Over the last several years great strides have been made in off-grid and portable power generation. Solar panel tech has advanced to the point where you can easily and affordably power your essential electronics when camping or in a survival situation. The real problem is taking the power from solar panels and making it usable. A solar powered generator is the solution. Today we’re covering the best solar powered generators to help you pick out the one that provides the best mix of features and quality for your needs.
What is a Solar Powered Generator?
Solar generators are interesting in that they don’t generate power on their own. They’re basically battery storage devices designed to process the sometimes inconsistent power from a solar panel and make it more useful.
They’re made up of three core devices:
- Charge Controller
The charge controller protects the battery from the changes in voltage and amperage produced by solar panels. It allows you to charge your battery up steadily and ensures the greatest longevity for the battery.
Once the power is stored in the battery the inverter changes it from DC power to AC power. This allows you to charge devices the same as you would from your home.
Best Portable Solar Powered Generator
- Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500
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- Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station
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- ROCKPALS 300W Portable Generator
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- ExpertPower Portable Lithium Solar Generator
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- EF ECOFLOW River Portable Power Station Generator
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- Renogy Phoenix Portable Solar Generator
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There are literally hundreds of solar generators you can choose from now. Picking out the best one requires you to figure out a few basic needs.
The biggest one is how much power you actually need, and how long you need it to last. As you’ll see below these two features can make or break a solar powered generator.
Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 500 – Solar-Ready Generator
The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer line includes a range of different solar generators. It includes the model 160, 240, 500, and 1000.
They’re each powered by a lithium ion battery and include a variety of different output ports. The Jackery Explorer 500 is the most versatile of the line, providing enough power for substantial uses without breaking the bank.
It offers 518W/144.4Ah of battery capacity. It’s rated to provide 500W of working current with a surge capacity of 1000W. That gives you enough capacity to power a wide range of small devices, including larger ones like mini fridges and CPAP machines.
It’s chargeable via a Jackery 100W solar panel plus either a 110 AC or a 12 V DC outlet. They all use a standard round DC plug. It can charge up in 7.5 hrs via AC or DC power and 14 hours through a 100W solar panel.
Once it’s charged up and ready you have a lot of options to charge other items. It includes an AC outlet, a DC car style outlet, three USB ports, and a detailed LCD display. This allows you to plug in just about anything and monitor how much power they’re using.
One really cool add-on is the inclusion of a flashlight. It’s built into one end of the generator and provides a lot of light in an emergency situation.
The 160 and 240 versions are each smaller and less powerful than the 500. They’re a good option if you just want to charge up your smartphone, laptop, or other small electronics.
The 500 and 1000 versions are great as dedicated camping or off-grid power sources. They’re also an excellent option for an emergency backup. They can each power a small refrigerator or essential medical device effectively.
Overall, the Jackery line of portable solar power stations are beautifully designed and well-made solar generators. They offer good performance at reasonable prices across the range of models and sizes.
Goal Zero Yeti 1400 Lithium Portable Power Station
Goal Zero is one of the biggest names in camping, preparedness, and off-grid solar. They offer a full range of rugged solar panels, solar generators, and lighting solutions. Their Yeti line of solar generators offers a full range of power options and battery types.
The Yeti 1400 Lithium is their flagship generator product. It uses a 1425Wh lithium ion battery rated to provide 500+ full discharge cycles. It offers 10 versatile port options including a variety of AC and DC ports.
That’s large enough to power everything up to refrigerators and major appliances for multiple hours. The ports allow you to plug in multiple items at once. It has a 3000W surge capacity and a 1500W operating capacity.
Because it’s got such a large battery it takes a while to charge up. From 110 V AC wall power you’re looking at around 25 hours. With the recommended 200W of solar panels it can fully charge up in between 14 to 28 hours. This depends heavily on the amount of sun exposure and the solar intensity.
What’s really cool about the Yeti 1400 is its ability to act as the control system for multiple batteries. Goal Zero offers chainable lead acid batteries that you can connect to the Yeti 1400. This greatly increases its capacity and improves its capability as a home based battery backup.
We also love how advanced the control options for it are. Goal Zero incorporated a full bluetooth and wifi connectivity system that allows you to pair it with your phone. You can do everything from check the level of charge to remotely activating/deactivating different ports.
One thing to keep in mind is the weight and size of this generator. The base unit weighs 43.7 lbs. That makes it suitable only for car camping or use as an emergency preparedness and off-grid living tool.
ROCKPALS 300W Portable Generator
The ROCKPALS portable generator is a 280Wh solar power system. It provides you with 300W of operating current and up to 600W of surge capacity.
