Harnessing the sun to create power is an alternative to generators that run on fossil fuels. The best solar generators are easy to transport, safe to use indoors and outdoors, and nearly silent when in operation. In comparison, fuel generators are often bulky, sometimes noisy, and never safe to run indoors.
Even though fuel generators have more power, the cost of fuel is expensive and not always readily accessible. Instead of using gas, diesel, or propane, a solar generator uses the sun as its fuel source. Specifically, solar panels gather energy from the sun and store it in a high-capacity battery.
Read on to learn about some of the best solar generators on the market for a comfortable night at home or your next travel adventure.
- BEST OVERALL: Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000
- BEST BUDGET: AIMTOM 42000mAh 155Wh Power Station
- BEST HEAVY DUTY: MAXOAK Portable Power Station
- BEST LIGHT DUTY: Rainier Outdoor Power Equipment R150i Power Station
- HONORABLE MENTION: Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station
Before You Buy a Solar Generator
The portability of the best solar generators makes them ideal for traveling, camping, and outdoor events because they are easy to pack, store, and move. The units are also a solid backup source for when emergencies occur at home due to severe weather or blackouts.
While solar generators are a clean energy source, they do have limitations because of a low wattage capacity and slow recharging. The power they produce can keep the lights on and run portable televisions and electronic devices like smartphones and laptops for hours. However, they don’t harness enough power to run all of the large appliances in a residence at one time or for an extended period.
Types of Solar Generators
For individuals who live in areas with frequent power outages, a generator allows them to have an interim source of electricity. Two types of solar generators are available for at-home use: solar backup generators and portable solar generators. Both generators provide solar power but differ in terms of wattage capacity, energy storage, and cost.
Solar Backup Generators
Solar backup generators are designed to power up when the electrical grid fails and are an efficient alternative to installing a complete system. These generators use several batteries to store energy for high-wattage output. They provide sufficient power to turn on lights, televisions, computers, and small to mid-sized appliances.
Typically, it takes less than 48 hours to charge a solar backup generator to full capacity, but the time can vary depending on the size of the solar panels and the amount of sunlight. You can keep these generators either indoors or outdoors. The disadvantage of solar backup generators is their weight, making them somewhat difficult to move. Additionally, a generator that is large enough to power an entire residence is expensive.
Portable Solar Generators
Portable solar generators are lightweight, so you can take them anywhere. They are ideal for homes, cabins, campsites, recreation vehicles (RVs), cars, and boats. Some generators are equipped with a pull handle or attached handgrip for effortless transporting. Solar panels recharge the battery in a portable solar generator.
Portable solar generators do have drawbacks. They may either have inadequate wattage capacity to power larger appliances, such as refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, hot water heaters, and sump pumps, or not be capable of powering multiple devices at the same time. If they use low-wattage solar panels, it may take a long time to recharge the generator. On the plus side, portable solar generators don’t emit noise or carbon dioxide, are affordable, and are low maintenance, as they don’t use fuel or have moving parts.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Solar Generator
When choosing the best solar generator for your needs and budget, consider your intended use. How and where you plan on using a solar generator will help you choose a unit with suitable size, power, and capacity.
Purpose and User Activity
The reasons for purchasing a solar power generator may be different for everyone, so it’s important to zero in on your purpose for purchasing a solar power generator and the activities you hope to accomplish with it. Solar generators are useful for anyone who travels and stays in remote places that are off-grid. Conversely, you may simply desire a reliable backup source of energy for your home to prepare for the occurrence of a natural or man-made disaster.
If your primary purpose is travel, look for solar generators that help make traveling simpler. RV connectivity allows you to power appliances when you’re on the road. Car charging capabilities make it convenient for travelers to drive and charge their solar generators without having to stop and set up solar panels.
Size and Solar Input
Many solar generators can keep portable electronics, smartphones, tablets, small appliances, and cordless tools powered up for hours. However, you may need a separate generator to also keep a refrigerator running for an entire day.
Solar input refers to solar panels, which collect and convert sunlight into energy stored in the generator’s battery. Ample solar input controls a generator’s operating time and how long it takes to recharge.
The solar panels used in conjunction with a portable solar generator are mobile and easy to manipulate. Unlike the panels found on residential or commercial properties, they are smaller in size and have a lower wattage capacity, which means less solar input than their larger counterparts.
The output of power from a solar generator should match your electrical needs. Battery power is measured in watts (W), which is the maximum amount of power a generator provides when it’s running. Battery capacity—referred to as watt-hours (Wh)—is the total amount of stored energy.
When the generator is in operation, the watts represent the rate of power flowing from its battery to an electrical device, and the watt-hours are the maximum level of energy it can deliver. For example, a solar generator with 500 Wh can store a total of 500 W when it’s fully charged. Thus, a 500W solar generator is only able to power electrical appliances and devices that don’t exceed 500W to run.
Battery Storage Capacity
The battery in a solar generator is where the energy captured from the solar panel is stored for later use. Solar generators usually have lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries. Battery storage allows you to run the generator at night or on days with limited sunlight.
