Before you buy a Portable Power Station

The market is becoming flooded with lithium battery powered portable power station options. With options and pricing all over the board, how can you determine what unit is safe, and best meets your need for owning one? One thing I can assure is this, do not purchase one of these solely based upon the price. These are sophisticated devices that store energy and can potentially be dangerous. Here are some things you need to know before you purchase one of these.

1. Why do you need this?

It may seem elementary but answering it could save you headaches or worse down the road. Is this for camping or leisure use? Is it for work related use like tools? Is this for backup power in the event of occasional loss of power? Is this your go to in the event of disaster? While buying one intended for worst case scenarios will certainly handle camping needs, one built for camping will not be able to handle serious situations. Know before you buy what environment you will need to use this in.

2. What type of Lithium cells are being used?

Unless you are a battery savvy person, you might just believe that once you see the Lithium designation everything has got to be top shelf. You will see the term Lithium Ion bandied about everywhere, even if the actual cell is not one at all. (Your cell phone has a Lithium Polymer battery, LiPo, not lithium ion.)

To keep on point, there are currently 6 types of Lithium-Ion batteries in use today. They are; Li-Co (Lithium Cobalt Oxide), Li-Mn-O2, (Lithium Manganese Oxide), NCM (Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide), LiFePo4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate), LNC (Lithium Nickel Cobalt Aluminum Oxide), LTO (Lithium Titanate). Each of them has different characteristics that make them unique. Some boast high specific energy for long running low power devices, others offer high specific power for high current demand devices. (Think power tools) Can’t have both in the same cell, one comes at the expense of the other. 

What is most important to you are these three, performance, lifespan and safety. A power station must deliver on each of these three to be a good value. Here is a quick look at what these mean for you.

A. Performance

How well does the battery perform in hot or cold temperatures. Heat reduces life, cold reduces performance. (Compare the operating temperatures)

B. Lifespan

This refers to cycle life. Critical in this application. For example, a LiMnO2 cell may only have a rated cycle life of 300 charges to retain 80% of its original capacity while a LiFePo4 cell is rated at 3000 cycles. A huge difference in how long it will last.

C. Safety

We all have seen the videos of phones or vape devices bursting in flames in pockets. Bear in mind that they are small devices with 3.2 – 3.7 volt batteries in them. Power stations store over 10 times that amount of energy and power. The device you select must have protection against over charge, over discharge, over voltage, short circuits, and polarity reversal. Essentially, it needs to be smart enough to shut down if there is an issue, whether it is caused by improper use or not.                                   

The two best choices in cells for portable power stations are LiFePo4, Lithium Iron Phosphate, and Li-Ni-Co-Mn, Lithium Nickel Cobalt Manganese commonly referred to as NCM. Both cells offer appealing and safe features for the portable power station.  The LiFePo4 offers incredibly long lifespans and is well suited for long term draw of low power devices, typically found in your home. The NCM cell has a better than average lifespan and delivers higher specific energy useful for high drain devices. Be sure the station you select offers one of these two chemistries.

3. What is included with the station?

Practically all the available units can be charged with solar panels. In most cases, the solar kit is not included with the unit and is available for additional purchase. You will see everyone tout that solar charging is a green solution and we as consumers love that. Other accessories may include fast chargers, specialty cables etc.

When comparing units, be sure to add the accessories cost into the purchase price for accurate comparison. Also on the solar topic, be sure you know how long it will take to charge your unit, and more importantly, if the unit can be charged while you are using it. Typically, a solar panel set generates 120V and a single set will take about 10 hours to recharge your unit. Know your input voltage maximum because you can daisy chain (series hookup) up to 4 or 5 sets together to combine voltage and reduce charge time down to as low as 2 hours.

Also, be sure the unit has the ability to utilize the solar charging voltage input. Solar panels generate higher voltage levels than the battery can receive for a charge. It should have the MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) circuitry built into the unit, earlier models used an external unit, such as the units used in home solar applications. More wires, more headaches, not necessary. Your unit should have that already built in.

In short, make an educated purchase and you will rest assured you will get years of reliable off grid power service from your Portable Power Station. The team at Powerhouse Two have done years of research so the units we offer will meet and exceed your expectations. Like all of the Power XP products, we stand behind them long after you purchase.

When it has to work, choose the Power XP family of power products.

Gregg Halteman

VP Operations & Technical Development