That’s enough to provide power for smartphones, laptops, and other small electronics/appliances. It gives you 10 different ports including AC and DC options.
It’s designed to charge up rapidly three different ways. AC and DC power options charge it up in about 6 to 7 hours. It can charge from up to 100W of solar panels.
The whole thing weighs just 7.3 lbs and comes standard with an MC4 adaptor. This allows you to use any standard solar panel on the market.
Other really cool features include a pair of built in flashlights and a large digital display. This allows you to monitor all the charging details and other important information at a glance.
ExpertPower Portable Lithium Polymer Solar Generator
The ExpertPower Portable Lithium Solar Generator is a large capacity backup power system. It offers 2400Wh of power, plenty to run just about anything needed.
It has both a pure sine wave inverter and an MPPT charge controller. This helps it capture the most power from connected solar panels and use it efficiently. It can be charged from solar, AC power, or DC connections.
What’s really cool about the ExpertPower generator is the speed with which it can be charged. It can connect to fully 500W of solar panels. That allows it to charge up a lot faster than many similar solar generators.
The inverter provides 1000W of continuous current and up to 2000W of surge capacity. That’s enough to power everything up to a full size refrigerator. This is aided by the impressive range of output ports it offers.
Not only does it have standard AC and DC ports, it even includes a USB-C port to rapidly charge your most advanced electronics.
It’s not without flaws though.
It weighs a full 48.5 lbs and is kind of unwieldy. It’s shaped like a briefcase with a top mounted handle. That shape with that weight makes it more susceptible to tipping over if you aren’t careful.
EF ECOFLOW River Portable Power Station Generator
The EF ECOFLOW River is a portable solar power station that provides 412Wh of capacity. It’s designed to charge rapidly with either ECOFLOW’s own solar panels or third party panels.
The first thing we noticed about the River 412 was how many ports it had. This bad boy gives you a pair of AC outlets, a DC cigarette style outlet, and a pair each of round DC, USB, USB Quickcharge, and USB C ports. That allows you to plug in anything the River has the capacity to power.
With all that capability it’s almost shocking how light it is. The River 412 weighs just 11 lbs and is easy to move around. It has a compact design with a rubber handle that’s comfortable to hold.
All these features combined create one of the best portable camping and outdoor solar generators available. It’s powerful enough to charge up any devices you might need while out and about while still being light enough to easily set up in a campsite.
Renogy Phoenix Portable Generator with Built-in Solar Panels
The Renogy Phoenix is an all in one portable solar generator with a really unique design. It looks just like an old school folding briefcase. When you fold it out an internal 20W solar is exposed to power up the battery.
The included solar panel can charge it up to full in just 6 hours. If you have more solar panels it can be charged in as little as 2.5 hours. Considering it provides you with 246Wh of power.
That’s enough to charge up small electronics like GoPros and smartphones over a dozen times. You can even power larger items like laptops and torch style flashlights.
Port wise it offers a comprehensive array of DC and AC charging ports. This allows you to easily connect multiple devices to the Phoenix at once.
The Renogy Phoenix is a durable, sleek, and well made solar generator. It’s on the pricey side for its capacity but gives you a lot of performance for your money.
Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best Portable Solar Generator
Solar powered generators are actually a little misnamed. They don’t actually generate power on their own, instead they take the power generated by solar panels and make it more usable.
Picking out the best solar generator comes down to a few key features, with capacity, charging capability, and battery type some of the most important.
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We’re not going to sugarcoat it, solar powered generators are expensive. Entry priced models start around $200, with high capacity ones running as high as $2,000+.
There’s a clear connection between battery capacity and price. As the inverter and battery improves it becomes much more expensive.
The majority of solar generators offer multiple charging options. Solar panels are of course one of the options available, though you should check the type of panels they accept.
Some manufacturers have proprietary ports that only allow you to use their solar panels to charge their solar generators. Smaller solar generators often charge only using a USB type plug from solar panels less than 50 watts.
For larger solar generators the most important solar specific plug is the MC4 connector. This is rapidly becoming the standard for small scale and portable solar panels.
You can also charge your solar generator from a standard wall outlet or a car cigarette lighter port. Some generators come with an adaptor for this but you may have to purchase one separately.
Small solar generators usually have one to two ports for charging other devices. Most often this is a standard USB style port that allows you to charge most small devices.
As they go up in size and capacity more ports become available. Common ones include standard household 110 V AC, cigarette style DC, and some specialized DC ports for outdoor and survival equipment.
