Do a search on Amazon and you will find a bunch of “Solar Generators” such as the Goal Zero Yeti, Ecoflow, and Renogy. Except for the Renogy Phoenix, most of these are just basically battery packs with USB ports and an inverter(for small AC devices) in a nice package that can be charged by a solar panel.
We purchased a cheaper PAXCESS PA100W unit about a year ago to use mostly as a USB charger for camping trips and other extended outings. We did use the AC plug to run a small fan for a few hours once.
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- POWERFUL AC, USB AND 12V OUTPUTS KEEP ALL YOUR DEVICES CHARGED UP: Whether you're looking to keep iPhone, iPad, laptop, DSLR camera charged up, or running lights, CPAP machine and small appliances in an off-grid or power outage, the Paxcess portable power station features a variety of outputs, including 3* 12V DC port(max 180W,with an extra cigarette socket cable) / 2* 110V AC outlet inverter(modified sine wave, max 100W) / 2* USB 5V port, to ensure you have the power you need at any time
- EASILY RECHARGED FROM SUN, WALL OUTLET OR CAR: No matter where you go, keep Paxcess portable generator charged through 3 easy ways: Simply use the included AC adapter from wall outlet to charge up the Paxcess generator in 7-8 hours. On the go, use Paxcess 50w solar panel to charge it from the power of the sun and works as a portable solar generator(The compatible solar panel is sold separatly). Lastly, charging while on-the-road is easy with the included 12V car charger cable.
- CLEAN ADN PORTABLE POWER, NO GASOLINE REQUIRED: Since there's no gasoline required and no toxic fumes, the Paxcess generator is completely safe to use inside your house, tent, and car. It's also silent which makes it the perfect generator alternative to have on hand for any event; Only weights 3.3lbs and ideal size for traveling, fits perfectly in the backpack or backseat on long road trips.
- SAFETY GUARANTEED: Battery Management System (BMS) undertakes voltage control, temperature control and more advanced safety operations, ensuring complete protection for you and your devices.
- 100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE: At Paxcess, your satisfaction is our first priority, that's why we offer you 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you are not satisfied with your purchase within 45 days, you can return with 100% money back. No hassles, no question asked. If your generator failed within 1 year time, we will send you brand new replacement. 100% Risk Free.
- The Phoenix is an all-in-one portable solar power system specifically designed for mobile, off-grid applications and is ideal for emergencies
- This compact, lightweight back-up system combines highly efficient Renogy 20W Monocrystalline Solar Panels and can expand up to 100 watts with additional PVs
- The Phoenix can be charged by solar, AC power, or car power and comes with a 16Ah Li-ion(NMC) battery
- The included 16Ah Li-ion(NMC) battery , giving the capability of limitless power. Charging Temperature Range 0~45C°
- Minimum Inverter Efficiency: 80 percentage, Max Continuous Output Power: 150W, Output AC Frequency: 60 Hz
- RIVER MOBILE POWER STATION TRAVEL BUNDLE: Lightweight, 100% safe portable power supply with smart tech for optimum energy output; lithium ion powered mobile kit comes with padded case and charger cables
- 11 EMERGENCY POWER STATION OUTLETS: 4 USB (2 quick charge), 2 USB-C, 2 DC, 2 AC and 12V car port - no portable power station offers more charging variety; charge cell phones, rechargeable electric devices, your car and more
- HOLDS CHARGES UP TO 1 YR. - NO GAS NEEDED: Perfect portable generators for camping, or heavy duty portable generators for home use with a tough power generator case that features waterproof canvas
- SILENT + VERSATILE: A lithium power generator for any job, from photo shoots and football games or for disaster prep kits and heavy duty backup battery power when you're out enjoying nature
- PERFORMANCE ASSURED: RIVER lithium portable power station guarantees best-in-class quality and offers a full refund against defect; battery generator does not charge items over 500W (full fridges, hairdryers, heaters, etc.)
