With the rising interest in solar energy, many people are turning to solar generators to provide backup power during emergencies. This is exciting to see! Like many of you, we understand the countless advantages solar backup systems have in emergency situations.
However, because many people don’t understand the fundamentals of solar backup systems (including solar generators), and how their various components should work together to provide a reliable system, we’ve witnessed some erroneous beliefs regarding solar generator performance due to the insane amount of false claims in solar generator marketing. These marketing lies have come from a variety of sources: solar salesmen, affiliate marketers, even manufacturers of solar generators marketing their own product!
Don’t get me wrong, there are several good solar generators on the market that, for the most part, are capable of providing reliable backup power for basic temporary emergencies (power outages lasting less than a day) or simple outdoor activities (running a mini fridge, lights, and charging a cell phone).
However, the problem that we’re seeing are consumers buying these basic solar generators for the sole purpose of providing power during serious emergency situations that could result in more long-term power loss such as a major disaster, terrorist attack, or even economic collapse. When in reality these small systems are sorely lacking in this regard.
What will happen then, if a person chooses to buy a solar generator system based on the “claim” that it will provide enough power for their family: to preserve and cook their food, heat their home during freezing months, and provide some sort of security, when in reality, is completely inadequate in regards to these essential energy needs?? What will happen when the system they have been “sold” is only enough to power some lights, a little bit of technology and a cell phone- which in reality is absolutely useless when it comes to a real disaster like an EMP blackout or a complete economic collapse?!
I’m sorry to say, but when this realization comes, it will be too late.
In this post I will address 5 of the most common marketing lies I have seen in solar generator marketing and set the record straight.
Lie #1: “Get off grid with a 1,500 watt (or less) solar generator”
Just when I think I’ve seen it all, I see an ad promoting a 20 watt solar kit claiming it can be used for “off-grid applications”. Yes, off-grid for your phone, and maybe a few lights. However, for those who are unfamiliar with how to correctly size a system for actual off grid living, the term “off grid applications” can be very misleading. Normally, when you use the term “off grid”, it’s implying that you have the ability to live independent from the power grid. However, advertisers these days are using the term “off grid” so broadly that their headlines imply that a 1,500 watt generator will get you off the grid. And let’s face it, 1,500 watts just doesn’t cut it.
Simply put, generators are rated by the maximum watts it’s inverter can pull at any one time. The inverter is just one component of your solar generator, and is usually not upgradeable (meaning this is the limit of your generator, and you can’t increase it without buying a new, larger generator). Because of this, it’s recommended that you get a generator with an inverter big enough to run whatever you plan to run at any one given time, and consider appliances you may want to run in the future.
Another important aspect to consider is the amount of solar panels that can be used with these smaller solar generators. Usually, a 1,500 watt solar generator will have a maximum solar capacity of 200-400 watts (mainly due to it’s charge controller limitation and small battery capacity). Although sales representatives may tell you that you can take your home off grid with this, or at least imply that you can, this isn’t enough power to run much at all. An average home will need about 6,000 watts of solar to go completely “off grid”.
However, if you want to backup a refrigerator and maybe a freezer, and power a few lights, then 1,500 watts might be sufficient to handle that, depending on the quality of inverter, and if you have enough solar panels and batteries. If you have any large electrical appliances such as a range, electric water heater, electric dryer, or an air conditioner (these appliances use 4,500 watts or more just to run), a 1,500 watt solar generator won’t even come close. 1,500 watts will barley run a microwave, if it’s a small one.
I’m not even going to get into what would happen if you tried to heat your house with your 1,500 watt solar generator. Suffice it to say, it wouldn’t even heat a small room. But it could run an electric blanket for a couple hours per day, if that is all you used your generator for.
Lie #2: “Get off grid with an 1,200 watt-hour (or less) battery bank”
The most important aspect of a solar generator’s actual usability is its battery storage capacity. Battery storage allows you to use the generator at night, in periods of limited sun, and when your energy needs exceed the amount of solar input coming in. So the question you should be asking to determine a reliable size of battery bank is what do you need to run during these times?
A general rule that I recommend to everyone is to have at least 3-5 days of battery storage, because having several days of rain or cloudy weather is a real possibility, especially in an emergency situation like a natural disaster! If you’re using this solar generator for survival in emergency scenarios, you need to ensure you have enough power in any situation. Also, having 3-5 days of battery storage you won’t be draining your batteries continually. If you drain your batteries 10% each night, they will last a lot longer than draining them at 90% each night.
So let’s say you want to power your refrigerator during a blackout. If an average refrigerator will take 1,500 watt-hours per day to run, you’ll need at least 4,500 watt-hours for a reliable size battery bank. Unless you don’t need power all of the time, and in that case, why are you buying a solar generator?
