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Solar Generators 101: Components, Capacity, and Costs

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  • Post last modified:September 28, 2023

A solar generator is a device, often portable, that is used to convert sunlight into electricity, which you can then use to power your electronics and appliances. 

In general, a solar generator requires several components such as solar panels, a built-in solar battery, a charge controller, and an inverter to function optimally.

These components often work together in a single compact unit to provide eco-friendly and sustainable electricity and reduce any reliance on conventional power sources, making them ideal for outdoor activities, emergencies, and off-grid living. 

In this article, we will be exploring the aforementioned main components, capacity, and costs of the various available options for solar generators.

Components of a Solar Generator

In this part of the article, we will be taking a look at the main components of a solar generator such as the solar panel, battery, charge controller, and inverter.

Solar Panel

The primary responsibility of the solar panels found in most solar generators is to convert sunlight into electricity. They do so by harnessing photons to produce a flow of electrons. 

The output of solar panels is measured in watts. This invariably means that solar panels with higher wattage will generate more electricity from the sun. 

There are two main types of solar panels – the fixed type, which can be fixed on rooftops or form part of larger solar arrays, and foldable/portable designs which are easier to carry and more flexible in installation.

Battery

When solar panels generate electricity from the sun, they need a place to store it. This is where a solar battery comes in. Its main job is to store the electricity, enabling energy use when the sun isn’t shining. 

Again, solar batteries come in different types, mainly the lithium-ion and lead-acid types. Their capacity is measured in watt-hours, indicating a battery with more watt-hours has the potential to last longer than another with fewer watt-hours. 

Charge Controller

The job of the charge controller is to manage the flow of electricity from solar panels to solar batteries. A working charge controller protects your battery from damage caused by overcharging.

This control of the amount of energy being sent into the battery by a charge controller does not just preserve the health of your battery, it also ensures that the battery lasts longer. 

The functionality of a charge controller is achieved by monitoring and adjusting the output voltage of the solar panels to ensure the battery is charged optimally without being overcharged.

Inverter

The electricity generated by solar panels and stored in solar batteries is direct current (DC) electricity. The job of the inverter is to convert this DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is the type of electricity you use to power common household appliances like your fridge, home stereo, and more. 

Similarly, the power output, typically measured in watts, of your inverter is what determines how much load it can handle, and how well it can supply electricity to your appliances.

Capacity and Runtime

One of your first considerations when sizing a solar generator is capacity and runtime. 

Capacity, typically measured in watt-hours, indicates the level of energy your solar generator can store. 

If your solar generator has a high capacity, you can rest assured that it has the capability to power more devices, and for longer periods as well. 

Ultimately, the power consumption of the devices you want to run will determine the appropriate size of the solar generator you should invest in.

To make an efficient choice, you should calculate the total watt-hours you need for the desired runtime, and the best way to do this is by multiplying the power consumption of each device by how long it will be used for.  

Calculating Needs

Below are some steps you should consider following when calculating your power needs for a solar generator:

First, make a list of all the devices you intend to use and their respective wattage. There are two places where you can find this info – on the device itself, or the user manual of the device.

Next, you have to multiply the wattage of the listed devices by the estimated length of time you intend to use them per day.  For example, if you have a device that consumes 100 watts and you plan to use it for 4 hours a day, the calculation would be 100 watts x 4 hours = 400 watt-hours (Wh) per day.

The next crucial step is to add up the total daily energy consumption from all your devices. Doing this will provide you with information about the daily capacity of the solar generator you need to invest in. 

Finally, we could recommend choosing a solar generator with at least the same capacity as your calculated total but we know that several factors, such as varying weather conditions, can directly impact the capacity of a solar generator.

To that end, we strongly recommend you invest in a solar generator that has at least 25% more capacity than your calculated total.

Costs

The cost of a solar generator is a crucial aspect to consider when deciding on getting one. Such costs include the purchase price, installation costs, and operational costs.

Purchase Price

Solar generators are versatile in use and capacity, and that variation means that they often have varying purchase prices attached to them. 

Depending on what you need one for, as well as its features, you can get a solar generator that costs as little as $100, or you can purchase one that costs around $1,000 or more.

A solar generator with a higher capacity will always command a higher purchase price compared to one with a smaller capacity. 

Aside from the capacity of solar panels and batteries,  there are a few other factors that determine the price of a solar generator. They include the brand and quality of the system and the type of inverter used. 

Sophisticated solar energy systems with higher capacities can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 or more.

Installation Costs

The type of solar generator you purchase, as well as its size, will determine the installation costs.

If you invested in a portable solar generator, which is generally a self-contained unit, you may not need to cough up any additional installation costs because the portability of your solar generator means you can easily carry or transport, and use it anywhere.

Conversely, if you purchased a permanently mounted model, such as a rooftop panel or ground-mounted array, you should also be ready for the installation costs that come with your choice.

The costs involved in the installation include wiring and labor costs and can vary depending on the size of your system, where you intend to set up, and the complexities involved in installing the system.

The installation costs for permanent rooftop solar power systems typically range from $9,200 to $28,000, but they offer long-term energy savings and environmental benefits.

It is important to consider these installation costs when budgeting for a solar generator system.

Operational Costs

After purchasing and possibly installing your solar generator, the cost of operating the solar generator is essentially free, compared to other forms of energy generation. This is because it generates electricity from sunlight.

Maintenance costs are minimal and primarily consist of cleaning your panels to ensure optimal sunlight absorption and tightening loose connections if need be.

Ultimately, the most telling expense you need to commit to is occasionally replacing your solar generator batteries as they may need replacement every 3-5 years.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a solar generator is a versatile, renewable source of energy that ensures that you have power when you need it.

It is made up of four main components including solar panels, a solar battery, an inverter, and a charge controller.

With the right solar panel and battery capacity, you can conveniently meet your power needs without interruption, which is why you need to choose one that has the capacity to meet those needs. 

Aside from the initial upfront purchase and installation costs, as well as minimal maintenance costs, a solar generator is essentially free because you recoup your initial investment over time in not just energy savings but also in the health of your environment.