- The Goal Zero Yeti 3000 Portable Power Station stores 3,075 watt-hours in a replaceable lithium battery pack with a variety of high-power outputs capable of running 10 devices at once.
- Features our exclusive patent-pending Pure-Sine Wave AC Inverter rated for 1500 watts continuous power and a 3000 watt surge. Run fridges, blenders, swamp coolers, tools, sump pumps, and more all at the push of a button.
- It operates with no noise, no fumes, no gasoline - making it perfectly safe to use both indoors and out. Recharge the internal battery by plugging it in at home, or pairing it with solar panels, sold separately.
- Check power usage and control the Yeti Power Station from any mobile device via the free Goal Zero Yeti App. It's easy to check battery levels, turn ports on and off, and even update firmware from almost anywhere.
- No additional maintenance or operation costs resulting in a total cost of ownership that's less than half of a gasoline generator
Last update on 2018-12-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Without solar, you can charge these units from your house AC or car DC and then take them with you. Since they have AC outlets on them you can run smaller devices like a fan or charge your laptop. Some of these also have 12V DC Outlets so you can plug in and run car accessories that use the cigarette lighter plug.
Most of these units have a basic solar charger built-in and can be charged from a solar panel with the right cables. This is where they are getting their name “Solar Generator” from.
What sets them apart?
As you can see from the few samples above, the prices can range from a little over $100 upwards to over $3000 for the Goal Zero Yeti 3000.
The main difference between them will be battery size and type. A larger battery will let you run devices longer but this will also usually come at the expense of a heavy unit. Other features to look for are how many and what types of charging ports it will come with. (The Yeti 3000 weighs 68lbs and comes with a detachable roll cart!)
If you are looking to run AC powered devices, pay attention to how many watts the unit can output. The little PAXAcces can only do 100 watts. The Ecoflow can output 500 watts and the Yeti Goal Zero 3000 can output 3000 watts!
Watts = Volts X Amps
Look at the AC device you want to power and it should have an amp rating on its power adapter. Take that number and multiply it by 110 to get its approximate watts usage. If you are planning to run multiple AC devices on a regular basis, add their watts usage together to see what size solar generator you need.
Units with Lithium batteries will be lighter than units with SLA(Sealed Lead Acid) batteries. Lithium batteries will also last longer(aka more charging cycles).
Another measurement you will see these units listed with is Watt Hours. What is a Watt Hour? It is a measurement of power over time. If you run a 100 watt light bulb for 4 hours that equals 400 watt-hours. If you had a 500 Watt-Hour rated solar generator, you could run that 100-watt light bulb for 5 hours before running the battery out. (Note: while it’s generally ok to run Lithium batteries down to 90%, SLA(Sealed Lead Acid) batteries should not be run down more than 50% or else you start to dimish the battery’s capacity). Goal Zero goes into a deeper explanation here: https://www.goalzero.com/blog/what-is-a-watt-hour/
Later on, when we are looking at building our own Solar Generator, we will be talking battery capacities. Deep Cycle batteries are rated in Amp Hours(AH). To convert to Watt Hours, just multiply by 12. For example, a 12volt 50ah battery would equal 600 watt-hours or capacity.
As mentioned earlier, you can charge these “Solar Generators” at home or in your car and then use them for a couple of hours (or days depending on the size) until the battery runs out. For example, many people use these Solar Generators to power CPAP machines while tent camping. This is also a great way to power a fan if you are tent camping in the Texas Summer!
But what if you need the extended use of your Solar Generator? Simply add the right sized solar panel and you can get a “free” recharge of your batteries from the sun! That’s right, just about all of the Solar Generators for sale do NOT come with Solar Panels!
For our project, we picked the Renogy Eclipse 100 Watt Solar Suitcase for ease of portability, but there are many choices out there. Check out a fe woptions below:
- Excellent performance in low-light environments, alligator clips for ease of connection.
- Adjustable, corrosion-resistant aluminum stand as well as a heavy duty handle and Latches for longevity.
