Kohler enCUBE 1.8 — A Review of one of the Best Solar Generators, and most portable.
The debate about solar generators can become quite heated. There are those who argue that solar energy (or photovoltaics if you want to get technical) is the only way to save the planet from a doomsday scenario. There are others who say that solar simply isn’t practical because you have to rely on the sun for your power. This debate can go on forever and we will go into detail about this later in the article.
Kohler enCUBE 1.8 | Power & Grace
For now, I want to focus the main point of this article, the Kohler enCUBE 1.8 which can be classed as a hybrid solar inverter. This term describes an inverter-charger that can charge the battery (or batteries) by means of solar (PV) panels or use the mains power to charge the battery. This versatility means that you have a portable power generator that can be used anywhere without the need to burn gas. This saves you money both on fuel bills and service. An inverter doesn’t need to be serviced regularly like you need to do with a gas-powered engine. You also don’t have the noise and fumes that you get from a gas generator. This means that you can use the Kohler enCUBE indoors, right where you need it – you don’t need endless extension cords.
When you compare the price of the Kohler enCUBE 1.8 to a gas generator with a similar power output, you’ll be paying a lot more for this option and the price goes up as you increase the amount of solar energy that you use to charge the battery. When I discuss solar power in more detail, after reviewing the products, I’ll give a breakdown of your cost and leave you to decide if a solar hybrid generator is the best way to go.
Some may gasp at the price of Kohler enCUBE and no amount of convincing them about eco-friendly power or long-term savings will see them choosing to pay this much. There are cheaper options available, but you can’t always be too sure of what you’re getting. The Kohler brand is well-known, so you’re assured of the quality that you’re getting. We are going to be reviewing a cheaper option that is also from a reputable brand and so you can buy it with confidence. The Schumacher SPB1 Storm costs about half of what you’ll pay for the Kohler enCUBE but has about half the power output. This means that your cash savings aren’t about buying a cheap machine that’s less durable, it’s about buying a less powerful solar generator.
There’s a lot to discuss in this article. So let’s start from the top – a review of the Kohler enCUBE 1.8 solar generator.
✓ For more options, read our article on the top 5 indoor generators, also known as portable battery power stations.
Kohler enCUBE 1.8 — Review
Battery Inverter Generator with Solar Capability
- Fuel-free portable power for indoors or on the go
- Safe, silent design – with no engine, is a quiet, clean power source with zero emissions
- Battery inverter technology powers 120V, 12V and 5V items such as laptop, TV, cell phone, refrigerator and more
- Able to parallel two or more panels for quicker charge (max 240 Watts input) or combine multiple units or similar batteries for increased run times.
- Charges from a 120V wall outlet or optional solar panel(s.) built-in wheels and telescoping handle for easy portability
- Digital display shows input, output, runtime and battery status
Example of running-times:
- Side-by-Side refrigerator: 14 hours
- LED light bulb: 53 hours
- 50″ LED television: 8.5 hours
- Chest freezer: 19 hours
- Microwave: 1 hour
- Coffeemaker: 40-cups (8 oz.)
- Laptop computer: 60 hours
- Iron: 1 hour
Overview | Kohler enCube 1.8
For those who might not already know the brand, I’ll start by pointing out why it’s worth buying a Kohler product. The name Kohler has been associated with plumbing products from its inception in 1873. Though co-founder of the company, John Michael Kohler, was an innovative soul. The company has been responsible for many innovations over the years.
Today, Kohler is, among other things, one of the leaders in building high-quality engines and power generators. As the company has always been about looking for new and better ways of doing things, it’s only logical that would explore the possibilities of solar power. This has led to the development of the Kohler enCUBE which embodies all the qualities of a Kohler product. It’s designed and built to the highest possible standards, using materials that have been sourced for their quality and it offers superb usability.
Kohler 33 755 03-S — 60W Folding Solar Panel for Kohler EnCUBE 1.8
The Kohler enCube is a very neat package with the battery built into the unit, so it’s one practical device. It has wheels to make it easier to move around and a telescopic handle. You’ll need the aid of these wheels and the easy-grip handle because this is a heavy machine – it weighs 109 LBS. Much of this weight is due to the hefty 100AH battery. This AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) battery is the best battery for solar charging. Later in the article, when I discuss solar power in more detail, I’ll explain why this battery is the preferred choice. The Kohler enCUBE has high-amp battery terminals at the back that can be used to jump-start your car or add more batteries in parallel to increase your backup time.
