures.
Poly-crystalline panels rate just a notch below mono-crystalline panels in terms of efficiency, with a rate between 13 and 16 percent. From a quality perspective, the two materials are almost indistinguishable, so the lower price point of poly-crystalline panels makes them the most popular choice.
Thin film panels are the least-efficient panel type, with an efficiency rate averaging seven to 13 percent, requiring a much larger surface area to generate the same amount of power as the first two types. Though they are the least expensive option, they also lag behind in performance and quality.
With solar panels, battery capacity is measured in watt-hours (Wh), and this metric represents how much power your generator will produce to operate whatever you plug into it. For example, a smartphone requires about six watt-hours to function, while an electric blanket needs about 200 watt-hours. If your solar generator’s battery capacity is limited to 200 watt-hours, you wouldn’t be able to charge your phone and use your blanket simultaneously.
When evaluating a generator’s battery capacity, consider how you expect to use the machine. If you’ll mainly be using it for low-demand situations like tailgating or camping trips, a smaller battery may suffice. If you plan to use the generator as a backup power source for your household during a storm, you’ll probably want to invest in a unit with a more powerful battery.
A solar generator’s inverter rating reflects the maximum amount of power that can be accessed from the generator at one time. Demanding uses like powering large home appliances require a significant inverter rating. However, both the battery capacity and inverter rating are key metrics when you’re evaluating a generator’s function. A 1500-watt inverter won’t generate the power you need if it’s paired with a 400 watt-hour battery. A good rule of thumb is to find a generator with a battery-capacity to inverter rating of about 1.5 to 1—that is, a 1,500 watt-hour battery matched with a 1,000-watt inverter.
Portability may or may not be an important factor to you depending on where and how you plan to use your solar generator. If you want to use your generator for camping, tailgating or in various locations on your property or in your workshop, portability matters: look for a generator that’s lightweight or comes equipped with smooth-functioning wheels and a comfortable handle that make it easy to move.
Like many high-dollar appliances, many of today’s solar generators offer high-tech features that make your unit more convenient and pleasurable to use. The latest models may include LCD displays that deliver in-depth data about the generator’s operation; a companion smartphone app for remote monitoring and operation; the ability to add panels to boost the generator’s power; and more. These bells and whistles fall squarely into the “nice to have, but not essential” category.
Setting Up a Solar-Powered Generator
Setting up a solar-powered generator can be simple or complicated, depending on the generator model you choose and how you plan to use it. Whether you’re installing a solar generator for off-grid or on-grid use, here’s what you need to know to get your system up and running successfully.
Setup of an Off-Grid Solar Generator System
An off-grid generator system is designed to allow you to live without relying on a public utility for electrical power, either because you’re traveling or camping or because your traditional access to electricity has been temporarily severed by a storm or other unplanned event. To establish a robust off-grid solar-powered system, you’ll need the following equipment.
Your solar panels are responsible for charging your generator’s batteries, so choosing powerful and efficient panels is critical. Mono-crystalline panels will give you the greatest efficiency, but poly-crystalline panels perform almost as well for less money. Additionally, when purchasing flexible solar panels, look for models made from aluminum, which tend to be more versatile, long-lasting and reliable than panels made from other materials.
The charge controller is an essential piece of equipment that prevents batteries from overcharging. Most models are compatible with a wide variety of high-voltage solar panels, but be aware that they will reduce the total power production of your panels by 20 to 60 percent.
For off-grid systems, a deep-cycle battery with a high amp-hour rating is the best choice. Deep-cycle batteries are designed to regularly use most or all of their capacity, which extends their life. Lithium batteries offer the highest quality but are also the most expensive option. Lead-acid batteries are a good alternative that won’t cost as much as lithium versions
The electricity produced and stored by your solar generator is in DC (direct current) form; however, most household appliances and electronics operate on AC (alternating current) power. The inverter serves two vital purposes in your generator: it converts DC power to AC power and boosts the voltage to the 110 or 240 volts required by most electronics.
Solar Panel Installation
To generate maximum power during daylight hours, you’ll want to position your solar panels at a 30-degree angle facing south. If the roof of your home faces east and west, install panels on both sides to get as much coverage as possible over the course of the day.
Setup of an On-Grid Solar Generator System
An on-grid solar generator uses the same basic equipment as an off-grid system, but setup is much simpler. Install as many solar panels as you can afford on your roof or elsewhere on your property, connect them to a grid inverter and add the inverter to your existing electrical infrastructure. Your solar system will not only be available for use in case of a traditional power outage, but it can also generate “green” electricity to reduce the burden on your existing system and save you money.
Best Solar Generator Advantages
Solar generators offer a long list of unique strengths with very few weaknesses. Consider the five most compelling advantages of owning a solar generator:
- Reduces your carbon footprint: Solar-powered generators can reduce the amount of fossil fuels your household consumers. The average American household produces around 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year; every kilowatt of solar energy produced as part of your household system can reduce your family’s carbon footprint by 3,000 pounds per year.
- Lowers your utility costs: Replacing just 25 percent of your traditional electricity with solar power can save you hundreds of dollars on your utility bills over the course of a year.
- Safe for indoor use: Because they don’t generate toxic fumes, solar-powered generators are safe to use indoors, which is particularly convenient during power outages. Instead of having to fuel and transport a gas-powered generator in the dark, you can simply bring your solar generator inside and use it there.
