Are Solar Powered Generators Any Good?

Some solar generators are supplied with built-in solar panels. These tend to be the smaller, lower-powered units. Larger solar-powered generators generally require the solar panels to be purchased separately.

Solar generators provide an environmentally friendly, emissions-free source of electrical power.

Solar generators cost virtually nothing to run and free the owner from constantly increasing gas prices and maintenance costs.

The negative features of solar generators relate to the higher upfront cost, finite battery capacity, and slow time to recharge.

The Benefits Of Solar Generators

The massive switch to electrically powered equipment is driven by the need to reduce the use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels and 

Even without the environmental imperatives, several additional benefits are achieved with this new generation of equipment.

Portable generators come in all shapes and sizes; however, as a general rule, they weigh less and are smaller than an equivalent gas-powered generator.

This makes them more portable and easier to carry on holiday.

The biggest difference is that you don’t need to continue purchasing gasoline with a solar-powered generator.

The solar-powered route also offers several options in terms of charging the battery. These include the following:

  • They can be charged from compatible solar panels.
  • They can typically be charged from a car lighter socket power supply.
  •  They can be charged from an AC outlet.
  • They can be charged by another generator (gas or solar).

Another significant benefit is the relatively silent operation of a solar generator compared to the equivalent gas-powered unit.

The noise produced by steel-mounted gas-powered generators averages 75 dB. This compares to solar generators (with cooling fans), producing an average of 45 dB. 

To help you understand the noise levels, the following chart shows the typical sound levels produced from various sources.

The “loudness” measured in dBs is not linear and increases by the square for each 10dB increase.

Noise SourceDecibel LevelComment
Jet take-off (at 25 meters)150Eardrum rupture
Aircraft carrier deck140Ear protection is essential
Thunderclap120Painful. 120dB is 32 times as loud as 70 dB.  
power lawn mower100The possibility of serious damage is exposed for 8 hrs or more
The freight train (at 15 meters). 8080dB is twice as loud as 70 dB. Without ear protection, the hearing may be damaged with prolonged exposure.
Gas Powered Generators75
Conversation in restaurant60This is Fairly quiet. 60 dB is only ½ as loud as 70 dB.  
Quiet suburb, conversation at home.5060dB is ¼ as loud as 70 dB. 
Solar Powered Generator45This is very quiet
Library, bird calls (44 dB)401/8th is as loud as 70 dB.  
Quiet rural area301/16th as loud as 70 dB. And it is very quiet.
Whisper, rustling leaves20 
Breathing10Barely audible

This means that a solar generator can be run unobtrusively without disturbing the peace of an area. Suitable for RV camping trips or during those quiet evening fishing times when peace is so important. 

Solar Generators Have Fewer Failure Points

Gas-powered generators need regular maintenance work to keep operating efficiently. Typical failure points on a gas-powered generator include:

  • The Fuel system is damaged, leaks, or is blocked.
  • The air intake system becomes constrained.
  • The Starter pulley breaks, and/or the starter motor becomes damaged.
  • The lead acid starter battery requires renewal.

By comparison, the cooling fan in a solar generator is the only moving part of the device. This reduces the number of mechanical failure points in the unit and reduces the need to maintain it.

The Downsides of Solar Generators

There are a few downsides to solar generators, which are listed below.

Higher Upfront Costs

Solar generators are available in all shapes and sizes, from a small unit that produces ½ kW of AC power to large and heavy units that make over 10kW.

The prices range accordingly and can be purchased for as low as $500 for the Jackery 500 and Goal Zero 500X to $4,000 for a BLUETTI AC300 or EcoFlow Delta Pro.

The upfront cost is higher than an equivalent gas-powered generator. But long-term costs are lower.

Weather Dependent

The main downside of a solar generator is that if you want to use solar panels to charge the battery, you need sufficient sun shining on the solar panels.

Solar panels’ electricity production is compromised in overcast weather and at night.

The good news is that most devices offer several different recharging methods, including the following:

  • Solar panels.
  • An AC power supply
  • DC powers supply from a car.
  • Current from another generator.

More expensive solar generators will accept a simultaneous charge from an AC and solar panel source. The combined power reduces recharging times significantly. 

Take Longer To Recharge

Unfortunately, recharging is a longer process than refueling the gas tank on a gas-powered generator.

Charging times can take anywhere between an hour and a complete day, although most solar generators can still produce power while connected to solar panels.

As discussed, some of the larger, more capable solar generators can be charged from solar and AC power simultaneously, reducing the time it takes to recharge.

Limited Power Capacity

There are two power constraints associated with solar generators:

  1. Maximum kW power output.
  2. The kWh capacity of the batteries.

The maximum power output of the unit will determine the combination and power requirements of the appliances that can run at any time. 

A system producing 2 kW of power can provide power appliances that (accumulated) do not draw more than 2 kW.

The battery capacity will determine how long those devices can be run. A battery with a 3 kWh capacity can run these devices (2 kW) for 1 ½ hours.

Gas generators have the same two restrictions maximum power restrictions. The difference is that when a gas-powered generator runs out of gas, the gas tank can be refilled much faster.

Less Durable

Lithium-ion batteries (which most solar generators use) have many benefits for a solar generator; however, their downside is that they do not cope with rough treatment.

Additionally, housings contain many delicate electrical components, meaning they must be treated more gently.

Most solar generators are not waterproof or dustproof, which means they will be damaged if exposed. So, they are less suited to harsh environments (such as building sites).

Comparing Solar Generators To Traditional Ones

Solar generators compete with traditional gas-powered units. The comparison of each type is listed below.

Portable Solar GeneratorsPortable Traditional Generators
Fuel (Energy Source) to refill (recharge)Solar, AC. DC or other generatorsGasoline
Regular MaintenanceMinimalComprehensive
WaterproofMost models are NOT waterproofIt can be used in rainy weather
Up Front Cost$500 to $4,000$200 to $3,000
Running CostsInsignificantRunning costs determined by Gas PricesOil PricesMaintenance costs
Maximum Power+10kW+10kW
Time To Recharge (Refill)½ to 24 hours, depending on size and modelImmediately
Noise Generated45dB.75dB.
Environmental ImpactOnly at manufacture and disposalHeavy impact
Ideal Usage EnvironmentRemote use at home or holidayConstruction sites with a need for readily available electrical power. Gas-powered generators also handle rough treatment better.
Rebates and IncentivesThe federal government and many utilities offer rebates for solar generators with a power supply of 3kW or higher.No rebates – Regulatory bodies are incentivizing gas-powered generator replacement.

The technology that drives solar-powered generators is continually advancing, and they are beginning to represent a real alternative to gas-powered devices.

Several advantages of solar-powered generators include quiet running, zero emissions, minimal running or maintenance costs, and good portability.

They also do not restrict the charging methods to only solar power; most models can also be charged from an AC socket or a car cigarette lighter socket.

The cons of solar generators focus on the higher purchase cost, the limited available battery capacities, and the long time it takes to recharge the batteries.

Mathew, our founder and chief editor at BloomCentre, combines his passion for renewable energy, commitment to sustainable living, and his rich experience in the solar industry to provide reliable and insightful advice.