Man, there’s an awful lot of confusion (and misinformation) about portable solar generators.
Seems like every week I get tons of questions about them.
- How do they work?
- Won’t they be worthless on cloudy days?
- Will it keep me safe if I lose power?
- What about a long-term outage?
- Can I buy a small unit today and expand later?
- Which solar generator is best?
I get it. These are the very same questions I had.
But the bottom line is:
We all want to know if they’re a reliable source of backup power generation.
That’s why I’ve been digging into this new technology. Sorting fact from fiction.
Looking for answers to all your questions, and more.
So let’s dive into the following solar powered generator topics:
- What A Solar Generator & How It Works
- Solar Generators vs. Fuel Generators
- Limitations Of Portable Solar Generators
- Who Should Get A Solar Generator
- Best Portable Solar Generators
- DIY Solar Powered Generators
- Why You Must Have And Electrical Plan B
Before we can discuss solar generators in a meaningful way, we must first learn the basics.
It’s crucial you understand what a solar generator is and how it works.
Because a solar generator is different than a fuel based generator.
Yes, both convert raw energy into a useable energy source. But, instead of using fuel as the raw energy, solar generators harness the power of the sun.
So, let’s talk about the components that make up a solar generator and how they work.
A solar generator consists of 2 main components:
- Solar panel
- Portable power generator
1 – Solar Panels
Solar panels are the technology that converts sunlight into electricity.
They do this by using the sunlight to knock electrons free from atoms. This knocking free of electrons generates a flow of electricity.
Or more simply put, the sun’s energy excites molecules which creates a flow of electricity. If you get that, that’s all the technical understanding you need.
The bottom line is solar panels turn sunlight into DC power.
Here’s a short video explaining of how solar panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity.
2 – Portable Power Generator
A portable solar power generator is also made up of two main components
The inverter turns the DC power from the panel into more usable AC power.
Solar generators also include a storage battery. That way, if any of the power captured by the panels is not being used, you don’t lose that power.
Instead, it becomes potential energy stored in the battery for later use.
The battery ensures there’s power available in an emergency.
Solar generators also include various power outlets. These are like power outlets in your home.
They allow you to plug electrical cords, power tools or appliances into the generator.
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Now we have a basic understanding of what a portable solar generator is and how it works. So let’s move to the more interesting and important topic of WHY.
Why should you invest in a solar powered generator? Why not stick to old technology you’ve always relied on – namely fossil fuels – for your backup power needs?
To answer that question, we must look at the pros and cons of solar generators vs. fuel generators.
Then we can take that information to make an informed decision.
Fuel Is Expensive
We all know too well that fuel is not free.
It costs serious money to fill up our vehicles several times per month.
The reason fuel costs as much as it does is due to a long chain of processes.
It takes money to get oil out of the ground and to transport that oil to oil refineries.
It costs money for refineries to convert oil into fuel and distribute it to your local gas station.
And of course, gas stations have operating costs as well.
Those costs – plus profit taking at each step – plus taxes – are what make up the price you pay at the pump.
And as we all know, those prices go up and down depending on hundreds of variables.
But when you fill up your vehicle, it’s definitely not free.
And if you’re serious about preparing for a future disaster, these costs will add up. If you want to run your fuel generator more than just a few days you’ll need to stock up.
That’s when the cost of choosing a fuel generator starts to seriously add up.
And if you think, “I’ll store a small amount today and stockpile more later” – think again. Bad idea.
But fuel is one of the first materials to run out after a major disaster.
You’ll quickly discover it’s all gone and if you do find some, it will be crazy expensive due to the laws of supply and demand.
But all these stockpiling expenses melt away with solar.
With solar, your fuel is FREE.
Yes, the portable solar generator itself is not free, but the energy necessary to convert the power is.
So you don’t have the same headaches of stockpiling a massive amount of it ahead of time. Or the ongoing fear of running out amid widespread panic.
You get an emergency power system today, with zero ongoing fuel costs.
This is one of the most attractive features of owning a solar powered generator.
Fuel Can Be Dangerous and Difficult To Store
Ok, back to that stockpiling fuel headache.
Not only will stockpiling fuel put a significant dent in your pocketbook. It’s also challenging to store it safely and for the long haul.
Liquid fuels are highly flammable. Gasoline fumes are highly explosive. And diesel is dangerous as well.
So they are not something you want to store in bulk anywhere near your home.
Sure, storing a small gas can or two in your garage for your lawnmower is fine. But not several large barrels of the stuff. For that, you’ll want to keep it far away from where you eat, sleep, and live.
Instead, you’ll need to store these fuels in a backyard shed or a fuel tank on a rack.
Doing this adds even more hassles and more costs.
Plus, backyard sheds are not known to be air-conditioned spaces. So now you’re exposing combustible fuels to extreme hot and cold temperatures – not good.