Now for the really important stuff – the technical specifications. Whether you’re using the Kohler enCUBE as backup power for your home, for camping trips, or for site work, you’ll want to how much usable power you’ll get from the inverter and battery. The enCUBE has a maximum startup wattage capacity of 3600W (for 0.3 seconds), this gives it the ability to start almost any induction electric motor – it won’t have any problem running a large refrigerator.
It has a secondary peak power output of 1800W (for 10 minutes) this is great for when some high current appliances are running together for a short period of time and this should give it enough extra power for when your refrigerator compressor starts and runs for a while when you’re close to its maximum constant power. It can supply a maximum power output of 1400W constantly. This is a generous amount of power from a unit that measures 11” X 14” X 22”. I see that they advertise the Kohler enCUBE as being CARB and EPA compliant. Excuse me, but that’s like advertising bottled water as being sugar-free. Of course it’s CARB and EPA compliant – it has no engine!
The Kohler enCUBE has a fantastic user panel with two 120V household power outlets, two 5V USB outlets, and two 12V car lighter style outlets. It has a very useful LCD screen that gives you all sorts of useful information. It displays the charging watts, which is very good to know when you’re using solar panels because this gives you an idea of how long it’s going to take for the battery to charge.
It gives you a readout of the battery voltage as well as battery charge indicator with 5 bars from full charge to low. It also shows you your output wattage (how many watts you’re using) and it calculates the estimated usage time that you’ll get from the battery at your current output. So it displays the time in minutes before the battery protection switch will shut the machine down. As your output wattage changes it will adjust your usable time. This lets you adjust your power usage as your battery approaches low charge and you always know how much time you have left. The top of the machine also has a handy storage compartment for any cables and connectors that you might want to keep with you.
You have a number of solar optional extras available to you. When you buy the standard package, you get the inverter-charger unit and the battery so you can charge it from the mains. If you want to take advantage of its solar capabilities you’ll need to get one of the solar kits as an addition. The smallest solar option is the Kohler 33 755 03-S 60W Folding Solar Panel. This is a neat little package of two panels hinged together for easy standing. The total weight of this package is a mere 13 LBS. The panel surface measures 42.5” X 17.5” X 1”. Because it folds on the hinges, you end up with half the length when storing and transporting it and it has a bag for safe storage and transportation. The kit also includes the necessary cabling for the panel. You also have the option of a larger 150W panel and you can connect several panels in parallel up to a total of 240W.
When using solar panels, charge times can be incredibly long depending on the watts from your panel and the amount of available sunlight. So how does the Kohler eCUBE fare when used as a solar generator? If you’re going for the smallest option, the 60W solar panel kit (Kohler 33 755 03-S), your best charge rate is going to be 20-hours to take the 100AH battery inside the machine from low to full charge. I can tell you now that, unless you live in the desert, you’ll never have ideal conditions for solar charging. So using this small kit, you can expect anything from 30-40 hours if we’re looking at it realistically.
This isn’t too great. So if you’re really going to take full advantage of the enCUBE’s solar capabilities, it’s best to go for the full 240W charging capacity. This would mean using four 60W panels connected in parallel. This will bring your charge time down to 7-10 hours of daylight with varying cloud cover. On days with heavy cloud cover, solar isn’t that great and you could only have about a quarter of the charge that you would get from a normal day with only light cloud cover.
So this brings you to battery storage. If it’s going to take about a full day to charge your battery – how long is this battery going to provide you with power? A 12V battery delivering 100AH is going to give you a maximum output of 1200 watt-hours. The Kohler enCUBE 1.8 won’t allow the battery to run completely flat because this will damage the battery, so you should expect to get 1000 watt-hour of usable power. Of course, if you’re using this power during the day with the solar panels connected, your battery will be receiving charge as you use the enCUBE. So your battery storage only becomes important for night time usage and on cloudy days.
It’s a good idea to have one or two extra batteries if you intend using the Kohler enCUBE for long periods of time when there’s a chance of cloud cover. If you’re using it at home you can always plug it into an electrical outlet to charge the battery when needed. Likewise, if you’re using it on site, you can charge the battery overnight, if need be.
