Remember when solar power was snickered at? Now, huge companies like Google, Tesla, even BP are betting on solar. If you’re not quite ready to replace your primary power with solar electricity, why not use solar electricity to replace your back-up power?
Do you really need a gas or diesel powered generator anymore? Would a solar generator make more sense? What solar generator options are out there? Those are the questions we’ll look at today.
How Does a Solar Generator Work?
Solar electricity generators are made up of photovoltaic (PV) panels, batteries, a charge regulator, and an inverter. The PV panels convert sunlight into electricity and sends it off to the charge regulator. The charge regulator pumps the electricity into the batteries and stops it when they are fully charged. The inverter takes the DC (direct current) electricity from the batteries and converts it into AC (alternating current) electricity.
That’s the kind of electricity that you need for your home. It’s a pretty simple system with no moving parts. Because of how it works, a solar generator has certain benefits.
What are the Benefits of a Solar Generator?
Here are the benefits of solar generators:
No moving parts. That makes for silent operation. It also makes for a lower maintenance system. Parts that don’t move don’t wear out so fast.
There’s also the green benefit that they don’t burn gas and they don’t give off toxic exhaust.
Finally, once the solar generator is up to full speed, it will run day and night without any input from you. During the day, the electricity charges the batteries and excess powers your equipment. At night, the batteries power your equipment. As long as there’s enough daylight every day, it just goes on and on.
How Does a Gas Generator Work?
A gas generator converts the chemical energy of gasoline into mechanical energy and then into electrical energy.
It does this using an engine and an alternator. The gas combusts in the engine, turning the crankshaft just like in a car. Instead of turning the wheels of a car, though, it turns the rotor in the alternator.
The rotor is a coil of copper wire. The copper wire spins past stationary magnets. As copper wire passes over magnets, the magnets induce a slight electrical charge in the wire. Do this very fast and you generate a significant amount of electricity. It’s a fairly complex system with lots of moving parts.
What are the Benefits of a Gas Generator?
So, what are the benefits of gas generators:
Gas generators can be really compact and still put out a large amount of electricity.
They’re easy to operate and get going. Just fill with gas, pull the cord or press the starter button and you’ve got power. As long as you can keep putting gas in it, it’ll keep running and putting out a lot of power.
Most home-use generators can be loaded by one or two people in the back of a truck, with plenty of room for other things.
Finally, because they are mass-produced and pretty simple to build, they are also a lot less expensive than a solar generator of the same ability.
So Which One Do I Need?
There are so many different situations where you might need a generator. It’s impossible to cover them all. What we can do is take a look at a couple different scenarios.
Each scenario will be best served by either the solar or the gas generator. Compare your situation to these two scenarios, think about how each generator works and its benefits and drawbacks.
Do that and you’ll make the best choice you can for your situation.
Scenario One – Backup Power for Power Outages
You live in town. You’re thinking about being prepared for the next big hurricane or blizzard. You want to make sure that if the power goes out, you can run the most necessary things in your house, like a heater and some lights. What do you need?
You need something that can put out a few thousand Watts at 2 Amps or more. You need it to work right now and for as long as you need it to. Hopefully, that’s no more than a day or two. When the grid power comes back, you need to be able to pack it up and get it out of the way.
In this scenario, the gas generator is likely your best bet. A gas generator that would do the job is about the same size as a large luggage bag or maybe a footlocker. If you know the storm is coming, you can get a jerry can or two of gas to have on hand.
All it takes to set it up is to put it near enough to your home to run an extension cord, but far enough that the exhaust fumes don’t come into the house. The gas generator will instantly provide enough power to run your most necessary things, and maybe a few nice-to-haves as well.
Once the storm is done and the power is back up, you simply turn it off, let it cool down, drain the gas that’s left, and put it back into storage. Sure, they need a little maintenance every now and again, but nothing more than a lawn mower needs.
Scenario Two – Camping with the Family
You’ve got a small travel trailer, maybe even just a tent. You and the family go camping for maybe a week or two every summer. You don’t really need any electrical devices, but it’d sure be nice to have a little TV for the rainy days, and have a little more light at night.
Maybe you need to keep a phone charged just in case there’s an emergency back in the urban world. You need maybe a few hundred watts at under 2 Amps. All you want to do is enjoy this great planet and hear yourself think, or not think. Whichever.
In this scenario, the solar generator kit (for example Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator Kit ) makes the most sense. Once you get to your campsite, you’ll spend a little longer setting it up than a gas generator. But once it’s set up, you can forget about it. It’ll spend the rest of the day gathering sunlight and making electricity for you.
It’ll definitely give you the power you need for those twilight hours and it’ll do it with complete silence. Now you can listen to the call of the loons, breathe the fresh air, and have enough light for some fun shadow puppet time with the kids.
The next time you even think about the generator is when you’re packing it up to put in the SUV and head home. No fuel to drain, no jerry cans to lug, no gas smell in the car for the next 3 weeks. Sounds good, doesn’t it?