Solar Generators: Clean, Quiet, Portable Power

Generators are typically used to provide electricity during power outages (e.g., during storms, emergencies, and related disaster-relief operations) or in off-grid situations or areas where there is no access to a built-in power source (e.g., on construction sites, on camping trips, or at outdoor events—for concert stages, food booths, etc.). So, in a nutshell, they’re mostly used for temporary, portable/mobile, back-up, or remote power needs.

Conventional generators have a number of downsides. They require gasoline (or diesel fuel), which can be expensive—especially during emergencies, when there can also be gas shortages. The stinky emissions from gas-powered generators also contribute to air pollution and climate change, and they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning when placed inside a home or building, or too close to doors, windows, or vents on the outside of a building. (In fact, several people who were using generators due to Hurricane Sandy died from carbon monoxide poisoning.) Furthermore, gas generators are very loud.

Solar generators provide a smart, silent, safe, and clean alternative that uses renewable energy (no fuel = no emissions), and there are a number of products available to choose from these days. (Biodiesel or hybrid generators are other options to consider.)

Below is a list of the U.S.-based solar generator brands that I’ve looked into so far; this is not a comprehensive listing.  If you know of other brands of solar generators and would recommend them, please let us know in the Comments. Thanks!

SolManSmall-Scale, Compact Units

These solar generators are designed to provide a modest amount of electricity for temporary, emergency, or low-use power needs. The smallest units can easily charge gadgets and power lights, but do not have the capacity to run large, power-hungry equipment or appliances (e.g., refrigerators or heaters) for more than a short time. (For example, a 1500-watt unit can generally only run a small space heater for up to 2 hours or so at night, when the unit is not being recharged by the sun.) The average price among these compact options is somewhere around $2,500 – $4,000, though you can find some that are less expensive (note: the cheapest products often use panels or components that are made in China). The prices could change significantly in coming months and years, as the cost of solar panels continues to go down, and battery and photovoltaic technologies are evolving rapidly.

SolPad (based in Northern California) [added in 2018]

SolMan (from Sol Solutions, based in Northern California)

Yeti (from Goal Zero, based in Utah) [added 3/15]

Ready2Go (from E.A.R.T.H., based in Hawaii and Southern California)

SUNRNR (A.K.A. Sun Runner, based in Virginia)

Larger Systems

Some of these are intended for use on construction job sites or public works projects. Most are mounted on trailers that can be towed. While many of these generators are meant for commercial/industrial uses, some could also potentially be used to power an entire off-grid homestead.Mobile Solar Power

Ecos PowerCube (based in Florida)  [added 8/14]

Mobile Solar Power (based in Central California)

SolaRover (based in Colorado)


Some companies offer hybrid systems that allow for back-up generation using biodiesel, if solar power is not providing enough power for a user’s needs.

Please chime in with additional info and recommendations based on your own experience or knowledge of solar or biodiesel generators!

Related post: Resilience: Disaster-Resistant, Adaptive, and Restorative Design and Planning [Feb. 2013]


November 12, 2012

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Carina M. July 22, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Love the points here, looking into making a sort of DIY power setup for myself soon. Can’t wait to delve into this sort of stuff. Hopefully it’ll be something to be proud of when I’m done, wish me luck!

Armando Stapels February 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Certainly, but we all need to realize that adding Solar to their house is an asset which could increase the long term value of their home if / when they make a choice to sell. With the environment the way it is going we are not able to dismiss any product that provides 100 % free power at no cost to both the buyer and more notably the earth!

Tom Slaiter February 6, 2013 at 4:10 am

I’ve never seen one of those mobile solar panels before, it looks fantastic!

Great post, thanks for the links and info

admin November 28, 2012 at 10:02 am

Yep, grid-tied systems will shut off during a power outage. But it is possible to get a battery back-up for a grid-tied system, to help provide a little power during outages.

Brian (Green Building Materials Guide) November 28, 2012 at 8:04 am

Thanks for the follow up! I wasn’t aware that grid-tied systems don’t work during power outages. I’m definitely not an electrical engineer, but I had envisioned the PV array being connected first to your home & then to the grid. Is this not the case?

admin November 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

Hi Brian,
Indeed, for people who have the ability ($$, ownership status, and adequate south-facing area) to install a permanent PV system for their home or business, that’s a good way to go. But if it’s a grid-tied system (rather than an off-grid system), it won’t work during a power-outage. Also, there are other situations and circumstances where only a portable/mobile generator would fit the bill, e.g., for mobile disaster-relief operations, on temporary construction sites, on camping trips, or at outdoor events—for concert stages, food booths, etc.; or for people who rent or lease a home or building. It’s also conceivable that some permanent solar arrays could been damaged by especially strong storms, and generators could provide back-up power.

Brian (Green Building Materials Guide) November 19, 2012 at 9:56 am

Interesting information! I had no idea these things existed. The odd part of it (maybe just from my perspective) is why you wouldn’t just set up PV panels permanently at your home or business. That way you could actually benefit from their power production year round (hopefully) and in an emergency as well (plus they’re already set up!).

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