We are often asked, which of the following are better: solar power or petrol generators?
Advantages of Solar Generation (A decent system costs $1400 fitted):
Disadvantages of Solar Generators:
- Solar systems start to charge the moment the sun comes up in the morning, through until sunset, all year long.
If, for example, overnight you have drained 40 amps from your batteries, and you want to put that same amount back into the batteries, the solar system will charge at about 15 amp in full sunshine, and about 2 amps in overcast weather. Usually the 40 amps will be replaced by mid day, although this will vary depending on cloud cover and size of solar system.
- Well designed, MPPT type, solar systems will do a three stage (bulk-boost-float) charge almost every day.
- A fitted solar system requires effort and will probably start charging before you have got out of bed.
- A fitted system takes up little or no compartment space. Instead it only uses some roof space.
- No fuel required, free to run, no fumes and no noise.
- Requires little or no servicing, aside from cleaning the panels once a year.
- DOC sites love solar systems because there is no noise or fumes.
- Make friends with your neighbours, even offer to charge their mobile phones.
Advantages of petrol generators (Cost of generator $1200, unfitted):
- Instant 240 AC power is not available unless the system is fitted with an inverter. The capacity of the inverter and batteries needs to be calculated by a competent technician or else the batteries will be compromised. However, most appliances like TV's etc are available in 12 or 24 volt, and laptop, iPad, and mobile phone chargers are available, so there is no real need for 240 volt AC.
- Long periods of overcast weather can bring the state of charge of the batteries below desired levels. However, if enough battery capacity is available this should very rarely occur, so it should not be a real problem.
Disadvantages of petrol generators:
- Generators produce 240 volt AC, as well as 12 volt DC. They deliver instant power, so for emergency applications they are very useful.
- Highly inefficient appliances, which draw large amounts of power, can be run using generators.
- Only charges while it is running
- If, for example, overnight you have drained 40 amps from your batteries, and you want to put that same amount back into the batteries, you would have to run the generator for about 4 hours. This is because most AC chargers in caravans and motor-homes are rated at 10 amps.
- They usually only perform the bulk charge, not the three stage charge.
- Generators are heavy to lug around. It becomes a real problem since they usually have to be lifted out of a compartment before they can be used, most vehicles have a weight limit, a generator and fuel quickly pushes the weight limit up.
- The generator, fuel and leads take up premium storage space. In a small environment, such as a caravan or motor-home, such space is often extremely limited.
- Requires a flammable, carcinogenic fuel to power it. While the vehicle is in motion, the float in the carb tends to bounce up and down causing small amounts of fuel to leak out, until the carb eventually runs dry, the smell of the fuel is unpleasant and probably unhealthy.
- Requires regular servicing.
- DOC camp sites do not allow generators to be used, these are the very sites that are not powered
- Running a noisy generator spoils your neighbours peace and quiet. We travel to tranquil sites for peace, and to hear the birds and the waves; not to listen to noisy generators.
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