The capacity of the batteries determines the duration time of the generator. The more power an electronic device requires, the faster the battery charge will run out. The length of the battery charge is also based on the number of devices drawing power from the generator at the same time.
A larger battery capacity is necessary to power electrical appliances that require higher watts. Lower capacity is sufficient for lights, cell phones, and laptops. For instance, a 500W solar generator can power an LED light for 100 hours, while it will only power a mini-refrigerator for about 10 hours.
Direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) are the two forms of electricity. DC is electricity that flows only in a forward direction. AC is electricity that flows both forward and backward. The energy harnessed by solar panels is DC. A solar generator inverter converts low DC power from the batteries to AC power for usage.
The inverter rating translates to the maximum watts a solar generator can extract at any time. For example, a 1500W inverter can draw up to that amount of wattage in AC power. Keep in mind that the inverter size or rating doesn’t always correlate to a solar generator’s overall firepower. Battery storage is also important.
Expandability of Power
Eventually, you may want to expand the capability of your solar generator, especially if you find you need more power. However, upgrading a solar generator is not always feasible.
Expanding your power is based on the sustainability of the charge controller, which sends power in one direction from the solar panels to the batteries. As the integral component of the solar generator, the primary job of the charge controller is to protect the durability of the batteries.
The charge controller can only process the maximum number of watts and voltage that it’s built to manage, so you may not be able to expand beyond its charging ability. If your battery capacity doesn’t support additional solar panels, your power expandability is unachievable.
Our Top Picks
The Jackery portable solar generator provides a green power solution for outdoor activities and emergency preparedness. The battery delivers a higher wattage of 1000W, with a peak of 2000W. It features a lithium battery capacity of 1200Wh, in addition to three standard pure sine wave AC outlets for extra capacity to power multiple AC appliances at the same time.
The generator also includes maximum power point tracking (MPPT) technology for faster solar recharging rates. You can recharge the generator with solar panels, a wall or car outlet, or another generator. Recharging time is about 17 hours with a single solar panel and 8 hours with two solar panels but varies depending on location, temperature, and weather.
This solar generator provides enough power supply for appliances, medical devices, computers, security systems, and lights. RV travelers can expect no extra setup to power mini-refrigerators, portable coffee makers, pellet smokers, and more. Including the handle, the generator measures 13 by 9 by 11 inches and weighs 22 pounds. It is fully equipped with an AC adapter, car charger cable, SolarSaga parallel adapter cable, and a user guide. Solar panels are sold separately.
- Total output capacity of 1,000 watt-hours
- Motor runs fairly quietly
- Digital display and many input/output options
- Includes an adapter to recharge in your car
- Power cord could be longer
Its attached, ergonomic handle and lightweight nature support the portability of this solar generator by AIMTOM. At just 3.64 pounds and measuring 7 by 6 by 3 inches, the compact size doesn’t sacrifice power, given the generator’s 155Wh lithium-ion battery storage capacity that provides 100W with a maximum of 180W.
A built-in Battery Management System keeps your electronics safe from damage while charging the generator and also allows you to charge or power multiple small electrical items at the same time. This portable solar generator can power items like lights, laptops, cellphones, tablets, drones, coolers, fans, and CPAP machines.
Recharge the generator via a wall outlet, car port, or a solar panel (not included), noting that the recharging time depends on location, time, and weather. This affordable generator also comes equipped with a 12V DC cigarette lighter adapter, car charging adapter, user manual, and a wall outlet charging power adapter.
- 42,000 mAh for up to 155 watt-hours
- Multiple recharging options
- Built-in flashlight
- Extremely lightweight
- Takes a while to complete a full recharge
- Fewer input and output options
The MAXOAK portable solar generator, weighing in at nearly 38 pounds, features a lithium-ion battery capacity of 1500Wh with a 1000W maximum. The massive power output of this generator makes it an indispensable green and clean energy source for home use, camping, boating, and off-grid traveling. You can rely on it to charge higher power devices like microwaves, hairdryers, and blenders.
Recharge this generator in around 8 hours with a wall outlet and about 5 hours with a solar panel (not included). It measures approximately 14 by 6 by 14 inches and provides four USB outputs, two AC outlets, a car port, and carrying handle. It also includes an AC wall charger, PV solar charging cable, and user manual.
- Impressive 1,500 watt-hour capacity
- 1,000 watt AC inverter for high-power devices
- Charges faster with more solar panels>
- Extra inverter required for charging in car
Use this solar generator from Rainier Outdoor Power Equipment to power small appliances, laptops, tablets and smartphones, drones, cameras, lights, speakers, and headlamps. Measuring approximately 10 by 4 by 6 inches and weighing five pounds, it’s lightweight and portable, with a built-in carrying handle and flashlight.
Since the generator is a clean energy source, you won’t need to fill it with gas, propane, or diesel. This means you can expect no noise or fumes in your smaller residence. It is powered by a lithium-ion battery and has a 155Wh capacity.
The control panel for the generator contains a traditional household outlet and three USB ports, combined with three 5.5 mm 12V outputs. The solar generator includes both a wall outlet and car charger and provides solar panel capability, though panels are not included. Recharging time varies depending on location, temperature, and weather.