And it might even be illegal for you to store a lot of fuel. Local laws rarely allow bulk storage of fuels in residential neighborhoods.
And even if you could, you still have the issue of fuels having a limited shelf life.
So now you’ll have to treat the fuel every so often with a fuel stabilizer. Or you could put a fuel rotation plan in place to use old fuel and replace it with new fuel.
The bottom line is storing a lot of fuel for a long-term backup plan is one big ol’ headache!
But with a solar generator, you avoid this entire issue.
You can safely store a solar generator almost anywhere. In your basement, garage, portable garage, bedroom, bathroom, wherever….
It’s there for when you need it, safely tucked away wherever it makes sense.
The sun is “storing” your fuel for you. You just have to capture that fuel as it passes by – day in and day out.
Fuel Stockpiles Eventually Run Out
Another fatal flaw with fuel generators is fossil fuels are not a renewable resource.
Once you use up all your fuel, you’ll have to get more. And if you can’t get more, your backup power generator becomes a big expensive paperweight.
- Your plan B just came to an end.
- You’re dead in the water.
- You’re up a creek without a paddle.
But the sun’s rays (from our perspective) is an infinite power source. Sure, the sun will stop shinning someday – it does technically have a finite amount of fuel.
But we’re talking billions of years from now (5 billion to be exact). So for all intents and purposes, it will never run out.
With a solar powered generator, even if you run short of power today, you’re never completely dead in the water. There’s always more energy to capture and convert tomorrow.
Gives a whole new meaning to lyrics “The sun will come up tomorrow…”.
Of course, cloudy days will “rain on your parade.” But in time those will pass as well.
Fuel Generators Are Noisy
We all know fuel generators are noisy buggers.
There’s a reason why campgrounds restrict generator usage times. Noisy generators can wake an entire campsite.
But, with a solar generator, you can throw those restrictions out the window.
You can quietly generate power whenever the sun is shining without making a peep.
And this no noise setup is not only handy for campgrounds. It’s strategic in the event of a prolong widespread disaster.
In a long-term power outage, the last thing you want is to notify your neighbors you have a generator.
You don’t want those who don’t have power (but would love some) to start snooping around. If someone knows you’ve got a generator you can bet someone’s going to want it.
This goes double for a situation where power is out indefinitely.
But with a solar generator, you avoid this entire racket altogether.
Fuel Generators Create Fumes
Finally, with traditional fuel generators, you have to deal with the fumes.
The way fuel generators work is with lots of mini explosions. These small explosions create a lot of energy. But they also produce a nasty byproduct – poisonous fumes.
These fumes are harmful to breathe.
That’s why you should never let your car warm up in an enclosed garage. These poisonous fumes can kill in dense amounts.
Usually, these fumes release into the atmosphere where they can do less immediate harm. The poisonous fumes become diluted in the atmosphere.
But, solar creates zero fumes. It’s a zero emission technology.
Making solar generator’s a “green” technology as well.
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Ok, so if I stopped writing here, you’d walk about with only half the story. You’d be missing what you need to make an informed decision. But here at Skilled Survival, we don’t do that.
We provide you with all the information you need to figure out what’s best for you and your family.
That’s why we want you to understand the limitations of solar generators in their current form.
Their Output Is Somewhat Limited
Portable solar generators are not complete home grid power replacements.
If that were the case, we’d all be buying and living off solar generators, right?
Sure, some large, expensive solar array systems on a roof can offset all your energy needs. But that takes several thousands of dollars and permits and contractors.
Instead, we’re talking about a portable backup power generator at a much lower price point.
These units do capture a fair amount of energy. But not enough to replace the amount of energy a typical household uses daily.
Most American homes have ALL the following devices:
- a refrigerator
- a heating and cooling system
- several TVs
- lights everywhere
- a deep freezer
- multiple computers
- C-Pap (or other medical related devices)
- etc. etc. etc.
To date, portable solar generators are not capable of capturing that level of power. And to be honest, they cannot produce as much power as a comparably priced fuel generator.
So you’re spending more money up front to produce less sustainable power. Bummer, I know.
So you have to weigh this against all the pros of solar powered generators.
Now, remember, the upfront costs may be more, but you have to think about the long-term costs as well. Plus, all the other positives of a solar generator.
But no matter if you choose a fuel generator or a solar generator for backup power, you’ll have to prioritize.
For example, you need to figure out which appliances and devices are essential and which ones are not.
Remember, you’re purchasing an emergency backup power system. That means you’ll have power for a few emergency necessities.
And NO, bing watching Game Of Thrones is not a necessity.
They Cost More Upfront
We touched on this already, but solar generators are an investment. The best ones do cost a few more dollars upfront.
