Portable Power or Super Power?

Brian McCowan, Zondits Staff, 1/28/2022.

Gasoline and, more recently, propane-powered generators have been a mainstay for remote construction, emergency power during outages, and recreational camping. But just as with mowers and snow blowers, a cleaner option is now on the market. Electric rechargeable power banks are marketed in a large variety of sizes from units designed to power a cell phone or laptop computer to powering multiple power tools on a job site. The same recent advancements in batteries that have made electric vehicles competitive have produced power banks of smaller size and weight with longer runtimes. Although these are frequently termed rechargeable generators, they are only truly generators when paired with a local generator; typically, a small solar photovoltaic (PV) panel. Some are marketed as complete PV panel & power bank kits, while standalone power banks are also available. 

Reviewing the state of this market, Zondits observes multiple purposeful configurations: 

  • Home emergency power – Rechargeable banks can be charged from standard household current for use during power outages. Depending on the size of the bank, they can be employed to power critical loads such as food refrigeration, cell phones, computers, and lighting (assuming efficient LED lights.) As with all portable generators they are not to be “back-fed” into whole-house electrical panels without code-approved lockouts to protect utility crews working to restore power. 
  •  Construction projects – Rechargeable tools are great, but they still require powering a charging station, and of course, many plug-in tools are still in use. Whether charged by a small PV panel or other source, power banks can aid the process. 
  • Temporary intermittent power – For homes with storage sheds and other outbuildings, power banks offer an option to bring standard line voltage power to the building. 
  • Camping – Although many campers cringe at the idea of using generators at campsites, having electrical power available allows people needing electrical medical devices to camp where electrical hook-ups are not available. Of course, they can also power a TV so one can watch the Red Sox crush the Yankees. PV/power bank generators are particularly viable for camping.

The following web links include articles exploring various uses for power banks and compare models that are currently available: 

Popular Mechanics – “6-Best Solar-Powered Generators”

Going Zero Waste – “The 10 Best Solar Powered Generators to Sustainably Keep the Lights On”

Attics and More – “4 Best Solar Powered Generators” 

Treehugger – “The 7 Best Solar-Powered Generators of 2022”

Outdoors Magic – “Best Portable Power Packs for Camping 2022”

NY Times – “The Best Portable Power Station”

CNET – “Best Portable Power Stations of 2022”