We’ve all found ourselves in a situation in which a reliable solar powered generator would be very helpful. Be it either at home, when camping or relaxing at your off-grid cabin, having a backup generator gives you a peace of mind knowing you are connected to the electricity whatever the circumstances may be.
If you are looking for the best backup power source, investing in a solar power generator is a great choice. Solar generators are the way of the future: they recharge with free and clean energy from the sun, don’t emit dangerous exhaust fumes, and they are extremely quiet, making them an excellent choice for both indoor and outdoor use.
All you have to do is set up the solar panels to face the sun and the generator will start accumulating solar energy to power up your electronics.
DISCLAIMER: Greentumble is NOT receiving any payment from the companies listed in this review article.
What is a solar powered generator?
The term solar generator can be quite misleading, as most people assume that solar generator is a device that produces power in the same manner as other fuel generators do, only with the difference that solar generators use sunlight as a “fuel.” This perception is not quite right.
Solar powered generators only store energy that was produced by solar panels. They do not generate energy right on the spot when you turn them on like standard generators do. This means that solar generators rather work on the same principle as power banks, storing energy in built-in batteries and then using it to charge your devices for as long as the batteries have power.
When internal batteries get discharged, they need to be recharged. This can be done either by connecting the generator to solar panels (that’s where the name comes from), or even from a regular wall outlet or a 12-volt power outlet in a car.
How do solar powered generators actually work?
The main components of a solar generator are:
- a battery bank
- a charge controller
- an inverter
- photovoltaic solar panels*
*Please note that solar panels to charge the generator are not always included with the product. In some cases, they need to be purchased separately, which gives you the advantage of selecting solar panel type and number of panels according to your preference and power needs.
The solar generator uses solar panels to capture photons from the sun, converting them into electricity, which is then being sent off to a charge controller.
The charge controller transfers the electricity into the battery bank and stops it when fully charged. Before the power is being used, an inverter converts the DC (direct current) electricity from the batteries into AC (alternating current) electricity, which is what most appliances use today.
Depending on the number of solar panels and battery capacity, a solar powered generator can power anything from small devices and laptops to household appliances. Let’s have a look at the best products available on the market right now.
Our top picks: Best solar generators in 2020
In this buyer’s guide, you will find a list of the top-rated solar generators available online. We have also listed their capacities and features to help you find the right one for you.
#1 Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Solar Generator with WiFi App access
If you’re on the hunt for a system that can collect and store large amounts of electricity from solar energy to run your household devices during a blackout, look no further than the Goal Zero Yeti 1400. This is a super simple and powerful generator designed to sustain a multitude of power needs.
The generator’s replaceable lithium battery has a capacity of 1450 watt hours (Wh) and can keep up to 10 devices running at once. This includes even power thirsty refrigerators, TVs, microwaves, pumps, tools and other commonly used household appliances, since its capable of producing 1500 watts of continuous power and sustaining 3000 watts surge. The battery contains high-quality lithium cells that are well sealed from the elements and protected from overcharging. Their lifetime is prolonged by a built-in cooling system that regulates the temperature of the generator.
If you need to use the generator while the batteries are recharging (either during the day from solar panels or from a standard wall outlet), you are free to do so. The system lets you to power your devices while charging the batteries at the same time. The batteries take around 20 to 30 hours to charge fully with both wall outlet or solar panels. This time can differ by couple hours depending on the characteristics of your solar array and weather conditions.
Whether it is used during power outages, for camping, tailgating, or light duty construction, this solar generator won’t let you down. It’s super easy to setup and use, even for those who don’t feel like they have a lot of technical knowledge. LCD display in the front allows you to monitor the power coming in and out as well as the remaining percentage of the battery charge and estimated runtime. You have all the information you need right in front of you and can decide which devices you’ll plug in as priority. Additionally, the unused generator stores power for up to one year, so it’s readily available in emergency situations even when you forget to check the battery level for several months.
