Table of Contents
Making the switch to solar is exciting.
But it can quickly become overwhelming once you start researching to find the best solar power system for your needs.
Don’t worry. You’re not alone.
Read on for an overview of the factors you need to consider when deciding on the ideal solar power system for you, including:
- What are your total electricity consumption needs?
- What are the different types of solar panels, and how to choose between them?
- What about solar batteries and portable power stations?
- Do you need an inverter? What kind?
- Installation and maintenance
- Making a final purchase decision
Let’s dive in!
1. Understanding Your Energy Needs
First and foremost, you must determine how much electricity you need to power all the devices and appliances you want to run simultaneously.
It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a solar generator for camping or a whole home generator. You must start here.
If you don’t know the combined running and starting wattage of the appliances you want to power simultaneously, your solar power system purchase could end up being a very costly mistake.
Here’s how to determine your total electricity consumption needs.
- Identify the wattage requirements of your appliances. Survey the starting and running wattage requirements of the appliances and devices you plan to plug into the generator. You can usually find the wattage requirements labeled on the appliance, but we’ve also compiled the starting and running watts of typical household appliances in the table below.
- Convert volts/amps to watts. If your appliance’s power requirements are in volts or amps, you can calculate an appliance’s running watts with this equation:
Volts (V) x Amps (A) = Watts (W)
- Count the running watts of your appliances. Add up the running watts of the appliances you plan to use — does the total exceed the running watts listed on your generator? If so, consider buying a generator with more output capacity.
- Factor in starting watt requirements. Identify the appliance with the highest starting wattage. Add that appliance’s starting wattage to the running wattage total.
- Calculate the sum. That final number is the total starting watts you need from your generator. As discussed above, to avoid overloading your generator, do not exceed its starting watts rating.
Average Starting and Running Watts of Typical Household Appliances
|Appliance||Rated (Running) Watts||Starting Watts|
|20” Box Fan||200||350|
2. Types of Solar Power Systems
Solar panels — also commonly known as photovoltaic (PV) panels — are a necessity for any solar power system. The are three primary types of solar panels used for consumer applications.
Let’s briefly go over each:
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
The gold standard for solar panels, monocrystalline panels boast a sleek appearance, and the solar cells inside (typically around 150 in a 400W rigid solar panel) consist of a single crystal of highly durable silicone.
One downside of mono PV panels is that they produce a significant amount of waste in production, which helps contribute to increased production costs.
But, for many, the resulting higher price tag is a worthwhile tradeoff in the long run. Mono PV panels have the highest efficiency rating — usually between 20% and 23%. Efficiency as a solar panel spec indicates the amount of direct sunlight per M2 of a panel’s photovoltaic surface it can convert into electricity.
EcoFlow’s rigid solar panels have an industry-leading efficiency rating of 23%, up to 10% more than competitor’s polycrystalline or thin film counterparts.
Essentially, this means you can produce more electricity using less space (and potentially fewer panels) than with poly or thin film PV panels.
Over the long run, generating more electricity saves you more money on utility bills. Once your solar payback period is achieved, the money you save goes straight into your pocket. Depending on the size of your solar array and your electricity consumption needs, mono panels may offer a better return on investment.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline panels are a popular option with many consumers because they typically carry a significantly lower price tag. However, their lower efficiency rating may actually cost you money in the long run.
Poly PV panels lack the sleek all-black look of monocrystalline panels. If aesthetics aren’t an issue — and you’re not hampered by limited rooftop or exterior space — polycrystalline can be a viable choice. Because of their lower efficiency, poly panels require more surface area to produce the same amount of electricity as monocrystalline panels.
Polycrystalline panels also use silicone solar cells. But rather than the cells being made of a continuous silicon crystal, they consist of many silicon fragments melted together. This construction results in the checkerboard appearance they’re known for.
With polycrystalline solar cells, there’s virtually no wastage. Manufacturing PV panels is cheaper and more eco-friendly than producing monocrystalline panels.
They come with a lower capacity and efficiency than their monocrystalline counterparts but at a more affordable price.
Thin Film Solar Panels
Thin film PV panels are even less efficient than polycrystalline PV panels, and their rated power capacity is typically low. However, their unique characteristics make them viable in some solar panel arrays. Thin film panels earn their name. They are up to an astounding 350 times thinner than polycrystalline or monocrystalline panels.
Thin film panels are made from various materials, including copper indium gallium selenide, cadmium telluride, and silicon. However, it’s a non-crystalline silicon, not the same as what’s used in polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar cells.
The primary benefit of thin film panels is their flexibility. It allows them to be easily installed on irregular or curved surfaces such as those found on RVs.
Thin film panels aren’t your only option if you aim to maximize your available surface area for electricity generation. EcoFlow’s flexible solar panels offer the same benefits but with monocrystalline solar cells and 23% efficiency — unheard of with standard thin film panels.
