What is a "solar generator"? It's a bit intertwingled.

Despite a long fascination with solar energy, I've only this year started to take wee gentle steps into solar energy reading/research and hands-on experimentation with products that fit my small budget.

I have been taking notes about purchased products and about little related solar projects in this one TiddlyWiki instance with dual personalities:

  • Charlie's Product Reviews
    • (mostly related to my interest in solar energy, but also includes other purchases that I really enjoy)
Aside: This one TiddlyWiki instance (and the two "purposes" it serves) will provide material for future posts about Intertwingularity Mapping and about TiddlyWiki "How-to's." 

In the time I've spent researching solar energy and wanting to get started, it didn't take long for me to discover the moniker "solar generator" and a whole bunch of products categorized as "solar generator."

The more digging I did researching those products, the more I wondered:

What is a "solar generator"?

Andrew Sendy writes in "What are the pros and cons of a solar generator?" (article on SolarReviews.com):

Products known as solar generators usually contain:
  • Solar panels
    • (one or more) 
  • A battery charger
    • (aka "charge controller") 
  • Solar batteries
    • (one or more) 
  • A solar inverter
    • (aka, inverter)

A typical "solar generator"

Searching for "solar generator" on Amazon , the following represents a pretty stereotypical example of a product marketed as a "solar generator":

Although a small and budget-friendly device, it has features very common to bigger siblings:
  • built-in charge controller
  • built-in battery
  • built-in inverter
  • battery charge indicator/status display
  • one AC power outlet outlet
    • (they usually have one or more)
  • three DC power outlet
    • (they usually have one or more)
  • three USB out ports
    • (they usually have one or more, sometimes of various types)
  • an AC power adapter
    • (to charge the generator via AC wall outlet)
  • a car charging adapter
    • (to charge the generator via car cigarette lighter)

Hey, no solar panel?

Strangely enough, very few "solar generators" actually include a solar panel.  So what makes these solar generators?  Is it simply the inclusion of a charge controller, an inverter, and an AC power outlet?

Mini (?) Solar Generators

The search on Amazon for "Solar Generator" includes products like this one:

Although even more budget-friendly, this solar generator actually includes a solar panel as the primary means of charging the generator (some also conveniently offer charging via USB; others instead also offer charging via AC adapter).

These devices do include AC outlets.  They often include energy-efficient lights and provide one or more USB ports to charge devices.  Some, instead of (or in addition to) lights, may also have a built-in radio and even an MP3 player.

I define a solar generator as ...

To me, I consider a solar generator as any combination of equipment that can convert solar energy into a form of energy that can be stored, and that stored energy can be converted to electricity when needed to power a scope (however limited or broad) of devices/appliances.

The minimal combination of equipment includes:
  • a solar panel
  • a battery
  • an ability to connect the battery to the solar panel to store the solar energy in the battery
  • an ability to connect devices/appliances to the battery, so that the battery can power a device/appliance

Minimalist's DIY Solar Generator for USB-Powered Devices


 paired with the EAFU BE-E1 Power Bank

If one only intends on charging devices via USB (at any time, not just during daylight), then one only needs: 
  • a solar panel with USB output
  • a simple Power Bank
    • (or any other device that can store electricity, be charged via input USB port, and can provide that electricity via USB output ports; examples: a Car Jump Starter, a camping lantern.)
  • a USB cable to connect the power bank to the solar panel
For your interest, take a look at this little solar project of mine as an example minimalist's solar generator for powering USB devices:  DIY Solar Alarm Clock Bundle.

Minimalist's DIY Solar Generator for Low-Wattage AC-Powered Devices

Solar generation of AC power requires an inverter to convert stored electricity to AC power (along with an AC outlet).

Although a real DIY'er would purchase and setup all of the individual components (solar panel, charge controller, battery, and inverter), I prefer the idea of an all-in-one device with built-in battery and inverter, and that charges via USB (so no need for a charge controller.)

This preference of mine materialized after I haphazardly discovered the following device, a car jump starter with all the regular components of the stereotypical solar generator (minus a charge controller), solar panel not included:

I expect to receive this product within the next couple of days, at which point I'll be testing this with various low-wattage devices (AC-powered things: a lamp with LED bulbs, a fan, a reptile heating pad, etc.)

As I experiment with this, I'll log results in Charlie's Urban Off Gridding for Laypersons.  If this kind of thing interests you, please check that TiddlyWiki out in a week or so.

And that's the rest of the intertwingularity...

To me, the definition of "solar generator" depends on all kinds of intertwingled things, in particular an individual's needs and an individual's budget.

Well, it could just be that I'm overthinking, or over-intertwingling (???) it all ...

Meh.  I'm having an intertwingled bunch of fun with it.

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