With dimensions of 18 by 13 by 13 inches, this powerful generator is only slightly bigger than a car battery and weights within the similar range—43.7 pounds. The device has two handles to make it easier to carry for one person. The optimum usage temperature is above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. So, if you are planning on using this unit in your cabin up north, it is recommended to store the unit indoors where temperatures do not drop below freezing. This will definitely prolong the battery life.
Solar panels are not included with this product and have to be purchased separately. Goal Zero offers high quality monocrystalline solar panels called Goal Zero Boulder. For this powerful generator is recommended either 100W or 200W solar panel. These panels are made to perfectly match Goal Zero solar generators, but they are on a pricier side. If you are willing to do a little research, you may be able to find solar panels with the same wattage manufactured by a different company that are cheaper than these.
What we like:
- 1425Wh capacity to back-up your devices (10.8V, 132Ah)
- USB, USB-C, USB-PD, AC and 12V ports
- Compact size and weight for the power capacity
- Well-sealed and good quality case with handles
- User-friendly and simple to use
- WiFi App control
- Replaceable batteries
- One-year warranty
- Renowned producer
What we don’t like:
- Solar panels not included
- High price
- Cannot be charged from 12V car outlet
#2 Goal Zero Yeti 400 Lithium Solar Generator Kit
This is a great option for a generator for those looking for a cleaner way to power outdoor patio lights or keep your electronics charged while camping. The Goal Zero Yeti 400 Lithium with Boulder 50 Solar Panel makes a highly efficient duo in powering your off-grid adventures. The generator is a quiet and renewable backup power option for both indoor and outdoor use. It comes with several USB ports, so you can keep every member of the family happy.
This particular kit is not quite as bulky as the generator above, so it’s more suitable for those with lower-key power needs. The 428Wh station with three USB ports, two 12V ports and two AC outlets provides continuous power of 300W (with surge 4 times higher) and has the capacity to power seven devices at a time. This includes phones, cameras, laptops, lights and other small appliances.
This model of Goal Zero Yeti 400 features high quality lithium batteries that are low weight and can be replaced when needed. In optimum conditions, it takes around 20 hours to fully recharge the batteries with the Boulder 50 solar panel. Good news is that you don’t have to wait during the charging. The “pass-through” technology allows you to plug in your devices while the generator is charging. It is possible to use even a regular wall outlet and a car DC outlet for recharge. You will need approximately 5 to 7 hours this way. The device stores energy for up to one year, being readily available when needed throughout this period.
The generator has an LCD display that enables you to monitor the battery level, power input and output values and displays estimated time until the next recharge.
This kit comes along with a monocrystalline 50-watt solar panel. Monocrystalline solar panels contain the most efficient solar cells as they are made from high purity silicon. Monocrystalline panels achieve up to 20 percent efficiency when converting solar energy into electricity and are very durable. The Boulder 50 comes with a kickstand that allows you to position the panel towards the sun as needed. Additionally, the panel itself is pretty sturdy, made from a tempered glass and aluminum frame. It is also possible to add one or two additional Boulder 50 panels to shorten the charging time of batteries.
This generator weights 16 pounds and has dimensions of 7.5 by 11.25 by 7.0 inches. The monocrystalline solar panel weights a little over 12 pounds and comes in a size of 21.8 by 26.8 by 1.8 inches. The whole kit is fairly portable if you are not planning on taking it on a trekking trip.
What we like:
- Smaller size
- Low weight and portability
- In a kit with a 50-watt monocrystalline solar panel
- Replaceable lithium battery
- LCD display with the runtime estimate
- Renowned producer
- One-year warranty
What we don’t like:
- Pricier for the capacity
- Operating usage temperature from 32 to 104°F
#3 Renogy Phoenix 20W All-in-One Generator Kit
The Renogy All-in-One kit is an outdoor gadget that goes the extra mile—in fact, it’s more than just a gadget, it might be your savior. It features multiple ports for charging, a 17. 1 Ah lithium battery and 20 watts of power in two built-in solar panels. The capacity of the battery is 246.24Wh and an inverter can provide continuous power of 150W for numerous USB or AC devices.
