Should You Buy A Solar Generator Instead Of A Gas Generator?
Solar generators, also known as portable power stations, have become very popular in the past couple of years.
If you’re not sure what a power station is, I recommend reading this post that explains the basics.
There are several reasons for the increase in popularity, here are some:
- More travelers – A lot of people travel in RV campers, vans, cars, and need a way to power their electronics. Sure, you can buy a battery, an inverter, fuses, etc and create your own setup. Or you can get a power station that you can easily sell and upgrade when needed.
- Power outages – What backup power do you have in case of a power outage? What if it lasts a week? What if you can’t get gas for your gas generator? Having a power station and a solar panel can be a lifesaver, and more people have realized that today or tomorrow might be the last day you’ll have power and gas for a while.
- Lithium batteries have become cheaper – These power stations used to be weak and heavy, now they’re powerful and lighter thanks to lithium. As the price of lithium batteries have gone down over the years, power stations have become more affordable.
You don’t have to be an end-of-the-world prepper to see why everyone can benefit from having a solar generator and a solar panel.
My wife and I travel full-time in a Class C RV, and 95% of our electricity needs are covered by our EcoFlow Delta Max (click to view on Amazon).
Our power station recharges with the help of two Renogy 100W solar panels. They’re not hard to install, and we pulled the wiring down through the fridge vent.
Let me know if you would like to know more about our setup, or if you have any questions related to this article by leaving a comment down below.
Before I answer the main question of the article I’d like you to know that even though a power station is often referred to as a solar generator, it’s a bit misleading.
Solar generators/power stations do not include solar panels, unless clearly stated and shown in the product listing. And you do need solar panels to recharge the battery with the sun.
You can pretty much always recharge the battery with the included wall and/or car charger, but unless you buy a kit which includes solar panels, you’re not going to be fully ready for a power outage until you purchase solar panels as well.
Now, to the question of the article, should you buy a solar generator instead of a gas generator?
Here is my honest opinion, which you might or might not agree with:
Yes, but it depends, and having both is preferable.
I believe that a gas generator is great when you need a lot of power for a short or a long amount of time. It’s not that great when you need a little bit of power for a long time.
A solar generator is great for when you need a lot of power in a short amount of time, or a little bit over a long time. It’s not that great when you need a lot of power over a long period of time.
Of course, it’s going to depend on which solar generator we’re talking about. For the same amount of money, the gas generator is going to be a lot more powerful than any solar generator.
You can buy an inverter gas generator that can output 1000W continuously for six hours for less than $500, but you’re going to have to pay thousands of dollars to get the same performance from a solar generator.
That makes it sound like a solar generator is never worth it, but they wouldn’t be selling so well if that was the case.
Do you see why having both is the way to go?
Let me tell you from personal experience, you can also skip to the conclusion if you don’t feel like reading further.
We travel full-time and spend a lot of the time boondocking (dry camping) out in the wild, where we don’t have access to grid power.
The EcoFlow Delta Max (click to view on Amazon) we have inside of our RV can power our whole camper. It can even power the air conditioner, although we rarely use it for that since it drains the battery very quickly (within an hour).
We also have a 100W solar panel on our roof that charges our house batteries. We bought a Topsolar solar panel kit that included everything needed to install and set it all up.
The wires for this panel also goes down via the fridge vent, so we didn’t have to drill any holes for cables, just for the solar panel mounts.
If you would like to, there is a larger EcoFlow Delta Pro which has a 30A outlet so you can run an RV air conditioner for a while.
But just because we like to camp without access to grid power doesn’t mean we don’t need electricity.
The reasons that we need a solar generator:
- We both work full-time online, so we need to be able to charge our laptops and phones throughout the day.
- We like to prepare meals for days, so we need to be able to run the microwave and a small air fryer.
- We watch a lot of movies and TV-shows, so we have to be able to watch TV at night for a couple of hours.
If we would use the on-board gas generator on our RV to do all of the things above, it would either be running all day long, or be turned on and off several times.
Now, as we have noticed in some places we have camped, some people are OK with doing this, but we are not.
We’re not out in the forest, or the desert, to listen to our generator all day long but we have to work to keep traveling.
