Generators vs. Solar Power Systems: Weighing the Pros and Cons

March 05, 2024

As a homeowner, choosing between generators and solar power systems involves considering various factors such as reliability, cost-effectiveness, environmental impact, and energy efficiency. When it comes to deciding between generators and solar power for your home, there are several important factors to consider.

Solar Power Systems and Generators: What You Should Know

Generators and solar power systems serve the same fundamental purpose of providing electricity for various applications, including powering household appliances, lighting, heating, and electronic devices. However, they achieve this through different mechanisms and have distinct characteristics.


Generators produce electricity by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. They typically use fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel, or propane to power an engine, which in turn drives an alternator to generate electricity. Generators can be portable or stationary (standby), and they are commonly used as backup power sources during grid outages or in off-grid locations where access to electricity from the utility grid is limited.

Solar Power Systems

Solar power systems generate electricity by harnessing energy from sunlight through photovoltaic (PV) panels. These panels contain semiconductor materials that convert sunlight directly into electrical energy through the photovoltaic effect. Solar power systems can be grid-tied, where excess electricity is fed back into the utility grid, or off-grid, utilizing battery storage systems to store surplus energy for later use. They are considered a renewable energy source because sunlight is abundant and inexhaustible.

Can Both Help in a Power Outage?

Both generators and solar power systems can help you during a power outage, providing backup electricity to keep essential appliances and devices running.

Generators: Generators are commonly used as backup power sources during outages. They can provide immediate electricity to your home’s electrical system when the utility grid fails. Depending on the type and capacity of the generator, it can power a range of appliances and devices, including lights, refrigerators, heating systems, and electronics. Generators are especially useful in areas prone to frequent power outages or in emergencies such as natural disasters. They offer continuous power as long as they have fuel available.

Solar Power Systems: Solar power systems can also provide backup power during outages, especially when equipped with battery storage systems. During normal operation, surplus electricity generated by solar panels can be stored in batteries for later use. When the utility grid goes down, the stored energy can be tapped to power essential loads in your home, offering a reliable backup power solution. However, the effectiveness of solar power systems during an outage depends on factors such as battery capacity, weather conditions, and energy consumption patterns.

How Much Do They Cost?

The cost of generators and solar power systems can vary widely depending on several factors such as size, capacity, brand, installation requirements, and additional features. Here’s a general overview of the costs associated with each:


Portable generators: These smaller units typically range in price from $200 to $1,000 or more, depending on their power output capacity and features.

Standby generators: These larger, permanently installed units are more expensive, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 or more. The cost depends on factors such as power output capacity (measured in kilowatts), fuel type, and installation complexity.

In addition to the initial purchase cost, consider ongoing expenses such as fuel (gasoline, diesel, propane, or natural gas), maintenance, and potential installation costs.

Solar Power Systems

The cost of a solar power system is primarily determined by its size (measured in kilowatts) and the quality of components used.

On average, residential solar power systems can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 or more for a typical system, before considering potential incentives or rebates. The price includes solar panels, inverters, mounting hardware, wiring, and installation costs. Additional expenses may include battery storage systems for backup power, which can add several thousand dollars to the total cost.

It’s essential to consider the long-term savings and potential incentives or rebates when evaluating the cost of solar power systems. Factors such as energy efficiency, maintenance requirements, and the lifespan of the system should also be taken into account when assessing the overall value.

Keep in mind that these cost estimates are general ranges and can vary significantly based on individual circumstances, geographical location, energy consumption patterns, and specific project requirements. Consulting with reputable suppliers, contractors, or solar energy professionals can provide more accurate cost estimates tailored to your needs. Additionally, explore available incentives, tax credits, and financing options to help offset the upfront costs of both generators and solar power systems.

What’s the Difference Between the Two?

While both generators and solar power systems provide electricity, they differ in several aspects, including:

  • Energy Source: Generators rely on fossil fuels, which are finite and contribute to pollution, while solar power systems use clean and renewable energy from sunlight.
  • Environmental Impact: Generators produce emissions such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, contributing to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Solar power systems have minimal environmental impact during operation, although there are considerations regarding the manufacturing and disposal of solar panels.
  • Reliability: Generators offer immediate power availability and can provide continuous electricity as long as fuel is available. Solar power systems depend on sunlight, so their reliability may vary based on weather conditions and time of day. However, when combined with battery storage, solar power systems can provide reliable backup power.
  • Cost: Generators generally have lower upfront costs compared to solar power systems, but they incur ongoing expenses for fuel and maintenance. Solar power systems have higher initial investment costs but offer long-term savings on electricity bills and potential incentives or rebates.

Choosing the Right Option for Your Home

While both generators and solar power systems serve the same purpose of generating electricity, they differ significantly in their energy source, environmental impact, reliability, and cost. The choice between the two depends on factors such as energy needs, budget, environmental considerations, and long-term goals.

Ultimately, the choice between generators and solar power depends on your priorities and circumstances as a homeowner. If you’re not sure which you should invest in, it’s always a good idea to consult with professionals who can help you determine the right option for your home.

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