If You Have Solar Panels, Do You Need a Power Generator?
From time to time, we get questions like this one - people wonder if they need a power generator if they have solar panels installed and hooked up.
And the best of all, such questions ask homeowners, RV enthusiasts, and even campers, each one describing their own setup.
So, here are our answers regarding solar panels and power generator combinations.
Published: July 5, 2022.
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Intro to Solar Panels and Power Generators
Solar panels convert solar energy (hence the name) into electricity which is then:
- sent to a power grid (homes with solar panels usually sell their solar energy to power companies); this is the most common setup,
- stored in the deep cycle batteries via solar charge controllers,
- stored in the onboard batteries of solar generators/power stations,
- used to power directly various devices/chargers via control electronics.
On the other hand, power generators burn fossil fuels, mostly gas, LPG, natural gas, or even diesel fuel, and convert the chemical energy of the fuel into electric energy which is available via various receptacles, including 120V AC, 12V DC, USB ports, etc.
While solar panels require sunlight to produce electric energy, power generators require fuel, but they don't depend on the part of the day (day or night), season, weather, and similar.
When trying to stay powered during outages and blackouts, solar panels and power generators are important, but one also must mention:
- solar generators/power stations, which unlike power generators store the energy in the onboard lithium batteries and can be recharged using solar panels, mains power, car 12V DC cigarette lighter port, etc.,
- deep cycle batteries combined with the power inverters which can power entire homes if dimensioned properly.
But, the focus of this article is on solar panels and power generators.
Home: Solar Panels vs Power Generators
Many homes on their roofs feature solar panels which are connected to the power grid, allowing the users to save money on their electric bills and even earn some money.
When there is plenty of sun and home energy requirement is low, most of such systems send electric energy to the grid. But, during the night and during periods of great energy requirements, even such homes require energy from the grid.
And when there is a blackout, homeowners with solar panels large enough to power the entire homes become surprised when their homes too are without mains power. Why?
The simplest answer is - safety. When the grid is down, to repair the issues, parts of the electric grid are turned Off and On so that workers can locate issues and fix them.
Now, imagine that those workers are trying to repair parts of the grid that are officially "Off", but homes with solar panels are trying to send extra electric power they produce - that would be a huge safety risk, not to mention that such electric system would be very unstable.
That is the main reason why even homes with solar panels lose power during blackouts and emergencies.
So, if You have solar panels and You send surplus electric energy to the grid, when the power grid is down, your home will be without electric energy.
To power at least some of the lights, appliances, tools, and similar loads at home during blackouts, one should use power generators, solar generators/power stations, and/or deep cycle batteries combined with power inverters.
These energy sources can be connected using a transfer switch or they can power just a few tools/appliances directly using onboard receptacles or extension cords.
So, long story short, if You have solar panels at home, do you need a power generator during blackouts and emergencies? Generally speaking, yes, You do need a power generator to power home lights, appliances, tools, and similar.
The actual size of the power generator depends on individual needs and requirements, but they usually range from small 1000-2000 Watts models to large 10+ kW models that can easily power whole homes.
RV: Solar Panels vs Power Generators
While being connected to the power grid, RVs have electric power and can run their appliances as they wish. However, when the RVs are off-the-grid, electric energy usually comes from their deep cycle house batteries which is converted into AC via onboard power inverters.
Most RVs feature 120V 30 Amps and 50 Amps ports, theoretically requiring anywhere from 3600 to 12000 Watts of power. While onboard battery packs in combination with power inverters often have enough power to support all required appliances at once, solar panels, if present, used to recharge such batteries are not large enough.
So, if your RV features solar panels, for example on the roof, measure just how much energy they can store during one whole day, without powering any other device - You will quickly find out that the solar panels occupying the entire roof of the RV are able to collect enough energy during 8-10h of sunlight to power RV at (almost) full power for just 1-3 hours, not more.
And what about the rest of 21-23 hours?
Well, nobody runs their RV at full power, but even if You try to save some energy, energy collected during the daylight is not enough to power energy-hungry devices like AC units and similar for any reasonable time.
So, in order to power the RV, in most situations, solar panels are simply not enough - using a portable power generator, one can power the RV and recharge the batteries at the same time even in off-the-grid situations.
This doesn't mean that the solar panels are useless, on a contrary, when every watt is important, having an array of solar panels can save plenty of fuel and money in the long run. Also, having a good solar generator with portable solar panels can come in handy in many situations.
For more info about this topic, feel free to check our Solar Panel Size: How To Calculate Solar Panel, Battery, and Inverter article.
Camping: Solar Panels vs Power Generators
When camping, solar panels are used to recharge the inverter batteries, recharge power stations/solar generators, and run certain devices directly via a charge controller.
However, energy requirements when camping are usually far lower than having an RV, allowing the users to satisfy their needs with just a few hundred watts of solar panels.
In most typical camping situations, a good power station/solar generator can easily replace a power generator.
But, for peace of mind, many campers combine solar panels and solar generators with compact and affordable power generators that don't require much storage space and are easy to use and maintain.
Few Final Words
So, if You wonder if You have solar panels, do you need a power generator, in most situations yes, a power generator is needed either to provide additional energy (since solar panels can't produce enough) or to provide entire energy during the nights.
However, it is of utmost importance to know that solar panels, solar generators, and power generators don't exclude each other - they complement each other, allowing the user to have electric energy even in the most inhospitable terrains and moments.