What's the Difference Between a Generator and Solar?

If you’re new to the world of solar power, you may have questions about how to get started. While deciding among different types of panels, batteries, and more, you’ll encounter another big decision.

We’re exploring these two similar technologies, their fundamental differences, and what they mean to you as you start generating your own clean, renewable power. 

How Does a Solar System Differ from a Solar Generator?

A solar system relies on many of the same principles as a solar generator, but with some key differences. Like generators, solar systems convert the sun’s energy into usable electricity that’s either used or stored in a battery bank. 

But unlike generators, solar systems are dedicated systems that harness sun power. This might include panels you install directly on a home, RV, or boat, or It could mean portable panels that feed into a full-fledged system.

How Gas/Electric Generators Work

A generator transfers mechanical energy, movement of parts, to electrical energy (movement of electrons). This is done with the help of fossil fuels, a turbine of some kind, a conductor, and some magnets.

The burning of fossil fuel produces pressure which turns a turbine. This spinning turbine rotates a conductor, such as copper, inside a magnetic field. Once the copper in the magnetic field starts to turn, this mechanical energy generates an electric current. This process is called electromagnetic induction.

This current will power a home and the devices in it. If the generator runs out of fuel, however, it will stop generating electricity.

Powering a Home With Solar and Battery Backup

Many have turned to fossil-fuel-powered generators because they are cheap and do the job. However, these aren’t the only factors that should be considered when determining backup power for a solar-powered home.

In our day and age, power not only needs to be readily available but easy to access. The sun, unlike‌ ‌fossil‌ ‌fuels, is easy to come by at no extra cost. The problem is that solar arrays on their own do not store excess power.

Using a generator when the sun is down can help alleviate this, but generators need fuel at all times in order to run. This means it will cost extra money to use a generator.

A battery, however, only needs fuel to recharge it. Once the battery is charged it is good to go until the charge has been drained from it.

This is why battery backup coincides with solar so well. Together they are able to produce electricity for on-demand use.

How a Battery Works

Unlike a generator, a battery doesn’t need a fuel source to produce an electrical current. Instead, a battery has a surplus of electrons that flow from one end of the battery back to the other.

A positive end (cathode) and a negative end (anode) of the battery hold electrons. The electrolyte in the middle of the battery blocks the electrons from moving within the battery, helping it to keep its charge. Once the battery is connected to an electrical circuit it can then be used to power objects.

When all the electrons in the anode move to the cathode, the battery needs to be recharged. One way to charge batteries is with solar panels. The electric current from the solar panels reverses the movement of electrons which charges the battery.


Generators are cheaper than solar if you only look at initial investment. It costs additional money every time you run the generator (fuel), and they often require regular service interval maintenance, which will also add cost to you. When you consider these points, it's clear that a generator will never actually pay itself off, but it can still be effective for backup power when the grid is down. Solar will cost more up front, but will be free to run, save you money on your electricity bill, and most importantly (to us), offer you the ability to be your own source of power instead of relying on the grid. The grid can be incredibly unreliable in some areas, whereas your solar system will always be right on/in your home. A generator may very well be a better fit for your needs, but if you get one and decide to add solar later, or if you have solar and want to add a generator later, we are easily capable of integrating all of these things with our hybrid inverters!

Is a Solar System Worth It? 

Solar generators and solar systems each provide an amazing way to generate clean, renewable energy straight from sunlight. But the two also have important differences in usage, storage, cost, maintenance, and more. 

While solar generators have their uses, most homeowners, boaters, or RVers will find the always-ready, expandable power of a true solar system is a great power choice. It’s best both for day-to-day extra electricity and backup juice when the power is out.