Solar powered generators: 13 options for clean, portable power

These portable power supplies can take the place of a traditional gas-powered generator and supply you with clean, silent electricity anywhere.

Whether you’re a camper, boater, someone who wants backup power for occasional blackouts or an uninterruptible power supply for important equipment such as a home server or computer, a solar generator can be a great option that also happens to be more environmentally friendly.

A solar generator isn’t a generator in the same way that a traditional gasoline generator is. There’s no engine inside: instead, a solar generator consists of a large lithium-ion battery and one or more solar panels to recharge it.

Some solar generator kits even allow you to connect a wind turbine, giving you another option to recharge the generator even if the sun isn’t shining. And all solar generators give you the option to recharge from a wall outlet, whether it’s a 120v household outlet or a 12v DC outlet (like you would find in a car).

This article includes links to our affiliate partners, and we may earn a small commission when you purchase one of the products listed on this page. Our reviews are independent, and none of the companies have paid to be featured.

What is a solar generator?

A solar generator consists of a lithium battery in a hardened case that has a built-in inverter, charge controller, and a variety of input and output ports. A kit version will include one or more solar panels that can plug into the input port of the generator, charging it directly from the sun.

The built-in inverter converts the DC power from the battery into AC power that can power standard 120v household appliances. Very small solar generators might omit the inverter and only supply DC power, but the devices listed in this article all include an inverter.

The charge controller manages the flow of power from the solar panel into the battery, automatically regulating the charge rate so that the battery never gets overcharged.

Input ports on a solar generator

If you buy a standard solar panel on the internet, it will probably have an output connector known as an MC4. An MC4 connector ensures a positive, waterproof connection that’s designed to be durable for a really long time. If you have solar panels on your roof, this is what’s used to connect all the wiring together. An MC4 connector looks like this:

Photo of an MC4 connector
Photo credit: Multi-Contact AG / CC BY-SA 3.0

In general, a solar generator isn’t going to have a matching MC4 input port that lets you plug any solar panel directly into it. Instead, you will tend to see one of two ports: a round DC connector or an Anderson powerpole connector. Sometimes, a solar generator will have both.

An Anderson powerpole connector has two wires that are colored black and red. An adapter cable with MC4 at one end and an Anderson connector at the other looks like this:

Photo of a MC4 to Anderson powerpole adapter cable.

Another type is a round DC connector. Here’s an example of an adapter cable with MC4 connectors at one end and a DC connector at the other:

Photo of a MC4 to round DC adapter cable.

With adapter cables like these, you would plug either the male or female MC4 connector into your solar panel, and the DC or Anderson connector into your solar generator. (One MC4 connector will be unused.)

One thing to keep in mind is that DC connectors come in a variety of diameters, so if you buy a cable make sure that it’s the right size. With many of the products listed below, they include a adapter cable that you plug into a household wall outlet or 12 volt DC “cigarette” port at one end, and a small round DC input port on the battery at the other end.

Can you plug any solar panel into a solar generator?

Always check the manual for your solar generator first to see the input requirements for the product. In particular, check the voltage limits to make sure that you aren’t sending a higher voltage than the device can handle. This is especially the case if you wire multiple solar panels in series to increase the power input. You can speed up charging by using mutiple panels this way, but be sure to not exceed the limits of your device!

Solar panels with built-in Anderson or DC connectors

Solar panels that are marketed for the camping and RV crowd will often come with an Anderson or DC connector instead of MC4, or include an adapter cable. Often, these come in a folding suitcase-style form factor to make it easy to pack around. Check out our article on foldable solar panels for some examples.

Brands that offer foldable solar panels often also have solar generators in their product lineup.

Choosing a solar generator: watts and watt-hours explained

Do you want to keep your house powered with solar energy during a blackout? A solar generator isn’t going to do that: you’d need a bigger battery.

For smaller power requirements, such as one or two appliances or some electronic devices, a solar generator can be a great choice. Phones and laptops don’t draw very much power, so you could get away with a smaller battery in the 200 watt-hour range.

If you have ambitions to power larger devices such as a freezer or even a window air conditioner, you’ll need to do a little math and understand a couple basic terms.

Watts (abbreviated as W) measures how much power a device is using at any point in time. For example, when the compressor in your refrigerator is running, it’s probably drawing somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 watts.

Watt-hours (abbreviated as Wh) is a measurement of power usage over time. For example, if that same 180 watt refrigator runs continuously for one hour, it will have consumed 180 watt-hours.

Kilowatts (kW) and kilowatt-hours (kWh) are the same thing, but divided by 1,000. This means that 1,000 Watts is the same as one kilowatt, and 1,000 watt-hours is the same as one kilowatt-hour.

A solar generator will have two ratings: its output wattage, which is the maximum number of watts that it can supply at any time, and its capacity in watt-hours, which is how long it can supply that wattage before running out of juice.

Before buying a solar generator, you’ll need to tally up your anticipated electrical usage and buy a generator with the capacity to meet both your wattage and capacity requirements. You can find a number of resources on the web that are helpful, such as Energy Use Calculator and this article from Energy.gov.

One last thing to be aware of if you’re planning to power something with a motor, like a refrigerator or table saw. When the motor in the appliance turns on, it briefly uses a lot more watts than its rating before settling into a steady electrical draw. This is often called surge power.