- Lightweight and portable
- Includes battery level display
- Three USB, three DC, and one 120-volt AC input
- Built-in flashlight
- Only good for small, low-power items
At just 12 pounds, this portable solar generator from Goal Zero is both lightweight and affordable, making it easy to store and transport. It can supply power to up to five devices at once, so you can quickly charge cell phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, and more. The solar generator has a 168Wh lead-acid battery and a continuous 80W surge modified-sine wave inverter. The unit includes two USB ports, an AC outlet with a charger, and a 12V outlet with a car charging cable.
You can recharge the generator in about 8 hours with the car charging cable, about 6 hours with the AC charging cable, and around 3 hours using solar panels (sold separately). Compact in size, the solar generator measures approximately 7 by 6 by 5 inches.
- Lightweight and portable
- Powers up to five devices at once
- Includes car and AC charging cables
- Only good for small, low-power items
While solar generators aren’t meant to power everything in your house, they are intended to provide enough power to your most necessary items at home or in the wilderness. For providing more power, the Jackery solar generator is our top pick, but for an affordable model that powers smaller devices, we also like the AIMTOM power station.
How We Chose the Best Solar Generators
Solar generators are essential items to have when disaster strikes or when you need the convenience of portable power. These recommendations cover a variety of needs users may have, from powering mini fridges to recharging a laptop in a remote valley. We narrowed our research to include solar generators that had several charging outputs, multiple charging options, reliable power, understandable instructions, and other helpful features.
Since the intended purpose of the unit is based on the user’s needs, we included options that range from high to low watt-hour outputs that work for portable devices or common household devices. For portable charging needs, having the ability to charge in the car or charge while the generator is being used are additional factors that are important for some users. Our favorite models offer reliable power options for the most common situations where users are without power.
Tips for Using a Solar Generator
With a multitude of solar generators from which to choose, you may find it difficult to decide which one fits your requirements. To begin, pinpoint how and where you plan to use it.
Solar generators are available in a variety of sizes with various wattage and storage capacities. As you’ve discovered, they are primarily for powering homes during electrical outages or for outdoor activities like camping, hunting, sailing, fishing, and traveling. Solar generators are also an ideal power source for outdoor events, such as parties, festivals, craft fairs, and farmer’s markets.
How much you want to spend on a solar generator is another important consideration. As solar generators increase in size and capacity, so does the price. Keep in mind that solar generators typically do not include solar panels, so that extra purchase will add to the expense.
- The solar generator should match your intended purpose.
- It’s important to select the appropriate size, wattage, and storage capacity for usage.
- Focus on the features that suit your plans for the generator, such as the number of plug-in ports, charging speed, portability, carrying handle, flashlight, expandability, and weight.
The Advantages of Owning a Solar Generator
Owning a solar generator frees you from dependency on fossil fuels when you want a backup system for emergencies, traveling, or camping. Plus, solar generators are portable and compact, so they are easy to store and move, unlike huge gas-powered generators.
Solar generators are also quieter, safer, and require minimal maintenance since they don’t have motors, moving parts, or emit harmful carbon dioxide. This alternative kind of generator is a green solution that collects energy from the sun to store in its battery and then produces power when it’s in operation.
The charging rate and power capability of a solar generator depend on its size, so carefully consider where you want to use it and how many electrical devices and appliances you want it to power.
- No fuel is needed to operate a solar generator.
- It’s a clean, renewable source of energy.
- A solar generator is low maintenance.
FAQs About Your New Solar Generator
It makes sense to own a solar generator, so you’re not left without a source of power either during an electrical outage at home or simply while enjoying outdoor activities and travel. The portability of solar generators makes them ideal for packing and toting on trips, and they’re especially handy for stowing and using in RVs, cars, boats, and cabins. If you still have some questions about which solar generator might be best for your needs, check out some of the most frequently asked questions about solar generators and their corresponding answers.
Q. How does a solar generator work?
A solar generator works when a solar panel converts sunlight into DC electricity that passes through the charge controller. The solar energy is stored in the battery, and the inverter turns the electricity into usable AC power.
Q. Can a solar generator power a house?
A solar generator likely won’t power every item in your house at once. Depending on the size of the generator, it can charge and power a variety of large and small appliances, electronic devices, and medical machines.
Q. How do I choose a solar generator?
To choose a solar generator, think about your intended use and budget as well as how much battery capacity and wattage you need to power your appliances, electronic devices, and other equipment.
Q. What size solar generator do I need?
The size of the solar generator you need depends on the amount of wattage you require to power your devices and the duration time for charging.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series, including This Old House and Bob Vila’s Home Again, he popularized and became synonymous with “do it yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today in the expert yet accessible home advice at the heart of BobVila.com. Today, the Bob Vila editorial team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.
Donna Smith is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience writing for both print and internet publications such as Rhode Island Home Design magazine, T&D World, and doityourself.com. As an avid renovation enthusiast, Ms. Smith enjoys writing about home design and improvement. She’s a graduate of West Chester University with a degree in English Literature and lives in the northeast where her and husband have completed many refurbishing projects.