Can a House With Solar Panels Use a Generator?

A generator can be a good backup, but be sure you understand how and when it will work with your solar panels.
Erin Oppenheim
By Erin Oppenheim 
Edited by Tina Orem

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A house with solar panels can use a generator, but in general you cannot run solar panels and a generator at the same time. Storing excess solar-generated electricity in a solar battery can be an alternative to using a generator.

Here’s what you need to know about using a generator if you have solar.

Can you have solar power and a generator?

You can have solar power and a generator, but typically you can’t run both systems at the same time.

Most solar panel systems in the United States are installed to shut down during a grid outage. This is so they do not produce electricity that could go back onto the grid during the outage and harm utility workers who are trying to restore power

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Solar Electricity Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed May 3, 2024.
. That means when the power goes out on the grid, you won’t have access to the electricity from your solar panels.

Homes with solar panels can use gas-powered generators to stay online during a power outage. Your solar installer or a qualified electrician can help you set up your generator safely to avoid any problems during a power outage.

Solar-powered generator

A solar-powered generator. Courtesy Nature's Generator.

Generators vs. solar batteries

A popular alternative to having a generator is having a solar battery. Solar batteries store the excess energy that solar panels generate on extra sunny days, and homeowners can tap into this stored energy to keep things such as lights and refrigerators running during a grid outage.

If you want to be doubly prepared for power outages, you can have both a solar battery and a backup generator. But similar rules apply: You cannot run the generator and the solar battery at the same time. When an outage occurs, your battery will kick in first and operate until it runs out of power. Once the battery shuts off, the generator will take over.

SunRun solar battery storage

A solar battery. Courtesy Sunrun.

Is there a generator that runs on solar and gas?

Many generators need gas to run, but solar-powered generators also exist. A solar-powered generator is just a smaller, portable solar panel system with its own battery storage. It can provide some backup power during an outage at home, but only for a short period of time. Also, “portable” is the operative term here. Solar-powered generators are substitutes for full-size solar panel systems; and they are smaller both physically and in wattage.

A solar-powered generator is best for situations where you don’t have access to a working, hardwired outlet, such as:

  • Boating trips.

  • Camping.

  • Road trips with your RV or camper.

  • Charging small electronics.

When shopping for generators, keep these things in mind:

  • Your existing power usage. This will help you think about what you need in order to get by during an outage, which will help narrow the options.

  • Local codes or requirements. They may limit what you’re allowed to have or what will function on your property. 

  • The watts/wattage rating of your appliances. This will help you figure out if your generator can actually power them. There is usually a sticker on the back of the appliance that tells you how much power it uses. If your generator can produce more watts than your appliance needs, it may be a good fit. 

  • Watt-hours (Wh). This will show you how much energy the solar generator can store. The higher the watt hours, the more energy it stores and the longer it can run your appliances. For example, a generator with a 1,000 Wh capacity can supply enough power to run a 1000-watt appliance (such as a large microwave) for one hour straight or a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours

    U.S. Department of Agriculture. How do you determine the wattage of your microwave oven?. Accessed May 3, 2024.

Can you power your whole house with a solar generator?

Yes, you can power your whole house with a solar-powered generator! The average American home requires about 1,214 watts a day, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA)

U.S. Energy Information Administration. How much electricity does an American home use?. Accessed May 3, 2024.
. So, for short-term power outages, a 2,000 watt solar generator should make enough energy to power a typical house.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Generators vary in cost, size and fuel source (gas vs. solar). Small portable units can start around $450, and larger backup generators can cost up to $7,000 plus installation costs.

Types of generators

Here is a breakdown of the various sizes and types of generators (gas or solar-powered), their wattage and what you can expect to power in your home

Consumer Reports. How to Choose the Right Size Generator. Accessed May 3, 2024.

Generator type/size (gas or solar)


Capacity to power

Small recreational/portable generator or inverter

Up to 2,000 watts.

  • Refrigerator (700 watts).

  • Laptop (200 watts).

  • Five to 10 lights (250 watts).

  • Smartphone charger (20 watts).

  • Home security system (100 watts).

  • TV (100 to 150 watts).

Mid-sized generator or inverter

Up to 3,500 watts.

  • Refrigerator (700 watts).

  • Laptop (200 watts).

  • Five to 10 lights (250 watts).

  • Smartphone charger (20 watts).

  • Home security system (100 watts).

  • TV (100 to 150 watts).


  • 10,000-btu air conditioner (1,000 watts).

OR one of the following:

  • Toaster oven (1,200 watts).

  • Hair dryer (1,200 watts).

  • Washing machine (1,200 watts).

  • Space heater (1,500 watts).

  • Coffee maker (1,000 watts).

Large generator or inverter

Up to 7,000 watts.

  • Refrigerator (700 watts).

  • Laptop (200 watts).

  • Five to 10 lights (250 watts).

  • Smartphone charger (20 watts).

  • Home security system (100 watts).

  • TV (100 to 150 watts).

  • 10,000-btu air conditioner (1,000 watts).


  • Well pump (1,250 watts).

  • Sump pump (900 watts).

  • Gas or propane furnace (800 watts).

OR ONE of the following:

  • 8-inch burner on an electric range (2,000 watts).

  • Dishwasher (1,500 watts).

Whole-home standby or backup generator

Up to 20,000 watts.

All of the above.

Frequently asked questions

A gas generator can typically run for around 8 to 12 hours on a full tank of gas. How long it runs depends on how fuel-efficient it is. A more fuel-efficient generator will use less gas and run longer. With proper maintenance, a gas generator can last 20 to 30 years or more, running for a total of 20,000 to 30,000 hours.

Solar generators can last a long time, depending on the kind of battery they use. Most use lithium batteries, which can hold a charge for two to three years.

Both are effective, so the answer will largely depend on why you need a backup power system. Generators tend to be less expensive and offer more power for a longer period of time than solar battery storage, so if you experience frequent, long outages you might be better off with a generator.

If you need shorter-term emergency backup power just to cover the essentials (appliances, lights and outlets) and lower your reliance on the grid, a solar battery might be the better option.

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