But don’t forget traditional generators have ongoing fuel costs you must consider.
So the more you use your solar powered generator, the more affordable it becomes. This is especially true when compared to a traditional fuel-based generator.
Plus, there are so many intangible costs to consider as well such as:
- the cost of running out of fuel
- excessive noise
- fuel storage safety concerns
- harmful fumes
So you have to think long-term and big picture. That’s how you decide whether the upfront investment is worth it for YOU.
Recharging Is Not Instantaneous
It takes time for a solar panel to recharge a battery.
Solar panels are not an on and off device. The power they capture fluctuates based on the power of the sun.
Solar panels are affected by the angle of the sun to their surface. If you set your panel in a fixed position and let the sun move across the sky, you’ll get a curve of power production.
It will start out small, ramping up to peak, hold peak power conversion for a while, and then back down to zero.
The hope is you can produce enough power over this time to run your appliances and charge by solar your battery. Then use the stored backup battery power from sundown to sun up (overnight).
Again, you’ll have to look at the appliances you need and how often to use them. This is all about smart power supply management!
Of course, the more panels you have, the more power you can produce in a given time frame. But if you charge your battery too quickly, you’ll need more batteries to store any excess energy.
But expansion is not always as simple as buying more panels or batteries.
Many Units Cannot Be Easily Expanded
Components in the ready-made solar generators are not typically designed for easy expansion.
When you buy a ready-made portable solar generator, you can’t easily upgrade the inverter. You can’t add a bigger battery (at least not internally). Nor can you increase the photovoltaic surface area or install a better inverter.
Some models do allow you to add more solar panels to increase the speed of recharging. But eventually, you’ll hit the upper limit of the inverter in a ready-made generator.
So for the most part, you get what you get with a ready-made solar powered generator.
If this is a big concern of yours, you should check out some DIY solar generator options (covered later).
Repair Can Be Difficult
Solar panels and power generators are not devices that are simple to repair. They take unique components and serious expertise to fix.
In the case of solar panels, it’s typically more cost effective to buy new ones as opposed to trying to repair them.
Fortunately, newer solar panels are extremely durable and are difficult to break. Most of the ones built nowadays can even handle extreme hail storms.
So the odds are low that you’d need to repair a portable solar generator repair. But if you do, it’s not going to be as easy as changing a tire or replacing wiper blades.
So now that we’ve covered all the aspects of solar generators, it’s time to figure out if they make sense for YOU.
Of course, that depends upon your situation and your survival plans.
And since I cannot answer that question for you, I’ll provide some general thoughts instead. To give you some general guidelines on when a solar generators purchase is good and when it’s not.
If you consider a solar powered generator as an emergency back up and not a full replacement, then they are a good purchase.
They are not a direct replacement for your homes power consumption. If that’s what you were hoping for, you’re mistaken.
Heck, even a sizeable nonportable fuel based home generators struggle with such a task. And those cost tens of thousands of dollars.
A reasonably priced portable backup generator system (solar or fuel) requires prioritization.
Do you want one to run a small refrigerator in a crisis? Great a solar generator may be able to do that, but that will be about all it can do.
Do you want to run a CPAP machine and charge a few smartphones? Great, but then running a freezer as well won’t be possible.
Do you want a way to have some lights at night and be able to use your microwave several times a day? Perfect.
So you’ll need to think about your energy needs in a holistic way. You’ll have to prioritize.
For example – one of the best solar generators can provide up to 1,500 continuous watts of power. That about enough energy to charge the following devices:
- cell phone
- survival radio
- a few lights
- a small appliance or a critical medical device
Obviously, this depends on the energy needs of all these devices when added together.
Or maybe, just maybe, with proper power management, you could power your freezer INDEFINITELY.
If you can do this, you’ll never have to worry about your food reserves going bad.
But the point is a single solar generator cannot do it all.
If you want to get it all, you’ll have to buy more solar generators. But that comes at a significant cost increase.
One way to be strategic with your limited power is to invest in solar lighting. That way, you won’t lose any of your solar generator’s power to light. Solar lanterns have built-in solar panels and use LED lighting technology. Now, your emergency lighting needs are met by a separate self-sustaining solar device.
Here’s a post about solar lanterns if that sounds interesting to you.
So the bottom line is this:
You must fully understand what a solar powered generator can and cannot due. That’s how you make it a wise survival investment.
Ok, so after all that, if you’re like me, you’re still interested in the power of solar generators.
The pros more than outweigh the cons, and now it’s a matter of finding the best solar generator for you.
So it’s no small feat to figure out which ones are worth your hard-earned dollars.
Many new solar powered generator brands and models are cropping up every month.
However, we’ve done a ton of research for you. Looking for the very best solar generators available on the market today.
The ones you should seriously consider for your back up energy and survival needs.