Lie #3: “A 1,500 watt-hour solar generator will power your refrigerator”
This is probably the most common misconception I see: the capability to run a home refrigerator with a 1,500 watt (or less) solar generator. It will. But the question you need to be asking is for how long? These same solar generators will also run an electric heater, but it can’t heat your house because it will drain your battery long before the house, or even a small room, is heated. The same thing happens with a refrigerator. Sure it will run it for a few hours, but your fridge will stay cool for several hours, even without power, unless the door is opened.
Again, the problem is that consumers are getting information, from a variety of sources, that claim these small generators will run a refrigerator for days. But lets take a REAL look at this.
An average refrigerator will take over 1,500 watt-hours per day to run. This means it will fully drain your your battery in 24 hours. If you look at the specs of any honest company it will tell you this. Here are direct numbers from the spec page of a 1,200 watt-hour solar generator:
“Refrigerator (400-800W) 12-24 hours”
Now you may be thinking that 12 hours is all it will need to run, because the sun will come up, recharge the batteries, and you’ll be ready for another night. But there are three problems with this theory.
#1: Your fridge is still using power during the day, so if you have a 100 watt solar panel, it will put out about 500 watt-hours during the day (which is about as much as you used during the day). So when night comes the solar panel did no more than keep your battery at near empty, and it will not last through the night. It’s impossible to run a fridge that takes 1,500 watt-hours per day with a solar panel only putting in 500 watt-hours.
#2: You may have cloudy days when you’re not getting full sun. So even if you did have enough solar to recharge your batteries every day, on the first cloudy day you would run out of power, and your fridge would shut off. Again, weather is not always perfect, and you should expect days without sun, especially in an emergency situations.
#3: It’s not healthy for your batteries to cycle them to 100% every single day. It doesn’t matter what kind of battery you have (lithium AGM, etc), this kind of use will shorten the life of your batteries.
Lie #4: “A Modified Sine Wave solar generator is just as good as Pure Sine Wave”
Some solar generators come with a “modified sine wave inverter”. Many marketers will tell you these will work without any problem, and are just as good as the “pure sine wave inverters”. This really depends on what you are running and what you mean by “just as good”. All appliances we use are designed to run off of pure sine wave power. Using modified sine wave power will inevitably shorten the life of your appliances, make them less efficient, and require even more batteries and solar panels to do the same thing you could do with a pure sine wave inverter. It’s also important to know that there are some appliances that simply won’t run using modified sine wave. Some electric motors in older refrigerators, compressors, sensitive electronics, and medical equipment, will not start up using modified sine wave and will burn up if you leave them on.
For something that you will need in an emergency, it just makes sense to have something you know will work with every appliance, and work efficiently.
Lie #5: “Our batteries are superior than any other solar generator on the market”
It seems like every person you talk to that is selling a solar generator will tell you why their batteries are the best and why you should buy their generator because of it. I’ve heard it all, and I’m sure you have too: This battery will work at every temperature, even down to -20 deg. Another will say their batteries will last 10-20 years, when their competition lasts only 5 years. Another will tell you their’s are super light, making it the lightest, most compact system. And so on.
The truth is, there is no perfect battery, period. There are perfect batteries for certain types of scenarios, but no perfect battery for every single condition. There is no battery in existence that is cheap, lightweight, lasts 20 years, and will work at every temperature. When you choose a battery for a specific property, you will sacrifice in other areas, so it’s important to know your batteries and what you’re getting!
There are two major types of batteries used in solar generators: Lead-Based, and Lithium. However, there are many different types and qualities within these categories. Here are the main pros and cons:
By far the AGM is the best lead-based battery for a solar generator. The only reason why you would choose any other type would be to save money. And then, you would sacrificing a great deal of quality.
- Great, all-around battery
- Maintenance free
- Works at almost any temperature
- Very efficient (compared to other led based batteries, and are nearly as efficient as lithium)
- Can handle deep (100%) cycles
- Heavier than Lithium batteries
- Doesn’t last as long as some Lithiums (such as the lithium iron phosphate, LiFePO 4), but a high quality AGM will last longer than many Lithiums.
- They need to be fully charged to last long
- Lightweight (LiFeP0 4 are the heaviest, but still much lighter than led based)
- Long life cycles (LiFeP0 4 last the longest)
- Do not need to be fully charged to last
- Can handle deep (100%) cycles
- Almost zero self discharge (can stay charged for years without having to be charged)
- Maintenance free
- Cannot be charged in environments below 32 deg F.
- Some types can catch on fire (LiFeP0 4 do not have this problem, but most others do)
To determine what battery would work best for you, you need to know what you’ll be using your solar generator for, or in what conditions. If you know you’ll never be using your generator in conditions below freezing, or if you have an insulated space such as in a garage, or in your home, lithiums can give you benefits that AGM’s can’t provide such as lightweight, and longer life cycles. If you are unsure how you will be using your generator, the safest battery would be an AGM.
Our HomeGrid solar generators are built for true long-term emergency backup!