Choosing A Solar Generator For Off-Grid Living

Choosing A Solar Generator For Off-Grid Living

NAVIGATION

Using a portable solar generator in my off-grid life has changed the game for me. Having a high-quality generator on hand allows me to be prepared for any emergency as I live fully off the grid without sacrificing my daily routine or power needs.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

I’m frequently going on exciting or relaxing adventures off the grid, so an effective, high-quality solar generator is a must to power up everything that I need to thrive off grid without sacrificing what’s important to me or keeping me from enjoying my off-grid adventures.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

What Is A Portable Solar Generator?

What Is A Portable Solar Generator

Portable solar generators are basically a mini power pack connected to a solar panel or an additional power source. They can’t give you as much power as installing lots of panels can, but they do still have a surprising amount of juice for their small appearance.

BLUETTI portable power stationMost solar generators are connected to solar panels, but you can also use charged solar generators without the panels. With this type of generator, it’s not just drawing power from the sun or recharging, it’s pulling power from its battery backups until that battery is drained.

Portable solar generators contain about 500 watts of power, which can’t power everything in your tiny house or campsite at once, but can power enough for an enjoyable off-grid experience. I’ll get more into what those types of generators can actually power down below.

I make it a major priority of mine to go on plenty of adventures off the grid and reconnect with nature, whether that’s camping out for a weekend with my girlfriend or taking a cross country trip in my mobile tiny house. I’ve also been fully off the grid in my own tiny home for over a decade!

For both of these reasons, I often have friends ask me questions about my portable solar generator and how it aids my off-grid life. While portable solar generators may seem daunting and complex, it’s surprisingly easy to use one in your own off-grid campsite or homestead.

Most portable solar generators look just like a small boombox from the 80s — you know, like the one from that famous scene in “Say Anything.” They also come in different sizes that support different power needs.

solar generators

How Does A Solar Generator Work?

It’s important to note that the term “solar generator” is a tad misleading because they aren’t actually generating or creating power so much as converting power into an alternate form. Energy is never created or destroyed, as the Law of Conservation of Energy puts it!

In a nutshell, solar generators work by taking in solar energy from the sun and converting that energy into DC (direct current) power, then into AC (alternating current) power, which is usable in an off-grid setup. They use four different key components to make their magic happen. Portable solar generators contain four basic parts: solar panels, a converter, solar batteries, and an inverter.

solar panel system parts

Some people that are new to the solar world are initially under the impression that portable solar generators create power entirely on their own accord, independent of a panel system. This is what I mean when I said “solar generator” is a kind of misnomer.

All portable generators have to be connected to a solar panel or an additional power source like a car or home outlet, in order to function. They aren’t “generating” their own power so much as “borrowing” it from the sun.

To turn solar energy into usable power, the panels collect energy from the sun and then convert that energy into DC power. After that, the DC power is fed through the charge controller, which regulates how much power is stored in your battery backups and how much goes to your solar inverter.

bluetti solar generator and panels

The next component of a solar generator is the inverter. The inverter converts DC power into AC power, which is the kind of power that is actually usable to supply your mini-fridge, phone, lights, cooking appliances, and what have you. AC power typically runs at about 120 volts in the U.S.

Some systems are AC coupled or have their own inverter solution, in which case the DC power moves from your panels into a solar inverter, then the battery inverter, and then into your battery bank. After this gets taken care of, the power flows through the battery inverter, and then becomes usable energy in your off-grid home, travel trailer, or campsite.

solar panel batteries

How Well Do Solar Generators Work For Off-Grid Living?

How Well Do Solar Generators Work For Off Grid Living

While portable solar generators work very well for off-grid living in many ways, they do have their limitations. One major setback with portable generators is that they can’t power everything at once.

bluetti portable solar generatorsHowever, there are a few portable generators out there that can power a lot more than the average generator. The BLUETTI portable power station is one example, and with over 3,000 watts of power, it can power far more than its competitors.

Portable solar generators are most ideal for simple aspects of off-gridding like powering small fans and LED lights, charging your handheld electronics, or powering a cooler or mini-fridge.

However, while portable solar generators do have their limitations as far as power capacity goes, full solar panel system installations also have limitations. Specifically, more maintenance and upkeep overtime, taking up far more room on your land, and an inability to be transported place to place.

What Can You Power With A Solar Generator?

