Van Life Generator Guide: Rev-up Your Off Grid Van

Van life generators_ generator in a table

Van life allows you to travel to different places, create memories, and meet people. In the process of doing so, you will be spending considerable time on your vans. While inside your van, you would need electricity; to power your AC in the blistering heat of the sun and for other appliances such as mini-fridges and laptops. Most vans have solar panels installed to share with the burden carried by the vehicle engine in supplying electricity. However, in most cases, even the assistance of solar panels is insufficient. Thus, the need to use portable generators to supply that much-needed energy to power things up, especially the AC, which demands a lot.

Can generators be used on vans? Yes. Vans can be hooked up with a portable generator. The generator will provide much-needed energy. Using a portable generator is better than using the vehicle’s engine or solar panels. Modern generators are lightweight and small, making them practical for van use.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of using portable generators in vans, especially with the AC. It is important to know the size, dimensions, and weight of the available portable generators as they would be consuming great space in the van. The concept of paralleling generators are also a viable option to further maximize power output. 

Portable Generators versus Solar Panels

Portable generators are the better source for alternative power in a van. While the use of solar panels also brings some advantages, the benefits of portable generators edge out the benefits of solar panels. Portable generators provide a larger supply of energy, which is something that the solar panels could not do. You cannot expect solar panels to power up appliances within the van, such as AC and refrigerators.

Portable generators also put up instant energy, which is available the moment the generator is turned on. For solar panels, you would need to activate it first by exposing the panels to direct sunlight. Portable generators are also not weather dependent and are, therefore, more flexible than a solar panel.

Power Output of Solar Panels

Let us first discuss the benefits of using solar panels as an alternative source of energy before we go over the portable generators. Solar panels are best as a third option for energy sources because it is not reliable and sufficient. Solar panels could only work when the panels have absorbed sufficient light from the sun, something that will not be able during the night or when the weather is cloudy or rainy.

A regular-sized van can be loaded with solar panels capable of providing around 200-300 Watts. Such energy could only be sufficient to power up to 12V lighting, the water pump, 12V TV, and perhaps a 12V fridge. Therefore, with solar panels only, you cannot turn on the AC, charge some devices, or turn on appliances without a portable generator.

Price of Solar Panel

A 300W solar panel would cost at the very least $300. You will also have to spend some money on the installation process since the solar panels will have to be mounted on the van’s roof. All in all, you would be spending less money on solar panels than in portable generators. However, when you think about the fact that solar panels provide an insufficient supply of energy, it would be better to secure the portable generators first.

Power Output of Portable Generators

Portable Generators are the most reliable source of alternative energy for any van, RV, or mobile homes. Even with a 2kW inverter, solar panels cannot produce the same energy output that portable generators produce. The only advantage that solar panels provide is that solar panels do not have a continuous running cost, such as fuel. But for output, flexibility, reliability, and durability, portable generators outclass the solar panels.

A regular portable generator would produce electricity up to 2500W. That electricity output is almost ten (10) times the output of a regular 200-300W solar panel setup. Some portable generators can even produce up to 7,000- 9,000 W. When you use a portable generator, you can use almost all of your electrical appliances and the van’s lighting system.

Portable Generators are User-friendly when compared to Solar Panels

Portable generators are user-friendly because it does not take much time for it to start producing electricity to power up your van. All you need is to turn it on, and the electricity will readily be available. On the other hand, solar panels need to store energy from the sunlight first before you can draw power from it. You could say that portable generators produce electricity instantaneously. 

Portable Generators Are Now Less Noisy

The drawback to traditional generators is that it produces so much noise. You definitely would not want to be inside the van when it is turned on. However, portable generators are part of the newer breeds of generators that are designed to be less noisy. Portable generators, especially the newer models, produce only up to 50 decibels of sound.

For context, 50 decibels is what the noise of a regular conversation at home would produce. There are even portable generators that produce 40 decibels, which is comparable to whisper noises. Thus, do not be afraid to have a portable generator as it won’t be as noisy as you think it would be. 

Ideal Size and Weight of Portable Generators For Your Van

Since your van is not as big as an RV or a mobile home, you would need to be more conscious in choosing the physical dimensions of your portable generator. Your primary concern is size and shape because you need to conserve space for your other cargo. The best portable generators would only weigh around 40-50 lbs. 

Most portable generators are also shaped in such a way that they do not take so much space. For example, top portable generators such as Generac 7117 and WEN 56200i portable generators are shaped like luggage. They easily fit into the van’s backside so you won’t have problems fitting things at the back. 

