If you have been thinking about buying an electric generator, probably you have also been plagued by doubts about what type of generator is the most convenient for you: solar generator or gas generator?
When deciding between one type of generator or another, knowing each technology well is key, especially if you don't want any unpleasant surprises in the future or feel that you made a bad investment. However, this choice is not so simple, since several factors take part.
Although gas generators have long dominated the global market for portable generators, every year, solar generators continue to gain more and more ground among consumers.
While it is true that solar powered generators still don't provide the same electrical power as gas generators, they do have other characteristics that offer them important advantages over gas-based generators, such as lower cost, greater safety, and less pollution.
If you need a complete guide to help you make the best buying decision, keep reading this post to the end.
What is a solar generator?
Solar generators are devices that capture and convert solar energy into electrical energy. As this conversion takes place, the energy is stored and distributed according to user needs. Basically, it's a portable battery storage system powered by solar panels.
Solar generators don't produce harmful emissions for the environment because instead of using fossil fuels, they are environmentally friendly, they transform sunlight directly into electricity taking advantage of certain physical and chemical phenomena.
Unlike gas generators, solar powered generators have no moving parts that require maintenance and are often much smaller and easier to operate, something that has made them a very popular choice for those who enjoy outdoor activities such as boating or camping trips, but even as emergency backup power systems at home.
How does a solar generator work?
Solar generators integrate several fixed components within a compact system capable of converting solar energy into electrical energy. This feature allows solar generators to consistently provide off-grid power for long periods of time, as long as there is enough sunlight available. Let's look at the process in more detail.
1. Energy capture
When you place solar panels in the sun, they capture sunlight and convert it into electrical energy. Some solar panels are more effective than others under certain weather conditions, and the more solar panels you use, the more power your generator can create.
2. Voltage regulation
A charge controller regulates the voltage of the electricity that will pass to the batteries for storage. Basically, this is a protective component that helps extend the battery life.
The battery is the component where the electrical energy captured by the solar panels is stored in the form of direct current (DC). The most widely used batteries today are lithium-ion batteries, but some solar generators also use lead-acid batteries, although these are less efficient.
4. Conversion and distribution
The inverter converts the direct current (DC) stored in the batteries into alternating current (AC) which can be used by most modern devices as needed.
Types of solar generators
In the field of solar generators, there are currently two types of devices that are the most used in most applications. Of course, each one has its advantages and disadvantages, as well as ideal conditions for its use. That's why it is important to take these factors into consideration before choosing between one or another type of generator.
Portable solar generators
These generators are small and compact and can be easily transported from one place to another. These devices can also be easily stored in vehicles or at home and are ideal for taking on trips to recharge small devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and small lamps.
Their main advantages are their great portability and low cost. Their main disadvantage is that due to their small size, these devices generate less electrical power than larger solar generators.
Whole house generators
These generators are permanently installed in homes and offices. These devices have an electrical panel and cables that distribute power to different points of the structure.
In the event of an electrical failure, these generators automatically turn ON to provide backup power for a certain period of time, typically as long as sunlight is available.
Their main advantage is that as long as there is sunlight, you can have clean and renewable energy totally free. The main drawbacks of backup generators are their high installation cost and inability to produce a large amount of energy, specifically when compared to gas generators.
What is a gas generator?
Gas generators are devices that convert kinetic energy into electrical energy to be used by other devices. Basically, gas generators are internal combustion engines capable of producing electricity as long as they have fuel in their tanks.
Although compared to solar generators, gas generators can produce a greater amount of energy for a longer period of time, they do this at the cost of producing a lot of noise and environmental pollution, as well as posing a greater risk and operating difficulties for their users.
How does a gas generator work?
Gas generators convert their internal motion into electrical energy by spinning an electromagnet that produces a current flow through a fixed magnetic field called a "stator." The rotating electromagnet or "armature" moves thanks to the burning of some fossil fuel, usually gas. To summarize, the process is done like this:
1.- Fuel injection
The injection system provides fuel and air to a combustion chamber where these two elements are mixed and compressed by a piston.
Once air and fuel compression occurs, a spark plug generates a spark that ignites the fuel, causing a small explosion in the combustion chamber.
3.- Mechanical movement
The explosion causes an expansion of gases, which pushes the piston in the opposite direction to move a crankshaft which in turn spins a rotor.
4.- Electricity production
The spinning of the rotor is what starts the production of electricity in the moving electromagnet. Finally, this electrical current is distributed by the stator through cables for later use by other devices.
Types of gas generators
Although there are several types of gas generators available in the market, there are two types that are currently the most popular among consumers.