- Included temperature sensor and Battery voltage sensor allows you to Monitor with ease.
- 20A built-in waterproof 4-stage solar charge controller provides overcharge protection, reducing fire risk.
- Negative-ground charge controller for compatibility with your RV, boat, trailer, etc.
- The HQST100W Polycrystalline Solar Suitcase is integrated with highly efficient polycrystalline panels, sturdy aluminum stands, and a handy traveling bag, making this a perfect portable solar system.
- With an HQST 20A PWM Controller and 10 feet of wiring separating your controller and battery you will have nothing to complain about.
- Thanks to the integrated temperature sensor, charging for your batteries is more accurate since it automatically accounts for proper temperature compensation.
- The 20A controller is compatible with 12V and 24V systems and has an easy to read LCD display.
- HQST 100W Polycrystalline Solar Suitcase is a plug and play system.
- Solar Panel Kit: 2 pieces of foldable 50W high efficiency Grade A monocrystalline solar panels with 10A charge controller, can work as a battery ready kit or a generator ready kit or BOTH
- Capable Solar Panel Kit:charge generators with MC4 connectors, charge 12V Car or Marine batteries (Sealed, GEL, Flooded) with the alligator clips; or both at the same time. Additional solar panel (Max 40w) could be connected by MC4 connectors to charge battery faster
- Portable and Easy Setup: with pre-installed stands, the PV kit does not need separate mounting brackets; weight: 33.1lb and size: 19.69 x 25.6 x2.9 inches; comes with a protective suitcase, you can take it wherever you want and set up in 1 min
- Designed with Details: corner protectors, Anderson plug, MC4 connectors, Junction box with diodes, handle, latches, fuse, carrying bag/suitcase; aluminum frame for solid and lightweight structure; from design to packing, every detail is our effort for you to have reliable green power
- For Pre-wired Zamp Solar RV or Camper: please search a SAE adapter https://goo.gl/WuT6PN
- No hot spots guaranteed
- Extremely flexible: This panel is capable of meeting a wide range of applications where standard panels can be inconvenient to mount, such as on the curved roof of an airstream
- Ultra lightweight: thanks to advanced polymer materials, this product weighs 70% less than conventional Solar panels, making transportation and installation a breeze
- Super thin lamination: hardly noticeable, the Renogy 100W lightweight panel laid flat is Only a tenth of an inch tall! Approximately 95% thinner than its rigid counterpart, this panel is ideal for a stealthy Solar setup
- Highly durable: rigorously tested, the 100W panel Was designed to withstand extreme wind of up to 2400 PA and snow loads of up to 5400 PA
Last update on 2018-12-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Build a DIY Solar Generator vs buying a Pre-made unit?
- 428Wh lithium portable power station can power up to 7 devices at once (39,600mAh at 10.8V/119,000 at 3.6V)
- Continuous 300W, 1200W surge pure-sine wave inverter, 2.4A USB ports, 120W 12V ports
- Charge phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, and most small devices. Provides power for small appliances, lights, CPAPs and more
- Recharges from AC or pair with a solar panel (sold separately)
- Designed and engineered by power station experts with a US-based customer service center
- 396Wh lead acid battery portable power station can power up to 7 devices at once (33Ah @ 12V)
- Continuous 300W, 600W surge pure-sine wave inverter, 2.1A USB ports, 120W 12V ports
- Charge phones, tablets, laptops, cameras, and most small devices. Backup power for small appliances, lights, and more
- Recharges from AC, 12V or solar panels (sold separately). Gas-free generator alternative with no noise, no fumes, no maintenance
- Chainable with other 33Ah lead acid batteries for longer runtimes
- The Anker Advantage: Join the 10 million+ powered by our leading technology.
- Portable Power: Off-grid power supply for camping or emergency backup, capable of powering lamps, phones, laptops, TVs and even mini fridges. PowerHouse boasts triple output modes: a 12V car socket, an 110V AC outlet (for devices up to 120W) and 4 fast-charging USB ports.
