Thursday, September 16, 2021
Thursday, September 16, 2021

RVelectricity – Don’t fall for it. This is NOT a generator!

By Mike Sokol
Dear Readers,
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?

Maybe, sort of, for a little while. But certainly not more than one high-power appliance at a time, and certainly not for long.

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)

Don’t believe the ads saying that these expensive “solar generators” will power your RV and all your camping things at once. Ain’t gonna happen.

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.

For information on how to support RVelectricity and No~Shock~Zone articles, seminars and videos, please click the I Like Mike Campaign.

##RVT998

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Tom
2 months ago

This article is a little disingenuous. In the first place, I am unaware that any of the companies selling these items are selling them as serious replacements for RV house batteries. They are selling them as power solutions for #vanlife dwellers and tent campers. Running these products down simply because they can’t run an RV’s electrical system is unfair. They’re not being marketed that way. Second, why are people so hung up on the term “solar generator?” It shows a lack of understanding about how language works and how people use language in everyday life to convey meaning and purpose. Many phrases in English have a connotative meaning not necessarily coupled to their denotative meaning. Call it slang, argot, or jargon, but the phrase “solar generator” is nothing more than a linguistic shortcut so that people get a quick understanding of what the product can do. No need to be a language snob about it.

Jonathan Schloo
4 months ago

Do you need dual alternators to use a CarGenerator? Nope.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Js4K6N5rMCg

Ron Barbour
4 months ago

I have the Bluetti AC200 pictured in the top pic. It’s a beast at about 60lbs. I bought it for home use but originally thought it would be good in the RV as well. Turns out, I don’t see myself taking it on trips for anything since I already have backup power with a real generator. This is a nice item to keep at home and I’ve had my refrigerator plugged into it during a power outage for a few hours and it performed perfectly. For the price though, I don’t think I would do it again and I got it for the low crowdsourcing price. Great article.

Wolfe
4 months ago

“Solar Generators” are neither solar themselves nor generating anything. They’re batteries.

“Car generator” is again neither a car nor a generator. Its a double price inverter. Nothing special, and rather silly unless you have dual batteries and dual alternators to charge them.

2KW generators are undersized to run anything more than one AC even with a softstart and hopeless without.

If you want an adequate GENERATOR that is exactly what you need to buy. Everything else is a disappointment in the making. Physics doesn’t really give shortcuts.

Jonathan Schloo
4 months ago
Reply to  Wolfe

Wolfe: Sorry but your statement is not correct. CarGenerator is very special because it is the world’s ONLY off grid rain/snow fully weatherproof inverter. It’s a turn-key user friendly complete power solution in a custom engineered patent pending weatherproof enclosure. Yes, producing the CarGenerator product in a fully weatherproof ventilated enclosure does cost more than just a cheap bare simple inverter. Our basic smart pure sine “inverter only” is $295. Your statement regarding dual batteries and dual alternators is also completely misinformed. Any of the tow vehicles here can easily produce AT IDLE and with no effort or harm, 70 amps DC, which converts to 910 watts. That’s equivalent to NINE x 100 watt solar panels in perfect sunlight, but available anytime rain or shine. Why do so many people buy a CarGenerator and love it? For equal money or less they could buy a cheap gas generator. Why? Just 11 pounds, no hassles, no storing messy gas cans, and fully weatherproof.

Carson Axtell
4 months ago

Yup, there’s no substitute for putting in the small amount of effort needed to understand electricity, and how much of it you need each day or stretch of days without recharging your batteries. These small (misnamed) solar generators are excellent for specific applications, just like a small car can be excellent for specific transportation needs. The problem comes when people decide the efficiency and economics of a small vehicle would be perfect for towing their huge rig, or when deciding that using a small solar generator for powering their big RV’s electrical needs somehow makes sense…

Jonathan Schloo
4 months ago

IS IDLING BAD?  IDLING IS A FACT OF LIFE AND YOU IDLE EVERY DAY

  • First let’s define this: what do vehicle manufacturers count as “idling” ?  
  • How much idling is too much?  15 minutes?  An hour?  Two or three hours? Overnight?
  • Prove it to yourself, connect a vehicle OBD scanner to your car and observe your A) total engine hours and B) your total idle hours.  
  • You will notice that EVERY SECOND your engine is running and your vehicle is not moving, adds to the idle time counter. Yep, waiting at a stoplight, stuck in traffic, or staying cool or warm in your vehicle while waiting to pick up the kids from soccer.
  • Every hour you idle (even accumulation as you wait at a stoplight etc) counts as roughly 25 miles of driving.
  • Millions of people around the world idle vehicles every day, sales people, taxis, deliveries, no harm. Of the thousands of hours we run our vehicle engine, a day or two extra occasionally is nothing.
Jonathan Schloo
4 months ago

HOW MANY HOURS OF GENERATOR POWER DO YOU REALLY NEED?