3. Components of a Solar Power System
Aside from panels, what else do you need to get your system up and running? Below, we’ll cover some additional components to consider.
This may seem obvious. But solar panels only generate electricity while the sun shines, and your PV panels absorb the photons in sun rays. Unless you opt for a grid-tied system, you must store the electricity your panels generate in a solar battery.
For off-grid solar power systems, a solar battery and other balance of system components are essential.
First of all, you need to decide whether you want to invest in an all-in-one system like EcoFlow’s portable power stations, solar generators, and power kits.
You also have the option to go for a DIY approach and buy the required components from different manufacturers. But navigating compatibility can be challenging.
Unless you’re highly experienced with electrical DIY projects, choosing to custom build a solar power system is risky. You’re probably going off with a professional installer if you want to purchase components separately.
Solar panels capture DC electricity. Household appliances and personal devices — basically everything you would ever want to use — run on AC electricity. An inverter converts solar energy into household electricity. It’s an essential component of any grid-tied or off-grid solar power system.
Solar power isn’t wireless (yet!)
Depending on the manufacturer(s) you choose, your solar power system may come with all the wiring you need. If you work with a professional installer, they’ll supply all the required cabling (and charge you for it).
If you’re purchasing components from different manufacturers, select a universal standard (or the closest thing to it) for connecting separate components. Outside of solar power, USB-C is an excellent example of a universal standard. EcoFlow’s solar connectors are nearly universally compatible.
If you opt to install a residential rooftop solar panel array, exercise caution. Hiring a professional installer is a much better option than a nasty fall.
4. Choosing the Right Solar Panels
We’ve already covered the different types of solar cells: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film. Based on the brief explanations of each, you might already know which one you want to go with.
Besides the solar cell type, you have rigid, portable, and flexible solar panel options.
Rigid Solar Panels
Rigid PV panels are designed for permanent installation on residential rooftops or RVs. With an IP68 rating and an industry-best 23% efficiency rating, EcoFlow’s 100W and 400W rigid solar panels are the ultimate for permanent installations on relatively flat surfaces.
Portable Solar Panels
If you like to go on outdoor adventures or don’t stay in one place for too long, EcoFlow’s 400W Portable Solar Panels might be best for you. Portable panels are convenient for powering small devices on the go. You can even use them to supply energy to you in your RV.
If you’re camping or even hiking, you can still bring off-grid electricity on your trek. The RIVER 2 solar generator weighs only 7.7 lbs (3.5 kg) and can easily fit in your backpack.
Portable solar panels are easy to bring wherever you go due to their lightweight and foldable construction, allowing you to take power wherever you need it.
Flexible Solar Panels
Want to install more PV panels but don’t have a flat surface?
Flexible solar panels could be the answer for you.
Ecoflow’s flexible solar panels bend to accommodate installation on curved and irregular surfaces. With a maximum rated power output of 100W, you probably won’t choose to build your full solar panel array out of flexible solar panels.
But unlike thin film flexible PV panels, Ecoflow’s feature monocrystalline solar cells and perform at 23% efficiency. That’s the same industry-leading efficiency rating as Ecoflow’s rigid and portable options.
If space is at a premium — and if you’re shopping for flexible solar panels, it probably is — higher efficiency means you can generate more electricity with your available surface area.
5. Selecting an Inverter
An inverter is an essential component of any solar power system. All the sunlight and solar panels won’t help if you can’t convert solar power into household electricity.
If you’re going the DIY route, do your research before making a purchase. An inverter is not something you want to skimp on.
6. Solar Battery Options
Next, you’ll need to choose your solar battery.
Remember, solar panels only produce electricity while the sun is out. If you’re installing a grid-tied system, a solar battery isn’t required but you won’t have electricity during a blackout.
Below, we’ll briefly cover four solar battery chemistries to consider. The chemical composition is the primary determiner of its performance.
Lead acid batteries have been on the market for ages. Think Duracell and the Energizer Bunny.
They have a relatively short cycle life and lower depth of discharge than other types of batteries, but they’re a budget-friendly option.
Just keep in mind that a lead acid battery will only last for about 500 cycles.
Nickel Cadmium (NCM/Ni-Cad)
Nickel Cadmium batteries are typically superior to lead acid when it comes to cycle life and performance. One advantage of NCM batteries is that they function well in a wide range of applications — making them well-suited for commercial applications such as air travel.
One look at the cycle life, recharge times, and overall performance between the Max and Max 2 will show you what a difference battery chemistry (Max 2 uses LiFePO4/LFP) can make.
Most new solar installations use a form of lithium-ion battery chemistry. These batteries are lighter and more compact than their lead acid counterparts but come with a higher price tag.
Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP/LiFePO4)
A lithium iron phosphate battery (LFP/LiFePO4) is a newer subset of lithium-ion battery that’s becoming increasingly popular for many reasons, including its long cycle life, fast recharge times, depth of discharge, and safety. LFP is used in our flagship product, the DELTA Pro portable power station and the vast majority of our other products.
There’s a humanitarian benefit to LFP vs. Li-ion batteries too. Cobalt is one of the essential materials used in all traditional Li-ion batteries. 70% or more of the world’s cobalt is mined and processed in the Democratic Republic of Congo under brutal labor conditions. Including by children as young as six years old.
LiFePO4 batteries are cobalt-free.
Not only will they give you better performance, you can feel like a better person for choosing one too.
The new kid on the block, saltwater batteries don’t contain heavy metals and use saltwater electrolytes instead. As a result, they’re much easier to recycle. However, this new technology is still largely untested and isn’t widely available.
7. Choosing a Solar Power Installer
Do you want to install your own solar power setup or hire someone to do the installation for you?
Depending on the type and size of your power system, installation can be quite an endeavor to tackle on your own — particularly if you’re planning a rooftop installation.
If you choose to work with a professional installer, do your research and choose carefully.
8. Maintenance and Upkeep
Once your system is up and running, make sure you keep up with cleaning and maintenance so to maximize the benefits of solar power.
One of the most significant advantages of switching is cutting your electricity costs. Once you save enough money to offset the cost of your solar system, your solar payback period will be over, and all of that will go right into your pocket!
You’ll get the best return on your investment by maintaining and upkeeping your system correctly.
Solar panels typically only require cleaning 2-4 times annually but follow the manual provided by your solar company for specific care and maintenance instructions for your system.
Spring and fall tend to be good times to perform this maintenance, as the panels may need cleaning after the winter months, as debris and dust can accumulate during that time.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when choosing the right solar power system for you.
If you follow all the steps above, you should be armed with the knowledge you need to make the right decision for your household.
Don’t know where to start?
Check out EcoFlow’s Whole Home Generator Solution today.
From camping to powering your entire house, EcoFlow has an off-grid electricity solution for everyone!
Frequently Asked Questions
The right solar system is a unique choice for each household. By following the steps outlined above, starting with determining your total electricity requirements, you can tailor the perfect solar setup for your needs (and your budget.) Don’t forget to check for government tax breaks and incentives for switching to solar in your location!
You’ll need to start by determining the amount of electricity your home consumes and ensure you have enough solar panels to meet those needs. You’ll also need to check the solar input capacity of your portable power station or other balance of system. Once you estimate your total electricity consumption, you can start shopping for a system that meets your needs. Check out our article on helping you determine how many panels you need to power your house here.
The most effective solar system depends on your specific use case! If you’re trying to get your house off the grid and achieve energy independence, EcoFlow’s 400W Rigid Solar Panels paired with the DELTA Pro portable power station is a great place to start. You can always expand from there as your electricity consumption needs grow.
If you’re looking for a solar generator to take on off-grid adventures, consider the River 2 Pro.
The most powerful solution isn’t always the ideal one — it all depends on your use case!
When selecting a solar panel, consider your available space, the surface you’ll be mounting it on, and whether you want a portable or permanent installation. Then move on to determining how many panels and what rated power and efficiency they need to meet your electricity consumption needs. When you reach this stage, it’s crucial to understand that solar panels rarely produce their total rated power output — and no panel will generate 100% of its rated power all day. Why? Find out here.
Monocrystalline solar panels typically boast the highest efficiency rating. Remember that “efficiency” has a very specific meaning as a solar panel spec. It indicates how much direct sunlight a PV panel can convert into electricity per square meter of photovoltaic surface area. The higher the efficiency rating, the more electricity your PV panels will generate with a smaller footprint. Monocrystalline solar panels typically achieve an efficiency rating of 18% or more. EcoFlow’s rigid solar panels boast an industry-leading 23% efficiency rating. Polycrystalline PV panels average between 13-16%. Thin film panels are cheap but even less efficient — typically, their efficiency is 7-10%.
Solar panels with a higher rated power have the capacity to produce more electricity. If you want to generate more energy using less space, then a panel with higher rated power output is the better choice. Remember to check the solar input/charge capacity of your portable power station or other balance of system carefully. If the maximum solar input is 400W, you can only plug in one 400W solar panel (or 4 x 100W panels, 2 x 220W bifacial solar panels, etc.) Adding slightly more rated power than an EcoFlow portable power station’s solar input capacity can actually be beneficial, as it can help you achieve the maximum input. This is because solar panels rarely produce their full rated power in real-world conditions. However, adding 2 x 400W solar panels is a waste of money — any extra electricity generated will just go to waste. With some systems, overcharging by adding too many panels above the solar input capacity can even be dangerous.