Generators are fantastic, but not every situation allows using gasoline-powered devices. Solar generators, also called portable power stations, are becoming increasingly popular for their silent operation, compact size, and environmentally friendly source of power. However, the term “solar generator” can be a little confusing for the uninitiated.
Most solar generators do not actually include solar panels. Rather, solar generators are large battery packs with power outlets and USB ports to keep your gear powered while you’re camping or on another adventure. Most models include a “solar charge controller” to make adding solar panels later simple and easy. However, if you don’t want to use solar panels, you can always charge these clever devices up at home before heading out.
With so many features, it can be tricky to find the best solar generator for your needs. Here are some of the best portable solar generator options, and what you need to know about them.
Products Reviewed in This Article
|Goal Zero Yeti Portable Power Station - Yeti 200X w/ 187 Watt Hours Battery Capacity, USB Ports & AC...
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Last update on 2024-01-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Our Top 3 Best Solar Generators Compared
Last update on 2024-01-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Solar Generator Reviews
It’s probably no secret that I’m a big fan of Jackery products. In fact, the first solar powered generator I owned personally was a Jackery 160, and I still use it frequently. Beyond their value and quality, one of my favorites attributes of the Jackery range is consistency. They make numerous models with varying sizes and capacities, from 160wH to 500wH. Yet, regardless of the size, each shares a roughly similar form factor, quality, and design. Thus, my comments on the Jackery 500 above largely apply to its smaller sibling, the Explorer 240.
As the name would suggest, the Jackery 240 packs a 240wH battery, allowing it to power most small devices for a weekend of camping with room to spare. Further, Jackery went beyond the standard with the inverter in this model. With a 200-watt inverter (400W peak), the threshold for larger devices is increased a fair amount with this unit.
From a quality perspective, Jackery did an excellent job with this model. It feels rugged and durable. The case is almost entirely plastic, but the design is thoughtful and I have no concerns about longevity. Jackery uses the same basic display on every model, which is basic but effective. It clearly shows the battery percentage as well as the amperage in or out.
The Jackery 240 represents an excellent mid-way point in several ways. It is made by a well-known manufacturer without requiring a premium price. The list of features is not extensive, but it has every necessary function to get the job done. My only complaint with the Jackery 240 is the lack of charging ports. In addition to its 120VAC outlet, the Jackery only has two USB ports and one 12V “cigarette” outlet. Of course, power strips are available for USB and standard outlets, but it would have been nice to see more of the front panel utilized. Further, the lack of Type-C charging may be a frustration to some users.
Ultimately, the Jackery 240 is a fantastic value for a solid product. If you are looking for glitz, this isn’t it. But if you are looking for a solid value for a very versatile solar power generator, this is a winner.
- Great value
- High capacity inverter
- Lack of ports
Rockpals has been manufacturing solar panels for quite some time, and they recently made the logical jump into making solar-powered portable power stations. This particular model is their 300-watt offering, which slots directly into the middle of their lineup. For a relatively new manufacturer, Rockpals got a lot right with this generator. However, they also make a few more questionable choices.
The battery capacity and output of this model are consistent with this being a mid-size unit. The internal battery has 280 watt-hours, while the pure-sine inverter can produce up to 300-watts of output. Thus, this power pack is a fantastic option for most weekend campers or tailgaters. The build quality of the unit we were sent for testing felt solid, but the layout was somewhat unorthodox. The front of the unit has a standard 110VAC outlet and four USB ports. However, it also has three 12V ports that require a 5.5mm barrel plug. This is a relatively obscure connector for devices, so the inclusion of three of them was a puzzling choice. Finally, it has a cigarette style 12V outlet that, while useful, takes up a lot of space on the face.
This wealth of ports is indicative of the other issue with this unit: its size. While the finish, performance, and features of this unit are excellent, it is fairly large for a 300-watt power station. Of course, this is not necessarily a deal-breaker for all users. If you can overlook the heft, it is a very nice unit at a good price. However, if svelteness is a priority, you may want to look elsewhere.
