A portable generator can charge your phone while camping, keep the lights on at home, or provide backup power during blackouts. Generators turn mechanical or solar energy into usable electricity and act as a power source when you don’t have access to grid power.
They’re compact and easy to transport, making them versatile for nearly any situation. From small devices to heavy-duty appliances, portable generators can charge just about anything.
But choosing the right portable generator isn’t so simple.
There are so many options in the market. Portable generators use various fuel sources, including gasoline, diesel, propane, and solar energy.
You’ll need to consider the type of generator to fit your circumstances. That means looking at the fuel type, size, durability, reliability, and features. Additionally, you’ll need to calculate the wattage of the appliances you want to power and the generator’s capabilities.
We’ve put together a quick guide, so you can quickly determine the right portable generator for your needs and never have to worry about running out of power again.
Types of Portable Generators
Portable generators use different fuel sources and designs, each with unique advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your needs, some generator types are better suited for your situation than others.
Let’s take a closer look at the types.
Gasoline generators burn gasoline to provide electrical power. The engine injects air and fuel into a chamber, and a spark plug creates combustion, which forces the piston to move up and down and turn the crankshaft. The motion of the crankshaft spins the rotor and creates an electromagnetic field, producing an electrical current.
Gasoline generators work by converting mechanical energy — the energy from the alternator — into electricity. It’s one of the most common generator types and a suitable choice for most power tools and appliances.
Gasoline generators tend to have the lowest sticker price, and the fuel is available from any gas station. Gasoline-powered generators are also quieter than diesel generators.
However, there are many downsides. For one, gas is more expensive than other fuels, and the price fluctuates rapidly depending on events beyond your control. Gasoline also has a limited shelf life. Stored in a container, it’s only safe for three to six months.
Also, gas isn’t the safest fuel source for a portable generator. It emits carbon monoxide when burned and is explosive, increasing fire hazards.
It’s also bad for the planet, creating harmful greenhouse gases and particulate pollution. The availability of gasoline can also be unreliable in places prone to natural disasters.
Gas generators are best for people on a budget or who use their generators sparingly.
Propane generators work similarly to gas generators but use propane as their primary fuel source.
Propane has several advantages over gasoline or diesel. For one, it emits less carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases, making it a cleaner fuel source.
It also doesn’t degrade over time. If you have adequate propane stored, you won’t have to worry about having old fuel in your tank or running out during emergencies.
However, propane generators also have limitations. They have a higher initial cost than other generators.
Since propane has higher combustion and ignition temperatures, which often wear down the components in the unit, they tend to have a shorter lifespan.
Propane generators work best for people camping, hiking, or traveling in their RV who also have access to a steady supply of full propane tanks.
Diesel generators provide power more efficiently than gasoline generators. You get more power for the amount of fuel you burn, making it a good source of backup or off-grid power. Some homeowners prefer diesel generators because of their longevity and reliability.
Diesel’s low burning temperature places less strain on the engine, giving diesel generators a longer lifespan and better durability. Instead of carburetors, diesel generators create the electrical current through compression. This generator design is resilient and sturdy, making it ideal for heavy-duty appliances.
Unfortunately, diesel-powered generators are noisy to run. Diesel also isn’t a clean energy source — in fact, it’s even dirtier than gasoline — so those looking for an eco-friendly option should look elsewhere.
Diesel generators are a durable option, especially for backup power. However, large-capacity diesel generators are much more common than portable ones.
Inverter generators work differently than most generators. Instead of running at a constant speed, an inverter generator throttles its engine speed to match the electrical demands. It conserves energy by not running at full throttle the entire time.
Inverter generators produce electricity in a three-phase process. It creates a high-frequency alternating current (AC), which inverts into a direct current (DC) and inverts again to a more stable AC output.
This process helps produce cleaner and more stable energy with lower emissions. Also, the electrical throttle makes it less noisy than a gas or diesel-powered generator.
However, the inverter has a lower power output, making it less practical for keeping large appliances running. Your inverter generator should also have a CO shutoff to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Inverter generators are best for safer, quieter power for smaller electronics and appliances.
Solar generators convert the sun’s energy into electricity. Unlike gas and diesel, solar-powered generators don’t release any carbon monoxide or pollutants that harm the environment. That also means you can use them indoors without any issues.
Solar-powered generators work by using photovoltaic solar panels to capture sunlight and create electricity. An inverter converts the direct current into alternating current to recharge the portable power station or solar battery. Users plug into the portable power station to run their electronics and appliances.
Solar generators come in various sizes and power outputs to meet your needs. For example, EcoFlow DELTA Solar Generators have higher-capacity batteries suited for off-grid living, RVs, or tiny houses. The DELTA Pro has a starting capacity of 3.6 kWh, enough to power refrigerators, washers, and other household appliances.
