Our planet definitely needs help to lower greenhouse gases, and since one of the biggest polluters is power production, finding alternative methods makes sense. But are solar generators the answer? You may be surprised to learn that while solar generators and panels do help lower emissions by some, they can’t eliminate them without help.
Solar generators have come a long way in the last 10-15 years, but if you’re serious about reducing your carbon footprint, there are some important things to know before purchasing that generator for your next camping trip or attaching solar panels to your roof.
We know that solar panels have been used successfully in many areas of the globe as a reliable, green energy source. So, how does that translate to home use through generators? And can you lower your carbon emissions using them alone? This article explores those questions and offers reviews on the top performing generators of 2021.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Without going too deeply into the science, solar panels work on the same general principle as photosynthesis, but unlike plants, they convert sunlight into energy instead of synthesizing carbon dioxide, food, and water. Modern solar panels are about 20 percent efficient under standard conditions, though of course, many factors such as location, weather, and even temperature can affect this.
After the panels produce the energy, things get a bit tricky. Most of us need a reliable, steady source of electricity for gadgets and major appliances, so solar generators store the solar power they create and release it in a way that’s reliable and steady.
Facts About Solar Power
Solar panels provide relatively cheap and inexpensive energy. In fact, unlike fossil fuels that the US Energy Information Agency says provided over 60% of America’s utility-scale electricity generation in 2020,1 renewable energy production is still in its infancy. But, both the costs and efficiency of solar cells have been improving for years. As a result, the cost of solar power has dropped by a factor of 400 in the last 45 years… and residential solar panels produce about 18 times less carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) than coal.
However, home panels and the associated equipment they require can be expensive. As a long-term investment, solar will save you money eventually, and there are a number of federal incentives to support their installation in homes, but the up-front cost is heavy. But, that doesn’t mean that the price isn’t worth it for the environment… it is.
Opponents of solar panels are fond of pointing out that for people who live somewhere that only gets 20 sunny days per year, they won’t work. Also, they argue that the manufacture of the panels generates pollution. This is because some of the components of the panels and their associated batteries contain parts that cause pollution when mined or are difficult to dispose of once they’ve become obsolete.
Although those things are accurate, a good solar panel installation can last up to 40 years, and typical solar residential solar panels have a carbon footprint that’s about 18 times smaller than the carbon footprint of coal and about 10 times smaller than the footprint of natural gas, so they remain a viable option for reducing your ecological footprint.
America alone produced over 5 billion metric tons of CO2 to generate electricity in 2019,2 and the rest of the world produced another 28 billion metric tons. Alternative forms of energy can start to reduce those massive numbers. To determine the amount of your emissions you can use an ecological footprint calculator.
How Do I Know If My House Is a Good Candidate for Solar Panels?
Knowing whether your home is a good candidate for solar installation is easy to find. Google, one of the first major companies to go completely carbon neutral in 2007, has a program called Project Sunroof, which allows you to enter your address and your average power bill (so they can calculate your savings) and the tool will tell you whether solar is feasible for your home.3
This is important to know, because most generators require solar panel installation.
What Are the Four Best Solar Generators?
“Best” is a fairly subjective word… but these generators really stand out for 2021.
Keep in mind that there are different types of generators and systems. For example, if you’re looking to get off the grid with your RV, you’ll want a portable system for camping. By comparison, if you want a backup generator in case the grid fails or has an issue, you’ll be looking for a heftier (and more expensive) home system.
Also, most of these generators – require solar panels. Remember to budget for the solar panels on specific models, and to check with your provider on installation best practices.
Yeti 1500x Portable Power Station
Dimensions LxWxH 19 x 14 x 14 inches
Weight 43 pounds
- The good: 2,000 Watts. Yeah, you heard me. It holds enough power to run a full-sized fridge for 28 hours, and anything you can plug into an outlet in your home can be plugged into the Yeti 1500x. The 1500 may be referring to its 1500Wh – pretty impressive for something you can carry in one hand. It also has an impressive number of different ports, and its integrated MPTT charge controller increases the efficiency of Goal Zero solar panels by about 30%. It even comes with its own app. It’s also only 19”x14”x14” and 43lbs, so it’s fairly portable.
