I never knew how much I took easy access to electricity in my home for granted until I used a portable power station
. Having a device that lets you take power wherever you want is amazing.
But there is a limit on how much you'll realistically be able to power and for how long. You've got to be a little picky. Plus, the term "portable" doesn't always mean "easy to carry."
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
Over the past month, I played around with one of the more "high-tech" portable power stations on the market, the Mango Power E, sent to me by Mango Power. I found there are some situations where a portable power station is a game changer, and there are other times where you're going to need a different solution.
Keep a few essentials on when the power goes out, but be choosy
Power outages are not fun, especially when the internet goes out with it. It's even worse if you just bought a ton of groceries that might go bad in the fridge. And if you don't keep a bunch of flashlights around, you're likely going to be fumbling around your home in the dark. But if you have a portable power station, you can keep a few things up and running, and the higher your power station's capacity, the longer you'll be able to power those few essentials.
The Mango Power E that I'm using has 3.5 kWh of energy storage, which is a lot for a portable power station. And I found that 3.5 kWh of energy can go pretty far in my apartment. The key is to just pick a few essentials, and ignore everything you can live without. You're not going to be able to keep everything on.
I simulated a power outage in my apartment by turning everything off except for what was connected to the power station. I decided to keep the fridge, router, a lamp and my TV up and running. I kept my phone charged too, and plugged in the microwave to the power station long enough to heat up my frozen single-serve meals. I ran an extension cord from the kitchen to where everything else was plugged into the Mango Power E in the living room.
The Mango Power E kept all my chosen essentials up and running for well over 24 hours. If I unplugged my fridge, the Mango Power E could go much longer. But if I just wanted to power my fridge, the Mango Power E could power my fridge for over two days. And my fridge is not the most energy-efficient one out there. But I also live alone in an apartment, not a large home with a bunch of people.
You can also use Mango Power's portable solar panels to charge the Mango Power E. So if I really needed a charge, I could always just unplug everything and take the solar panels and Mango Power E outside during the day for a charge. Since it's about a 100 pounds, lugging the Mano Power E outside is a bit inconvenient and, because it has a large battery capacity, it takes a lot longer to charge with solar. But when you need power during an outage, or are living off-grid for a little bit, it's a nice option to have.
Portable power stations are just that -- "portable" power solutions. These are not meant to be used for whole-home backup, and they're not generators. If you're looking for something that's going to power your whole house during an outage, I'd recommend looking into whole-home backup batteries or generators. But I do think portable power stations can help you keep a few essentials on.
If your portable power station is a bit on the smaller side, like less than 1,000 watt hours, you're probably not going to be able to keep energy-hungry electronics on for very long. I'd plug in things like my router, maybe a lamp or two, the TV and make sure I have enough juice to keep my phone charged.
There's a power port for everything
Portable power stations have a port for just about anything you need. You've got your classic AC output port, which is that three-prong outlet useful for most things you plug into your wall at home. You'll also see USB-A and USB-C ports, as well as some DC output options. Some portable power stations even have a 12-volt car power output port or a power port to plug in your RV.
The Mango Power E that I used pulls out all the stops, but it's also incredibly powerful for a portable power solution, with a rated AC power output of 3 kW (or 3,000 watts). The Mango Power E also has a ton of energy storage for a portable power solution, at 3.5 kWh. And while all this power and capacity is nice to have, It's not necessary for a small birthday party at the park where you want to plug in a speaker and charge a few phones. And honestly, my energy needs fall more on the casual side.
During my time with the Mango Power E, I only found myself needing to use the basics: the AC output ports to power my common household electronics and appliances, and both types of USB ports to charge phones and tablets. But the Mango Power E is definitely equipped to handle more extreme power needs.
If you're wanting to throw a party outdoors somewhere and your party plans involve bringing along energy-hungry electronics like portable heaters or fans, a small freezer or maybe a microwave, you're going to want something with enough power to handle the load demand and with enough capacity so that you don't drain your power station dry within the first 30 minutes of use. And don't forget all your party guests who might be looking for a place to charge their phones. For situations like this, powerful power stations with plenty of energy storage capacity, like the Mango Power E I mentioned, are your best friend. Just keep in mind portable power stations with this much power come with a hefty price too, usually in the thousands of dollars -- definitely not a casual impulse buy.
Power on the go is amazing
Most portable power stations are designed to be relatively lightweight and easy to carry, usually less than 40 lbs. However, some of the larger capacity power stations start to push the limits of what you might consider "portable." The Mango Power E weighs about 100 pounds, which makes sense because it's got 3.5 kWh worth of lithium iron phosphate batteries, and an inverter, inside a compact box.
I found it a hassle to take out of my apartment. It has a pull-out handle and two small wheels, so I was able to easily wheel it around like a suitcase on the ground. But lifting it over the doorframe, down the stairs and into my car was a two-person job. The Mango Power E does have two sturdy rubber-grip handles on opposite sides to make life easier for you and your lifting buddy. Without the handles, it definitely wouldn't be very portable.
If you're in an area with plenty of sunlight, you can charge your power station on the go too. A lot of portable power station manufacturers have also created their own portable solar panels that you can use to charge your power station. I tried out Mango Power's portable solar panels (also sent to me by Mango Power) to charge the Mango Power E and found it incredibly easy to set up. Just prop up the solar panels on the ground, connect a wire or two, then sit back and soak in that free sunlight.
Being able to charge with solar is a game-changer if you plan on spending a few days camping away from civilization (or just a wall outlet in general). You don't have to worry as much about conserving energy. Plus, having a mini off-grid experience is cool. Make sure to face your panels toward the sun for the optimal solar charge.
Written by: Sarah Drolet, CNET
Updated Nov. 22, 2023 3:55 a.m. PT