The ability to generate power during outages and when there aren't any outlets on site is a convenient safety net during storms and camping trips. Even if you're not using one daily, it's still an excellent investment; you'll thank the stars you made when you're in a pinch.
The only problem is that portable power stations can get pretty pricey, and it's easy to overspend on fancy features you don't need. Or what's even worse, the station you get ends up lacking in the capabilities required for your needs.
It's a tough decision, especially if you're not an expert on the subject. Luckily, we're here to help. By the end of this article, you'll gain a deeper understanding of portable power stations and attain the insights you need to be a smart buyer.
If you're ready to learn more, here's our complete guide on buying portable power stations!
What is a portable power station, how does it work?
A portable power station is a type of energy storage unit that's primarily used for charging small appliances such as phones, tablets, and computers. They don't run on gasoline, propane, or any other fuel type, but rather batteries, and don't require nearly as much maintenance.
Most portable power stations are rechargeable and are great to have during powerless storms, camping excursions, and long road trips. Some are even capable of running medical machines and kitchen appliances if necessary and can be lifesavers when unforeseen circumstances arise. Of course, if you don't need such a massive power output, options are versatile and can cover anything from a small handheld charger to a station that can power a small house.
These portable power stations are typically suited with lithium batteries and can sometimes be charged via solar power. Most of the time, you can charge them by plugging them into the wall, and they store energy exceedingly fast.
Ignition is much more straightforward than traditional pull-string generators, and they're quieter while running. In general, they're much safer to use indoors and have a wider power output range. That means it's more effective at conserving power when using it for small tasks such as charging a phone.
The standard power station is equipped with multiple USB and AC ports. Since they run on batteries, it's also easier to have backups in case anything happens.
In short, portable power stations are a convenient way to store power with tons of pros and virtually no cons (which we'll discuss a bit further below).
In addition to environmental concerns, the portable power station will intrinsically grow alongside the rapidly expanding mobile device market. With reports finding that about 85% of American adults own a smartphone and spend an average of 5 hours and 24 minutes on their phone daily, it's no surprise that the mobile power station market has seen such high growth in recent years.
Furthermore, this 2021 market summary points out some notable trends within the industry, such as lithium portable power stations being much cheaper to buy, the constraints of solar power (slow charge time), and hybrid power dominating the market.
Constraints within the market fall primarily on the power output of portable generators, which come up short compared to conventional fossil fuel-based generators.
All in all, it's a rapidly growing market, and as technology advances, so will the global market.
Portable power stations and power banks are fundamentally the same things in the way that they store energy in rechargeable batteries to function, but they can be differentiated from each other through a few key aspects.
The primary difference is power output. While a portable power station has a wide range of wattage capabilities ranging from 250 watts to 3,000 watts per hour, the average power bank only outs power at a rate of around 100 watts per hour.
From a practical standpoint, the power bank can only really handle mobile devices, being able to charge them two or three times before you have to recharge them. Power stations can handle more energy-hungry appliances such as tools, laptops, heaters, and more, depending on wattage.
Additionally, power banks are much smaller and don't always include AC ports. Power stations, on the other hand, can weigh upward of 70 pounds and store much more energy—this makes them more effective during lengthy trips without power and outages but less suited for regular car rides and flights.
While the capabilities of the power bank are significantly less than the power station, so is the price. Power banks are considered affordable, everyday accommodations, while stations often require a bit more consideration before buying.
Portable power stations may not be as powerful as traditional gas generators, but they have quite a few advantages that make them a superior option in most instances.
Unfortunately, fossil fuels won't even last until the end of the century. That's why it's crucial to be more conservative when we spend energy and switch to more renewable sources. Given there are many portable solar power stations, they're much better for the environment.
Gas generators are also huge offenders for greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions, unlike portable stations, which can store and provide energy more cleanly.
As the name suggests, portable power stations are more mobile than gas generators and compact enough to carry around in a car. Sure, some can weigh up to 70 pounds, but that's still way more manageable than a generator that weighs hundreds.
Portable power stations are maintenance-free, easy to use, and completely safe. Alternatively, gas generators use combustible energy, which poses a higher risk of malfunction and is a more significant fire hazard. Gas generators also require routine maintenance, such as replacing spark plugs, changing oil, changing filters, and checking the coolant, to name a few things.
The final way portable power stations trump gas generators is general quality of life. With generators, you have to fight with a string to get them started, let them warm up, and constantly replace fuel. If that's not bad enough, they also make tons of obnoxious noise which can't be safely suppressed.
