When California's historic five-year drought finally relented a few years ago, the tally of dead trees in the Sierra Nevada was higher than almost anyone expected: 129 million. Most are still standing, the dry patches dotting the mountainsides.
But some trees did survive the test of heat and drought. Now, scientists are racing to collect them and other species around the globe in the hope that these "climate survivors" may have a natural advantage, allowing them to cope with a warming world a bit better than others in their species.
On the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Patricia Maloney, a UC Davis forest and conservation biologist, hunts for these survivors. Most people focus on the dead trees, their brown pine needles standing out against the glittering blue of the lake. But Maloney tends not to notice them.
"I look for the good," she said. "Like in people, you look for the good, not the bad. I do the same in forest systems."
Maloney studies sugar pines, a tree John Muir once called the "king" of conifers. "They have these huge, beautiful cones," Maloney said. "They're stunning trees."
The sugar pines on these slopes endured some of the worst water stress in the region. Winter snowpack melts earliest on south-facing slopes, leaving the trees with little soil moisture over the summer. That opens the door for the trees' tiny nemesis, which would deal the fatal blow.
"Here you have some really good mountain pine beetle galleries," Maloney said, as she peeled the bark off a dead sugar pine to show winding channels eaten into the wood. "Like little beetle highways."
Pine beetle outbreaks are a normal occurrence in the Sierra. As the beetles try to bore into the bark, pine trees can usually fight them off by spewing a sticky, gummy resin, entrapping the insects. But trees need water to make resin.
"The tank ran dry, and they weren't able to mobilize any sort of resin," Maloney said.
But next to this dead tree, Maloney points to one towering above, with healthy green pine needles. Somehow, it was able to fight the beetles off and survive the drought. As she's found more and more of these survivors, Maloney has studied them, trying to figure out what their secret is.
Mountain pine beetle larvae leave holes in sugar pine bark after emerging.
Lauren Sommer / KQED
"What we found is that the ones that were green, like this one, were more water-use efficient than their dead counterparts," she said.
In other words, the survivors had an innate ability to do more with less.
Individual members of any species can vary dramatically, something tied to genetic differences. That diversity comes in handy when environmental conditions change.
The drought, heat and beetle outbreaks in recent years put extreme pressure on sugar pines, creating a natural experiment that weeded out all but the toughest.
"I think what we're seeing is contemporary natural selection," Maloney said.
Now, she's trying to ensure their descendents survive.
Inside a greenhouse at her Tahoe City field station, Maloney showed off a sea of young green trees in their own containers. These 10,000 sugar pine seedlings grew from seeds Maloney and her team collected from 100 of the surviving sugar pines.
Over the next year, these young trees will be replanted around Lake Tahoe, both on national forest and private land. The hope is the trees, due to their genetics, will be better able to handle a warming climate, more extreme droughts and more frequent beetle outbreaks.
"These survivors matter," Maloney said.
She plans to study the genetics of these trees as they grow, research that could help in other climate-threatened forests.
Patricia Maloney next to a dead sugar pine on Lake Tahoe.
Lauren Sommer / KQED
Maloney's not alone in searching for species that can handle the warming climate.
Steve Palumbi, a biology professor at Stanford University, has been looking for coral that can handle heat.
"Evolution is a tool that we can bring to bear in helping us get through this future," he said.
Coral reefs are bleaching and dying as oceans warm, so Palumbi is growing surviving corals in the hope they can build new reefs, full of "super corals." Reefs aren't just tourist attractions, he says. They're also biodiversity hotspots that protect coastlines from flooding by absorbing wave energy.
"If it gives us another decade, if it gives us another two generations, that'll be good, we'll take it," he said. "I see these next 80 years as the time where we have to save as much as possible."
But beyond that, it gets trickier, given the rate the climate is changing.
"The question in the future is: When the environment changes and it changes really fast, can these populations keep up? How fast can they adapt? How much help will they give us in keeping those ecosystems going?"
Palumbi says, ultimately, the best solution for these species is for humans to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases.
In the meantime, scientists are trying to buy them a little more time.