So there’s a lot to consider before buying a solar generator and, like I said earlier, I’ll provide more information about this topic later in the article – this should make your decision easier. If you’re going to opt for a solar hybrid inverter-charger as your preferred way of power generation, then the Kohler enCUBE 1.8 should be your first choice. It’s a fantastic machine with a lot of usable power and it comes with a 3-year warranty for consumers and a 90-day commercial warranty.
Tech Specs (Kohler enCUBE 1.8):
- Max Power : 1.8 kW
- Continuous Power : 1.4 kW
- Receptacles/Outlets :
- 120V 15A (2)
- USB (2)
- 12 V Car Charger (2)
- AC Output :
- 120V 3600W 20A (for 0.3 sec.) and 1800W 15A (for 10 min) max / 1440W continuous (12.5A)
- DC Output 12V / 5V USB
- Sound level @ 7m : Silent Operation
- Frequency : 60 Hz
- Safety/Protection : Low Battery Auto Shutdown, High Temp Shutdown, Overload Fuses, GFCI
- EPA – USA
- CARB – USA
- CSA – Canada
- Fuel Tank Capacity : 12V 100 A-hr
- Battery Type : Maintenance free sealed AGM lead acid battery
- Charge Time Solar : 24 hours
- Charge Time 120V : 12 hours
- Dimensions (LxWxH) : 18.5 x 14.0 x 16.0 in. (w/o handle)
- Weight : 109 lbs
- Warranty : Commercial Warranty 90 Day / Consumer Warranty 3 Year
Learn more about Kohler and their extensive line of generators by visiting their site.
Schumacher SBP1 Storm | Review
Portable battery generator : Built-in 700W pure sine wave inverter with 1400 peak watts — 3 to 9 hours of backup power for home appliances.
When the power goes out, and eventually it will, the Schumacher Storm will keep your home running for 3 to 9 hours, depending on the power load of the appliance/device, including : fridge, freezer, sump pump, TV, microwave, etc..
- Safe for indoor use, this unit provides emergency backup power, serving as a better alternative to a generator during power outages
- Powers appliances, electronic devices, and remote and battery-operated power tools
- Built-in 700W pure sine wave inverter with 1400 peak watts, provides 3 to 9 hours of backup power for home appliances
- Scrolling digital display shows system status, battery status, reminders, and error messages
- Includes two 120V AC household outlets, two 2.1A USB ports to charge USB devices, and a 12 Volt DC outlet
If you’re looking for a solar generator that’s a lot more affordable than the Kohler enCube, the Schumacher SBP1 Storm is going to be your best bet. You’ll be paying about half as much for the unit (without solar panels) and you’ll be getting about half as much in terms of wattage output and battery storage. You will, however, be getting a solar generator that is also of the highest quality standard. Schumacher has been in the technology business since 1947 and has received much recognition over the years.
The Schumacher SBP1 Storm produces 700W of pure sine wave AC power for a constant running load. It has a peak startup wattage of 1400W (for 10 milliseconds), this is great for most capacitor startup appliances like inductive electric motors. Ballasts that may require a slower start or multiple starts might struggle a bit with such a short peak load. Though this shouldn’t have too much effect on how most people use the inverter.
Half the size also means that it’s about half the weight. The Schumacher SPB1 Storm is much lighter than the Kohler enCube and weighs only 55.6 LBS. Much of this has to do with the smaller AGM deep cycle battery that only has a 55AH capacity. As this battery is supplying an inverter that produces half the constant running power of the enCube, its backup battery storage time will be similar. Despite being much lighter than the bigger Kohler, the Schumacher has very similar wheels and a telescopic handle, making it very easy to transport.
If you’re going to use the Schumacher as a solar generator, you’ll need to buy the solar panel (or panels) separately as well as the charge controller. This means that the Schumacher doesn’t have an internal charge controller and you can’t simply plug your solar panels directly into the unit. The Schumacher SP-1500 kit comes complete with everything you’ll need. This includes a 15W 12V solar panel and a 7A charge controller, as well as the cabling that you’ll need to connect the panel directly to the battery. While this may not be as convenient as the Kohler enCube, that allows you to connect your solar panels directly to an input which has an internal charge controller, there is an advantage to the separate system.
