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Portable power stations, are they worth it?

Avatar for Dan Hahn
Published on 03/05/2020 in
Updated 03/09/2020
portable solar panel and power station

Last week, we couldn’t help but chuckle as we learned a baboon on his way to a scheduled vasectomy managed to escape his transport with two females. He must have known danger was on the way.

With anxiety levels approaching higher levels brought on by the uncertainty associated with the coronavirus, you might be so inclined to think about escaping too. If you’re looking to enjoy some comforts of home on your trek into the wild, there is a solar power related solution we thought you should know about, called a portable power station or solar generator, pictured above.

Disclosure: This article contains product recommendations. As an Amazon Associate, Solar Power Rocks may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

What Can Portable Solar Generators Do?

Portable solar generators like these allow you to create your own electricity, without the fumes of a gas powered generator, and have much better lifetime value. When you pair them with portable solar panels, you’re able to be more self sufficient in the wild or have a source of emergency power at home if you don’t currently have solar plus storage installed for protection against power outages.

goal zero battery options

They come in a host of different sizes depending on how much gear you have and what you need to power. Most midrange units are relatively lightweight (~10lbs), retail for between $300-$750 and include a lithium ion battery, solar charger, charge controller, pure sine wave inverter, standard outlets, car outlets, usb outputs, and power display screen all wrapped up into a high quality, portable package.

Some units even come with integrated flashlights and allow you to use and charge the battery simultaneously. You can charge them using portable solar panels, a wall outlet, or the DC coming out of your car, truck or van.

larger portable power station

The largest models we came across were rated at from 1400 to 3000 watts of capacity. At those sizes, the manufacturers recommended pairing at least two 100 watt solar panels with them to make solar charging the power banks more efficient, as it can take up to three days to fully charge a unit at this size with a single 100 watt panel.

power station home integration

These more robust battery backup solutions are actually meant to be tied into essential home circuits, such as fridges, garage doors, outlets in main living rooms, and light switches. The kit pictured above allows you to customize your backup power and select up to four circuits to run in your home should you lose power.

jackery 500 portable power station

Jackery and Goal Zero Solar Generators

The best selling models are in the mid range capacity, like the Goal Zero Yeti 400, or Jackery 500, pictured above. While the Goal Zero and Jackery brands are top rated, there are quite a few other options out there at this capacity:

variety of power stations

You can recharge one of these mid-sized portable power stations with a single 100w solar panel in about 6-8 hours of good sunlight. Or, if you’re plugged into your car port on the road it’ll take about 10 hours, 4 hours if you’re plugged into the wall.

A single full charge on one of these 4-500w rated lithium battery packs are great for:

Keeping your food cold

12 volt mini fridge

Power a 12V mini fridge for an entire day. If you’re able to use the DC, it’s more efficient since you don’t need to transform the power in to AC (~20% loss).

Making ice

150 watt ice machine

You can run a 150 watt ice machine for 3 hours, netting you 4 to 5 pounds of ice.

Running DC lights

5 watt dc led light

You can run a several 5 watt LED lights for up to 50 hours. Get the DC models, since they speak the same language as your battery and there’s no need to use the inverter function. The light they emit is the same as a 60 watt incandescent bulb!

Camp lights

decorative camping lights

15 hours of elegant LED hanging string light to provide an ambient glow for your camping trip.

Run your laptop

laptop with power station

Expect 12 hours of plugged in, active computing time

Movie time

camping projector

A cool little 50W camping projector, like the one above, can run for 10 hours.

What are not good uses for portable power stations?

Big power suckers over 500 watts are not really good applications for solar generators, since they will quickly drain the battery bank. So, drip coffee makers, instant pots, microwaves, toasters, air conditioners, space heaters, electric irons, and vacuums aren’t ideal to use.

Goal Zero and Jackery Portable Solar Panels

jackery 100w solar panel

Most portable power stations allow for solar charging via a portable panel like the one pictured above. We like the Jackery SolarSaga 100 since it is foldable for easy storage and has a nifty kickstand system, which allows you to easily orient the panel to the sun wherever you are. There are also integrated usb outputs in the back of the panel to charge devices and a built in pouch to keep them out of the heat of the sun or the dirt.

boulder briefcase portable solar panels

If you’re looking for a little more juice and have a more permanent location, say in the back of your van for your panel, you might want a sturdier and more robust solution like the Boulder 200 watt briefcase, shown above.

Final thoughts: Do portable power stations work and will they get the job done?

Unless you have a dedicated off-grid solar installation, even at the 1500 watt size you probably wouldn’t want to run microwaves or hair dryers. However, if you’re looking to power your phone, laptop, light power tools, ice machine, portable lights, or a mini-fridge, portable power stations can absolutely get the job done well to provide some emergency backup power.

It’s important to note, that after 500 power cycles, overall battery capacity for most portable power stations will degrade to about 80%. For most people, that happens over a timeframe of 3 to 5 years.

While lithium iron phosphate models are available and may have better battery performance over time, they weigh almost twice as much and are significantly more expensive.

We like the Goal Zero Yeti models because they have a nice feature which alerts you on the integrated screen how much time you have remaining on your current load until the battery dies.

Last modified: March 9, 2020

One thought on “Portable power stations, are they worth it?

  1. Avatar for Brian Hastings Brian Hastings says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing the knowledge and keep up the good work.

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