Easily Possible

Small Fans

LED Lights

Laptop charger

Maybe Possible

Television

Refrigerator

Microwave

Not Possible

Large Electric Oven

AC Unit

Furnace

What Can You Power With A Solar GeneratorAll that being said, it doesn’t mean portable generators aren’t the way to go when considering off gridding. I honestly find that portable solar generators are the perfect way to go for simplistic off-grid living when you are relying on a very minimal number of electronic appliances.

Most people looking to venture into off gridding aren’t looking to power a ton of electronic appliances anyway. I mean, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose? My biggest piece of advice when starting out with solar is to manage your expectations.

What I mean by this is to keep your expectations realistic, aim for an accurate understanding of the amount of power you can access, and understand that there may be small quips along the way. Solar power systems aren’t infallible, regardless of if you go with a portable generator or panel system.

Is A Portable Solar Generator Best For My Off-Grid Setup?

I would personally recommend portable generators to people who are just starting out in the world of solar and aren’t in a place where they’re ready for the huge ordeal of installing lots of solar panels on land. Installing gargantuan solar panels right off the bat without any experience in solar can be a huge task both for your patience and your wallet.

best portable solar generator for my off grid setupIn my opinion, solar powered generators are a wise way to explore the world of solar without the huge undertaking of panel installation. Solar generators are also a nice thing to have on hand for smaller solar needs or to keep around in case of an emergency as something to rely on if the power goes out.

Portable generators are also amazing sources to use when building out your homestead. These high-power generators can power tools and battery packs for a long time before you get full power to the site or house while you’re building it. They’re also a nice source of continuous power for battery-driven drills, saws, power tools, and small pieces of equipment.

The most common reason that I see people choose to rely on portable solar generators is if they are looking to explore the off-grid life in smaller ways. If you’re looking for a generator to power appliances on your campsite or RV, but don’t necessarily want to live the off-grid life full time, a small, portable generator could be the perfect way to go.

Which Portable Solar Generator Is Best When Living Off-Grid?

To reduce the number of limitations you run into while using your solar generator off grid, you’ll want to invest in a long-lasting portable generator from the get-go. I use the BLUETTI portable power station. I find this portable generator to exceed others in its ability to keep my devices powered for longer due to its massive power supply of 3,000 watts.

BLUETTI AC300This is the portable solar generator that I use for all of my off-grid living needs. I find that the BLUETTI portable power station is able to run smoothly, has an easy setup, and simultaneously runs all of the devices that I need powered on my off-grid adventures without any issues.

With 3,000 watts of power (impressively more than most small, portable solar generators), 3,072Wh capacity, insanely fast charging capabilities, and seven different recharging methods to coincide with a life on the go, the BLUETTI makes my off-grid life way easier. I never have to worry about running out of power on my off-grid excursions.

Again, the BLUETTI is ideal for going off the grid for a shorter period of time or preparing for an emergency. I’ve taken my BLUETTI power station on many off-grid adventures, and have noticed that it’s nice and portable and easy to transport from place to place.

This specific generator has enough power to run your fridge, fans, lights, laptops, and cell phones, so I’d really recommend it because of the plethora of capabilities. It’s one of the best smaller, portable solar systems I’ve seen, if you don’t want to install full panels.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Solar Generators?

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Solar Generators

When trying to choose a solar setup that makes sense for you, there are several pros and cons to consider before you decide. Like I said before, using a portable solar generator to live off grid comes with its own setbacks and limitations, as well as aspects that make it an effective method to power any off-grid situation.

Portable Generator Pros Portable Generator Cons
Clean, renewable energy used Expensive upfront investment
Do not have to install lots of panels Limited power capacity
Less noise, very quiet Limited by weather changes
Low maintenance and upkeep Less flexible for expansion
Can use in power outage Different generators have different power abilities

Comparing A Portable Solar Generator To A Solar Panel System

Maybe you’re set on switching to the solar world to power more of your appliances off the grid, but you’re still unsure whether or not you need to install solar panels on your property, or if a solar generator will be enough for you to get the job done.

While installing an entire solar panel system is more expensive and requires more long-term upkeep, it’s able to store power through battery backups and keep things running for longer. The type of setup that works for you really just depends on what your needs and goals are with solar.

solar panel off grid setupHowever, if you are seeking the best of both worlds, there are portable generators out there that are specifically created to emit more power than the average portable generator, which is why I like the BLUETTI portable power station so much. Its 3,000-watt capacity means it can power more appliances than your basic portable generators without the hassle of installing panels.