- Remarkably Compact: PowerHouse is possibly the smallest and lightest 400Wh power supply on the market. A high-density lithium-ion battery allows for a more compact build than that of lead-acid power packs.
- Safety Guaranteed: Battery Management System (BMS) undertakes voltage control, temperature control and more advanced safety operations, ensuring complete protection for you and your devices.
- What You Get: Anker PowerHouse (434Wh Portable Power Supply), 10ft / 304cm AC adapter, 2ft / 60cm Micro USB charging cable, welcome guide, our worry-free 18-month warranty and friendly customer service.
Last update on 2018-12-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Great question that has a few reasons why and maybe a reason or 2 why you would NOT build your own.
Cost – A Goal Zero Yeti 400 Portable Power Station, 400Wh Battery Powered Generator Alternative with 12V, AC and USB Outputs costs about $400 (The Lithium version is about $600)
Here are the parts I used to build my Goal Zero Yeti 400 equivalent (this DIY system actually has 420 watt-hours of capacity)
(Keyko Batteries seem to be currently unavailable on Amazon but you can get a Mighty Max Battery 35AH U1 Deep Cycle AGM Solar Battery for $67)
Suaoki Car Battery Charger 4 Amp 6/12V Fully Automatic $35 (I haven’t actually purchased an AC to DC charger yet and have been solely charging from the Solar Panel for the last few months!)
My total parts total about $233 but add another $50 to $70 if you want or need to run a Pure Sine Wave inverter. So let’s say $300 total. That is $100 cheaper with a little more capacity, but what are the other advantages and disadvantages to DIY vs pre-made Solar Generators?
Packaging – Pre-made Solar Generator Wins!
Look how nice that Goal Zero Yeti is packaged up vs my DIY! Nice and neet with cool led displays.
Warranty – Tie
With a DIY, there is no single source for your warranty but on the other hand, if one piece of your DIY Solar Generator fails, you could easily replace just that one part. Let’s call this a tie.
Education & Learning – DIY Solar Generator Wins!
I have been building this project with my 10-year-old, explaining to him what each piece does and how we convert 12v to 110v. I have also learned a lot myself! We have a 33ft RV and plan to add solar to that in 2019.
Expandability – DIY Wins!
With my current Minn Kota battery case, I can easily add another 35ah battery and double my capacity. This would only cost me another $90(with cables) and now I would have an 840 watt-hours capacity system(although it would now be another 23 pounds heavier). You can also add external batteries to a Goal Zero Yeti, but you would have to carry it separately which would be less convenient.
Easy To Build
Starting with the Minn Kota Trolling Motor Battery Case make this build pretty easy. That case includes two 12v cigarette lighter ports. I added a Dual USB QC 3.0 Charging Port with Volt Display to mine. Most of my needs are 12v and USB so I don’t always need the 120V Inverter. Put your battery in and connect the positive and negative cables, charge it up and you’re ready to go!
Not shown in these pics, but I do have an on/off switch wired to USB QC Charger to save some battery when not in use.
I did use the modified sine wave inverter on a recent tent camping trip to inflate an Aerobed(sooooo comfy). This only took about 2 minutes and the battery was back to full charge after hooking back to the Renogy Solar Panel for a few minutes. We also use the battery to run some 12v 5050 LED Light Strips.
We are currently waiting for delivery of a 50AH LifePO4 Battery. These lithium phosphate batteries are about 1/3 the weight of Sealed Lead Acid batteries like our Keyko and can charge much quicker(our Renogy Solar Charger supports the LifePO4 charging profile). We will update this post once we have had some time with the new battery.
Our new Suncycle 50ah LifePO4 battery arrived and it is currently soaking up the sun (charging). It weighs about 10 pounds less than the 35ah Keyko Gel we took out and there is easily room for one for to make 100ah total.
The cost for this new 50ah LifePO4 battery was about $270 and we now have 600 watt-hours.