Portable power stations and portable generators sound suspiciously similar, so it’s easy to mix them up. Although they both provide an independent source of power, they do so in widely different ways, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
This guide will compare portable power stations to portable generators and dive into what each does best and worst. We’ll discuss their characteristics and capabilities as well as their limitations and try to help you decide which is better suited to your situation.
A Note About Wattage and Watt-Hours
Let’s start by sorting out some of the terminology you may encounter when researching these machines. Two of the most important figures you’ll see discussed are watts and watt-hours. In short, the wattage tells you about the machine’s peak electric output, and the watt-hours give you a way to estimate the lifespan of that output.
The wattage of a generator or power station is the maximum number of watts it can output at once. This helps you calculate how many devices you can plug into your machine at the same time.
To help you brush up on your watt arithmetic, here’s a rough idea of how many watts are used on average by some common household electronics:
- Phone charger: 5 watts
- LED light bulb: 10 watts
- Laptop charger: 100 watts
- LCD television: 150 watts
- Home computer: 250 watts
- Refrigerator: 500 watts
- Microwave: 800 watts
- Space heater: 1,500 watts
A power station with a peak output of 2,000 watts (2kW), for instance, can run your fridge, a small heater, and not much else at the same time. To find out how much wattage you need in your generator or power station, add up the watts used by all the devices you think you’ll need to plug in at once in a power outage. Power needs and output can fluctuate, so to be safe, we’d recommend adding a 15% cushion on top of that.
If you want to know how long your generator or power station will run on a single charge or fuel tank, take a look at its watt-hours (Wh).
For example, an 800-Wh power station can output 800 watts for one hour only, one watt for 800 hours, or any combination of those numbers. A 100-watt laptop charger plugged in by itself would be powered for eight hours.
You can divide a machine’s watt-hours by its peak wattage to find out how long it will be able to run at its maximum output. It might not be much.
What Is a Generator?
A portable power generator is a machine that inputs combustible fuels like gasoline, diesel, or propane and outputs electricity. Most portable generators use an internal combustion engine and its complementing machinery to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy.
Just like your car, a generator must be refueled manually. Unlike your car, many generators must be started manually by pulling a recoil cord, although some generators come with a small battery that powers an electric starter.
Portable generators come in a wide range of watt outputs, from around 1kW on the low end to 20kW or more on the high end. The output of a generator is directly related to the volume of its engine. The larger the engine, the more watts it will give you, but the more fuel it will consume and the bigger and noisier the generator will be.
Typically, generators that output more than around 10kW are giant, screaming behemoths that are only barely portable. These may require a truck to move even a few feet. Most households will only need an emergency generator with an output of around 2kW to 5kW maximum.
- Plenty of Power – With 4,000 peak watts and 3,300 running watts, this unit can handle heavy loads, from lights and a refrigerator to a home air conditioner and high amperage power tools
- Powerful Engine – The DuroStar 208cc OHV engine is a workhorse that provides plenty of power to handle multiple jobs, from powering high voltage appliances to heavy duty power tools
- Low Oil Shutoff – Protects your investment by automatically shutting the generator off when it senses that the oil is low
- Power Panel – The power panel includes a selection of outlets for maximum compatibility in your applications including: 2 120V household outlets and 1 120V 30A twist lock outlet. The panel also includes a voltmeter for measuring voltage output
- Complies with Emissions Standards – All DuroStar generators are both approved by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and CARB (California Air Resources Board) and follow strict guidelines to ensure our generators are as environmentally friendly as possible
What Is a Power Station?
A portable power station, sometimes called a gasless or battery-powered generator, is a machine that stores electricity in a battery to use when needed. If you’ve ever used a power bank to charge your phone, these are similar but much bigger and stronger.
Power station batteries may be internal and fixed or removable, so you can replace them as needed. Most power stations charge their batteries by simply plugging into a regular wall outlet. Some can charge from a car lighter socket, and many high-end models even come with an array of solar panels.
Portable Power Stations vs. Generators: What’s the Difference?
The vast majority of commercial portable power stations are designed for camping trips and other bare-bones adventures, so they only provide a peak wattage of around 1kW or less. Since this guide focuses on having an emergency backup during a power outage, we’re mostly interested in high-capacity power stations that output around the 2kW range. This will make sure that you have enough juice to run your important household appliances during a blackout.
The output of a power station is directly related to the size and heft of its batteries. That means that high-capacity power stations can get pretty heavy, and portability may require strong arms and legs. But even large power stations are usually still considerably lighter than large generators with internal combustion engines.
- SPEED UP YOUR RECHARGEABILITY: It takes only 2 hours to recharge 80% battery of the power station through the wall outlet and 60W PD USB-C port simultaneously. You can also recharge your power station with an AC adapator when at home, through the car outlet during a road trip or simply use a Jackery SolarSaga 100.
- SAFE & STEADY POWER SUPPLY: Armed with a 293Wh lithium-ion battery pack, the Explorer 300 features 2 Pure Sine Wave AC outlets that deliver stable and safe 300W power. The portable power station weighs only 7.1 pounds. You can simply rest assured in outdoor off-grid activities.
- POWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS: Featuring 2* AC outlet, 1* PD 60W USB-C port (input/output supported) , 1* fast charge 3.0 port, 1*USB-A port and 1* DC car port, the power station can recharge itself and charge (up to) 6 devices (e.g.Drones, Macbook, Cameras, etc.) at the same time to satisfy your outdoor needs.
- GREEN POWER SUPPLY: The power station is compatible with the Jackery SolarSaga 100 solar panel. The integrated MPPT controller enables the solar generator set to operate at its max power point, so that it speeds up the battery recharge, making them ideal portable power kits for tent camping, overland journey and etc.
- WHAT YOU GET: 1* Jackery Explorer 300 Portable Power Station , 1*AC adapter, 1* car charger cable, 1* user guide
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Portable Power Generator
Portable generators provide power by burning the fuel in their fuel tanks. That means you can keep a generator running for an almost unlimited amount of time by simply storing a lot of extra fuel and refilling the tank when needed. Generators tend to run hot, so you’ll usually have to turn your machine off before refilling its tank to avoid your fuel spontaneously combusting before its time.
Most generators have a control panel full of power outlets, which can include sockets with different levels of amperage for different appliances. Recent models may come with USB outlets, an LCD control screen, a carbon monoxide (CO) detector, and sometimes even an app for detailed checkups and fine-tuning.
As far as disadvantages, besides getting comfortable with the high levels of noise that can come from a combustion engine, you’ll have to get comfortable with handling combustible fuels and being around a constant fire hazard. Generators also produce CO exhaust as a byproduct of the fuel they burn. Inhaling large amounts of CO is dangerous and can be deadly, so you’ll have to keep your generator outside or in a well-ventilated garage or shed.
Even though generators do come with alternating current (AC) outlets, many have a high range of total harmonic distortion (THD). This can damage sensitive devices like laptops and smartphones.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), which is in charge of setting standards for electronic equipment, advises that sensitive electronics shouldn’t be exposed to a harmonic voltage distortion factor of over 5%. Any more distortion than that can cause your equipment to malfunction or overheat.
Most conventional generators have a harmonic distortion range of around 10% or higher, depending on their load. It’s possible to find conventional generators with a lower THD, but these tend to be the exception.
If you want to use a generator and you need to power sensitive devices, you can invest in an inverter generator. Most inverter generators have a THD of under 5%, which makes them safe for laptop and phone chargers.
Similar to your car, if you want to keep a portable generator running strong for as long as possible, there’s quite a list of regular maintenance tasks that you’ll have to keep up with. This includes changing the oil about every 50 to 100 hours of use and regularly servicing or replacing everything from the tubes and filters to the arresters and spark plugs or electric starter.
You’ll also have to regularly check and clean many of the engine’s components, like the fuel pump and combustion chamber. You’ll need to keep an eye on the intake and exhaust valves to make sure they stay unobstructed and maintain the proper clearance. If your generator comes with additional instruments like a CO detector, they’ll probably have their own maintenance schedule as well. If you neglect any of these crucial maintenance duties, your generator can deteriorate quickly.
Besides these long-term maintenance tasks, it’s wise to do a quick inspection of your generator every time you use it. You should check for oil and gas leaks, tighten any loose screws and make sure the outlets aren’t full of dust. These mini inspections will let you keep up to date with any developing issues and help you catch problems before they get messy. It will only take a few minutes each time, but the minutes can add up to quite a workload over time.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Portable Power Station
Portable power stations have no engines or moving parts that might need attention, and they don’t burn combustible fuel. This means that they’re quiet machines that don’t present a dangerous fire hazard. They require almost no maintenance and produce no CO exhaust, so you can use them safely inside the house.
Power stations feed the power from their batteries into a control panel that usually has a few different kinds of outlets, including regular three-pronged plugs and USB ports. They also usually have a few different kinds of inlets for different kinds of charging. You’ll find high-amp inlets for wall socket charging and low-amp inlets for car chargers or solar panel charging.
On the downside, most portable power stations aren’t as powerful as most portable generators. Even high-capacity models will only work to plug in a couple of larger appliances or a few low-consumption devices. If you want to power a lot of high-watt appliances, you may not be able to find a power station that generates enough peak output for enough time to keep you going in a long blackout.
The runtime of a power station is limited to the capacity of its battery. Some models run on interchangeable batteries, which means you can buy backups and swap them out if your power outage goes longer than a single charge. Of course, extra lithium-ion batteries are much heavier and more expensive than extra gasoline or diesel fuel.
If you deplete all your batteries before the power outage ends, you’ll have to look for an alternative source of power. Your power station may quickly become useless weight if you must go off the grid for an extended period of time unless you invest in a set of solar panels or a wind turbine. Although the initial cost of solar charging might still be a bit high, if you’re able to hook up your power station to a quality set of solar panels, you may get a leg up over even the best internal combustion generators.