This type of gas powered generator is quite versatile and can be used both in portable format and in home installations. As the name implies, inverter generators invert electrical current from alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) and vice versa. The idea behind this process is to stabilize the electrical flow to generate less impact on the devices that will use it.
This stabilization process makes inverter generators silent and more suitable for recharging the batteries of delicate electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and other similar devices.
These generators are usually quite big, and their use is fairly common in homes, businesses, and industries. Standby generators are permanently installed in the structure of the site and usually have a stable supply of fuel for their operation.
The idea behind these installations is that the generator is capable of providing an uninterrupted flow of power in the event of an electrical failure. However, these gas powered generators are designed to be used for a specific period of time to avoid potential failures.
Which is Better - Solar Generator or Gas Generator?
Although their purpose is the same, gas generators and solar generators are pretty different technologies and these technical differences are the main factor that determines the potential of each type of generator.
Currently, when compared to gas generators, the main advantages of solar generators are their low running cost and the use of a renewable and sustainable energy source.
However, those who continue to use gas generators consider that nothing can replace the reliability of these devices that can work under adverse weather conditions, even though they require more maintenance and are much more expensive in the long run.
Both technologies have their pros and cons, but you can better see this in the following table where we compare average values in different characteristics of electric generators for home use.
|Solar Generator VS Gas Generator Compared
|In 150W DC/ 100W to 3000W AC
|2,500W to 20,000W AC
|5 to 20 years (Approx. at 6h per day)
|2,500 to 10,000 hours
|Approx. 60-70 decibels
|$300 to $5,000 (average price $2,000)
|$5,000 + gas + maintenance
|Used indoor or outdoor
|Ease of use
|Just the press of a button
|Complicated start up
|Portable and adaptable
|Require a lot of space
As you have seen, solar generators have more advantages than disadvantages, with output power being the main advantage of gas generators.
Which type of generator do you need?
The type of generator most appropriate for you will be determined by your specific power requirements and the environmental conditions you live in. Since each person has different needs, we are going to talk about the two possible scenarios in which you could make use of these generators.
In adverse weather conditions, such as rain, snow or high winds, you want a generator that provides enough power to keep your major appliances running - cooling, heating - in the event of a power failure.
Under these weather conditions, the constant availability of sunlight is not guaranteed, so solar powered generators may not be the best option.
On the other hand, as long as you have enough fuel, gas generators can provide all the power you may need while weather conditions get better.
In good weather conditions when there is enough sunlight available, there is no doubt that a solar back up generator is the best option to provide electrical power to all your appliances, especially if a power failure occurs. This not only includes small electronic devices, but also major appliances like refrigerators.
In addition, permanent installations of solar generators are silent and easy to operate, but they also require considerably less maintenance, especially when compared to gas-based devices.
On the other hand, thanks to their portability and ease of use, portable solar generators are also the best option for outdoor activities such as camping or fishing.
They all have their own pros and cons. In harsh environments such as persistent blizzards, hurricanes, and thunderstorms, when solar charging cannot be used outdoors, gas generators are better than solar generators, gas generators are a good option to use in very specific cases, especially when weather conditions don't allow the use of solar generators; in ordinary environments such as power outages, outdoor camping, and RV travel, please boldly choose solar power generator as your power source, it is better than gasoline generator in this case.
Many experts agree that solar energy is the future of clean and renewable energy, and modern solar generators are becoming more versatile and powerful, being an excellent option if you want to have clean and free energy most of the time, depending on the area where you live.
In any case, if you can afford it, having both options would be ideal, since both technologies can coexist in the same environment and even complement each other perfectly.
Is it worth getting a solar generator?
Yes. Currently, these devices have become a necessity, not only to help fight climate change, but also because of their great versatility, adaptability and ability to obtain free energy from the sun, something that translates into significant long-term resources and money savings.
Can I charge my solar generator with a gas generator?
Yes. Most solar generators can be connected to any electrical supply to recharge their batteries without using sunlight - including gas generators. The most important thing is to first verify that the current output of the generator is appropriate for the solar device.
How long does it take to charge a solar generator?
Usually, the charging time is between 2 and 8 hours. However, the charging time of solar generators will vary depending on the model and capacity of the device.
What are the pros and cons of a solar generator?
Pros: Solar generators are portable, require less maintenance, run quietly, do not require excess fuel, produce no harmful gas, and are clean energy;
Cons: The initial cost is relatively high, and most power is limited, but it can basically meet the power supply needs of users . With the advancement of technology, solar generators will largely replace gasoline generators