The lithium batteries in the Delta Max 2000 can store a total of 2016 watt-hours of electricity, which means that we can power a 50W TV for about 34 hours if you consider the 85% inverter efficiency (2016Wh/50W*0.85~34 hours).
If we wouldn’t have 200W of solar recharging it, we would still be able to make it two or three days with our electricity needs.
That’s with the inverter being turned on all day and the RV plugged into it, if we only turned it on when we needed it we would probably be able to go another day.
Since we have the 100W panel mentioned above connected to the house batteries, the converter charger in our RV doesn’t drain the solar generator.
What if it’s cloudy for a week?
The downside with relying on solar is that it’s not sunny 24/7, and clouds exist.
That’s where the gas generator, or the onboard Cummins generator on our RV comes in.
Since the Delta Max is capable of recharging extremely fast, we can turn on the generator for an hour or two and quickly recharge the power station.
Running the generator for two hours doesn’t use a ton of gas, but it’s all it takes to keep us going for days.
Sometimes we have to adapt to the situation though.
If we’re getting low on gas and the forecast tells us it’s going to be cloudy all week, we have to preserve battery better.
For us it’s not hard to use less power, since we can just skip TV for a night or two, and use our microwave and air fryer less.
My point is, for our needs, having both a gas generator and a solar generator is perfect. Now you need to consider why you need one, both, or maybe neither of them.
It all depends on your specific situation and electricity needs.
In conclusion, both the gas and solar generator have pros and cons. Together they make a great team, though.
Your electricity needs are most likely different than mine, but by having both you’re going to be ready for power outages, emergencies, and camping trips.
Use the solar generator as much as you need, and recharge it with solar panels when possible. If it’s empty, fire up the ol’ gas generator and recharge your power station.
Not everybody can have both though, so which one do you buy if you can only get one of them?
The only one who can answer that question is you, because it’s going to depend on what you need to power and for how long.
Where are you going to be using it? Is it going to be easier to get gas than a full day of sunshine where you’re located?
A lot of generators are dual fuel, which means you can run it off of propane gas as well. That’s something to consider, if you have a large propane tank at your home/cabin.
If you’re still not sure whether a gas or solar generator is right for you, please leave a comment and explain your situation. I’ll do my best to help you decide.
Also, remember that things can stop working. A solar generator can have issues just like a gas generator, so that’s another reason for having more than one backup solution.
Solar Generators, Solar Panels & Gas Generators I Recommend
There are different types of gas generators, the most common two being inverter generator and the open frame generators. A lot of open frame generators also have an inverter.
Inverter generators are usually quieter, lighter, and suited better for camping. Open frame are loud, heavy, less fuel-efficient, but often more powerful in terms of watt output.
If you’re on the move, I recommend inverter generators. But homeowners might prefer open frame because the weight doesn’t matter as much, but they need the power output to power a whole home.
Open Frame Generators
WEN GN400i RV-Ready 4000W – A powerful, but heavy (66 lbs) open frame generator. Has a 30A outlet, so you can plug your RV or camper directly into it and it will run it all. You can also combine two to increase the power output.
Champion Power Equipment RV-Ready 4250W – Another powerful open frame generator that weighs 75 pounds. Can run up to 22 hours at a quarter load. 30A RV outlet, two AC outlets.
Westinghouse WGen9500DF – A very powerful dual fuel open frame generator, rated at 8500 running watts. Comes with built-in remote start, wheels, weighs 211 pounds. Has both a 50A and 30A RV plug, but they/re 120/240V so you can power a whole house off of it. Loud but a lot of power.
WEN 56203i – Rated at 1700W, runs for over 10 hours on a quarter load. Two AC outlets, USB ports, relatively quiet. Will power kitchen appliances, fridges, small AC units.
Honda EU1000I – Rated at 1000W, one of the quietest inverter generators on the market. Also lightweight, fuel efficient, and has a built-in carbon monoxide gas shutoff.
Honda EU2200i – Like the one above but twice as powerful. Can combine two identical models for twice the power. Two AC outlets, relatively lightweight, reliable.
Champion Power Equipment 2500W – Champion is an affordable but popular brand. This one is rated at 1850W running watts, and is a dual fuel type which means it also runs off of propane gas.
