Back-up power: Generators vs. solar power stations

Should I purchase a solar generator to meet my energy needs?



Portable solar power stations are many individuals’ first introduction to solar energy. Often used by campers, RV travelers, hunters, and others spending time away from an outlet, solar power stations often take the place of noisy gas-powered generators. And it’s easy to see why. Solar power stations are clean, sustainable, reliable, and more affordable than ever. Here’s what to consider if you’re thinking about making a purchase.



What are solar power stations?

You’re most likely familiar with traditional gas-powered generators. They’re easy to find, reliable, fairly affordable, but they’re also loud, dirty, heavy, and not the most eco-friendly solution. Often used for back-up power or for when you’re camping, gas-powered generators deliver on their promise of energy access when you need it most. However, you don’t have to purchase a gas-powered generator to make sure you’re prepared.

Renogy has a range of solar-powered generators that you can charge with portable solar panels and use when you need them most. The Lycan powerbox has a capacity of 1075 watt-hours and can be charged with up to three, 100 watt panels. For those with smaller energy needs, Renogy also has the Phoenix 300, which has a capacity of 337Wh.



How does a solar generator work?

Solar generators are essentially a portable solar installation, housing the key solar components in one handy system. Solar power stations include a battery, charge controller, and inverter. The generator draws energy from the sun via solar panels and stores it in a high-capacity battery. Then the inverter converts that DC energy collected by your panels and stored in your batteries into AC energy in order to power smartphones, lights, laptops, and refrigerators.



How much should I expect to spend on a solar power station?

Gas-powered generators vary in price between $500 and upwards of $3,000. Renogy’s solar power stations cost between $499 to $1199.



Why should I purchase a solar power station over a gas-powered generator?

There are many benefits to purchasing a solar generator. Solar generators can recharge your house batteries, allowing you to run AC appliances while on the road without needing to hook up to external power sources. Plus, solar panels can work all day long, whether you’re home or not, meaning you could be out for a hike and charging up your batteries in time for movie night at basecamp. This isn’t the case with gas-powered generators.


Pros of Solar Power Stations

• Solar energy is reliable and quiet
• Power stations are portable and lightweight
• They are a sustainable, green option.
• You don’t need to pay for gas.
• Solar is virtually maintenance-free.
• Solar gives you more camping options.


Cons of Solar Power Stations

• You need to have enough sunlight to collect enough energy.
• You need to purchase external solar panels to collect energy.


Pros of Gas-Powered Generators

• Generators are reliable in all kinds of weather.
• A generator is usually cheaper than a full solar installation.
• Generators can handle high energy loads.


Cons of Gas-Powered Generators

• Generators are heavy and noisy.
• You have to make sure you have gas on hand to run them.
• Gas-powered generators are a less sustainable choice than solar.



What are the 3 types of solar systems?

There are three main types of solar installations:

1. On-grid systems (grid-tie solar systems)
On-grid systems are the most common and widely used systems. You do not need battery storage and can simply use energy from your panels when they are producing. Then, when your panels aren’t producing power, such as at night or when it’s too overcast, you can tap into the grid.

2. Off-grid solar systems (stand-alone power systems)
If you live in a remote area without reliable and affordable access to the grid, off-grid solar can be a great way to meet your energy needs. Off-grid systems utilize batteries to store energy produced from solar panels. Systems must be sized and designed to fit a variety of needs throughout the year, especially in the winter when there are fewer sunlight hours.

3. On-grid systems with battery storage
With the decreasing costs of batteries, more and more people are choosing to add battery storage to their on-grid projects to be able to take advantage of the benefits of both on- and off-grid systems, such as having energy access during blackouts and having to pay for less energy from the grid.



Will solar panels keep the lights on during a blackout?

It’s important to remember that just because you have solar panels doesn’t mean you’ll be able to access power during a blackout.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re not connected to the grid and rely solely on battery storage, you’ll be able to keep the lights on with your solar installation. If you’re connected to the grid, then you most likely will not be able to access power. This is because it would be dangerous for your system to produce energy into the grid during a blackout while utility workers may be working on the lines to get things up and running again.

In order to maintain power during a blackout, you’ll need to be completely off-grid with battery storage or have access to a back-up gas powered or solar power station.



I already went solar. Should I buy a back-up gas powered generator?

Even though there are numerous benefits to using solar energy, many people find that gas-powered generators can be a great supplement to their solar installations.

I have a grid-tie system (on-grid): A back-up gas-powered generator can keep the lights on in case of blackouts or when your panels aren’t producing enough energy

I have a hybrid system: Your battery bank should be able to cover your excess energy needs, but you still won’t be able to use your system during a blackout because you’re tied to the grid. A gas-powered or solar generator can serve as a back-up source in cases of blackouts.

I have an off-grid system: You most likely do not need a back-up generator if you have a large battery bank in an off-grid system. If you’re concerned about having enough sunlight to keep your batteries full, a back-up generator can give you increased peace of mind.



Conclusion

Solar generators are a great way to make sure you can keep the lights on no matter the circumstances. Although gas-powered generators can serve as a reliable back-up source in case of blackouts or if your panels aren’t producing enough energy, when you add the clean and sustainable pros of solar generators into the equation, it’s easy to see why they’re such a popular and powerful option for so many individuals.