Is a Solar or Gas Generator Best? It Depends.

What makes the most sense? Buying a generator that requires gasoline or electricity, or buying a generator that provides electricity by harnessing the free energy from the sun? Well…it’s not that simple is it?

Solar has advantages, for sure, but the gear is expensive, fragile and not very portable. It doesn’t work if it’s not sunny. Gas generators work. They are also noisy and in a real SHTF situation you may not have access to gas or electricity when you need it.

What’s a person to do?

Here are some key things to consider when you’re choosing your generator, along with some generators, both solar and gas powered, that we like.

Determine your power needs.

Are you trying to power your fridges and freezers or just run a light in the evenings? Lightbulbs are typically 60 watts, while a fridge needs 700 watts to run. Running all of the items in a typical American home, from lights to microwave ovens, is around 6,000 watts. Select a generator that meets your minimum requirements.

Running watts versus starting watts.

Following the law of inertia, if an electrical appliance is already running it takes less energy to keep it running that it does to start it once it’s stopped running. Running watts are what is needed to continually run your appliances while starting watts are needed to start motor-driven appliances. If you want to keep your freezer running, figure out its starting wattage and use that number to determine a generator that can meet it.

Look at rated power rather than maximum power.

Maximum power is the maximum output a generator can produce but it can’t keep this up for very long. Rated power is the power a generator can make over a longer time period, and is the number you should be looking at. It’s never as high as the max output.

Do you need a stationary or portable generator?

Stationary generators cost more but start automatically when the power goes out, so starting watts may be less of a concern. They are also more expensive, but they put out a greater wattage. Portable generators can be moved around or transported in a car. They are typically less expensive as well as less powerful. Maybe the right combination is one of each!

Solar generators we like:

We’ve used other Goal Zero products before and have to trust their Yeti solar generators. The Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Generator produces up to 1250 watts per hour before needing to be recharged. It can recharge from solar panels, wall outlets, or car batteries, at different rates. This wattage is enough to power most appliances as well as small devices such as phone.

Be Prepared Solar offers a solar generator that harnesses the sun’s power for up to 5,000 watts (remember that max power output we talked about earlier?) and 2,500 running watts. No noise or fumes, so it can be used even in enclosed spaces, which is why we love solar for city dwellers.

Gas generators we like:

The Briggs and Stratton P2000 is portable and weighs only 50 pounds. It produces 1600 running watts and runs at only 59 decibels, which is less than a typical vacuum cleaner.

The Yamaha EF2000iS is under $1,000 dollars and weighs 44.1 pounds. It is said to run up to 10.5 hours on a tank of gas and can power anything up to 2,000 watts. IT’s quieter than the Briggs and Stratton at 51.5 decibels and can be hooked up to another EF2000iS for 3,600 watts of power.

We bet you love your generator. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you wish you had thought it through more before buying the one you did. Tell us what you love or don’t love about your generator.