- The bad: Sound too good to be true? Well… excellence comes with a price. This one is going for a little under $2,000 on Amazon as of this article.4
- The ugly: It’s a powerful system, but if you’re on a budget, it’s probably more than you need for a portable system.
Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000
Dimensions LxWxH 13.1 x 9.2 x 11.1 inches
Weight 22 pounds
- The good: While not as hefty as the Yeti 1500X, at half the price it might be just what you need.5 It can also be charged from an AC outlet if needed. Under optimal conditions, it can recharge from solar power in about 8 hours with two 100W solar panels (or 7 hours if you charge it via an AC outlet). It sports 1,002Wh as well – not too shabby.
- The bad: It doesn’t have the Yeti 1500X’s connectivity, which may not be the end of the world if you just want it for an RV.
- The ugly: Half the power is half the power no matter how you cut it. Still, it’s smaller, cheaper, and lighter – you get what you pay for.
MaxOak Portable Power Station BLUETTI EB150
Dimensions LxWxH 20 x 11 x 20 inches
Weight 47 pounds
- The good: At a glance, it’s a larger, heavier version of the Jackery power station above. Where MaxOak claims to shine is stability; MaxOak claims to be stable enough to reliably power two household appliances under 1000W each simultaneously, such as a refrigerator and a dryer. At 1,500Wh, it’s not far behind the far more expensive Yeti 1500x’s 1,516Wh although obviously it’s not rated for 2000W.
- The bad: 40 pounds is a bit heavy for a portable power station, and the MaxOak is nearly 50. If you’re 120 pounds soaking wet, this probably won’t feel overly portable to you.
- The ugly: MaxOak’s biggest drawback is arguably its similarity to the Jackery model spec-wise. Yes, it has a few advantages, but it’s significantly larger and heavier – serious drawbacks for something meant to be portable. It also doesn’t compare favorably to the EcoFlow Delta, below.
ALLWEI Portable Power Station
Dimensions LxWxH 9.1 x 4.5 x 7.3 inches
Weight 6.5 pounds
- The good: At under 6 pounds, it’s far more portable than any of the others that made the list. It also has plenty of ports, and it’s a fraction of the cost of many competitors.
- The bad: It’s also a fraction of the power of many competitors at 600W and 280 Wh. It’s certainly not useful as a backup generator for your home.
- The ugly: You can’t use it to power a full-sized fridge, though you should get about 5 hours of power for a mini-fridge and you could recharge a laptop 7-8 times with this much juice.
Sunbox Labs Solar Generator
Dimensions LxWxH 10.2 x 6.7 x 6.8 inches
Weight 12.1 pounds
- The good: Like the Allwei model, this solar generator is light enough for a child to easily.6 It’s slightly larger than the Allwei model as well, but it’s still quite portable. It’s also got a whopping 540Wh – nearly twice what the Allwei model offers.
- The bad: Currently, it’s selling for nearly twice the price of the Allwei. It does have about twice the Wh, but that brings us to…
- The ugly: Sunbox has more juice than you’d expect out of an ultra-portable model, yet it doesn’t have the wattage of one of the more powerful models. This generator may be perfect for a certain niche, but you could, for example, buy two Allweis, get about the same Wh, and have twice the outlets.
EF EcoFlow Portable Power Station Delta
Dimensions LxWxH 15.7 x 8.3 x 10.6 inches
Weight 30.9 pounds
- The good: I actually did a doubletake when I read the specs on this one. The EcoFlow Delta has 50% more wattage than the Yeti,7 it’s about half the price, it weighs significantly less, and it’s significantly smaller. On top of that, it packs 1,300Wh and a 24-month warranty. It can also be charged from 0-80% capacity in an hour and up to 100% in two hours, and it can be charged with a standard A/C cable (no bulky power adapters, etcetera).
- The bad: I sat here for about 5 minutes trying to think of something uniquely bad about this product. Yes, $1,200 is out of some people’s budget, but if this is within your price range it’s incredibly competitive. Just keep in mind that (as with all but one of these generators) the price does not include solar panels.
