Best Solar Generator

Whether you’re on the road, camping off-grid or need a backup power source without paying for electricity, solar generators will help you power your devices with sunlight.

We’ve put together this complete guide to help you find the best solar generator for your off-grid needs. Keep reading to learn about how solar generators work, the different types available, and what to look for when comparing models and choosing which one to buy.

Let’s get into it.

Quick Answer: Best Solar Generators [2020]

  • Best Solar Generator for Off-Grid
  • Best All-in-One Solar Generator: Renogy Phoenix
  • Cheapest Solar Generator:
  • Best Solar Generator for RV: Goal Zero Yeti 400
  • Best Solar Generator for Camping
  • Best Solar Generator for CPAP Machine

What is a solar generator?

A solar generator is a portable unit designed to convert sunlight into current that can be used power electrical appliances.

Solar generators are comprised of three main components:

  • Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, to create an electrical field from sunlight
  • A battery, usually lithium-ion, to store energy
  • An inverter, to convert direct current (DC) from the solar panel into alternating current (AC) for use

Types of Solar Generator

Solar generators generally fall into two distinct categories:

  • All-in-one solar generators, portable generators that come with built-in solar panels
  • Combination solar generators, made by combining a generic portable generator with a portable solar panel
  • DIY solar generators, made by combining individual components (battery, inverter and portable solar panel)

Here’s a look at the types of solar generator so you can see the differences at a glance:

There aren’t many all-in-one solar generators on the market, but the few that do exist come in quite expensive. For example, take a look at the Renogy Phoenix All-in-One Solar Generator. It has built-in solar panels and a battery so that all you need to do is open it up to start charging.

 

Renogy Phoenix All In One Solar Generator
An all-in-one solar generator

All-in-one solar generators are very easy to use and transport, and don’t require technical knowledge to set up. However, the downside is that the price can be high, and it’s not easy to change out parts should any fail later on.

The most common solar generator setup uses a combination of a portable generator with additional solar panels.

For example, take a look at the ROCKPALS 300W portable generator. It can be recharged from the sun with any compatible 60W or 100W solar panel. You can also recharge the generator battery using mains power if required, or attach a portable solar panel such as the Rockpals 100W foldable solar panel charger. Put together, the generator plus solar panel setup will look something like this:

Rockpals 300w Generator And 100w Foldable Solar Panel
A combination solar generator: a portable power station with foldable solar panel

The benefit of combination solar generators is that you can customize your setup to your particular needs (i.e. for camping, RV, off-grid or at-home use), and you have more control over the specific wattage and input/output options. It’s also easier to swap out parts to upgrade or replace old tech.

diy solar generator
A DIY solar generator, made by combining many parts.

Of course, if you’re handy with DIY, you will save money by putting your own solar generator together.

For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to focus on all-in-one and combination generator setups as they are the most accessible and don’t require specialist knowledge to set up.

All-in-One Solar Generator vs Combination Solar Generator: Which is Better?

There are pros and cons of both all-in-one and DIY solar generators. Take a look at the below table to see which is right for you.

All-in-One Solar Generators

Pros:

  • ✅ Easiest to set up
  • ✅ Very compact and portable

Cons:

  • ❌ Can be expensive
  • ❌ Difficult to replace parts or upgrade

Combination Solar Generators

Pros:

  • ✅ More customizable to your specific needs
  • ✅ Easier to upgrade and replace components

Cons:

  • ❌ Need to ensure you choose compatible parts

Solar Generator FAQs

Before investing in a solar generator, you’re probably going to want to know more about the different types, how they work and what features to look for.

What does a solar generator do?

A solar generator uses photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to generate direct current electricity. The electricity is used to charge a battery, which can then power electrical appliances, from phone chargers to laptops and televisions.

Can a solar generator power a house?

Portable solar generators usually generate a small amount of power that can be used off-grid, when camping, in an RV or anywhere.

Whole house solar generators can be used to generate enough energy to power an entire home.

What size solar generator do I need?

Portable generators are usually measured in watt hours (Wh). As solar generator manufacturer Goal Zero state (source):

One Watt hour is equal to one Watt of average power flow over an hour. One Watt over four hours would be four Watt Hours of power. As an example, a 100 Watt light bulb on a 400 Watt Hour battery (like the Yeti 400) would last, on paper, 4 hours.

You can estimate the size of solar generator you would need by looking at the watt hours for each device you wish to run.

For example, according to Apple, an iPhone XR needs 11.16Wh to charge, while a MacBook Pro 13.3-inch uses 58.2Wh. Therefore, a 400Hw solar generator could fully charge around 35 iPhones, or 7 MacBooks.

Another consideration is the size of the solar panel. Solar panels are measured in watts (W), which represents the amount of direct current (DC) power they produce in ideal sunny conditions.

For example, a 100W solar panel can collect up to 100W per hour. It’s a good idea to assume you won’t get the maximum power from any solar panel, as cloud cover, sun intensity, relative humidity, and heat buildup can also impair solar panel performance. It’s also normal to lose power between the solar panel and the generator, and generators use internal fans to stay cool, which also use up power.

Choose a solar generator setup that provides a large enough battery capacity for your power needs, and a large enough solar panel to charge the battery during daylight hours.

How long do solar generators last?

Solar generators can only last as long as their components, namely the solar panels and battery. Lifespan will depend on usage, but you can expect most solar generators to last for 3 years before you experience a lack of performance.