What makes this solar generator kit special is the design. This is such a cool device because it’s basically a solar panel suitcase—an all-inclusive easy power generator to carry around in any circumstances. It’s compact, fairly lightweight and easy to move around. Additional feature is a handy LED flashlight that is incorporated into the device.
On the front panel, you have an LCD display, showing you the battery status and whether an AC or DC output mode is on. On the display you also receive notifications of errors and the information about the strength of the solar irradiance. It will help you finding the best spot to optimize the charging speed from solar panels.
This amazing product can be charged in a number of different ways: by car, by solar power or from a standard wall outlet. The charging time from a wall outlet takes approximately 5 hours, while built-in solar panels take three times that long; or even more on a cloudy day. You have an option to buy additional 100W of solar power to decrease the charging time to less than 5 hours. The kit has two PV terminals to make it easy for you to connect external solar panels right away.
Considering that the battery gets recharged from the built-in solar panels implies that the device needs to stay on the sun for a couple hours. To prevent overheating of the whole unit, the case contains a fan to keep the temperature lower. But even despite that, the problem of overheating occurs pretty easily when the outside temperature reaches over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are using external solar panels, we highly recommend leaving the box in the shade to prevent this from happening and place only the additional solar panels on the sun.
The briefcase weights over 12 pounds and has dimensions of 13.8 by 13.1 by 3.9 inches. It is made from a sturdy plastic which also protects the generator from water. However, this doesn’t make it waterproof. The kit is still not suited to be left outside on the rain if you care about the battery lifetime.
What we like:
- Built-in 20W solar panels
- Possibility to add extra 100W for solar recharge
- Briefcase-like design, compact and easy to carry
- Great for emergencies
- Water-resistant case
- Maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controller
- Operating usage temperature spans from -4 to 140°F
- One-year warranty
What we don’t like:
- Difficult replacement of the battery
- Tends to overheat
#4 Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240
If you’re looking to lessen the stress on your outdoor adventures, look no further than the Jackery Explorer 240. This is a generator that you can take anywhere. Jackery Explorer 240 is a super lightweight solar generator with a 240Wh lithium battery that will recharge any small devices with continuous power requirement below 200 watts. This includes common gadgets you need on your trips, such as phones, flashlights, laptops, drone or camera batteries, mini-coolers and other basic accessories.
*If you are interested in a stronger generator, Jackery offers even a generator with higher power capacity.
This small but practical generator features one 110V AC and DC port, plus two USB ports. The LCD display makes it easy for anyone check the battery life and power input/output values. The unit also turns off automatically after three to six hours if less than 10W of power is drawn from the device. This measure is implemented to save on the power stored in the batteries. Unfortunately, there is not a way to switch this power saving mode off, so you need to check after three hours whether your devices are getting charged if they use less than 10W. Giving you the option to switch this function on and off would be definitely a welcomed improvement in the future.
The battery does not only have a power save mode, it is also protected from overcharging, overcurrent and short circuits. For example, if you plug in a device that draws more than 200W, the generator automatically shuts off to prevent any damage to the system.
Jackery Explorer can be recharged from a wall outlet or from a car 12V outlet, which takes approximately 7 hours. If you want to charge it from solar panels, note that they are not included. The producer, however, offers 60W and 100W solar panels (Jackery Saga) that are fully compatible with the unit. Depending on the conditions and the type of your panels, the charging time can take from 7 to 15 hours with solar energy. Solar panels from Jackery have a nice design and offer high efficiency, but of course you can even choose other solar panels that are compatible with the parameters of the generator.
What is nice about this product is the size and portability. It weights just 6.6 pounds and measures 5.2 by 9.1 to 7.7 inches. The package is neat and easy to carry around. The generator itself doesn’t occupy much space. It’s just a perfect companion for camping trips.
What we like:
- Lightweight and portable, great for camping trips
- Possibility to buy the same model with 518Wh power capacity
- Super simple to use
- Two-year warranty
What we don’t like:
- Solar panels not included in the package
- Operating usage temperature from 32 to 104°F
How to pick the best portable solar power generator?