- Quiet operation: Unlike loud gas generators, which can generate an ear-splitting 85 decibels, solar-powered generators are extremely quiet, so you won’t disturb your family or your neighbors during use.
- Easy to use: Once you get your solar-powered generator system set up, it requires almost no maintenance or attention from you, with no need to refuel or change the oil. The panels automatically soak up the sun’s rays and charge the batteries, which continue to run connected appliances.
The Best Solar Generators: Our Top Five Picks
Solar-powered generators haven’t saturated the market yet, so it may be challenging to get recommendations from family, friends and colleagues. Fortunately, we’ve tested many of the most popular models on the market, and the following five generators delivered the best value and performance.
The Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Solar Generator offers a well-rounded mix of safety, power and convenience, producing no noise or fumes to interfere with your activities. Its 10 ports allow you to charge virtually any device or appliance, with high surge capacities and USB-C power delivery to support laptops and other power-hungry electronics.
The Wi-Fi-enabled Yeti 1400 can also be managed via the Yeti mobile app; simply connect the Yeti to your existing router and download the Apple or Google app. With the app, you’ll be able to turn ports on and off, monitor battery levels and install firmware updates to keep the generator functioning in top form.
- Ultra-safe lithium battery in watertight enclosure
- 10 ports, including USB-A, USB-C, USB PD, 6mm, 12V car port, 12V Power Pole Port, 120VAC inverter, charging port, Power Pole charging port and Expansion Module Port
- 1425Wh/132Ah battery capable of operating critical appliances like refrigerators, smartphones, tools and home health equipment
- Mono-crystalline 200-watt Boulder solar panels (full charge in 14-28 hours)
- 3000-watt surge/1500-watt continuous inverter
- One-year warranty
- Powerful enough to run multiple large appliances
- Convenient in-app control
- Heavy (44 pounds)
This lightweight, portable unit provides modest power levels at an affordable price. It includes three USB ports, two AC outlets and 12V output, and the reliable lithium battery offers an impressive 18-month shelf life, so you’re covered in unexpected situations that demand an alternative power source. An easy-to-read LCD display features real-time data on run time, recharge time, battery level, output and input. While it’s not powerful enough to sustain a household through extended power outages, it’s ideal for camping trips and other modest power needs.
- Replaceable 428Wh/39.6Ah lithium battery
- Convenient LCD display
- 1200-watt surge/300-watt continuous inverter
- Recharges in 8-16 hours with mono-crystalline 100-watt Boulder Briefcase
- Lightweight (17 pounds)
- Limited power output
The Suaoki 400Wh Portable Solar Generator is a portable, lightweight unit perfect for camping and other outdoor activities and a reliable backup power source for home or office. In addition to the 60-watt solar panel, the generator’s batteries can also be recharged via wall outlet or car socket. A handy LCD display allows you to monitor battery levels and device input and output to manage your use.
- 444Wh/120Ah lithium battery
- 600-watt surge/300-watt continuous inverter
- Battery Management System prevents overcharging and overheating to protect your generator and connected devices
- Features four USB ports, two DC ports, 12V DC socket and jump starter port
- LCD display for monitoring operation
- Two-year warranty
- Extremely lightweight (12 pounds)
- Limited power output
- Can only select one charging method at a time
This compact, lightweight generator packs a surprising punch for its size and price point. The EcoFlow River 500W Portable Power Station comes equipped with 11 output ports, including two standard and two quick-charge USB ports, two USB-C ports, two 6mm DC ports, two AC ports and one 12V car port. Use it to charge smartphones and tablets, laptops, drone batteries, LED lights or even a mini-fridge. The EcoFlow 21S solar charger uses cutting-edge technology to deliver lightning-fast charging times and remarkable efficiency that tops out near 24 percent.
- 412Wh/114Ah lithium battery holds its charge for a full year
- 600-watt surge/300-watt continuous inverter
- Best-in-class battery management system automatically senses connected devices and regulates output accordingly
- Sun Power solar cells offer impressive efficiency (21.5 to 23.5 percent)
- Large, easy-to-read LCD display
- Extremely lightweight (11 pounds)
- Waterproof, compact case with comfortable, durable handle and cord storage pouch
- Quick charging time
- Surprisingly powerful
- Expensive for its capabilities
The Phoenix Solar Generator was designed specifically for mobile, off-grid use, so adjust your expectations accordingly. While it may not be powerful enough to run a household, it performs admirably for the applications it was created to support: light outdoor and travel use and minor emergency power needs. It includes two built-in, 10-watt solar panels, with the option to expand to 120 watts if desired. This versatile unit can be charged via solar panel, AC power and a 12V car socket.
- 210Wh/16Ah lithium battery
- 300-watt surge/150-watt continuous inverter
- Two built-in 10W mono-crystalline solar panels
- Five-year warranty
- Includes integrated solar panels with capacity for expansion
- Three charging options
- Expensive for its capabilities
- Only holds charge for two months
Final Thoughts on the Best Solar Generators
A solar generator is an excellent investment for any household, delivering a reliable, eco-friendly source of power for camping, tailgating and other outdoor activities as well as during emergency outages. The five models reviewed here offer a wide range of capabilities, features and price points, so you’re sure to find one that fits your family’s needs and budget.