- Lots of ports
- Nice build quality
- Very nice display
- Confusing choice of ports
Goal Zero essentially invented the concept of a portable power station, and they are regarded by many to be the highest-quality option on the market. From their cases to the specific battery cells they select, there is no question that Goal Zero makes a stunning product. However, this quality does come at a premium that shoppers will have to consider.
In terms of packaging, Goal Zero did a commendable job. With 187wH of capacity and a 100-watt inverter, this power station is intended to be on the smaller side of the competition. It achieves that goal well. While this power pack won’t be keeping your entire fifth wheel energized, it provides an extremely useful source of backup power for charging phones or running CPAP devices while remaining compact and lightweight.
The front panel is laid out nicely and has all of the key ports, including a 120VAC pure-sine inverter, two USBs, two USB Type-C, and a 12V socket. I especially appreciate the inclusion of a “PD” style Type-C connector here. PD, or “power delivery” ports are a new standard in USB that can transmit up to 65-watts. This allows them to be used to rapidly charge phones or power many modern laptops. Powering a laptop using its standard wall connector would mean converting the power from DC, to AC, and back to DC, with losses in efficiency each time. Thus, having the ability to power laptops directly from a DC power source is an excellent option.
Overall, the Goal Zero 200 is a nicely designed product with good functionality. However, compared to the competition, the cost is fairly high. If you are a fan of the Goal Zero ecosystem, or the Type-C PD functionality will get used frequently, this is a great buy. Otherwise, the competition may present a better value.
- Type-C PD
- Lots of charging options
- Fairly expensive
Jackery has quickly become a go-to brand for anyone seeking a high-quality power station at a great price. The Jackery 500 is the largest offering by the company, and it includes an impressive set of features for an extremely competitive price point. When shopping for a portable power station, there are generally two numbers you need to focus on. The first is the capacity of the internal battery, measured in “watt-hours”, or Wh. Think of this as the size of the gas tank in a standard generator. The other number is the output capacity of the inverter, measured in watts. This is analogous to the size of the engine in a gasoline-powered generator.
At 518 watt-hours, the Explorer 500 has one of the larger battery capacities available from a truly portable power source. This is enough energy to power a small TV for around 20 hours or a set of LED lights for close to 100. Thus, even if the sun takes a break for a day, the Explorer 500 will have enough reserve capacity to keep your gear running.
Beyond the battery, the inverter is impressive as well. The Explorer 500 has a 500-watt inverter, allowing it to power most devices. As with most portable power stations, power-hungry devices like air conditioners or electric stoves are off the table. However, this device will power any electronics or lights you could ever wish to throw its way. The internal inverter produces a pure sine wave. Without getting too technical, this means that it very accurately replicates the power you get at home. A pure sine inverter is more expensive, but worth the additional expense. It’s impressive for this unit to include it.
Beyond the basic electrical specifications, the Explorer 500 is an elegantly designed and highly functional device. With a 110VAC outlet, three USB ports, and a 12V DC “cigarette lighter” port, it has plenty of connectivity for all your gadgets. The built-in solar charge controller can accept up to a 100-watt solar panel, so if you choose to increase your off-grid credibility, you can charge this device fully in around eight hours using nothing but the sun.
Given the incredibly high build quality, thoughtful features, and durable design, the Explorer 500 is a fantastic option. Better yet, the price is extremely competitive compared to much of the competition.
- Large capacity for the price
- Pure sine inverter
- High-capacity solar charge controller
- Fairly compact
- No USB Type-C
- The Handle is useful but wastes space
Earlier in this review, I mentioned that “solar” generators do not typically come pre-equipped with solar panels. Rather, solar charging is a feature that can be added later by purchasing portable solar panels. Although this is the norm, The Renogy Phoenix is the exception. This portable generator presents an extremely unique approach to portable power banks by using a novel form factor as well as built-in solar panels.
The first thing you will notice about the Renogy Phoenix is the appearance. Most solar powered generator models use a “lunch box” form factor, but the Renogy looks like a tactical Pelican case. It’s undeniably a cool look. It is also a highly functional form factor. The comparatively flat profile of this unit makes it much easier to transport, carry, and store. There’s a reason luggage is shaped this way, and I wish more solar generators would take those cues. In normal use, you don’t need to open the case. Every port, switch, and display is conveniently located on the side of the unit.