Expected Costs of Running A Portable Generator

Of course, you have to expect continuous running expenses with a portable generator. Fuel is what powers the portable generator. Luckily for you, newer models of portable generators are fuel-efficient, albeit they cost more than a non-fuel efficient one. A top portable generator such as WEN 56200i Super Quiet 2000W Portable generator costs around $400.

Most portable generators are now inverter generators, which means they are more fuel-efficient. For instance, a full tank of fuel, even though it may only be around 2 gallons, will last for almost 10 hours. So for 24 hr day consumption of fuel, which is unlikely your level of energy consumption, will only cost you 4 gallons of fuel. Since a gallon of fuel (gasoline) is around $2.50, for a 24hr usage, you would only spend $10. 

Cons of Using Portable Generators

Portable generators are not perfect, and they will always come with a drawback. The major concern for portable generators is that it is fuel dependent. So you must always have a gallon of fuel reserve in case the next gas station is miles away. You will also have problems using portable generators in some national parks, as they sometimes prohibit the use of generators. 

Top Portable Generators For Vans

Honda EU 2200-2200 Watt

Honda EU is one of the top-rated portable generators out in the market. Its best feature is fuel efficiency. Honda EU can last for 8hrs on just 0.92gallons of fuel. That is almost twice the longevity of other top portable generators. It is also among the lightest portable generators as it weighs just around 47lbs.

The MSRP for the Honda EU is $1139. You can have better deals with a lesser price range if you look for it online. Honda EU is available on Amazon and eBay. Since it is fuel-efficient, you will be able to save more money in the long run.

Yamaha EF2000iSv2

Yamaha EF2000iSV2 is a new generation model of the Yamaha portable generators. This model is known for its pulse width modulation control or PWMC. This system allows the generator to control the amount of power it delivers based on the hooked appliances. Simply put, it stops the generator from delivering electricity beyond what the appliances need.

Aside from the PWMC, this generator is known for its portability. Its design and lightweight make it the most convenient portable generator in the market. Its fuel gauge is also easy to measure because it can be easily glanced from the outside. The listed price for the Yamaha EF2000iSv2 is around $1,099, well within the price range for the top generators.

WEN 56200i Super Quiet 2000 Watt

WEN 56200i Super Quiet 2000 Watt is a portable generator that can be combined with another generator of the same model. It has a separately sold parallel connection kit, which some generators do not have. By paralleling it with another WEN 56200i, you can have double the output, perfect when you want the AC to turn on while using the fridge or any other appliances.

WEN 56200i is one of the most affordable top portable generators in the market. At just $500, you can save up to $500 compared to the purchase price of other portable generators. While being cheap, it still brings with it all the best features of different generators, noise reduction, fuel efficiency, portability, and even limited total harmonic distortions. 

Safety Tips for Van Generators

Maintain Good Ventilation

Always operate your portable generators with sufficient ventilation. Portable generators will emit carbon monoxide, even the most eco-friendly ones. Carbon Monoxide, at significant levels, can be toxic and dangerous to humans if inhaled. If possible, operate your portable generator while parked in an open space for maximum ventilation.

Turn appliances and AC One at a Time

Turn off all your appliances before you hook up and start the portable generator. After turning on the generator, you may now begin to turn the appliances you want, one at a time. This is to avoid overloading the generator with so many devices demanding electricity. Remember that proper use of the portable generator can prolong its expected life expectancy.

Refrain from Using it on Wet Conditions

Refrain from using the portable generator on wet surfaces or conditions, such as rain. Your portable generator is producing electricity. Since water is an excellent conductor, you are risking the possibility of being electrocuted.

Turn off Generators for Considerable Time Before Refueling

When refueling your generator, make sure that the generator has been turned off for at least one hour. This is to make sure that the generator is not hot when refueling. Refueling when the generator is hot can produce steam, which may burn you. Basic science will tell you that the abruptly cooling of a hot liquid will create steam.

Generators Generate Heat/ Exercise Caution When Touching

It may sound trivial, but please be extremely careful when touching generators that have been turned on for quite some time. Generators, especially the old ones, tend to get extremely hot. Luckily for you, new portable generators have a sleek design of handles for your touchy hands to grab.


Portable generators are your best alternative source for electricity because it has a larger output than solar panels. It is also instantaneous and convenient to use because even on a cloudy day, you can power up the generator and use it. The use of generators was impractical back then because of their weight and size. However, with the rise of portable generators, lightweight, sleek design, and fuel efficiency, we can now have vans, RVs, and mobile homes powered by a power source more reliable than batteries and solar panels.

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