Just a reminder – those inexpensive portable solar generators are not going to power your house
I get a *lot* of advertising for solar products. As someone who works in a building covered in solar panels and someone who’s researched quite a bit as to what’s involved in removing myself from the Nashville power grid, I’ve probably visited more solar sites than most people. I get ads… a lot of them.
TL;DR – while battery/solar generators are cool on power sipping low energy use equipment, they’re being advertised quite a bit in the whole home powering realm to people who don’t know what they’re looking for, and that’s not cool.
I also want to help people… sure, my Pocketables millions were made off of the backs of child labor and kitten suffering, but deep down I’m a nice guy. I hate seeing people getting scammed and I really hate companies that profit off of scamming people. So let’s talk about what a solar generator is and what it can power. I’m picking the first solar generator that pops up in my advertising for reference here.
For reference, I have no idea anything about the brand BlueTTI, I’ve never been to the site, I’ve never seen them, but it took about two pages of Facebook before they advertised to me. Reference here is the BLUETTI EB31 Portable Power Station 600W 268Wh. I’ll throw them in because they mention you can charge via solar.
So, once again, no idea on this company and I’m not casting aspersions on them.
What is it?
Ok, so let’s start with what is a 600W 268Wh power station? (Just using this as an example)
The modern power station, or solar power generator, or whatever you want to call it is a battery and an invertor. In almost all cases the “solar” part is a separate panel you purchase that provides power input. You could call most of these hamster powered generators if you hooked up something to a hamster’s wheel and converted it to electricity. I’m just waiting to see someone convert kitten angst to wattage.
The term “generator” has been thrown around a lot lately in advertising and it’s technically accurate. These products generate electricity from stored battery chemistry. Same as beans generate noise about 30 minutes after ingress.
You could also make a valid claim in many states that these are nuclear powered as nuclear plants produce the electricity that charges the battery. Solar generators just explicitly advertise solar because it sounds good. There’s very little technologically different between wall charging and solar charging at the big brick battery itself. Yes, there’s a chip that’s better at variable solar charging and yes I know that chip costs $3.17 to put into these units to make them 11% better.
Yes, solar’s cool… but not as cool as advertised. We’ll talk about that in a second.
A 600W 268Wh power station can deliver a total of 600 Watts (speed) out of a 268Wh battery (gas tank.) An old 100 Watt light bulb turned on and plugged in would last for a little over two and a half hours as it’s drawing 100 watts an hour, and we have 268 Watt hours to work from. Math says 160 minutes, or two hours 40 minutes of runtime from a 10.4 pound battery.
Does that seem like a heavy battery for two and a half hours of a 100W lightbulb running? Maybe. Most lightbulbs are LED these days and use 7 or so watts, but figured I’d use an old school reference with a nice round number.
Let’s look at a toaster. 5 minutes of usage at 1200 Watts (average toaster wattage) comes out to 100 Watt Hours usage. That’s for two slices of toast and takes 37% of the battery. But guess what, most power stations can’t do that because that maximum number… in the referenced unit above, 600 watts is the maximum you’re going to get. They didn’t claim they could make toast, just mentioning that. Using a toaster for reference.
Fridges come in at about 500 watts. You’re probably not powering one. Some batteries will claim they can push peak power to that on a single outlet, but I wouldn’t plan on it. If you do manage to get your fridge powered, you’re looking at 30 minutes runtime. Hey, maybe that will help.
Laptops charge… you know what, these are good for laptops. Take a look at the watt hours listed on your battery and that’s about what it’ll take to fill it (plus some for conversion loss.) Your phone? Probably in the 5-10 watt hour range. You can charge that for a long long time. You can probably power your internet, laptop, a LED light bulb, charge your phone and be fine through a power outage. But no toast for you.
Solar’s not as cool as advertised
That 100 Watt solar panel you’ve got you think will charge up a 268Wh battery in a little over two and a half hours won’t. We’ll skip the long and boring whatever and go straight to there are only a few hours a day where most people are going to have to reach that 100 watts of solar… my particular area is about 4.5 hours a day of 100 watt producing sunlight on average.
If I want to position the panel for optimum solar grabbing, I need to produce enough juice to trickle charge a 268 Watt Hour battery. Unfortunately there’s conversion loss we need to factor in and that can mean 100 watt hours generated might only be 80 watt hours stored. Too many factors to list here, but heat, speed, battery composition, etc… all play factors in how much 100 equals when stuffed converted. And clouds… screw clouds.
In a 4 hour day of charging in the sun you might be able to fill up this 268 Watt Hour unit. I mean you probably can.
Overkill / underkill
What are you using this for? Powering a cell phone and a laptop these are generally way more capacity than needed. I mean if you’re taking a phone into the woods these will more than do it. If you’re trying for something to keep your food from spoiling at home during a power outage you’re out of luck.
If you’re taking this for a camp or RV fridge, you’re probably back in luck. Low wattage devices these things are great for.
What I see advertised again and again (not by Bluetti as a note, I’m just picking on them because they advertised to me first,) is a tiny battery in front of a kitchen, a blender, a stove, and the implication that a tiny battery with a limited output wattage is somehow going to save family dinner night during a power outage.
They never straight up come out and say that they’ll power a conventional fridge, because they generally won’t or won’t for more than a few minutes. The implication is there. Some company had the advertisement last year that you could keep warm with their unit and what they were referring to was you could power one electric blanket.
Should you get one?
I honestly think these things are great for what they are intended for. That’s portable power for low power devices. An outlet in the woods for that one thing you own that’s not USB charged and not a coffee pot. Something to keep your phone going or a CPAP running overnight. Charge your camera up to take pictures of your failed attempts at coffee in the morning. Solar panel it and get maybe 400Wh of power per day.
But don’t expect a portable battery to be turning you into the neighborhood power source in the event of an outage.
But this one says it will power a fridge
There are quite a few that will. We’re talking portable sub $1000 units that don’t list individual wattage over 800 watts. If there’s a 10 pound unit out there that will power a standard fridge for four hours, coffee pot, etc for more than an hour let me know. I’d love to be wrong. It’s getting cold, these things are being advertised by some companies as devices that can keep you warm, and generally they’re not (electric blanket for a bit sure).
Know your watts and watt hours and call companies on deceptive advertising when they post on social media.