When I tried the BLUETTI power station on my own, I was genuinely surprised and impressed by the overall performance of the system. It was incredibly easy to set up and was able to run my laptop, phone charger, coffee maker, and several other appliances without any issues at all.

Other aspects that I loved about the BLUETTI were that it was very quiet during use, it had a ton of connection options, and the 3K Wh battery is incredible and can power many devices at once.

Helpful Features Of The BLUETTI Power Station

  • 3000W AC Pure Sine Wave Inverter (6,000W Surge)
  • 3,072Wh Capacity
  • LiFePO4 Battery With 3,500+ Life Cycles To 80%
  • 24 OV Split Phase Bonding (With *2 AC300 & *2 B300)
  • 24/7 UPS Home Backup
  • 7 Ways To Recharge (AC/Solar/Car/Generator/Lead battery/Dual AC/AC+Solar)
  • 2400W Max Solar Input
  • 5400W Max Fast Dual Charging (Solar + AC Adapter Simultaneously)
  • Eco-friendly/Gas free/Quiet/Cost-effective
  • Can attach extra AC300 + B300 batteries for additional storage

What Size Solar Generator Do You Need?

What Size Solar Generator Do You Need

If you do decide to go the portable generator route, you’ll need to think through exactly what you hope to power to help decipher what size of generator you’ll actually need on your campsite, RV, or homestead.

what size solar generator for camping off gridI’ve tried several generator sizes in the past to run many different appliances, some while camping off the grid for a single weekend, and sometimes for months in my own tiny home. Sizing your generator is really just about identifying the right tool for your needs.

This is advice I give in any situation, and especially when it comes to the world of solar: if you want a job done right, you need to invest in the right tools from the start. If you pick the wrong tool for the job, it won’t live up to what you need.

Calculating The Wattage You Need From A Solar Generator

The best way to decide which generator size you’ll need is to take inventory of every single device you hope to run. Then, calculate how much power you need to run it, and leave a little room for extra power in case something unexpected pops up. Here, I’ve listed some estimates of the general wattage amounts needed by common household devices.

When looking for the amount of power your fridge, laptop, or speaker takes to run, look at the data plate on the device. It will typically list the watts, amps and volts. If the wattage isn’t listed, you can use this formula to determine how much power you’ll need.

Formula To Determine Wattage Needed

Amps x Volts = Total Watts

However, there are a few factors that can make calculating the needed watts a bit more complex. One of those elements is the surge watts. Surge wattage is not always applicable to every device, but it is something to consider with things that have a “ramp up” period like power tools, fridges, or a washer and dryer.

electric meterWith these kinds of devices, there may be a varying wattage amount throughout the time the device is used, so make sure to check and see if surge watts are applicable to the devices you’re looking to run.

Another thing to keep in mind here is the concept of watt-hours, not just the concept of watts alone. In a nutshell, a watt-hour is a unit of energy that measures the amount of work generated. Watt-hours measure and represent quantities of energy needed or used over a certain period of time, whereas watts measure the rate of power at a single point in time.

Watt-hours can be calculated by multiplying the consumption by the hours of time you are planning to use the device. For example, if you have a 120W laptop that you plan to run for five hours, you would need 600Wh of power overall.

Formula To Determine Watt-Hours

Total Watts x Time = Watt-Hours

Other Watt-Hour Calculation Examples

Mini Fridge: 80 watts x 12 hours = 960 Wh

Cell Phone: 10 watts x 2 hours = 20 Wh

Fan: 100 watts x 4 hours = 400Wh

However, you’ll also want to calculate some room for battery backup or days of autonomy, meaning, you want to leave some extra space for your device to run on its own while pulling from your battery backup. A typical rule of thumb is to calculate for three to five extra days of autonomy.

determine watt-hours required to run your devicesOnce you know the number of watt-hours required to run your devices, add up the total amount of watt-hours plus the watts for the highest power device. This sum total is going to be the number of watts you’re looking for when buying a portable solar generator.

Lastly, you’ll want to divide that number by 1,000 to get the generator size in kilowatts. For example, if you need 1,380-watt hours of power for your off-grid home, that’s 1.38 kilowatts when divided by 1,000.

