Generator VS Solar

It’s a tale as old as time; how can one stay off-grid for long periods of time? It’s the million dollar question we’d all like to know, without having to be tethered to the grid like a patsy.

You’d think modern technologies have found the solution, but in fact it’s probably only increased the problem. What with smart phones, tablets, laptops, air conditioners and even that darn coffee machine becoming almost a life necessity when taking those comforts of home while touring.

Some people might scoff and think bringing those things makes you the ultimate ‘glamper’, but really, why shouldn’t you be able to?

Sometimes you might want to quickly Skype and let the family know you arrived safe and well and on those cold mornings who doesn’t like a fresh cuppa to start the day (or that icy cold beer in the arvo)?

There’s no if and buts about it; the use of technology and gadgets has become interweaved into the very fabric of our everyday lives.

Regardless if you’re the minimalist type or wanting to bring the whole kit and caboodle, you’re going to need a solution to charge your batteries so you can keep powering and using the comforts of home.

Everyone knows the most common methods to top up your batteries is either by using solar, or a generator but which one wins exactly?

We lay it out all for you.

Running costs/ set-up costs

Initial set-up costs for solar panels can be quite an expense. Unlike generators, solar panels only supply charge to your battery, where as a generator can directly supply power to your 240 volt appliances.

If you’re using solar, you will also need to consider at the very least a regulator – very important! – to safely regulate charge to your batteries, and so you don’t end up with a fried battery. But running a cable is also a good option to have when you want to park in the shade, but still take advantage of the sun.

We did the maths:

A 115 watt SunPower blanket sets you back $1,199 a regulator value pack at $145 and a remote monitorat $99 and you’re looking at $1,443.

A good quality generator is going to at least set you back $1200. However, that’s just the initial set-up, what about the ongoing costs, such as fuel and maintenance? You also need to factor in getting an AC battery charger to charge your batteries effectively.

The price of a solar set-up may seem steep initially, but it practically pays for itself over time. And it’s not like you need to buy everything all at once, you can add to your solar set-up bit by bit. Start with a solar panel battery charger or solar blanket, add a regulator and go from there.

And ongoing costs? Well there practically is none, Solar is free. Dust off your solar panels every once and a while and adhere to proper portable solar care for your blankets and you’ll be set.

Winner: Solar

 

Reliability

Probably the biggest advantage over solar power is that a generator is not affected nor dependent on the weather.  That’s the one thing going for generators – reliability. It’s not really dependent on anything other than you remembering to fuel up to keep it going.

However, the use of generators in a lot of national parks and public places are either not allowed or there are strict time restrictions placed on when it can be used. Generators are noisy little things that cause a lot of discerning ‘tsk tsk’ and eye-rolling around the campsite.

In the end it doesn’t become that much more reliable than solar if you can’t really use it freely, especially in more remote locations.

Both generators and portable panels share the same disadvantage and that’s they are often considered a high theft item. You just need to be weary of your surroundings and who you are sharing the area with. Make sure to pack everything away as soon as you are done using it.

Winner: Solar and Generator

 

Weight

A generator can weigh anywhere between 13 – 30kg and that’s before you think about adding fuel! 5L of fuel (4.45kg), an extension cable (4kg), a battery charger (2 kg) and at a minimum you’d be looking at 23.45kg.

In addition generators can be quite bulky and take up some precious real-estate in your camper trailer or vehicle.

Solar on the one hand, if you are smart about it can end up weighing less, especially if all you require is a portable solar solution.

Our 115 watt SunPower blanket weighs in at a teeny 4.5kg. Couple this with a regulator (the 20A weighs 520g), a 5m cable (2.5kg), a battery clip cable (0.5kg), and a remote monitor (320g), and you’re looking at just over 8kg!

And a big plus is that they are super easy to store – they won’t take up that much space in the boot of your caravan, you could even store it underneath the car seat!

Mike Collister from Adventure Curated is now using REDARC’s new 150W SunPower Solar Blanket. Mike mentions he likes to travel light, therefore a generator wasn’t a practical choice. “It packs small enough to never think twice about bringing it along and the 150-watt size provides all the power we need, and then some.”

Mike has a REDARC BCDC Battery Charger in his vehicle and uses the inbuilt solar regulator. “We have an Anderson plug wired to the BCDC which is ready to receive the cable directly from the solar panel. Once in the sun, our panel will happily provide enough power to run our fridge, charge our batteries and leave our vehicles second battery topped up ready for nightfall. Our second battery is large enough that we can power a few cloudy days of less or minimal solar input, so the system works really well for us.”

Read more from Mike here.

Winner: basing on portable solar blankets alone, solar comes out on top

 

 

Efficiency

A generator will generally be more efficient than solar panels as it will be able to consistently supply power to your batteries no matter what other external influences are going on.

In contrast the output of your solar panels can change day to day and even hour to hour. And as mentioned in our previous post, you really need to think about how and when you need to angle your solar panels to receive the maximum output of the sun.

Generators can also provide reliable and efficient power when taking power hungry devices like a microwave or air-conditioner, and yes even that coffee machine with you.

Winner: Generator

 

So who knocked it out of the park? You would think we would say solar, but in truth it’s a lot more complicated than that.

What it really comes down to is selecting the right battery capacity to match your consumption needs.

If all you’re taking is a 12v fridge, some LED lights, a phone and laptop charger then you’ll be a happy camper just with solar. Remember, to get the most out of your solar panels, recharge your gadgets during the day. Apart from it being green, noiseless and free, solar provides all day charging to get your batteries back to 100%.

A generator on the other hand is best used when power demand is high. For example, in the mornings (when you’re making the fresh cuppa), and in the evenings when you’re using the water pump, and using your lights.

Your best bet is to figure out your power needs, talk to a solar installer, get a second opinion and then weigh up your options.

Why not try our new solar calculator?  Test how much power you need to deliver to your appliances every day to keep them charged using the REDARC Solar Calculator.

Article from Redarc

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Comments 5

  1. Greg

    You appear to have omitted a 12v/240v inverter for the solar setup-thus negating partly a disadvantage in your solar system anaylsis. Also the solar system should mostly be able to recharge the battery for a generator!

  2. Glenn

    I have a 2kva Honda generator and as stated above found that in all but 1 caravan park could not use it. I had a Redarc 1225 D DC-DC charger fitted prior to embarking on our so far 4 1/2 month grey nomad caravan tour. I recently purchased a Kings 120 watt solar blanket which came with a solar regulator and 4m lead. Depending on the location of the sun I place it either on the windscreen or suspend it from my roof rack on occy straps and plug it into the anderson plug on the Redarc. It has worked a treat and only cost $269.00 delivered. Great value!

  3. Stephen Leask

    The solar system requires battery or batteries to charge. So should we add the weight of a 100ah battery to the solar system as well. This will increase is weight by a minimum of 30kgs but normally 40kgs. This would then made the two system comparable in weight but not in size?

  4. Ted

    Ted
    We are testing out both. A 2 kv genset and 3 panels with 3 batteries on a 2.4 tonne empty Jayco van. So with all gear and tanks full 4 of ,closer to 3 tonne . At present we are averaging 14.8 lts p 100km @ 85 kmh. Into some strong head winds. The gen set is heavy to lift in and out but is a great back up when free camping. At the moment are set up on a non powered site so the solar takes over. Everything but the microwave and coffee machine are usable so we make a cuppa with gas. The 600 watt invertor allows for tv and charging the ever increasing gadgets but as it is installed in the van the cooling fan can be annoying, if we go for a larger model say 3000 watt would move to front boot.If you can do it having both is a luxury. We would not travel without both.
    Regards
    Ted

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