Solar power is an easy and efficient way of going green—which not only means saving the environment but saving the health of your loved ones and some cash, too. But let’s not forget that there are many products with inferior quality on the market and you do not want to deal with poorly constructed generators when it comes to powering your electronic devices and appliances because they can get easily damaged if some important safety measures were omitted during manufacture.
Remember, it’s better to do your research well before making the decision which portable solar powered generator you want to purchase. Pay attention to product quality and used materials, authenticity of customer reviews and verify the company that stands behind the product. Do they have a long history of creating good quality products? Have they been specializing in producing generators and solar gadgets? How is their customer service? Is there a lot of information about their services and products online?
These are some of the first questions you should ask when looking for the right generator. But that is not all, there are more things you should consider when buying a solar generator. Let’s start with the key characteristics you want to focus on.
Things to consider when buying solar generators
You’ll want to take note of a few important details before purchasing your generator.
Here are some things to consider:
It’s important to note that while portable solar generators can be powerful, you cannot power an entire house with one. You should have realistic expectations. At the 1425Wh range with Goal Zero Yeti 1400, you can power a few large appliances, including refrigerator and TV.
Generators with lower ranges are more suited to power smaller accessories, such as lights, phones, laptops. But you cannot expect to be able to charge appliances that require large amount of power to start, for example, AC units, TVs or hairdryers.
When deciding which solar powered generator is the right one for your needs, read carefully what devices can be powered by the model you have selected. If you cannot find the specific information you are looking for, ask the customer support to help you. It’s better to ask the producer before buying since the generators require quite some upfront investment.
Why do you want to buy a solar powered generator? What is your main objective? Do you prefer a heavier and more powerful option that will be stored at home for blackouts or other emergency situations? Are you looking for a versatile charging station you can take with you on trips but at the same time you are also expecting a bigger power output? Or you want just a power bank with a bigger capacity for your family’s outdoor adventures?
It’s good to consider the main purpose of you getting the generator prior buying one. This will narrow down your selection. You will know when to care about portability over the power capacity and will be able to select the best matching model for your expectations. This way you will not end up with a bulky and heavy model on your camping trips, or a tiny super portable unit that cannot power your cabin’s power-thirsty appliances.
#3 Battery and warranty
Battery stores the power you are planning to use. Are they lithium ion or lead acid batteries?
It’s advisable to pay attention to the battery type because they come with different advantages and disadvantages. Generators mentioned in our review are featuring highly efficient, maintenance free and lightweight lithium ion batteries. They are pricier but more efficient at storing power than lead acid batteries and can be discharged down to 10 percent while lead acid batteries allow only 50 percent discharge. Lithium-ion batteries weight less than lead acid batteries, which also plays role in your decision making when it comes to portability.
Considering the options that are available on the market, it’s also better to select a generator with replaceable batteries. Batteries are most likely to lose their ability to keep the charge after certain number of recharging cycles (often it is 500 cycles). The rest of the equipment in your generator may still be perfectly fine and it would be unnecessary having to exchange the whole unit just when the battery hit the end of its lifetime. Do not forget to check the warranty conditions of the producer. Batteries usually have shorter warranty than the rest of the product—in some cases it’s only a half a year.
#4 Safety features
When deciding what generator to buy, definitely reach for the one that offers enhanced safety measures to protect your devices and the generator from damage. Look for units that come with an overload and overcharge protection. Overload protection guarantees that the generator will stop charging when the battery is full. Overcharge protection ensures that your devices will not receive more current than they should when they are plugged in.
Most reliable manufacturers offer these features automatically, but it’s good to be informed and know what to look for. This includes verifying that the generator also comes with short-circuit protection.
#5 Extra solar panels and cables
With most solar powered generators you need to purchase an additional solar panel kit to be able to charge them with solar energy. Keep in mind that if you want to decrease the recharge time, you should look at more powerful solar panels (e.g. 100W). But do not forget to make sure that they are compatible with your generator. You should also select better quality solar panels featuring high quality solar cells and materials that are not likely to break. The most efficient solar cells on the market at the moment are made from monocrystalline silicon. Opt for those over other types when you can.