  • If you need many hours of generator power, CarGenerator is not the solution for you.
  • If you camp for days or weeks and want continuous 24/7 generator power for your RV, please just buy a traditional gas generator.
  • Many people now have Solar, Lithium, and overall increased battery life in their RV. They only use a generator occasionally, so they prefer CarGenerator as a better choice. 
  • On the other hand, if you have modest power needs or you have solar, and just want occasional extra power, then CarGenerator is a great choice.
  • SUMMARY: if you need lots of backup power then CarGenerator is not for you
Jonathan Schloo
4 months ago

Here is a good explainer video to prove to yourself how much power you can safely pull out at idle, with zero risk to your alternator and fully within the engineering specs of the manufacturer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Js4K6N5rMCg

dcook
4 months ago

I honestly dont like them being called a generator, they are not. Mike, I use to make my own when I hunted in Mexico. I too a 12V35aH battery and Gooped a small invert to one side, a DC outlet to another side, a charger to another side, nd some switches and fuses to another side. All one unit. It worked great and the battery came with a strap. Pretty much what they are doing now. I only used it for lights, a small fan, etc.

Dan
4 months ago

Calling these things generators is so bogus. They dont generate anything. They’re batteries, and the ones I’ve seen dont even come with their own solar panels. And, as for the car generators, for what they cost you can buy a decent inverter generator that wont stink up your camping spot with your truck’s exhaust, and surely use much less fuel. Follow the sage advise of PT Barnum.

Rob
4 months ago

Maybe some are missing the point, running a noisy generator to power your coffee maker or toaster or microwave oven isn’t fair to the people in the next campsite or when boon docking in the next open space. Sure are they expensive but considering all the pollution coming out of a noisy generator these are a great convenience.

DidTheMath
4 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Yes, you’re missing the point and replacing it with your strawman.

These are nothing more than batteries, *which you already have*. These “generators” will NOT replace a real generator, so your strawman is dead on arrival.

BILLY Bob Thronton
4 months ago

Kinda like self driving cars, huh. Except used the wrong way kills!

Rolling Coal
4 months ago

From personal experience, these so called solar generators simply will not power the entire (typical) RV for more than a day and even then you need to be very, very conservative with electricity use. We have a 1000w goalzero yeti which is connected to 100w solar that we use to power our portable dometic CFX50W freezer/fridge and sometimes the television to watch a movie at night. Given the low draw of the dometic, 100w solar is kind’a sort’a break-even on a good day but throw in some clouds and you’re in deficit. Without the solar, the dometic will run for about 6 or 7 days. Now that we have it, I wouldn’t be without it, but I’d never rely on it to replace my house batteries!

Dave Helgeson
4 months ago

Mike,  “This is physics, not wishes.” – exactly!!!

Gary
4 months ago

Thanks Mike, I’m glad it’s not just me.

Bob P
4 months ago

Thanks Mike for another great article on the scams marketers use to take peoples money. When I first saw an ad for this I immediately started searching about the particulars on these products and found it was nothing more than a battery and inverter. I was hoping you would pick up the ball and run with it, thanks.

Scott R. Ellis
4 months ago

Thank you. These things amount to nothing much more than false advertising. Been stuck in my craw for years.

Donald N Wright
4 months ago

Mike, what are your thoughts on the “cargenerator” advertisements?

Bob P
4 months ago

im not Mike but I can tell you that idling your engine for long periods of time as they suggest you can do for powering your RV is not good. Severe carbonization and dilution of your oil will occur which will shorten the life of you engine. I will spend $500-$700 on a generator rather than destroying an $5000 engine.

Robbie
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob P

Good point but I still wonder how true that is with today’s engines and unleaded gas. Also , I only buy very used cars and look at them as “tools” to make my life better. I abuse them moderately but service them regularly. Gone through a fair amount of Brakes , Alternators,and Water Pumps but never an engine in my 75 years. I think today’s cars , especially Japanese last much longer than they have in the past.

Tommy Molnar
4 months ago
Reply to  Robbie

Idling today’s diesel engines is a no-no. Period.

dcook
4 months ago
Reply to  Robbie

Robbie, I have to agree with all you stated. I have seen border patrol pickups that idle all day running their Air Conditioners in south Texas, day after day all summer long, I’ve talked to them and they say the vehicles get tore up from rough roads etc, but never an engine problem. Keep doing what you’re doing.

Robbie
4 months ago

Yeah Mike I would really like to know your thoughts on this too. Seems like it would be an easy way to get Refer power when PG&E shuts us down for fire protection. Alternatively how would I figure out the biggest inverter my Car Alternator could handle? Also what is a reliable inverter? Amazon is bewildering with these things.Thanks

Mike Sokol
4 months ago
Reply to  Robbie

I’m in deep think about this engine idle issue. Stand by…

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