Goal Zero Yeti Lithium Portable Power Station
The Goal Zero Yeti is an excellent solar powered generator. But most of these models don’t come with a solar panel (sold separately).
They have several models and sizes to choose from:
All the units include two AC outlets (300W continuous, 1200W surge), three 2.4A USB ports, and two 12V output ports.
The weight of each unit varies based on the model but ranges from 17 lbs for the 400 series up to 75 pounds for the 3000 series.
Here’s the Yeti 1400 Solar Kit – which does include a solar panel.
Inergy Kodiak 1100 Watt (1.1kWh) Power Bank Solar Generator
The Inergy Kodiak Solar Generator is another popular option in the survival and preparedness world.
That’s because it’s one of the only units to include an external battery bank connection. This allows you to add more batteries to the Inergy Kodiak to store even more backup power for an emergency.
Some of the basic features of the Inergy Kodiak are:
- Its an ultra-lightweight option at about 20 lbs.
- Expandable with deep cycle lead acid batteries
- Solar charging – minimum charge time 2.5 hours
- 1100 Watt-hour lithium-ion battery and is rated for up to 2000 cycles
It’s another great solar generator option worth taking a closer look at.
Note: solar panels are sold separately with this unit.
AIMTOM Portable Solar Generator
The AIMTOM Portable Solar Generator is the most affordable option on this list, but it also has the most power limitations.
This unit is perfect to charge a few devices around a campsite, but it won’t work as well for backup emergency power.
It’s rated for 155Wh with two 110V/ 100 watt AC outlets so it’s more of a badass portable solar charger than a solar generator.
However, it can provide power for small home appliances (max 100 watts), laptops, CPAP, etc.
The AIMTOM has three 5V USB output for phones, iPad, GPS, mp3, camera, RC helicopter, etc.
And three 12V output ports (max 180W, with a cigarette socket) for car devices and more.
Plus, there are also three ways you can recharge it.
You can use a supported solar panel (not included), a car charger or an AC wall charger.
The AIMTOM only weighs 3.48 lbs and includes an easy-carry handle. Designed to be a travel-friendly power station. Take and use it pretty much anywhere.
Note: this solar powered generator doesn’t come with a solar panel (sold separately).
Now if you want a solar generator, but you don’t like the price, you could always go the DIY route.
However, this is not a project for the faint of heart. It should only be attempted by those who are proficient in the world of DIY.
Or put another way, this is NOT a DIY project you should cut your teeth on.
The good news is there are blueprints available on how to build a DIY solar generator system. These blueprints are a step by step solution to build one for a fraction of the cost.
Sure, the blueprints cost a few dollars, but just think of all the money, time, and headaches you’ll save.
You should check out the Smart Solar Box DIY Solar Generator plans.
Some people believe all technology is dangerous.
Thinking all technological advancements are moving us all further away from a culture of self-reliance. And instead, moving more towards a culture of helpless fools.
It’s an idea captured perfectly in one of my favorite quotes:
“What we call survival today is what our great-great-grandparents called everyday life.”
And mostly they are right. Here are just a few of the technologies that make us less self-reliant:
- The Power Grid
- The Food Distribution Network
- Corporate Farming
- Food Manufacturing
- Interstate Delivery
- Grocery Stores
- The Water Distribution Network
These “advancements” have made us more dependent on these advancements for our survival.
Take one of them away, and all hell breaks loose. Because when these “societal advancements” fail, few people have a real plan B.
They have no way to survive without help and handouts.
Sure, in ordinary life, technology is beneficial. When things are functioning smoothly, it’s awe-inspiring. But that’s the problem; that’s precisely what makes it so dangerous.
Modern day technological systems are convenient as hell. But they come at the cost of our self-reliance
We become conditioned to helplessness. In times of severe trouble, the real costs of these technologies will become known.
The pain, suffering, and loss will be horrific.
Now imagine a widespread, prolonged blackout. How many people could survive a few months without power? Sadly, not many.
But not all technologies are bad.
There are a few technologies being developed that do the opposite. Ones that make us MORE self-reliant!
One of those technologies is the solar generator and that’s why you should invest in one.
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The Final Word
The solar powered generators available today are impressive and worth the cost of admission. They are the future of self-reliance that welcomes this sort of technology.
But you cannot delay. Getting a solar generator (or a traditional generator if you prefer) in place is critical.
You have to have a backup power plan for everyday emergencies and blackouts. And if you’re like me, you’ll want to have a longer-term blackout power plan in place as well.
Therefore solar powered generators deserve a place in that plan.
Remember: Prepare, Adapt, and Overcome,
“Just In Case” Jack
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There are a lot of natural nuclear shelters in the US that are absolutely free. And one of them is near your home.Click on the image above to find out where you need to take shelter.