Solar Panels vs Generator: Which Option is Right for You?

We'll compare solar panels to a generator, analyze their pros and cons, and help you make the best choice for your needs.
Rodney Nestor
Rodney Nestor
Research Writer
Rodney holds a Master’s degree in Arts and apart from working as a freelance writer, is a rather successful author of science fiction stories published in several literary read more
Last updated: August 28, 2023
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Keeping a portable generator on hand for emergencies is a proactive way to prepare for most eventualities. But, when you’re considering solar panels vs generators, there is a lack of reliable information about their various pros and cons. This is unfortunate, because although these systems are designed for similar uses, they are very different. A traditional generator may be a dual fuel unit that can supply more power. But, there are fuel constraints and they are not suitable for apartments or homes with no outside space. In recent years, more people have become interested in solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems. These units consist of a power collection system paired with battery storage to run and recharge appliances. In this article, we will explore this topic to help you to decide if solar panels will meet your needs or if you need to look at generator options.

Solar Panels

Solar Panels vs Generator: Which Option is Right for You?

When you’re considering solar panels vs generator for home use, there are clear distinctions to understand. Solar power stations can store excess energy that can be collected from a wide variety of sources and this can include solar panels. If you don’t have a solar panel there are kits, such as the ACOPOWER 300 Watt Solar Panel Kit are a great way to get started. This and other products like it are designed for a wide variety of applications, including RV, boat, camping and even home use. Small scale solar power generation and storage is a great way to ensure that you have some power in an emergency.

Even with the best portable solar panels, you may still be ill prepared for an emergency. A home solar PV system that is tied to the power grid will shut-off during a power interruption and you will not have any power. Setting up a battery backup system will provide a certain amount of redundancy that can help you to cope with the demands of essential power loads. But, combining a portable solar panel with a solar power station is a flexible way to supplement your power requirements. As an added bonus, if the weather is good, it’s entirely possible to generate extra power throughout a power outage scenario. Stored solar power can be used when it’s dark outside or if an existing PV panel has low output.


  • A portable PV solar power system creates no noise and toxic fumes.
  • The power station can be paired with a PV panel to create extra renewable power.
  • There are federal tax incentives.
  • During a power outage the system will operate seamlessly.
  • The maintenance requirements are extremely low.
  • The daily power consumption can be increased.


  • Solar can be expensive, particularly when looking at complex home systems or you need the portability of the best RV solar panels.
  • The power output can be limited if the system is connected to the power grid.


Solar Panels vs Generator: Which Option is Right for You?

Choosing a portable or standby generator vs solar panels for RV or home use is a challenge. These generators use tried and tested technology, but they burn fossil fuels during operation and they cannot be used inside the home. A generator should be placed at least 20 feet away from the residence or RV and they must be protected against the weather. The usual fuel sources are gas, diesel and propane and some units are dual fuel models that offer some flexibility if fuel is harder to source.

These generators are more affordable for people that are operating on a tighter budget. But, there are some added costs that need to be considered, including fuel, maintenance and weekly self tests. A backup generator, such as the Generac 7043 Home Standby Generator can operate for up to 30,000 hours if they are well maintained. To put this into perspective, this would 3½ years of consecutive use during the generator’s lifespan, which should be more than adequate for most people.

For lighter use, you could also enjoy the compromise of solar and a generator, with a solar generator. We’ve compiled a list of the best solar generators which may be of help to you in this scenario.


  • The upfront costs are more affordable than PV solar power station alternatives.
  • The power is available 24/7 as long as the fuel flows.
  • Many generators have flexible options, including dual fuel, surge for startups and more.
  • It may be possible to connect propane generators to a functioning natural gas line.


  • These generators are noisy.
  • They have a higher carbon footprint than PV alternatives.
  • There are monthly fuel costs and storage considerations.
  • The generator requires constant operation and it cannot be used in the home.

Solar Panels vs Generator: Which to Choose

When you’re choosing solar panels vs whole house generator systems, the upfront costs will vary depending on their size and power output. Traditional generators consume fuel which increases the running costs and PV systems don’t have this drawback. Maintenance costs are also an important factor, poorly maintained generators are inefficient and prone to failure when you need them most. In comparison, a PV system with a deep-cycle battery is a sealed unit and there are no maintenance requirements.

If you’re looking for backup power for an apartment or smaller home with little or no outside space, the decision is much clearer. A generator cannot be used in the home due to the risks of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and the noise. Fuel storage in an apartment is simply impracticable and solar PV is the clear winner in this scenario.

If you’re looking for a power supply that you can use with your RV, there are other factors to consider. First, many national parks simply don’t accept generators because they generate toxic fumes and they are noisy. They cause a disturbance for other campers and they ruin the serenity of the great outdoors. In this scenario, solar is the clear winner because you can access power and even collect it at the same time if you connect a solar panel.

There are some problems with solar power, the power output in comparison to a traditional portable generator is low. If you’re using an RV with an AC unit or you want to run an electrically powered refrigerator or other larger appliances, you’re out of luck. A campsite hookup to a power grid is a viable alternative where these are available. The power requirements can be offset to a certain extent if a larger PV system is used. As an example: an average-sized van could host up to 300 watts of solar power. This may not seem like much, but if the appliances are carefully chosen, it may be enough to operate off grid. Making a switch to 12v lighting, a gas powered or energy efficient small refrigerator and 12v TV are all good choices. But, the amount of energy produced by the solar system is determined by the solar panel sizes and this is a serious drawback.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between a traditional portable generator and a PV battery system to run your appliances can be a challenge. To make an informed choice it’s important to evaluate your needs carefully and your budget may be the determining factor. Both systems will provide power to run basic appliances for home or business use during a power outage. But, if you need emergency power for a home with outside space and you don’t intend to install a solar panel, a backup generator is a good choice. If you live in an apartment or home with limited outdoor space and you need 24/7 quiet power, you need a solar battery system. Finally, when you consider solar panels vs generators, it’s interesting to note that solar systems are a great option to offset peak electricity charges too.

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