Opening the case by undoing the impressively rugged latches reveals the solar panels. This is one of the only all-in-one solar solutions I have seen. It stores the power, collects the power, and converts the power all in one compact package. The specs are fairly impressive as well. This unit has roughly 250wH of energy storage, which can be delivered through a variety of DC ports or a 150W inverter. Renogy is a well-known manufacturer of commercial solar panels, and so I am sure the panels here are of excellent quality. However, space limitations mean that you should expect any miracles.
Solar panels are often very large. Accordingly, the solar panels fitted to this machine are only capable of producing 20-watts. In other words, in ideal conditions, it would take over twelve hours to fully charge this unit using only the sun. It’s an extremely clever design, but adding an additional external solar panel via the including charging port may be a good idea for heavy users.
This is a great product with top-quality components, and it uses a form factor that I wish more companies would adopt. If you need a rugged all-in-one solution, this is a fantastic choice.
- Built-in solar panels
- Excellent form factor
- Very rugged
- Panels may be limited in charging speed
- Inverter is relatively small
If you spend any time reading solar powered generator reviews, you will quickly realize just how many brands are on the market. There are established brands like Jackery, Goal Zero, Bluetti, or Renogy. Beyond these, there are a plethora of lesser-known brands that can offer various advantages in terms of price or features. Yet, for me to recommend one of these less mainstream names, it needs to present a significant advantage. Otherwise, there is little reason to not just choose one of the frontline players. The SUAOKI G500 is a fairly polished product with a good set of features. However, I am not sure it distinguished itself enough for a wholehearted recommendation.
The G500 has a 500wH battery, aligning it with the larger models from Jackery and Goal Zero. Although both numbers are arbitrary, the trend is for portable power stations to have an inverter of roughly the same capacity as the included battery. In other words, the accepted standard seems to be that these packs should be able to sustain a device running at maximum load for roughly an hour. To that end, one would expect the G500 to have a 500W inverter. However, this device is actually somewhat hampered with only a 300W inverter. It is sufficient for most purposes but nonetheless falls below par.
From a connectivity perspective, the SUAOKI gets some things right and some things wrong. With two 120VAC outlets, cigarette and 5.5mm 12V outputs, two USB, and a USB Type-C, the G500 has most bases covered. However, the Type-C port is a non-PD variety that can only output 18W. Thus, it cannot be used to charge laptops like much of the conversation. The input options are nice as well. The solar charge controller can accept up to 150-watts of input, putting it somewhat above the 100-watt standard. You can also charge using a 5.5mm barrel plug or a PV socket connector, making this a plug and play option for more third-party solar panels.
The display is reasonably well laid out and displays the relevant information clearly. However, my testing revealed a slightly annoying attribute. The backlight is extremely bright and cannot be dimmed. Using this power pack at night, I ended up covering the display with tape to shield from the glare. It’s a minor complaint, but an annoyance nonetheless.
Perhaps the largest issue here is the price. To be clear, the SUAOKI G500 is not a bad portable solar generator. It does a lot right, and the quality seems admirable. However, there are so many options for shoppers that a product must be the best solar powered generator in its class to warrant a recommendation, and ultimately this option isn’t better or cheaper than the mainstream choices.
- Compact for its capacity
- Large selection of inputs and outputs
- Fairly pricey
- No Type-C PD
- Bright display
As I mentioned above, upstart brands can be an excellent opportunity to have more capabilities and features at a lower price. Among these upstart brands, PRYMAX is developing a great reputation very quickly. Beyond the testing I did with our sample unit, I have numerous friends who have bought PRYMAX products as a budget alternative, and their reviews have been unanimously positive thus far.
From a power perspective, this is a very capable mid-size unit. The battery is just shy of 300wH, and the included inverter is a stout 300W unit with a 600W peak. The PRYMAX is very similar to the Jackery in design, with a sturdy plastic casing and attractive albeit slightly garnish orange embellishments. Overall, the form factor is functional and easy to carry. Like the Jackery, I found the highly pronounced handle to be a slight waste of space that prevents the unit from being stacked or placed easily on a shelf. This is a minor complaint, however.