Prior finishing your order, check if you have all the cables that are needed for plugging in additional solar panels, devices or recharging the battery. Read well the product manual to see whether the cables you are likely to use are included and check what length does the producer provide. It can happen that you may need to buy an extension cable to set up the generator for your purposes. By checking this ahead you can spare yourself of the disappointment when having to wait for extra cables to arrive.
#6 Maintenance and shelf life
Solar powered generators are generally very low maintenance, however you need to make sure that the solar panel is connected to a power source regularly to recharge it, even if you are not using it. Despite the long shelf life, most producers recommend charging your generator to full every three months to maintain optimum conditions for a long battery life.
Keeping the battery charged at least 50 percent will ensure that the batteries are topped up and ready for emergency situations.
Pros and cons of solar generators
- Powered by renewable, abundant and free energy
Solar generators can be recharged entirely from the power of the sun. This means that you have the option to use only a renewable and carbon-free source of energy to power your devices on a small scale. You can lower your environmental footprint this way. Additional advantage is that solar energy is free, enabling you to charge your portable solar generator anywhere under the sun for no cost. This reflects in long-term savings since you do not have to keep buying fuel.
- Can be charged and used on the go
Most solar powered generators can be charged in three different ways, two of which (solar panels and a 12V car outlet) allow you to charge the batteries outdoors pretty much on the go. This gives you the advantage of being able to recharge your generator continuously while on the trip. Generators mentioned in our review also allow you to be used while the generator is charging. On a sunny day, when you have your solar panels running, you don’t need to wait until the evening to plug in your devices.
- Compact design with less movable parts
Good quality solar generators and additional solar panel kits are simple in their design. They do not have many moving parts and are built in a way that is compact and easy to use. You do not need to worry about assembling some moving parts or carrying with you extra tools to maintain them.
Unlike standard fuel generators, majority of portable solar generators run without making any noise when you are using them to charge your devices. Some models make a little hum when a cooling fan is running, but the generators we have selected do not have this problem.
- Safe to use indoors
Solar generators do not emit any fumes or produce toxic smells. They do not combust fuel like other generators do. You can store them and use them inside without having any worries about their safety for your health.
Solar generators are portable, easy to use and can be charged from three different sources (wall outlet, 12V car outlet and solar panels). You can take them with you on trips. You can store them at home for emergency times. You can have them at your off-grid cabin. They are super easy to use and have a long shelf life—usually keeping charge well over 6 months. You do not need to worry about their maintenance, they will be readily available to power your devices even after weeks of sitting untouched in a closet.
- Higher upfront cost
Traditional gas generators have been around for a long time and since they are easy to build, their upfront cost is cheaper for the same amount of power you can get when compared to solar generators that feature some of the newest technology. However, you should also consider that in the long-term, solar generators can run entirely from solar energy which is for free.
- Longer charging time
Portable solar generators take on average 15 to 25 hours to charge from solar panels. The charging time can get better on a nice sunny day with additional solar panels that provide the maximum possible power compatible with your generator. Charging from a wall outlet usually shortens this time below 10 hours. But you still need to consider that your generator will need some hours for full charging.
- Battery lifetime
Solar generators store energy in a battery. As with any other battery, this is a component that comes with a limited lifetime. After a certain number of charges and discharges, the battery loses its capacity to store power. Luckily, many producers keep this in mind when creating their solar generators and make the battery replacement really easy. Most of our recommended models are designed to last at least 500 cycles before the battery needs replacement.
- Difficult to repair individual components
It is not easy to repair individual components or take solar generators apart. Their compact built is practical to use, but if something goes wrong inside, you do not have many options for repair. This means that you may end up having to buy a new device rather than having your old unit fixed.
Frequently asked questions
What size of portable solar generator do I need?
