How do solar-powered generators work?

By Matt •  Updated: 05/08/22 •  8 min read

Generators are power devices designed to generate power for backup purposes. In the old days, generators used gases as a source of fuel. 

However, due to the environmental pollution caused by gas-powered generators, solar-powered generators were invented due to its advantage effect through solar energy.

Solar Inverter
Solar Inverter

 Basically, a solar generator is a device that incorporates a solar panel that converts the solar energy to an electric current and stores it to be used later.

A solar generator works by absorbing the solar energy from the sun, converting to electricity, and storing it in the battery bank. It has several components such as the solar panel, battery, inverter, and charge controller.  

Solar generators are usually embedded in electric medical equipment, boats, campervans, and many other devices.

How do solar generators work?

Solar generators are increasingly becoming common due to their environment-friendly nature and cost-effectiveness. Besides, with time they have proved to offer consistent, off-grid power, hence proving their reliability,

With that out of the way, how do these devices work?
We can answer that question by first looking at the components of a solar generator.

  1. Solar panel

Solar generators use solar panels to absorb solar energy. The panel consists of photovoltaic cells, which take in the solar energy and convert it to electric current.

  1. Inverter

The solar panel produces a direct current. If you have a little physics background, you already know that most electric devices use the alternating current.

Consequently, a solar generator also has an inverter that takes in the direct current and converts it to alternating current compatible with the devices. 

The inverter converts the DC to AC by changing the direction of the input back and forth at a fast speed. As a result, it generates a current that flows in both directions in the circuit, known as the alternating current. 

  1. Charge controller

As its name suggests, the charge controller basically controls the charge. Well, let me explain.

This component of a solar generator controls the power being directed to the battery bank for storage to prevent the battery from overcharging.

Similarly, it prevents the backward flow of current, especially at night, preventing the battery from draining its charge. 

  1. Battery bank. 

Lastly, the solar generator also consists of a battery that stores the power generated from the sun.

There are two commonly used batteries: lithium-ion batteries and lead-acid batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are widely available and used because they are safer and more affordable in the long run. However, the initial price of lead-acid batteries is lower. 

Having discussed the main components of solar generators, let’s further discuss how it works.

Solar generators work by first absorbing the solar energy through the photovoltaic cells in the solar panel. These cells convert the solar energy to a direct current. After, the current is directed to the battery bank for storage. 

Before that, it passes through a charge controller, which regulates the voltage to prevent the batteries from overcharging or undercharging. When drawing the power from the battery, it is passed through the inverter, which converts it to alternating current, which is compatible with most electric devices.

The power stored in the batteries is drawn anytime you power the generator. 

What are the pros and cons of a solar generator?

Now that you know how a solar generator works, you might be wondering if it is worth it. To avoid biasedness, we will draw our conclusions by first looking at the pros and cons of this powerful device.

What are the pros of a solar generator?

  1. Free source of power 

Unlike gas-powered generators, you do not have to purchase fuel constantly. Solar generators use the energy from the freely available sun. 

  1. Clean and renewable

Considering that the solar generators do not use fuel, they do not release pollutants into the environment.

Thus, even when going camping or on a boat trip, you can be at peace that you are using a clean source of energy that does not pollute the environment

  1. Quiet and low maintenance

Solar generators do not have moving parts which significantly reduces the noise produced in their operations. Thus, these generators are very quiet.

Additionally, due to the lack of moving parts, the components of this device rarely break, making its maintenance easy and cheap. 

What are the cons of a solar generator? 

  1. High initial cost

Indeed, in the long run, solar generators are cheap, but it is not the case in the beginning. Usually, the initial cost of solar generators is quite high.

  1. Slow recharging

This type of generator charges efficiently when the sun is out and may take up to 6 hours to charge fully, depending on the wavelength quality and battery size. 

As a result, you cannot charge it any time you want, and also, it can charge slowly on a cloudy day. 