In terms of ports and user interface, the PRYMAX is adequate but not perfect. The inclusion of two 120VAC outlets is a rarity on a unit of this size, and much appreciated. Further, it has a nice selection of two USB ports, a non-PD USB Type-C, and barrel jacks for both 12VDC and 24VDC. While these barrel jacks constitute added functionality, I wish they had been either placed farther apart or made to be different sizes. Given their proximity and use of the same port, it would be very easy to plug a 12V device into a 24V source, potentially causing damage.
The display has a lot of segments but does not always display the exact information you would hope for. It will show the individual power draw from each circuit, which is great for monitoring power usage. Unfortunately, the main battery indicator displays a range of 1-5 bars instead of giving an actual percentage. Thus, it is impossible to tell if the unit has 99% or 81% remaining, which can be frustrating. Finally, the solar charge controller is adequate for many users, but may not be enough for all. This device can accept up to 50-watts of input. As solar panels continue to improve, portable 100-watt units will become increasingly common, which may date this machine prematurely.
In summary, this device has a lot of great features but a couple of notable bottle-necks. Provided the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, this model can represent great value for many.
- Lots of ports
- Powerful inverter
- Good value
- Display is vague
- 50W Charge controller
- Awkward 12V/24V ports
How to Choose the Best Solar Powered Generator
Wading through portable solar generators reviews presents a lot of variables. With a gasoline-powered generator, the gist of a unit can be understood by knowing its peak and continuous outputs.
But a solar power generator review must cover inverter ratings, battery capacities, solar charge controllers, and countless other factors. It can make finding the best solar generators seem like a challenge. However, the process can be streamlined fairly easily.
Here is what you need to know.
Where Are the Solar Panels?
The term “solar powered generator” is commonly used to describe these devices, but it can be a bit misleading. With some exceptions, most of these devices do not actually include solar panels. Rather, a solar generator is a large battery pack with several features built-in that allow it to be used to capture energy from a variety of sources and power your various devices.
A typical solar power generator consists of a large battery, an inverter that converts the battery’s power into 120VAC for powering household devices, and a “solar charge controller.” The charge controller is what allows you to plug in a solar panel and charge the device from the sun. However, you can also charge the battery from your home outlets or your car’s 12V outlet. Thus, the sun is an option, but not a necessity.
What is a Watt? What’s a Watt-Hour?
With all of the electronics inside of these devices, you need to know a bit about how electricity is measured. A “watt” is a unit of power, just like horsepower. The more watts a device can produce, the bigger the appliances or devices that the generator can power. A battery, however, is measured in “watt-hours.” The math is fairly intuitive. If a device uses 100-watts of power, a 100-watt-hour battery can power that device for one hour.
When reading a solar powered generator review, it is important to keep both of these numbers in mind so that you can have a generator that has enough power, and endurance, to achieve your goals.
How Much Capacity Is Needed?
Consumers have extremely varied uses for their portable power stations. Some people merely want to charge their phones, while others use the device to power their entire off-grid home. For most casual users who simply need a source of power during a weekend getaway, a pack with between 150-250wH will be sufficient for your needs. With this, you should have no issues powering phones, laptops, and lights for a couple of days. However, if you intend to be disconnected for longer or have a more critical device to power (like a CPAP), you may want to consider a larger unit with 500wH or more.
The Number and Type of Ports Make A Difference
Once you have finished reading solar power generator reviews and purchased your device, you will be shocked how often you will use it. One of the best attributes a power pack can have is a variety of ports. I generally look for a model with at least three USB ports to prevent having to choose between a fresh phone and a charged GoPro. Further, USB Type-C PD is a new standard that allows laptops to charge much more efficiently. While not an absolute requirement, it is a nice feature to have.
Solar powered generator reviews can be a tricky subject because the needs of individuals vary so widely. Yet, there are some truly great values in the market today. The best solar generators combined a large battery capacity, a powerful generator, and a variety of ports into an affordable package.
Each of the models we tested had its advantages, but the title of the best solar generator goes to the Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240. It combines all of the needed features into a user-friendly package at a great price. Of course, if you need more capacity, the Jackery 500 is a similar concept with even more power on reserve.