If You Have Solar Panels do you Need a Generator?

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If You Have Solar Panels do you Need a Generator?

If You Have Solar Panels do you Need a Generator

So now that if you have solar panels do you need a generator? The short answer is maybe.  It depends on your power requirements, but it’s important to know about the options available to you before making that decision.

Generator or Stand Alone Solar System

The simplest option for having both solar and portable power is the purchase of a generator.  This allows you to keep all of your devices charged with one machine.  However, generators are loud and expensive; they produce fumes that can be harmful in small areas, require fuel (which must be kept fresh), and will need maintenance from time to time to ensure proper functionality.

A better solution may be a stand-alone solar system added to an existing generator.  A stand-alone system is much smaller than a mix between the two systems because it does not require an inverter to switch DC current to AC.  It simply charges your batteries and you can use the power in your devices. Some models will even monitor your battery life for you, turning it on when they sense that your batteries are low so that you do not unexpectedly lose power.

Both of these options are great if you need to run only small items like lights or fans during a short power outage, however, if you have larger items that need more power then an inverter may be required for certain appliances’ use.  For example, some refrigerators cannot be run off of solar power without using an inverter since they require a constant supply of energy.

Inverters create AC current from DC current and can power larger devices such as fridges, stoves, microwaves, etc.  This option can be expensive because it requires a large solar array to run the inverter (which turns on only when needed) and these systems also require additional batteries for storage.  You will need to weigh your individual power requirements against the expense and time/labor required for installation in order to determine the best solution for your needs.

Though generators and inverters provide options for keeping all of your appliances charged during a power outage they do not necessarily address the issue of powering heavy equipment during times when there is no sunlight available such as days spent indoors or underground.  This is where a battery bank can be of use.

Battery Bank Options

Solar Panel Battery Storage

Battery banks are used to store power that you generate during the day for use at night or on cloudy days.  They can also be used to store power from your generator so that it doesn’t needlessly run all of the time and they provide options such as splitting the bank with other people (to reduce cost) and keeping them charged when plugged into your house’s electrical system (for security/emergency reasons).

A simple option might be to purchase solar panels and charge controllers which would allow you to easily power small appliances directly from your roof or shed. This option is great for those who don’t want to work with electricity and simply wish to power a refrigerator and/or small appliances.  However, this option is only helpful during daylight hours and does not allow you to use this solar output at night or when it’s cloudy out. The simplest way to store this energy is in the form of an electrolyte battery.

They are available at most hardware stores, they can be used for small projects, they require no special tools to build, they are relatively inexpensive (about $0.03 per charge), and will last approximately 50 charges before needing to be replaced.

The next option is an AGM battery, which is similar to an electrolyte but uses glass mat technology instead of liquid acid as the electrolyte. While these will cost more than electrolytes ($0.25 per charge) they will provide more power, are safer to use/transport, and last much longer (500-700 charges).  These batteries can be purchased or built yourself and require slightly more know-how than electrolytes but they offer a more reliable energy source.

Read More: Community Solar VS Rooftop Solar: Which One is Better?

Another Option is the Lithium Battery 

Though more costly than either of the previous options ($0.60+ per charge) these babies have an incredible life span (2500-3500 charges), high output (more than 3x that of an AGM or electrolyte), minimal self-discharge rate (meaning you can store them for up to 5 years without losing efficiency), and can handle higher loads without reduced performance.


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