- The ugly: I hate to say it, but the ‘ugly’ here is for its competitors. If you can find a decent sale, two of these should be around the same price as the Yeti, and you’d get far more bang for the buck (6,600W/2,520Wh vs 2,000W/1500Wh). Still, to be fair, I’m not a big fan of the handle. I prefer handles that allow me to carry things around in one hand, but honestly, that’s just being nitpicky. The reviews are good, the specs are impressive, and the price is right in terms of bang-for-buck.
Dimensions LxWxH 22 x 22 x 17 inches
Weight 83 pounds
- The good: 1,440W (if you see 1,800W somewhere as I did at first, don’t be fooled – that’s the surge rating. 1,440W is the continuous rating) is a great start, and 720Wh isn’t bad either when you consider that it comes with its own 100W solar panel that normally costs $250. Both the generator and the solar panels are on wheels, too, which is convenient. It’s also designed with expansion in mind – multiple Nature’s Generators can be connected to work in tandem.
- The bad: It’s heavy – really heavy. That being said, it’s on wheels with a convenient handle, so it’s not that big of an issue. It’s also large, but despite its size, it’s not designed for major appliances like full-sized refrigerators.
- The ugly: Honestly, the main drawback about this generator is that it has to compete against the EcoFlow Delta due to it being the exact same price. The EcoFlow has twice the wattage and lasts twice as long, but Nature’s Generator comes with a solar panel with a 50’ cord.8
Bottom Line: You Can’t Erase Emissions Using Solar Generators Alone, But You Can Lower Them
There are a lot of great generators on the market, and going solar can seriously decrease your carbon footprint, so it’s an AWESOME way to reduce your footprint. But the unavoidable truth is that even the greenest, most eco-friendly products generate some emissions when manufactured.
Fortunately, there’s a way to fully erase CO2 emissions, regardless of the system you choose… carbon offset providers step in to supplement the greenhouse gas reduction benefits that solar delivers. Going solar is an excellent way to help the planet, but carbon offset tree planting go just a bit farther. They erase the carbon footprint of production and deliver lasting benefits for the planet, helping to fight climate change and restore vital ecosystems and habitats that have been destroyed.
1U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2021, February). What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source? Retrieved May 22, 2021, from eia.gov: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3
2U.S Department of the Interior. (n.d.). How much carbon dioxide does the United States and the World emit each year from energy sources? Retrieved May 22, 2021, from usgs.gov: https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-much-carbon-dioxide-does-united-states-and-world-emit-each-year-energy-sources?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products
3Google Project Sunroof. (n.d.). How Project Sunroof Works. Retrieved May 22, 2021, from Google.com: https://www.google.com/get/sunroof
4Amazon.com, Inc. (n.d.). Yeti 1500X Portable Power Station, 1516Wh Portable Lithium Battery Emergency Power Station, 2000W Portable AC Inverter Generator, Outdoor Portable Generator, Portable Solar Generator for Solar Panels. Retrieved May 22, 2021, from Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FX3S5LF?
5Amazon.com, Inc. (n.d.). Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 1000, 1002Wh Solar Generator (Solar Panel Optional) with 3x110V/1000W AC Outlets, Solar Mobile Lithium Battery Pack for Outdoor RV/Van Camping, Emergency. Retrieved May 22, 2021, from Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083KBKJ8Q/?
6sunboxlabs. (n.d.). Sunboxlabs Battery. Retrieved May 22, 2021, from sunboxlabs.com: https://sunboxlabs.com/
7Amazon.com, Inc. (n.d.). EF ECOFLOW Portable Power Station DELTA, UPS Power Supply 1260Wh Battery Pack with 6 1800W (3300W Surge) AC Outlets, Solar Battery Generator for Outdoor Camping RV. Retrieved May 22, 2021, from Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/EF-ECOFLOW-Portable-Station-Generator/dp/B083FR3762/
8Earthtech Products. (n.d.). Natures Generator Portable 1800-Watt Solar Generator – Gold Kit. Retrieved May 22, 2021, from Earthtechproducts.com: https://www.earthtechproducts.com/genex-1800-watt-solar-generator-kit.html?