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Can Solar Generators Power a House?

Thinking about backing up your house with a solar power generator? Find out whether that is possible or not and learn more about this topic.

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Reviewed by
Carlos Huerta
Guide

Portable solar generators are devices that integrate the inverter, the charge controller, and the battery of a photovoltaic system in one box and are usually charged with solar panels. Therefore, they are generally used in places where there is no access to the conventional electrical grid. Therefore, when it comes to feeding the energy needs of a house, it is necessary to evaluate if the solar generator can do it.

The truth is that most solar generator kits cannot power all the energy needs of a home. Larger capacity solar generators can keep lower consumption loads like a fan, small refrigerator, lighting, etc. running. However, to power higher demand appliances such as air conditioning, a home energy storage system would be required.

In this article, we will cover these issues and address the general characteristics of solar generators. Also, we will find some answers to the previous question, so that you can get an idea of ​​its operation and what to consider when choosing the solar generator that covers at least basic loads of your house.

Solar Generators

A solar generator is a compact piece of equipment that integrates all the elements of a photovoltaic system in a box that is generally portable (see image 1). Therefore, the components of a solar generator are:

  • Battery cells (most are lithium-ion).
  • The sine wave inverter
  • The MPPT charge controller.
  • The different input ports to charge the device and the output ports to power the different electrical appliances. Solar generators typically have USB ports, AC outlets, and 12-volt ports to allow you to charge various devices.
Figure 1. Solar Generator and its Components. Source: Jackery and Solarreviews

Generally, the main characteristics of solar generators are protection against overvoltage, overcurrent, short circuit, and temperature (high and low). In addition to the LCD screen to monitor the remaining capacity/charge/discharge / abnormal status and display error codes.

How Do Solar Generators Work?

The solar generator works like a large battery that is charged and discharged according to the available electrical energy. In order to do this, it is necessary to feed the battery.

The main source of charge for generators are solar panels, which convert sunlight into direct current, this current passes through the charge controller, which regulates the voltage in the battery, where solar energy is ultimately stored until it is used.

Then, when the energy stored in the battery needs to be used, the inverter converts direct current into alternating current which is what most electrical devices use.

In addition, the charging process is not exclusively done with solar panels since most generators offer the possibility to connect to the grid or to charge with the DC outlet from the car.

However, the charging time with solar panels can be faster than with the network, this will depend on the amount of power of the panels and the time of exposure to the sun. For example, the Bluetti 1000W solar generator with 500W in panels can be fully recharged in approximately 4.5 hours of direct sunlight. While with the network the complete recharge lasts approximately 8.9 hours.

Solar vs Diesel Generator

Solar generators are usually an excellent source of energy if you travel on a boat, if you are camping or even in the case of an eventuality in your home since they are generally used with loads of little electricity consumption.

Nevertheless, if you want to have a backup system in your home or use high-power appliances, a single solar generator falls short and in that case, it may be advisable to get a diesel unit.

This may result in questioning whether it would be good to get a diesel generator. To find out the answer, you can check some of the pros and cons of solar generators when compared to fuel generators:

The Pros

  • Clean and silent energy: Photovoltaic power is 100% clean and silent energy, without the polluting CO2 emissions or the annoying noise than its fuel counterpart.
  •  Little maintenance and safety: The maintenance of a solar generator is practically null compared to diesel ones since the former has no moving parts or uses liquid fuel and therefore generates greater safety against possible fires or accidents.
  • No fuel availability needed: They only need solar energy to work, there is no need to fill any fuel to be recharged. This can be an important fact in scenarios where there is gasoline or diesel scarcity due to geopolitical conflicts or due to climate disasters.

The Cons

  • Limited capacity: If you require a backup system for your home or power high-consumption equipment, the most recommended option is not that of a solar generator, since its capacity will be exhausted in a short time.
  • Slower recharge: A conventional generator will offer you electricity as long as you supply it with fuel, while solar generators need to be recharged for a certain time, during the day, and with sufficient sunlight.

How to Know the Consumption of the House

To obtain the electrical consumption of your home, simply look at your utility bill, in which you will find the number of kilowatt-hours (kWh) that you use per month and per year. You can also check the website of your utility company to see your energy consumption in detail.

At the same time, the energy demand of your home can also be estimated by multiplying the average power of the typical loads that you use in your home (see table 1), and the hours of use.

Figure 2. Appliance Consumption. Source: Unbound Solar

What Size Solar Generator Do I Need to Power My Home?

The size of the solar generator will be determined by the user’s consumption needs. To define this, the first thing to do is a list of the appliances you want to back up with their respective wattage (see table 1).

At least if you want to use a plasma TV which power is 200 W and at the same time a microwave of 1000 W, you must choose a generator that can power both loads, that is to say at least 1300 W.

However, it is not only necessary to consider the power of the equipment to be backed up, but also the time of use to determine the duration that the generator will maintain the load. So, suppose you will use the television for two hours and the microwave for 30 minutes, the calculation would be as follows:

LOADSPOWER (W)TIME (H)OPERATIONCONSUMPTION (WH)
TV PLASMA2002200×2400
MICROWAVE1,0000.51000 x 0.5500
1,200TOTAL900

The battery capacity that would be required to back up power should be at least 1000 Wh (a bit above 900Wh to cover some energy losses). By knowing the value of the electrical consumption of the equipment in your home, you can choose the most appropriate solar generator. In this case, it could be the Inergy Apex of 1100 Wh and 1500 W.

At the same time, it is necessary to take into account the loads that demand a lot of energy for a certain time, as is the case of hydro pneumatic, electric ovens or air conditioners, in general it is not recommended to back them up with this type of system. Most of the solar generators do not have an output port with 220V voltage and the consumption of these loads will be very high as to  power them with a solar generator.

Therefore, it is also important to consider the maximum output amount allowed by each of the terminals you have when choosing the solar generator. There are generators that have the maximum values ​​specified for each terminal and the total adds up to the maximum capacity of the solar generator.

Conclusion

A solar generator is equipment that does not require fuel, they work with solar energy that is renewable and clean, and they require practically no maintenance. That is why they are very attractive equipment when evaluating the fact of wanting to install an energy backup system.

So, when choosing the solar generator, it must be considered that its size must be determined by the energy needs of the client. A small generator (less than 1000W) will power small appliances such as laptops, phones, and lights.

Generators between 1000W and 3000W can power larger devices such as a refrigerator or microwave. But when it comes to powering a whole house, it is best to use a home energy storage system such as the Tesla Powerwall 2 or the LG Chem integrated with a solar system as an alternative.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Do You Generally Use Solar Generators?

Solar generators are often used to run small appliances for some time. They are a great backup power source for a camping trip, boat trip, or RV due to their portability, and they do not require you to have a lot of fuel on hand.

What Can I Charge With My Solar Generator?

Any electrical device whose power is within the capacity of the generator. It is worth mentioning that the manufacturers refer to a list of loads with the respective amount of charging times that they can provide.
 
Generally, loads include small electronics (phones, iPads, laptops, GoPros), TV’s, blenders, mini-coolers, refrigerators, lights, microwaves, radios, etc.

What Are Some of the Best Solar Generator Brands?

There are multiple solar generators brands, however, the ones with a long time in the market and with recognized performance and results are coming from Jackery, Goal Zero, Bluetti, Lion Energy, Suoaki, Renogy,

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Author Bio

Electrical Engineer with background in solar PV designs for residential and commercial projects as well as power systems development. Fan of renewable energy topics and projects. Technical writer for papers, articles and research in related topics to sustainability and especially solar power.

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