When the power goes out in your neighborhood — or you simply want a little modern convenience on a family camping trip — a portable power station might be the answer to your needs. Powered by lithium batteries, the units have a lot of advantages over the traditional gas- or diesel-powered generators.
Convenient size. The new portable power stations are light (11 to 30 pounds), about the size of a small drink cooler, and can be transported easily. Gas generators are at least three times bigger and substantially heavier, at 100 pounds or more, with a gasoline-powered engine and fuel tank. Lithium-powered generators can be stored easily in the back of an SUV with your luggage and recreational gear.
Rechargeable. The lithium batteries in today’s portable power stations are rechargeable by a variety of means. Solar panels are available, though sold separately. They can be recharged at a home wall plug-in or using a twelve-volt plug for a car charger. Gas-powered generators depend on a supply of gasoline and often force you to carry extra gas in cans, which is a safety hazard.
Quiet. Battery-powered stations are quiet, making for easy conversation around the campfire. No shouting required.
Safe. A crucial advantage of battery-powered generators is the absence of carbon monoxide gas produced by engines. Gas-powered generators cannot be safely operated in a house or even in a garage because of this danger. Battery-powered generators produce no toxic fumes. Despite the bad press that some lithium batteries have received for catching fire, engineers have overcome those defects.
Low maintenance. The new generation of power stations requires little to no maintenance while old-school generators require filter and spark plug changes.
What about usage and cost? Battery-powered generators are for casual light use. They are perfect for trips and occasional power outages. A gas-powered generator, depending on size, can power an entire house for extended time periods. The battery-powered generators have two 110-outlet plugs, a 12-volt plug and USB plugs for charging cell phones and laptops. Goal Zero, one of the leading brands, starts at $395. Adding solar panels for charging brings the total cost to $860. Gas-powered generators start at about $300, but can easily exceed $1,000, depending on wattage output.