By Mike Sokol
In the last few months I’ve had perhaps a dozen readers contact me about these so-called “solar generators” that are being marketed by companies like Jackery and Bluetti. Several readers have gone so far as tearing out their existing RV batteries and charger, and hoping to use one of these “solar generators” instead of a traditional gasoline generator or an inverter powered by their RV house batteries.
Look how happy that sun is? Don’t you want to spend money after seeing its smiling face?
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride
The idea is they can reduce the weight of their RV by several hundred pounds by getting rid of their existing batteries that only last a day or so while boondocking and replacing them with a “solar generator.”
In all of the ads for these “solar generators” they show happy campers using them to power electric space heaters, coffee makers, hair dryers and everything else. Some even show them powering an electric toaster or an arc welder! Yikes!
So, what’s the plan?
At least one reader is planning to use a Bluetti to power their entire 5th wheel RV via a dogbone adapter after removing their house batteries and charger/inverter. They already have solar panels on the roof of the RV, so they think by replacing their AGM batteries with this new magic technology that they’ll have lots more days of boondocking.
Do these “solar generator” marketers know something we don’t know?
Heck no… These are simply a lithium battery in a pretty box with a pure-sine inverter and a few USB ports. Most of them have around a 2,000 watt inverter, and maybe 750 to 2,000 watt-hours of Lithium battery storage.
This is equivalent to 1 or 1.5 standard 100 amp-hr Lithium house batteries worth of storage, each of which can provide around 1,200 watt-hrs of energy. So these “solar generators” are the same technology, just with different packaging.
Can I run all the appliances they show in the ads?
As I’ve written before, it’s all about the watt-hrs of storage and how many watts your appliance draws for how long. So a 1,500-watt hair dryer would completely discharge a battery with 750 watt-hr of storage in 30 minutes (750 watt-hrs/1,500 watts = 0.5 hrs). See my previous articles on Sock Puppet Energy Units (SPEU) and Coffee Maker energy requirements.
And no, they are not going to have enough energy to recharge your EV on the side of the road with more than a mile or two of extra mileage. That’s not even equivalent to a gallon of gas, which can give you 20 to 30 miles of emergency driving. I don’t care what the pictures in the video ads imply. This is physics, not wishes.
Won’t they recharge from solar panels quickly?
Well, if you have a 100-watt solar panel add-on, that’s typically good for around 300 watt-hrs of energy per day. So that one 100-watt solar panel would take around four sunny days to recharge a 1,200 watt-hr version of a “solar generator.”
If you add more panels to get to 400 watts of solar, then you could recharge a 1,200-watt “solar generator” in about a day. But 400 watts of solar panels take a lot of room and setup time if you plan to deploy them as portable panels. And the portable panels are pretty expensive.
What are they good for?
Well, if you’re tent camping and want to charge cell phones and run your laptop, then they’re a great choice. And most of them would easily run a CPAP machine or electric blanket overnight. I’ve used them to play music at weddings in outdoor venues when I didn’t want to run hundreds of feet of extension cord or use a generator.
But a microwave oven that draws 1,000 watts or more would use up a big chunk of their stored energy just making popcorn. And forget about using them to power an electric space heater at all. Also, there’s no chance they could run an RV air conditioner for more than a few minutes, even if you did everything else exactly right.
Caveat emptor (Buyer Beware)
You’re far better off converting your existing RV house batteries to Lithium technology, even if it means replacing your converter/charger. And you’ll even have enough money left over to add a few more solar panels to the roof of your RV. That’s how you get enough battery power for boondocking.
Are solar panels a good idea?
Yes, they certainly are. But only if they’re properly integrated into a house battery storage system, which is properly sized and integrated into your RV’s electrical system. Some little suitcase containing a Lithium battery with a few solar panels is not going to extend your boondocking time by much. And there are certainly more cost effective ways to do this.
Let’s play (and buy) safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
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