Really advanced solar powered generators even offer ports to connect with other batteries. This allows you to use the inverter and charge controller of the solar generator to charge up and use the capacity of the other batteries.
There are two battery types that power the vast majority of solar generators. These are absorbent glass mat (AGM) lead acid batteries and lithium batteries.
AGM batteries rely on a similar chemistry to the lead acid batteries in your car. They’re designed to be maintenance free and to function well over at least several hundred charge cycles.
AGM batteries aren’t as flexible as lithium batteries. They shouldn’t be drained below about 30-40% for maximum battery life and they’re heavier than lithium batteries.
Lithium batteries are basically larger versions of the batteries in your phone and other devices. They offer excellent energy density, can be drained fully, and provide close to a thousand charge cycles. The only real downside to lithium batteries is their price.
Lithium solar generators are consistently more expensive than AGM and similar batteries.
Charge time for solar generators is affected by the battery capacity and the type of charging. Solar charging generally takes the longest because of how inconsistent it can be. The sun only shines for so many hours a day after all.
Smaller generators can charge up in as few as 4 to 5 hours but larger ones can take over 24 hours. Wall outlet charging is consistently the fastest method available.
If you’re purchasing a solar powered generator for outdoor or emergency use we recommend you keep it plugged into the wall. This allows the charge controller to maintain the optimum charging pattern on the battery and makes sure it’s ready to go when you need it.
For those looking for a dedicated off-grid power source it’s important to monitor your incoming and outgoing power. You don’t want to draw the solar generator down to zero if you’re depending on the power.
Run Time – Storage Capacity
The capacity of a solar generator is determined by the size of its battery storage. This is measured in either watt hours or amp hours. Smaller generators may even be measured in milliamp hours.
There’s no one size fits all capacity for solar generators. Figure out what you want to power and how long you need to power it for. That will help you determine how much battery capacity you’ll need.
Generator with MPPT – Charge Controllers
One of the most important technical considerations when comparing solar generators is the type of charge controller. At this point you should only consider an MPPT charge controller.
That stands for Maximum Power Point Tracking and refers to the method of converting inconsistent solar power into stored power. It captures 93% to 97% of the power produced by the solar panels.
Older PWM charge controllers have much lower efficiency. They cut into the amount of power your solar generator can capture from solar panels.
Surge Power Capacity
Something to consider with any solar generator is the surge capacity it offers. Most generators have two different capacity numbers, their operating watts and surge watts.
Many appliances and devices make an initial watt draw higher than what they need to operate. Surge capacity allows your solar generator to start up these devices.
It’s important to remember the difference between surge capacity and operating capacity. Most generators can maintain surge capacity for a very short length of time only. Check that any product you’re planning to power falls within the operating capacity of your solar generator.
Different solar generators are designed with different uses in mind. Some are just large enough to power a few small devices like your smartphone or laptop. They’re designed to act as larger than normal charging banks that can be powered by a solar panel.
The next level of solar powered generators are capable of powering small appliances like fans, microwaves, and small refrigerators. These have much greater storage capacity and higher surge capacities.
This size of generator is great for one to two day long camping trips where you want some of the comforts of home. They can also be used as an emergency backup in case of power outages or disasters.
The largest solar generators can be used to run substantial appliances like full size refrigerators, freezers, or multiple smaller appliances. These are very large, quite heavy, and offer substantial surge and operating capacity as well as storage.
These are great for fully off-grid cabins and longer duration trips where you need to power equipment. They’re frequently used by activists in developing nations and for disaster preparedness.
Portability – Size and Weight
Solar generators range in size from hand held all the way up to wheeled carts. Entry level ones are designed to work with small solar panels and provide enough power to charge your phone or other small electronic.
These weight just a few pounds and often only have one or two charging ports. From there they rapidly increase in size and weight.
General purpose solar generators have sturdy handles to hold them by and usually weigh at least 15 to 20 lbs. They can be difficult for kids or smaller adults to move around. They’re definitely not something you want to cart in on a backcountry camping trip.
The largest solar powered generators can weigh over 100 lbs and are almost always mounted to some kind of cart. They often have telescoping handles that allow you to roll them like a rolling suitcase.
The smallest solar generators will have an indicator that shows battery level but not much else. As you move up the capacity ladder more detailed displays start to become standard.
Medium to large generators can show you breakdowns of power levels, input/output information, and battery voltage. Some even offer the ability to turn on and off different output sections as needed.
Picking out the best solar powered generator requires you to know how much power you need and what you’re willing to spend.
You have to balance out performance and capacity with your budget. As long as you know the basic power requirements you have a good starting point for picking out the perfect solar generator for your needs.