Champion Power Equipment RV-Ready 4500W – Rated at 3500W running watts, has wheels, remote key fob for a remote start, weighs 90 pounds. Has a 30A RV plug so you can power your whole camper off of it. Combine two to increase the output.
EcoFlow River 288Wh – A small but powerful power station. 288Wh, 600W inverter, three AC outlets, four USB ports, regulated 12V port. Fast charging, and WiFi so you can control and monitor it no matter where you are.
Jackery Explorer 1500 – One of the most popular brands on the market. This kit includes four solar panels that can handle some rain. The power station stores 1534Wh, can output up to 1800W (same as a 15A house outlet), and has lots of ports.
EcoFlow Delta 1260Wh – Similar to the Explorer above, but charges must faster (0-80% within 1 hour with the wall charger).
Bluetti AC200P – A popular choice among off-grid preppers. 2000Wh, 2000W inverter, lots of monitoring features. Supports lots of solar input and voltages.
EcoFlow Delta Pro – One of EcoFlow’s latest products. Extremely powerful with a 3600W inverter rating, 3600Wh battery capacity, a 30A RV port. Can be charged with EV chargers, and it charges extremely fast. WiFi, lots of ports, expandable, built-in wheels.
Goal Zero Yeti 6000X – My first power station was a Goal Zero model, I like them a lot. This 6000X stores 6000Wh, has a 2000W inverter, WiFi, powerful solar charging. This kit includes two Boulder 100W solar panels, which are great waterproof panels.
Not all solar panels are created equal, so it’s going to depend on which power station you get.
If you’re only getting a gas generator, it can still be a good idea to get a solar panel like the Renogy 100W suitcase. A panel like this can be used to charge up regular 12V batteries, like in cars, boats, RVs, and other motors.
The Renogy panel includes everything you need, and clamps to the 12V battery. The solar charge controller has a screen so you can monitor everything like the battery voltage, solar panel output, and more.
Most rigid solar panels use MC4 connectors, which is two wires with one male and one female connector.
EcoFlow and Bluetti includes MC4 to DC adapters to make it easy to connect these type of panels.
I recommend the Rigid Renogy 100W (MC4 connectors) for permanent installations.
The EcoFlow 160W (MC4 connectors) is a great portable and lightweight option that is waterproof.
For something even more portable, the Rockpals 100W is a great option. It’s not as water-resistant as the panels above, but very portable and easy to use.
You also need to make sure that the solar charge controller in the power station supports the total voltage output of the panel(s).
If you want help finding a great panel for a specific power station, please leave a comment and tell me what power station you plan on getting/have and how you plan on using a solar panel for it.
A lot of popular solar panels are portable and foldable, and include several different DC connectors to make them compatible with a variety of
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I prioritize when buying a solar generator, the watt-hours or the inverter rating?
What do you need to power? A TV or a microwave? Everything you plug in to a solar generator requires a certain amount of watts.
Make a list of the things you want to be able to power, then look up the watt required to run each device or appliance.
How long can a solar generator run X?
It’s going to depend on two numbers, the watt-hour capacity of the solar generator and the wattage required by the device.
The watt-hour capacity of the solar generator can always be found on the product listing. It’s a number followed by “Wh”.
Let’s say you have a power station, like the Jackery Explorer 500 with 518Wh, and you want to plug in a TV that requires 50W.
Since you’re going to have to turn on the inverter (changes 12V DC power into 120V AC) in the solar generator, we also need to consider the efficiency of the inverter. The average efficiency is 85%.
So, now that we know the numbers, we can do the math.
The solar generator split with the watt required by the TV: 518Wh/50W=10.36 hours
When we consider the 85% inverter efficiency: 10.36*0.85=8.8 hours.
Now we know that the Explorer 500 can run our TV for almost nine hours.
It might last longer or shorter, depending on the solar generator and the device. For example, a laptop charger might be rated at 150W, but only need 100W to recharge your laptop.
If you have no idea how much electricity something uses, and you can’t find information about it anywhere, I recommend getting a Kill A Watt electricity usage monitor (click to view on Amazon) which will tell you the exact number.
This ended up being a longer post than initially planned, so if anything is confusing or you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment down below and I will do my best to help you.