  1. Limited power supply

The amount of power supplied by a solar generator highly depends on its size. Thus, these generators may fail to power your entire home in most cases. However, they are quite efficient in powering small devices.

  1. Big size for more power 

As we earlier said, solar generators use solar panels to absorb solar energy. Typically, the bigger the solar panel size, the more power it can produce.

Consequently, if you want more power, you might have to purchase a bigger generator, which means a bigger storage space and less portability. 

Solar generators vs. gas generators

The first version of generators used gas hence the name gas generators. Later on, solar generators that use solar energy instead of gas were invented. What is the difference between these two types of generators? And more importantly, which of them is the best? Let’s find out. 

What is a gas generator?

A gas generator is a power generating device that uses fuel. These devices are used in industries, hardware, or other places that require a huge supply of power.

 A gas generator has the following components;

  • Engine: The engine takes in the fuel and uses it to produce energy which powers the device to function.
  • Fuel system: The fuel system consists of the fuel tanks and the components used to convert the fuel to power
  • Alternator: it consists of the stationary and the moving parts which convert the mechanical input from the engine to generate electricity
  • Voltage regulator: It regulates the output voltage 
  • Cooling system: Gas generators produce heat, leading to overheating or explosion. Consequently, it has a cooling system to regulate the internal temperatures of the device. 
  • Control panel: They also consist of a user-friendly control panel used to control the generator.
  • Mainframe: refers to the outer casing that houses the entire generator 

SOLAR GENERATORS
SOLAR GENERATORSGAS GENERATORS
Cost for 1,800W of Power$1,000$500
Ease of UseYou need to set it upQuick no-charge application
Environmental ImpactEnvironmentally friendly Produce high CO and CO2. Hence it is not environmentally friendly 
Noise Level7 dB60 – 90 dB
Operating CostsUses free solar energy. Thus, No operating costsIt uses fuel which is a recurring expense. Hence, it is expensive in the long run. 
Size The bigger the power supply, the bigger the sizeTheir power supply levels don’t depend on the size
Initial costExpensive Cheaper 
MaintenanceRequire minimal cleaning for maintenanceRequire extensive maintenance after use and storage

What can you run on a solar generator?

To run a device on a solar generator, you must first ensure that its power requirement is lower than the power supplied by the generator. Fortunately, there are solar generators that can meet high power demands in the market.

 One of the devices that you can run on a solar generator is a washing machine. However, you shouldn’t try the same for a drying machine because its power requirement is usually too high.

Similarly, you can use it on the microwave as a backup plan or on a small-sized refrigerator to preserve your food in case of a blackout

Lastly, you can run an electric heater or power computers and phones using this power-generating device. 

You can check this video on how to run a solar generator. 

How long does a solar generator run?

The runtime of a solar generator highly depends on the power stored in the battery bank. 

However, if you leave the generator in the sun to charge fully, it can last for about 1 to 10 hours, depending on its size

Do solar generators work at night and on cloudy days?

Technically, solar generators do not produce more power at night because they rely on solar energy. However, they can store power in the battery, which can be used at night.

Similarly, on an extremely cloudy day, they may fail to produce more energy by they can work by drawing the power stored in the battery. 

Final words

Solar generators were invented after the gas generators. These devices absorb the solar energy through the photovoltaic cells in the panel and convert it to current, which is stored in the batteries.

On the other hand, gas generators use fuel as their power source. They incorporate moving parts, making them noisier than the solar generators. Since you have to purchase fuel regularly, these generators are expensive in the long run.

However, solar generators do not have moving parts. Hence, they have quitter operations, and minimal maintenance is needed. Further, their initial cost is higher but tends to be affordable in the long run.

Matt

I’m Matt, a computer and electronic embedded system developer. Currently, working as an electronic engineer. In my leisure time, I do love to blog about technology stuff. Specially, new advance high tech devices. Portable solar systems are one of topic that I love to investigate. They are becoming more powerful day by day which keep me alert.