A good rule of thumb is that surge power is twice the appliance’s rated power. This means that if the label on your refrigerator says it draws 200 watts, it will need approximately 400 watts at start up. This means your generator will need an output rating of 400 watts, not 200 watts. Again, this issue only applies to appliances with a motor.

Which solar panels should I buy?

Many of the companies below also sell solar panels, so check to see if they have kits that include both the battery and a panel, as you can often save money that way. Otherwise, buy a solar panel with an output compatible with the input ports on your selected battery. As long as the wattage, voltage, and ports are compatible, you can use any solar panel with any battery. They don’t have to be from the same manufacturer.

Goal Zero power stations: 197 Wh to 6,000 Wh

Photo of a Goal Zero solar generator

Goal Zero is a Utah-based company that makes products aimed at outdoor enthusiasts. They offer a wide range of solar generators, starting from 200 Wh and going up to 6,000 Wh, which is large enough to keep a major appliance running for a day or so. These would also be handy for a worksite where you need to power saws and other power tools.

These devices come with a wide variety of output ports, and can be charged with Goal Zero or other solar panels.

One really nice feature of the larger Goal Zero models (1500X, 3000X, and 6000X) is a mobile app that allows you to remotely monitor the battery level, charging level, and power draw of the Yeti. The app even allows you to switch individual ports off.

The largest Yetis are wheeled and include a retractable handle.

Two year warranty. Prices run approximately from $300 to $5,000.

ProductInput PortsOutput PortsMax output (W)Capacity (Wh)
Yeti 200X8 mm DC (120 W)USB-A (2)
USB-C (2)
12 v DC
6 mm DC
120 v AC (2)
120 W, 200 W surge187 Wh
Yeti 500X8 mm DC (120 W)
USB-C (60 W)
USB-A (2)
USB-C (2)
12 v DC
6 mm DC
120 v AC (2)
300 W, 1200 W surge505 Wh
Yeti 1500X8 mm DC (120 W)
Anderson Power Pole (600 W)
USB-A (2)
USB-C (2)
12 v DC
6 mm DC (2)
120 v AC (2)
2 kW, 3.5 kW surge1516 Wh
Yeti 3000X8 mm DC (120 W)
Anderson Power Pole (600 W)
USB-A (2)
USB-C (2)
12 v DC
6 mm DC (2)
120 v AC (2)
2 kW, 3.5 kW surge3032 Wh
Yeti 6000X8 mm DC (120 W)
Anderson Power Pole (600 W)
USB-A (2)
USB-C (2)
12 v DC
6 mm DC (2)
120 v AC (2)
2 kW, 3.5 kW surge6010 Wh

Buy direct from Goal Zero

Check pricing on Amazon

Jackery power stations: 240 Wh to 1,002 Wh

Photo of a Jackery solar generator

Jackery is a California-based company that makes a small number of products aimed at the outdoor enthusiast. This article lists the power stations available from Jackery, but they also manufacture foldable solar panels that are also packaged with the power stations as a kit. If you need both a panel and a battery, this is a good way to save a couple bucks.

Two year warranty. Prices run approximately from $125 to $1,000.

ProductInput PortsOutput PortsMax output (W)Capacity (Wh)
Explorer 160round DC
12 v DC
USB-A (2)
USB-C
110 v
100 W, 150 W surge167 Wh
Explorer 240round DCUSB-A (2)
12 v DC
110 v
200 W, 400 W surge240 Wh
Explorer 300round DCUSB-A (2)
USB-C
12 v DC
110 v (2)
300 W, 500 W surge293 Wh
Explorer 500round DCUSB-A (3)
round DC (2)
12 v DC
110 v
500 W, 1000 W surge518 Wh
Explorer 1000round DC
Anderson Power Pole
USB-A (2)
USB-C (2)
12 v DC
110 v (3)
1000 W, 2000 W surge1002 Wh

Buy direct from Jackery

Check pricing on Amazon

Renogy power stations: 189 Wh to 1,075 Wh

Photo of a Renogy solar generator

Renogy is a California company that makes a wide range of products such as solar panels, batteries, charge controllers, and inverters. They make some of the better portable solar panels on the market that we’ve mentioned in our articles on flexible and foldable solar panels.

While the largest Renogy power station isn’t as huge as the massive batteries offered by Goal Zero, they do include some nifty features, such as a built-in LED light. The Lycan includes MC4-to-Anderson and 12 volt-to-Anderson adapters, and the ability to charge external 12 volt and 24 volt batteries (meaning that you could use it to charge a dead car battery).

The Lycan powerbox - the largest of the series - uses lithium iron phosphate batteries, which are more durable than lithium-ion batteries.

One year warranty. Prices run approximately from $160 to $1,200.

ProductInput PortsOutput PortsMax output (W)Capacity (Wh)
Phoenix 2005.5 mm DC (30 W)USB-A (3)
USB-C
12 v DC
round DC (2)
110 v AC
300 W, 200 W surge150 W, 200 W surge189 Wh
Phoenix 3005.5 mm DC (50 W)
USB-C (60 W)
USB-A (3)
USB-C
12 v DC
round DC (2)
110 v AC
200 W, 300 W surge337 Wh
Lycan PowerboxAnderson Power Pole (300 W)USB-A (4)
round DC (3)
12 v DC
110 v AC (4)
1,200 W1,075 Wh

COUPON CODE! Get 10% off by using the code RenogySolar10 at checkout.

Buy direct from Renogy

Check pricing on Amazon



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