The Kohler enCube has an internal charge controller that limits you to a maximum of 240W (20A) solar charge. When using the Schumacher, you’ll be able to connect as many solar panels as you want in series as long as you use a charge controller that can handle the wattage of all the panels combined. Like the Kohler enCube, the Schumacher SPB1 also has an input for connecting extra batteries in parallel to increase your power storage capacity.
The Schumacher is as user-friendly as the Kohler enCube. It has 2 X 120V household power outlets, a 15A 12V cigarette lighter type outlet, and 2 X USB outlets. All the outlets are protected by plastic covers. It has a simple LED alphanumeric display screen which is not nearly as sophisticated as the information display on the enCube but gives the basic information that you need. The display gives information on the system status, battery status, error readings and reminders.
VIDEO | Schumacher SBP1 Storm
The Schumacher provides you with an excellent battery backup power inverter-charger for your home or camping trips. You’ll have enough power to keep a number of appliances running and it allows for solar charging and additional batteries. This is a robust machine, contained in a strong metal housing and comes with a 1-year warranty.
✓ Learn more by visiting the Schumacher site.
Is solar power really free electricity?
In this section of the article, I’m going to go into some detail. I spent many years in the energy generation business and have done a lot of research on renewable energy since the mid-1990s. I’ve also built and installed all types of renewable energy systems. So I can shed some valuable information for those who are interested in the subject.
So let’s start with solar energy — is it really free electricity?
There’s no such thing as a free lunch and this applies to energy too. It’s never going to be free. When we consider the viability of a solar power generating system, we look at the payback period. In other words, how long will it take to recoup your initial installation cost compared to your electricity bill or, in the case of a portable generator, the cost of running a gas generator?
In this case, we’re talking about photovoltaics because solar thermal (using solar generated heat) is also solar energy but it’s used differently. Because we’re dealing with a portable generator here, I’m going to do a comparative price study between the Kohler enCube and the nearest gas-powered inverter generator, this would be a fair comparison of related products. It would be nice to compare the enCube with a Kohler gas generator, but they only produce gas generators from 6kw and upwards. The closest product that I could find in terms of brand quality and power output is the Honda EU2000i inverter generator. The Honda has a peak power output is 2000W and the running wattage is 1600W. This is slightly higher than the Kohler enCube, but it’s as close as it gets.
To place this comparison in context, I’ve taken the price of the Kohler enCube with the maximum 240W solar panels and two extra batteries. This is the most you’ll be paying for a complete system that should keep you running without any compromise. It’s a solar system that should be adequate to compensate for the lack of sunlight overnight and on days with light to medium cloud cover. This will be compared to the purchase price of the Honda EU2000i and the gas it would take to keep it running for 10-hours per day, every day. Of course, your running costs will change if you only use the generator occasionally, but you’ll get the basic idea.
I’m not going to mention the actual prices because these will change. I’m going on the general retail prices as at October 2017 and the average US gas price per gallon during the same time period. By my calculations, the Kohler enCube with all the extras matches the purchase price and running costs of the Honda for one year. So, if you’re using either product for 10-hours per day, every day, your payback period will be one year. After this, you can look at your electricity as being free when using the enCube instead of a gas generator. Though there are some maintenance cost (these will be higher for the gas generator). When it comes to solar power it’s important to look at the lifetime of the inverter and, more importantly, the batteries. I’ll get to this in a while.
Let’s say you’re only using the generator for 1-month of the year. This would make your payback period 12-years and this might not seem to be worth it. You might want to look at how long either device will last in terms of replacement and maintenance costs. I’d say that if you’re only using either the Kohler enCube or the Honda EU2000i for only one month of the year, both will probably last for well over 20-years. Though in this instance, your maintenance costs on the gas generator will probably bring your payback period down to about 8-10 years.
So what are your maintenance costs on a solar generator? Quality inverters run for 20-30 years with little to maintenance, as do your solar panels. I’ve seen inverters working 24-hours a day, 7-days a week for 20-years and require no maintenance other than keeping it clean. So here you can expect a product life of 20-years with negligible maintenance costs. What you really have to look at is your batteries, because this can make a big difference.
Again, I’m speaking from years of experience here, so I hope you can take my word for it. When looking at 12V batteries for solar power, you have many choices. Though I can tell you that 12V deep cycle AGM batteries work out the best in terms of value for money.