Portable stations are quiet and easy to start and charge without any trouble.
As briefly mentioned in prior sections, portable power stations have many applications. Here's a more in-depth look at some of the most prominent ways to use them:
One of the most common applications of portable power stations is for long camping trips where there is no other reliable source of energy. Since they're relatively compact, hold a lot of juice, and can provide for a variety of functions, they're ideal for when you want to charge some phones or bring along electric appliances.
While they most likely won't be able to supply your entire house, portable stations are still excellent devices to have during a power outage. They'll last much longer and sustain a lot more electronics than a power bank, and they're more economical than generators making them the ideal middle ground.
Whether you want to make an office outdoors, create content in the wilderness, or power up decorations in your yard, the portable station can make it happen. What's even better is that there are many solar-powered options available, meaning you never have to recharge them, and you can save a ton on your electricity bill.
RVs take a lot of energy to run, especially if you live in one. Occasionally utilizing a portable power station's AC plugs can lessen the strain on your RV's battery and prevent fuses from blowing out.
If you're driving around in an unreliable vehicle, taking countermeasures might include buying a portable power station. There are quite a few models out there that can jumpstart your car and are handy if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.
Portable power stations excel at saving you money and prevent you from spending excess power, especially if you get a solar-powered one. While you don't necessarily have to rely entirely on a portable station, they're capable of lowering your electric bill and are environment-friendly.
Before you can buy a portable power station, it's important to know that there are tons of models on the market with different capabilities. To make the right decision when buying, you should consider these key factors:
The cheapest and most common battery type out there are lithium-ion batteries and most likely what you're aiming to look for in your station. If you need a battery that lasts longer and can handle higher temperatures, then a lithium iron phosphate battery is the way to go.
The power station's capacity, measured in Wh (watt per hours), should be based on what you plan on using it for. The lower end of the spectrum, which is between 150 and 300 Wh, is perfect for charging phones, powering LED lights, and laptops, but won't be able to handle heavy-duty tasks.
If you want to supply more power-taxing appliances, there are options for stations that can store thousands of Wh, though they're a bit more expensive. Before you buy, you should consider what you'll be using your power station for and do research on the watt requirements of your devices.
Before you make a purchase, it's wise to look at what type of ports are available and how many there are of each. The standard power station is equipped with USB and AC ports, and if you need special ports, such as a USB-C port, you'll have to make sure the one you buy has them.
The number of each port is essential as well. If you have tons of USB ports and only one AC port, but you're using devices that require multiple AC ports, then your station isn't optimal for your needs.
The charging cycle indicates roughly how many times you can charge your portable station's battery before it wears out. The standard lifespan is about 500-1,000 cycles, but you can get one that has more or less, depending on how much you plan on using it.
Also, having a power station with replaceable batteries can help extend the overall life of your device.
There are two primary methods of charging portable power stations: plugging them into a wall outlet and using solar power. While solar energy is much cheaper than using an outlet, it's also much slower.
Using a solar-powered one during winter months may not get fully charged throughout the day since there is less time when the sun is out. Of course, a solar-powered station is better to have during an outage since you don't need power from your house to charge (and it's a renewable energy source).
Each has its pros and cons, so you'll have to decide based on what you're using it for.
Power stations come in all different shapes, sizes, and weights, so you should look at the specs before buying. If you're carrying a portable power station for camping, you probably want a heftier one that can hold more. Otherwise, if you're just using it to charge your tablet at night, then a small portable power station is the better choice.
Here are some commonly asked questions about portable power stations:
A standard portable power station charges smaller devices such as phones, fans, and tablets. These come standard in around 200 Wh and don't have many capabilities beyond low-watt output.
Other power stations that reach upward of 5,000 Wh are much more powerful and can handle things like refrigerators, cooking devices, air conditioning, and other heavy-duty appliances.
A portable power station lasts based on how many Wh it holds and how much energy your device consumes.
If you have a laptop that uses 50 watts per hour and a power station that holds 500 Wh in storage, then you can theoretically run that laptop for about 10 hours.
The number of years your portable power station will last depends on how much you use it.
In short, the battery's life is based on how many cycles it goes through or how many times it's charged and depleted. The standard battery has around 500 cycles in it, but some options go up to 2,500 and beyond.
Portable power stations have seen exponential advances in the market and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. In addition to being an economical source of renewable energy, they're convenient to have in a pinch and can provide a wide array of functions.
Just as long as you follow this guide, you have everything you need to know about making a wise purchase based on your needs and can rest easy knowing you made the right decision.