Compact units like the EcoFlow River 2 solar generators have a lower battery capacity and a more compact, portable design. They are best for camping, hiking, and other outdoor recreational travel.
EcoFlow DELTA and River 2 generators allow you to add more solar panels and smart batteries to increase the recharge rates and capacity. With the DELTA Pro, you can expand the original 3.6kWh up to 25 kWh.
The most significant advantage of portable solar generators is that you can recharge them with sunlight, a renewable energy source. They’re also much quieter and produce no fumes or CO.
The main drawback of solar generators is if you’re using them as your sole power source in areas with low sunlight. It may take longer to recharge the battery without sufficient sunlight exposure.
That’s why the EcoFlow Smart Generator (Duel Fuel) can be an excellent fit for a complete off-grid or home backup power solution. The Smart Generator integrates seamlessly with the DELTA Max and Pro. It runs on a mixture of gasoline and propane and kicks in automatically when your solar generator runs low, giving it a chance to recharge.
Another way to get around low-light conditions is to plan ahead and charge everything before heading out. EcoFlow solar generators can charge via an AC wall outlet (in under two hours), a car adaptor, or an EV charging station.
Solar generators are a versatile solution for eco-conscious individuals who need reliable backup or off-grid power. The initial investment may be higher, but you’ll save money on electricity and fuel in the long run. All while helping to lower your carbon footprint.
Depending on your needs, you must choose the right amount of battery or fuel capacity. Typically, the bigger the capacity, the better. However, more storage typically makes the unit bigger, potentially sacrificing portability.
To estimate how much battery capacity is right for you, start by determining how much power you plan to consume. Find the running wattage for each appliance you want to power and multiply that by how long you plan to use it. Do that for every appliance and device, then add up the total to get your energy consumption in watt-hours.
Your portable generator should contain enough battery capacity to meet your daily energy requirements. Consider having a sufficient supply for multiple days in case of emergencies.
Power Output and Surge Power
Once you know how much power you need, consider the portable generator’s maximum power output. For example, a refrigerator may only need 600 watts to run but require 2,000 watts of surge power at startup.
That means your generator needs at least 2,000 watts of power output to start your fridge. Look through your appliances and ensure your generator’s output exceeds the surge power of any single appliance.
Smart generators like EcoFlow’s solar generators offer higher surge power to ensure you can get your appliances up and running immediately.
The last thing you need is a generator that wears down after several years of usage. Portable generators are a significant investment and should last you many years.
A durable generator with high-quality materials should withstand most environmental conditions. The generator should have full-frame steel or high-strength plastic protection on the exterior to safeguard the interior components.
Many portable generators also use batteries. Fuel generators use them to start, and solar generators use them to store the energy captured by solar panels. The battery type will help determine its longevity. Lithium-ion batteries have a much longer lifespan than lead-acid batteries and typically last five to ten years before the capacity begins to diminish.
You may want to consider a quiet design if you’re using a portable generator for backup or off-grid power. A noisy generator can be a nuisance to you and your neighbors. If you’re using one in an RV campground, you might also have restrictions on when you can operate a noisy portable generator.
Look for generators that make less than 70 dB of noise while operating. That will keep the noise somewhat bearable. 70dB is the noise level of a vacuum cleaner – do you really need that outside your window or tent? Anything at 80 dB or higher can lead to hearing loss.
If noise is a deciding factor, solar is by far the best (and quietest) option.
Number and Types of Outlets
Always consider the number and types of appliances you want to run to ensure the generator’s outlets are sufficient for your needs.
You’ll want some items running at all times, like your lights, fridge, and air conditioner. Check that the portable generator has enough power outlets to match your needs.
Carbon monoxide is a harmful toxin that, when breathed in, causes health risks or even death. Generators that emit dangerous chemicals, like gas and diesel generators, should have a carbon monoxide detection feature. An auto-shut-off function monitors the carbon monoxide level and shuts down the engine if it gets too high.
Portable generators must be operated outdoors and never indoors unless you have a solar generator free from harmful emissions.
Another safety feature for fossil fuel generators is a low-oil shutoff. The portable generator should automatically shut down when the oil dips under a certain level for safety reasons. Once you refill the oil, you’ll be able to use the portable generator again.
Portable generators give you power anytime, anywhere. Whether you’re looking for off-grid power or want to save on electricity, protect your family from emergencies, or power a camping trip, these devices can be a savior.
Choosing the right portable generator that is durable and powerful enough to fit your power needs is vital. The more wattage it can generate, the more high-powered appliances you can power.
With this guide, you now know all the types of generators and what to look for to find the right one for you. Whether it’s an affordable option that you use in areas with access to fuel supply or a clean-energy solution to eliminate emissions, noise, and safety hazards, there’s a wide selection of portable generators to meet your needs.
You can now confidently purchase the best portable generator based on your budget, power needs, and purpose.