In practice, a quality AGM lead acid battery lasts about 5-7 years if used 24/7 throughout the year. If you’re using them periodically, this can be anything up to 20-years or more if properly maintained. Cheap lead acid batteries aren’t worth it, some won’t even last a year with constant use, so stick to quality AGM batteries. You get lead acid solar batteries that can last for over 20-years but they don’t make financial sense for domestic users and they aren’t that practical for most of us. Heavy-duty solar batteries usually come in 2V cells that have to be connected in series to reach your required 12V, they’re bulky and heavy. They’re also incredibly expensive. Your 2V heavy-duty solar battery cells are only used for remote communication installations like satellite stations, communication towers and aviation beacons. If you have a critical service and it it’s on a high mountain in the middle of nowhere, these batteries make sense. These services need to run continuously and reliably. Gaining access to them in order to change batteries is difficult and expensive and this justifies their cost.
Many people may be wondering why we don’t use lithium batteries for solar power. After all, these are the best batteries available today. Again it comes down to cost. If you’re looking at a 12V 100AH lithium-ion battery, its life cycle compared to cost works out more expensive than using lead acid AGM batteries. This makes AGM batteries the most affordable and practical solution with our current battery technology.
One thing you need to know about lead acid batteries is that need to be maintained. Even though AGM batteries are the best lead acid batteries for long and irregular battery cycles, they are not indestructible. If you’re using these batteries on a daily basis, you only need to make sure that they never run below 20% of their minimum capacity and are placed on charge soon after running this low (within 24-hours). It’s only when these batteries are being used occasionally that maintenance becomes more critical.
If you leave a lead acid battery for longer than three months without any charge or discharge cycle, they will be damaged. This means placing the battery on a charge maintenance cycle at least every three months. If you have a Kohler enCube standing in a garage for most of the year, be sure to plug it into the mains at least every 3-months. Leave it charging on the mains power for at least 24-hours to ensure that it completes a full maintenance cycle. The computer inside the enCube will manage this for you if it’s plugged into the mains.
Is solar the power the most environmentally friendly way of generating electricity?
This is a contentious issue and is the cause of many arguments within the industry. My answer is no, solar (PV) power is not the most environmentally friendly way of generating electricity. It is, however, the most practical for the domestic user. You’re not going to be transporting a wind turbine or hydroelectric power generator with you.
When we consider the environmental impact of a power generating device, we look at its complete environmental footprint. This means the footprint of accessing and transporting the raw materials, the energy input vs output. In other words, how much energy goes into making the generator compared to the energy that it gives. Finally, you need to look at the lifespan of the generator and the additional energy and material input that goes into keeping it running.
With exception of maintenance, hydro and wind power beats solar by a lot. Many people think that because silicone is the most abundant mineral on the planet, the raw materials for a solar panel shouldn’t be a problem. Well, it’s not that simple. You don’t just dump a pile of dirt into a machine and out pops a solar panel. This would be like a modern day Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
We first have to look at raw material availability. In order to make a solar panel, you need the correct crystalline structure within the silicon wafer. This means that you can’t just use any old silicon as a raw material. It’s estimated that there’s only enough usable silicon on the planet (for solar panels) to meet about 20% of our current electricity demands. As we start using electricity for more things, like electric cars, this becomes less. What we need to know is that silicon for solar panels is a finite resource. It also needs to be quarried and this has its own set of environmental issues.
The energy input that goes into making a solar panel is also very high. The raw silicon has to be heated to very high temperatures to melt off impurities and this has to be done in several stages. So the silicon is reheated several times until it’s pure enough to use for a high-grade solar panel. There are also other materials that need to be mined and processed. Copper for the conductors and aluminum for the casing, to mention just two. The good news is that once the manufacturing process has been completed, the solar panel has no further environmental impact for up to 30-years (depending on the type and quality of the panel).
The other methods of natural power (wind and water) have their own footprint issues. Large-scale hydroelectric power is probably the most harmful because of the impact of building large dams. Wind turbines have the lowest impact but are the least efficient. You don’t get a very high wattage from a wind turbine, except when the wind blows at high speed. This means that most wind turbines are not always generating much power. There are very few parts of the world that experience strong winds on a regular basis.
When it comes down to it, solar may not be the best in terms of its environmental impact, but it’s still way better than burning fuel. It’s also the most practical. Solar panels are small and light, compared to any of the others and can work wherever the sun shines. Most areas around the world, receive enough sunlight through the year to make solar power worthwhile.