Therefore, you would need a 1–2.5kW portable generator for all of the power you are hoping to access. Just follow this formula for your own devices and you’ll be set with the solar generator you need in no time.

How To Use A Solar Generator When Living Off Grid

How To Use A Solar Generator When Living Off Grid

Once you’ve nailed down the type and size of solar generator that you need, how do you get those devices up and running off the grid? Oftentimes, you have to connect different devices to your generator in different ways, so it’s important to know the schematics of exactly what it is that you need to get set up and be aware of any extra things you need to do to run the devices you need on solar. Luckily, a portable solar generator makes this pretty plug and play.

Powering Your LED Lights With A Solar Generator Off The Grid

It’s fairly easy to power most simple LED light strands, lamps, headlights, or RV string lights with a portable solar generator. One unique thing to think about with LED lights is that these lights often have converters to take AC and turn it back into DC for LED lights. This means that, on paper, your lights might be 12 volts DC, but they often run only at 2 volts DC in actuality.

Due to this, you’ll likely need to invest in a minimum of 2 volts and 5 Amps, for a total of about 10 watts to power a strand of lights. However, it all depends on how many lights you want to power or the length of the LED light strip that you’re using.

Another thing to note when powering lights of any kind with a generator is that you might want to invest in a surge protector.

tiny house lighting
Additionally, make sure that your solar inverter is a pure sine wave generator to prevent your lights from going out due to surges in power as the generator itself cycles up and down. Fortunately, the BLUETTI is a pure sine wave generator, so you won’t have to worry about these complications.

Using A Solar Generator To Power Your Fridge Off Grid

Whether or not you are able to run your fridge on solar power will depend on the kind of fridge you are trying to use. It’s going to be a lot easier to run something like a small freezer or cooler on a solar generator than it would be to run an entire refrigerator. It’s not impossible, but you may run into some complications when trying to make it happen.

Another thing to think about is whether your off-grid fridge will need AC power or DC power. It’s highly likely that your fridge will run on AC power, as is true of most household appliances.

solar powered refrigerator

Powering Plug-In Tools To Build Off Grid With A Solar Generator

Electric tools are an interesting category when using solar power because almost all of them are going to use surge power and have that ramp up period that I talked about before. Due to this fact, it’s harder to calculate the exact wattage you’ll need for a solar generator to use for power tools, as the surge power can be a bit unpredictable.

Here’s the general wattage for some standard plug-in power tools, before the surge is added into the calculation.

tiny house tools

Powering Battery Powered Tools To Build Off Grid With A Solar Generator

Battery powered building tools are a totally different ballgame. There are now a ton of very good battery powered tools including circular saws and table saws to aid your construction endeavors on your off-grid life or homestead. I strongly recommend the battery powered power tool route for any off-grid building project.

With battery powered tools, you can recharge battery packs for each tool. This is very easy to do because they don’t take much power.

battery powered cordless drill
It typically only takes about 60 watt-hours to charge a battery pack, so you could charge batteries all day long with little hassle.

Powering Laptops And Cell Phones With A Solar Generator

Laptops and cellphones are some of the easiest categories to manage with a portable solar generator. They both have one of the lowest wattage amounts out of any common household devices, at just between 10 watts for a cell phone and about 75 watts for a laptop.

This is great news for people who want to go almost entirely off grid in an RV or camper van, but need their phone or laptop with them to communicate and work remotely. Connecting laptops and cell phones to your generator is fairly easy too — most portable generators have both USB plugs as well as outlets built into the devices.

dumb phones for minimalists

The Power Of A Portable Generator For Off-Grid Living

The Power Of A Portable Generator For Off-Grid Living

Overall, I would honestly recommend a portable generator for living successfully off the grid over immediately installing panels. Like I said above, there are several benefits to installing panels, but if you’re just starting out with solar, a portable generator will power the essentials you need with much less hassle.

Especially with such a fast, quiet, and high-power generator like the BLUETTI, you’ll be able to juice up everything you could possibly need for an off-grid experience. You won’t have to worry about not having enough power for the things you need!

Where To Get A Portable Generator For Off-Grid Living

Your Turn!

  • What appliances would you power with your solar generator?
  • How can using a solar generator improve your off-grid experience?

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