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Solar generators come in a wide array of shapes and sizes.

The limits of solar generators

REGION — There are a lot of solar generators on the market being sold by various companies for various purposes. Most would be handy to have on a camping trip or to charge your phone and tablet if the power goes out, but most would not power your whole house in a power outage, nor would they run a large appliance such as a refrigerator for more than a few minutes.

But with those limitations in mind, there are customers who have purchased small solar generators who are pleased with the results. A consumer named Kevin Staley, who bought a Kalisaya KaliPAK solar generator weighing about 14 pounds and storing energy in a Lithium ion battery, wrote in a review, “I wanted something I could carry, I wanted something that could charge our cell phones and tablets for a week or two, and something that could be replenished by the sun, my car, and from the grid when it was working. I wanted a power source that could power an LED light source after sunset for a few weeks without needing a recharge.” He gave the unit five stars, the highest rating available.

But another person, identified only as “person on earth,” said the product, “did not work at all.” KaliPAK makes generators that range from $450 to about $650. Most of the reviews, however, were positive.

One solar generator brand that pops up often in Internet searches is Yeti. It features solar generators that range from $200 to $2,500. Customer reviews of the Yeti 1250, which has been advertized for sale at about $1,500 were decidedly mixed. A user identified as “Amazon Customer” said he or she had purchased the unit for a relative’s oxygen concentrator and the battery was rated to last for 18 hours. “But after a storm, we connected the concentrator to the Yeit 1250, and after only two hours of use, the battery was almost depleted.”

Another user identified as “Dennis T” wrote, “The battery is just shy of one year, and the battery doesn’t charge properly on either AC, or solar.” 

Another user, Titepants, gave the product five stars and wrote, “great product and an even better company.”

Some models of generators come with the charging solar panels attached directly to the battery unit, which is convenient for the user. One such model is the Wagan Solar Power Cube, which is advertised for sale at $1,206.

This one also had mixed reviews. A customer identified as “Ringsideview” gave the unit one star and wrote, “Finally had to use after hurricane Irma. Had it fully charged ahead of time. It ran a small fan 20 minutes before dying. Takes 18 hours of full sun to recharge.” He said it was a waste of money.

And a person named Kathleen Ryel, who gave the unit four stars, said, “It’s very compact and easy to use but does not last long on a charge. I would recommend additional solar panels and an extra battery.”

There are generators that go a bit farther in the load they can carry, such as a 480 watt system sold as a kit by Go Power! Solar Extreme. The kit lists at $3,700, and was rated highest by Talco Electronics, which specializes in solar kits for recreational vehicles. It wrote of the system that it was powerful enough to power “your computer, audio speakers, smoothie or coffee machine, TV, microwave, [although not at the same time.] Some users have reported using it to power cabin, cottage, boat and RV batteries as a clean, noiseless AC power, which is a step up to diesel-powered generators.”

But reviews on Amazon were not as rosy. A buyer named Marsha wrote, “Everything came out of the box brand new, but two parts never worked: the charge controller & the battery charger. When we repeatedly called customer support of GoPower, all we got was “let’s try to troubleshoot….”

Still another buyer called Denali wrote, “System works GREAT, we even installed it ourselves. Though it took some patience and know how. It will operate most things during the day and many low use items overnight. The more batteries the better.”

The kits run up to ones that provide 3000 watts of power for more than $10,000. At that point, many of the online reviews have to do with individual components, with buyers who have put together their own systems. Those discussions get fairly technical, dealing with such esoteric matters as the merits of a “pure sine inverter” versus one that has sine that is not entirely pure. Those who have done so say assembling the components of a large solar generator on your own will save a lot of money, but will also require a good deal of commitment and research.


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