This story originally appeared in KQED. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
- The Iconic Joshua Tree Is in Trouble - EcoWatch ›
- Three of World's Largest Sugar Pines Are Found in California - EcoWatch ›
Portable generators allow you to power your devices and certain appliances, even away from home or when your primary power source is taken offline. These devices are also perfect for camping or outdoor adventures. A portable solar generator can give you the power you need with a smaller ecological footprint by using solar panels. In this article, we'll outline some of the top options available in 2021.
Our Picks for the Best Portable Solar Generators
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Goal Zero Yeti 1500X
- Best High-Capacity - MAXOAK Bluetti EB150
- Best Expandable Power - EcoFlow RIVER Pro
- Best Compact Design - Renogy PHOENIX 300
- Best Portability - Suaoki S370
- Best for Camping - Jackery Explorer 300
- Best Price - Westinghouse iGen200s
How We Reviewed Portable Solar Generators
A good portable generator will offer you backup power in a convenient and reliable way. We have reviewed some of the top models on the market today, and arrived at a few that we think stand out from the rest.
To rank the best solar generators, we considered the following criteria:
- Size and weight. Smaller, more lightweight units offer much greater ease of use. We sought portable solar generators that aren't too challenging to lug around your home, or take with you when you go camping.
- Battery storage capacity. While your generator absorbs light through a solar panel, that energy is ultimately stored in a battery. The battery storage capacity, measured in watt-hours (Wh) determines how long you can use the generator before it requires a recharge.
- Inverter rating. Basically, inverter rating refers to the total number of watts that the solar generator can extract at any given time. Inverter rating, along with battery capacity, determine the wattage and power output of your generator.
- Expandability. Some generators come with a predetermined number of solar panels, while some allow you to add more solar panels as needed. This is an important feature to consider when looking for generators.
- Price point. Naturally, when looking for a new solar generator, staying on budget is always going to be a factor. We chose generators that are competitively priced.
The Best Portable Solar Generators
With these ranking factors in mind, here are our picks for the best portable solar generators available in 2021.
Goal Zero's line of Yeti portable power stations are well-suited for a wide range of off-grid uses, including emergency power, camping trips, and more. The Goal Zero Yeti 1500X is their most-popular large power station with enough power for everything from cell phones and laptops to medical devices like CPAP machines and even full-size refrigerators.
Why buy: The Goal Zero Yeti 1500X includes a 2000W AC (3500W Surge) inverter giving you the equivalent of a wall outlet power supply on-the-go. It also has seven different port options and a top-of-the-line app that makes it easy to monitor and manage your solar powered generator, no matter where you are.
For a high-capacity power station, check out the Bluetti EB150 from MAXOAK. Though it's not the most affordable option, you'll get a lot of features and utility for your investment. It includes a lithium ion battery capacity of 1500 Wh. When connected to three 150W solar panels, it can be recharged in about 3.5 to 4 hours.
Why buy: For a portable solar generator designed to power most household appliances under 1000W, the high-powered Bluetti EB150 is a great choice. MAXOAK also backs their product with a 24-month replacement or maintenance warranty.
EcoFlow boasts an impressive catalog of portable power stations, as well as reliable solar panels. We like the EcoFlow RIVER Pro power station because its technology enables incredibly fast recharging; you can connect it to two 110W solar panels to recharge in as little as 4.5 hours.
Why buy: The EcoFlow RIVER Pro includes a wide range of best-in-class technologies. Offering 720 Wh of power with three pure sine wave AC outlets, and weighing only 15.9 pounds, these units are well-suited for camping and hiking, as well as use around the house. You can also add an additional EcoFlow battery pack to upgrade the power of your generator as needed.
Renogy produces several different power stations and chargers, but we especially like the PHOENIX 300, a solar power solution that's extremely lightweight and compact. It comes with an easy-grip handle and only weighs 6.4 pounds, making it one of the most portable solar generators around while still offering up to 200W of AC power for off the grid activities.
