Last week I wrote about so-called "power stations", portable battery banks (for want of a better word) that can supply electricity for hours, some of them for days, in the event of a power outage. They're very useful tools, and if you have any reliance on critical electrical equipment (particularly medical, such as CPAP machines or oxygen generators), IMHO they fall under the heading of essential emergency gear. If you missed that earlier article, I suggest you click over there and read it before continuing with this one.
I've just had to replace an older Jackery 440 power station. I bought it about four years ago, and it's given good service until now. Unfortunately, when I needed a new charger, I learned that the 440 went out of production soon after I got it, and Jackery no longer supplies parts for it. Sadly, there are no third-party chargers available with the correct plug to fit my unit (despite a couple of them claiming the contrary - I checked). That means, for want of a simple wall charger, my $500-plus power station is now effectively unusable. I'm very annoyed about that, because I think it's incumbent upon the makers of relatively costly equipment to retain a supply of essential spares. If they don't, they're demonstrating a lack of care towards their customers that's almost contempt. "Sure, you spent your money with us - but that's your problem!" After telling me that no replacement charger was available, their customer service representative even suggested that I take advantage of next week's Black Friday sales to buy a more modern version from them. No discount was offered, and no trade-in for my now useless earlier model, either or both of which would seem to me to be basic customer courtesy in this situation. Needless to say, I bought a non-Jackery product as a replacement, and Jackery is now on my "unreliable supplier" list - a pity, as they're one of the larger manufacturers of such equipment and their products are well reviewed. Still . . . if that's how they treat their customers, I won't be one of them in future. As always, caveat emptor.
While shopping around for the replacement unit (I ended up buying an Ecoflow River 2 Max model, as discussed last week), I learned a lot about the current state of the market. For a start, prices have come down a lot if you shop around (I paid less than half as much for the Ecoflow as I did for the roughly-equivalent-capacity Jackery four years ago). Also, battery technology has improved considerably, making modern units more efficient and faster-charging (for example, my new Ecoflow charges to full in about one hour, compared to 6-7 hours for the older Jackery). The software that controls them has also improved, allowing one to specify a slower charging rate (which generates less heat and wear on the battery and cooling fan) and even set the level to which they will charge, very useful for long-term storage when one doesn't plan to use them unless in emergency. (It's not good to store lithium batteries at full charge, again because of wear considerations. For example, Ecoflow recommends charging its units to not more than 85% for long-term storage. Modern systems have made it much easier to avoid such pitfalls.)
The only danger is that, if one specifies a lower charging rate and/or a less-than-full level of charge, in an emergency one might not have access to Internet or wi-fi connections to reset the unit to its base configuration. Therefore, I made sure to adjust the Ecoflow's parameters back to full power and charge rate as soon as I'd charged it for the first time. That way, if the power goes out tomorrow, it'll still operate at its maximum performance. That's a basic precaution that a lot of people don't think about: but if something goes badly wrong, you don't want to be sitting with a power station that's unnecessarily slow to charge and/or won't hold a full charge. Not a good idea! (Another useful precaution is to, every three months or so, discharge the unit under load, then recharge to the recommended level before putting it back into storage. That way, you're sure it works, and won't be caught short in an emergency. Some manufacturers even void their warranty if such regular discharge/recharge cycles are not followed - and yes, they'll know, because their units track and record such information, either internally or over the Internet.)
I was surprised to learn how many people spend thousands of dollars buying high-end, high-capacity power stations that allow them to operate major domestic appliances (stove, refrigerator, HVAC systems, etc.) in an emergency. That's great if you have a large disposable income, but such power systems are very expensive. One can buy a nice dual-fuel generator and enough fuel for a month (propane, gasoline, whatever) and still save money compared to such high-end systems. Our approach is to say that, in emergency, we'll heat or cool no more than one or two rooms, and cook over a propane camping stove or a fire, and use a small generator to run our refrigerator and freezer every few hours to keep the food in them cold. We can keep going like that for several weeks if we have to, and won't have to spend five figures or more on a high-end power station and expanded battery capacity to run the whole house. Our small power stations will allow us to run a CPAP machine; recharge cellphones, handheld radios, laptop computers and flashlights; and generally take care of the basics at an affordable cost. I have two units, so while one's in use, the other can be recharging off a generator or small portable solar panel - and if one breaks, the other's still there. That gives me peace of mind.
Also, one can duplicate the performance of a lower-end power station for a lot less money, if that's a factor. As reader Hightecrebel noted last week:
Anyone even slightly handy can make a battery box that's 75-95% as capable for half the cost of the power stations, but in a slightly larger form factor that is fine for at home. There are videos on Odyssey, Rumble, & YouTube showing how to do it with anything from a plastic ammo can to a rolling toolbox. One guy has a whole Rigid toolbox set with batteries in the bottom rolling box w/ 12v outlets and charger connection, with additional boxes for an inverter or expansion batteries.
I'm planning to build one into a Hart Stack set personally (I like the colors), and it's looking like for around $700 I'll have 2.5KWH of battery (200AH @ 12V), and a 2KW pure sine wave inverter. Took a little time to get the parts for it, catching things on sale and such. Compared to an Ecoflow Delta 2 Max for $1600 with 2KW of power and a 3KW inverter. And mine'll have wheels and an extendable handle for ease of movement.
I agree, you can make your own battery system that way, albeit with the disadvantages that it'll be a lot bigger and heavier than a typical power station (making it less portable if you have to take it with you) and its lead-acid batteries will take longer to recharge. However, the cost savings may make up for that. YMMV. One can also use third-party solar panels to set up a recharging system for your power station, rather than use the panels offered by its vendor; but again, they'll be bigger and heavier than a portable solar panel, and less easy to take along if you have to "get out of Dodge". You pays your money, and you takes your choice. (I wish there were a common standard for solar panels, and connectors, and charge rates, among the manufacturers of such things! It's very frustrating to try to figure out which panels and plugs will fit which devices, and whether or not the charge rates and capacities are compatible. The simplest solution is to go with a solar panel setup from the power station manufacturer, but they're often relatively expensive compared to third-party systems.)
Finally, it's worth noting that many manufacturers of such devices are offering Black Friday discount deals on their products. Some of the discounts aren't as good as those offered by retailers (as I noted about my Ecoflow unit last week), but if you shop around, you may be able to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars off the list prices, which is not to be sneezed at. (If you want to compare units between manufacturers, there are lots of comparisons on YouTube and elsewhere - just do a search on the name[s] of the unit[s] in which you're interested, and include the word "reviews", and you'll find them. Here are a few to get you started.)