To answer this question, you need to consider what devices you are planning to power with the generator. Ask yourself why are you buying the generator? Do you need a power backup for some household appliances like a fridge, window AC unit, CPAP or to run a hair dryer, coffee maker, microwave oven? Or are looking for a power station to run your laptop, recharge your phone and camera batteries when off-grid or camping?
Your power requirement will determine the size of the portable generator you need to buy. To backup household appliances you will need more powerful generator with a battery capacity higher than 1000Wh (e.g. Goal Zero Yeti 1400). For small devices, even a generator of 200Wh might be sufficient (e.g. Jackery Explorer 240).
To be sure that you get the most suitable unit, make a list of devices you intend to power and their power requirements. You can often find a small label on your devices that states how many watts they need to run. If you cannot find the label, check this Appliance Energy Calculator from the U.S. Department of Energy which states the wattage requirements of most household appliances.
Once you know how many watts your devices use, multiply the number by the number of hours you expect to use them. For example, you want to work 3 hours on a laptop that draws 40 watts of power. This means that you will need 120Wh (3×40=120) to do so.
You can also make the calculation the other way around to estimate how many hours you can charge your devices from the generator’s battery. For example: You have a battery with 240Wh capacity, and your laptop uses 40W. Divide 240 by 40 to get the number of hours you can have the laptop charged from the battery. It will be 6 in this case (240/40=6).
Which devices can a solar energy generator power?
Portable solar generator can power most small devices that you usually take on camping trips. This includes flashlights, camera batteries, little electric cookers and TVs, phones, but also laptops and CPAP machines.
Appliances that require large amount of power to get started may be a problem for many units with smaller capacity. That is why you need to check the power requirement label at your electronics before plugging them in your generator. Some appliances with motor like hair dryers, AC units, electric heaters and power tools draw initially large amount of power to start the motor and your generator has to be able to withstand this initial power surge which can be multiple times higher than when they enter the normal regime.
Luckily, each model of solar generator has the maximum number listed in its technical parameters. For example, the Goal Zero Yeti 400 provides 300W of continuous power and is capable of sustaining 1200W power surge.
Do not forget to look how many watts of continuous and surge power your generator produces. Based on this information, you will have a better idea what devices you can safely plug in without inflicting a damage to them or the battery unit.
Also, keep in mind that when plugging in a power demanding device like this, it’s better to unplug for the start all other devices. The initial surge may need all the power inverter is able to provide.
How long does a battery usually last?
Every battery has a lifetime—number of cycles when it charges and discharges. Most manufacturers state the number of cycles their batteries can go through without losing the capacity of holding charge below 80 percent. We have listed this number in our review section.
However, the lifetime of a battery also depends on how it is used. If you drain the battery to the minimum and recharge it often, it will most likely last a shorter period of time than a battery of a generator that is used on rarer occasions and is well-maintained. The maintenance includes periodical recharging every three months of so, to make sure the battery doesn’t get totally drained while not at use.
How to charge a solar generator?
This is what makes these generators especially worth it. You have three different ways how you can charge them (with some exceptions-see Goal Zero Yeti 1400).
They can be charged with a standard AC wall outlet, from solar panels, or from a 12V DC car outlet (cigarette lighter).
In most instances, you need to purchase solar panels separately. However, this gives you the freedom to select the best solar panel kit for your needs with enough wattage to speed up the charging time of the battery. You can even pick solar panels from a different manufacturer than your generator is. Just do not forget to make sure they are compatible with your unit and that you can plug them in.
Can you use a portable solar powered generator for backup?
This depends on the generator you buy and your expectations of how many devices you want to backup. You cannot use generators with capacity below 1000Wh for backup because they cannot run most household appliances.
If you choose a generator with capacity above 1000Wh, like the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 with 1450Wh, you can backup your appliances but in a limited number. You can, for example, run a fridge for almost 24 hours with this generator, but you will not be able to power other energy-demanding appliances at the same time if you want the generator to last for this amount of time.
In the end, it’s a matter of choice. These generators can provide sufficient amount of power to get you through periods without electricity from the grid, but you have to keep in mind that they are more of an emergency solution, charging only necessary items rather than supporting your normal daily consumption.