Why buy: The PHOENIX 300 can provide 337 watt-hours for up to 8 hours of AC continuous power without the noise or fumes associated with gas generators. It includes a number of the most common charging ports like two AC adaptors, a USB-C, USB-A, USB, and a D-Tap port for photography equipment.
Suaoki is a company that's known for simple, functional, reliable technology. Their S370 portable solar generator isn't necessarily flashy, but it's an extremely lightweight option, perfect for camping, hiking, and other outdoor adventures. It includes 14 outlet ports and a pure sine wave inverter, making it a versatile power option.
Why buy: This is one of our top picks for camping and hiking, though it may also serve your needs as a backup power station for small appliances and electronics. A lithium-ion battery gives this generator an incredible capacity battery life, particularly in relation to its compact size.
Jackery's portable power stations are ideally suited for camping and hiking. The Explorer 300 offers great portability and fast rechargeable power at an affordable price. It includes two AC outputs, a USB-C, USB-A, USB ports, and a 12-volt car port.
Why buy: The Explorer 300 generator is a good option for those who are new to solar power, thanks to its low price and easy-to-use controls. Jackery offers a number of portable solar panel options, and the power station's MPPT technology means that it can be recharged from the sun in just 5.5 hours.
There are plenty of reasons to consider the Westinghouse iGen200s portable generator. This is one of the more affordable options on the market today, which makes it a good entry-level solar power solution. The unit offers four charging options. You can recharge with solar panels, with the power from your vehicle, with a household power outlet, or with a separate generator.
Why buy: For a simple and inexpensive solar power generator, Westinghouse makes an outstanding product. You can charge up to nine devices at a time; and, depending on how you use it, you can potentially get more than 40 hours out of your generator.
What Types of Batteries Do Solar Generators Use?
It's important to note that solar power generators may employ different kinds of batteries. The most common option is the lithium-ion battery. These tend to be more expensive than lead-acid batteries, at least on the front end. With that said, a lithium-ion battery will prove more durable, which usually makes it the smarter investment in the long run. Solar generators include charge controllers, which regulate the volts of energy coming from the solar panels to the battery to make sure the battery isn't overcharged and damaged.
The energy stored in the battery is converted from DC power into AC power using an inverter or adapter.
What Can You Power With a Portable Solar Generator?
There are different types of solar generators. A backup generator is primarily used to power your home, should your electricity go out. In this article, we focused on portable generators, which are mostly used for hiking and camping. With that said, a portable generator can also be really useful during power outages, potentially keeping your lights, electronic devices, and small devices or appliances on for several hours. Depending on the watts of power your solar system generator kit can support, you can use it to power things like phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, coffee makers, a mini-fridge, certain medical devices, and most anything you would plug into a car charger.
Some of the generators we've listed here can be charged by solar energy or via other sources, including vehicles and power outlets. These different charging solutions make a generator more versatile, though of course, solar energy is what you'll want to use if staying away from fossil fuels is your goal.
What are the Benefits of a Portable Solar Generator?
There are a number of reasons why you might consider a portable solar generator:
- These units are ideally suited for camping and hiking. The ones on our list range in weight from under 10 pounds to over 50, but they are all fairly easy to cart around as needed, or to keep in your camper or RV.
- Though they are not primarily intended to be emergency backup generators, they can certainly be used in that capacity. In particular, they can provide emergency power to important medical devices as well as phones and computers.
- Unlike gas generators, portable solar generators offer power without making a lot of noise or creating a lot of fumes. This makes them much more appealing for campsites.
- Portable solar generators are better for the environment, since they don't rely on gas or diesel fuel to run.
- Using a solar generator is ultimately more cost-effective as you will never need to purchase fuel to recharge it.
Solar Power Can Take You Further
Solar power is one of the best options for dependable, renewable energy. Not only can it help power your house, but you can use these portable generators to carry that power with you, wherever you may go.
There are clearly lots of options on the market today. We hope our guide is helpful to you as you assess our own backup power needs, and as you determine which portable solar generator will give you the greatest value. Note that you can find many of these solar power options through third-party retailers like Amazon. Do your due diligence as you seek the perfect, portable solar solution for you and your family.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.