Solar panels can last up to 25 years. This is because solar panels degrade over time, at a rate of around 1% per year (source). The generator battery also has a limited lifespan. Most batteries are lithium-ion, which lose charge over time due to the way reactions erode the materials (here’s a more scientific explanation of this), which is currently unavoidable, even if you are not using them. Most lithium-ion batteries last for 3 years before performance is degraded.

To guarantee lifespan, look for a solar generator manufacturer that offers more than a 1 year warranty. For example, Rockpals offers a 2-year warranty on all their generator and solar panel range, whereas Goal Zero only offer a 1-year warranty.

How much does a solar generator cost?

Most portable solar generators cost around $400. This includes a portable generator and separate solar panel, and all-in-one models.

Whole house solar generators can cost upwards of $3000 depending on the size of your home and energy requirements.

Where can I use a solar generator?

Most solar generators are extremely portable, so you can use them anywhere you like!

Portable solar generators are designed to be used anywhere, including when camping, in an RV, off-grid and even in an apartment or house. Some people use solar generators to power individual appliances, such as a CPAP machine or air conditioner.

Compare the Top 11 Solar Generators in 2020

Now you know a bit more about how solar generators work, and the different types available, you can read our detailed reviews of the top 11 portable solar generator models in 2020. We cover all-in-one and combination solar generators. In the latter case, we’ll include a list of compatible solar panels so you can choose the right combo.

1. Goal Zero Yeti 400

Goal Zero Yeti 400 Solar Generator

Compatible Solar Panels:

The Goal Zero Yeti 400 is one of the most popular solar generators ever made. It’s not cheap, but it provides a ton of value. The Goal Zero Yeti 400 is incredibly simple to use: it comes with USB ports and regular plug outlets, just like you have at home. It also has a lead acid battery which, while adding weight, means that it can be charged via the 12V plug in your vehicle. This makes the Goal Zero Yeto 400 perfect for RV or car use, because you can charge it up when you’re on the move.

You can use multiple solar panels connected to a single Goal Zero Yeti 400 by using an adapter, like the Goal Zero 4 to 1 8mm adapter. You can also attach multiple Goal Zero Yeti 400s together (they call this feature “daisy chainable”), which means you’ll get more stored power on sunny days.

The most irritating thing about the Goal Zero Yeti 400 is its proprietary 12-volt output ports (2 of the 3). They are designed solely for use with Goal Zero brand lights, like the Goal Zero Lighthouse 400 Lantern. Yes, it makes it easy for someone looking for an easy option, but it limits your choice unless you want to also buy adapter cables. Luckily, there’s still a single 12-volt output that will work like the standard cigarette lighter in your car.

View the Goal Zero Yeti 400 user manual for more information.

Goal Zero Yeti 400 With Solar Panel
Charging the Goal Zero Yeti 400 via solar panel

Pros:

  • ✅ LCD display showing input and output power levels
  • ✅ Easy-to-use USB, AC and 12V outputs
  • ✅ Rugged construction with carry handle
  • ✅ Can be charged via 12V car battery

Cons:

  • ❌ More expensive than similar wattage models
  • ❌ Heavy to carry – weighs 16.3 lbs (7.4 kg)
  • ❌ Propitiatory plugs make it difficult to attach to other brands of solar panel

2. Renogy Phoenix 246Wh Portable All-in-One Solar Generator

https://www.amazon.com/Renogy-Portable-Generator-Applications-Emergencies/dp/B01K60N1DQ/

Compatible Solar Panels:

The Renogy Phoenix All-in-One Solar Generator is an impressive piece of technology.

It comes with 3 ways to charge it: via standard AC plug, via a 12V cigarette charger (like those in your car or RV), and, of course, via solar panel. There are 2 solar panel input sockets so you can easily connect 2 additional panels if the built-in one is not enough for your power needs

The Renogy Phoenix is also jam-packed with output ports: there are 4 USB ports (great for family cell phone charging), 2 DC outputs, a 12V cigarette output, and a single AC outlet.

The biggest problem with solar generators in general is limited battery life, so it’s great to see that the Renogy Phoenix has a replaceable battery

There’s not much not to like about the Renogy Phoenix, but the built-in flashlight seems pointless – the unit is too bulky to direct around and most of us have better flashlights on our cell phones anyway.

View the Renogy Phoenix manual for more information.

Pros:

  • ✅ Lightweight and portable, only 12.8 lbs (5.8kgs)
  • ✅ Replaceable battery
  • ✅ Can be charged via solar, AC or 12V power source
  • ✅ No need for a separate solar panel

Cons:

  • ❌ More expensive than similar wattage models
  • ❌ Heavy to carry – weighs 16.3 lbs (7.4 kg)
  • ❌ Propitiatory plugs make it difficult to attach to other brands of solar panel

3. MAXOAK Power Station 500Wh Solar Generator

4. ROCKPALS 300W Portable Generator

5. Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240

6. Kalisaya KP401 KaliPAK 384-Watt Hour Portable Solar Generator System

7. Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station

8. SUAOKI Portable Power Station

9. Wagan (EL2547) Solar e Power Cube 1500 Plus

10. Goal Zero Yeti 3000 Lithium Portable Power Station

11. ACOPOWER 150Wh Portable Solar Generator