Have you ever been on the verge of buying something, with the item in your cart, but you keep talking yourself out of it?
You are determined to buy it. After all, it’s a good price, in the color you're looking for, and the size you need. There’s really no reason you shouldn’t buy it.
And yet, something keeps you from clicking the “Buy Now” button.
That feeling is called purchase anxiety, and the leading cause is the knowledge gap between buyer and seller.
A really good example of this is the market for used cars. Presumably, the seller knows all the relevant details about the car in question, like how often it’s been serviced. You, on the other hand, only have the information the seller chooses to share with you and anything you can get from asking questions. The trouble is you might not know what to ask or even what information is important. That can leave you stuck with a car that’s not as great as it seemed on the surface.
We know that buying the right power station for you can also be anxiety inducing. Solar energy and power storage aren’t subjects most people are familiar with. You might feel like you’re at the retailer’s mercy because you don’t know what to ask.
This article will arm you with the knowledge you need to reduce purchase anxiety and help you buy the system that’s right for you. Here are some things to know to help you pick your perfect power station.
1. Identify Your Power Needs
It’s hard to find a system to suit your needs if you don’t know what those needs are.
The first step (and in my opinion, the most important one) is to identify how you intend to use your power station. Is it a casual camping companion, a life-saving UPS backup, an important overlanding buddy, or a general backup for your refrigerator and other important appliances?
If you’re not sure, call a company and talk it through with a sales or tech representative. Be as specific as possible and make a list of appliances you want to run. The more information you have ahead of time, the better your chances of finding the right fit.
2. Vocabulary: A Crash Course
There are some basic terms you’ll want to be familiar with when buying a power station. Watts, watt-hours, volts, and AC versus DC are fundamental for understanding a power station’s abilities. If you know what they are, you’ll be able to ask the right questions and understand the answer. This is just a primer, so I won’t spend a ton of time on them, but here’s a quick rundown of what each term means.
Watts (W) measure electrical power and you'll be using this term for talking about energy consumption. Watts measure how much power a device uses while running. Knowing the wattages of the appliances you want to run (especially big ones like refrigerators) will help you avoid buying a system that’s underpowered for your needs. To learn more about watts and where to find them, click here.
Watt-hours (Wh) measure the energy storage capacity of batteries. A watt-hour rating tells you how much power a battery can supply in one hour before it runs out of energy. With that information you can figure out how long it will take to charge your system and how long it can run before needing a recharge.
Volts (V) measure the energy potential of a power source and are important for figuring out compatibility (such as what devices you can use with the system). You’ll most likely see volts used with solar panels, outlet types, and batteries. Knowing the voltage limitations of a power station can help you understand how to use the system without damaging it or your appliances.
AC vs DC are two different ways of delivering power. With portable power stations you’ll encounter direct current (DC) as electricity coming from your solar panels, energy stored in your battery, and power you draw through USBs, cigarette lighter plugs, and other low-voltage outputs.
Alternating current (AC) is used for higher voltage outputs such as standard 3-prong outlets, RV plugs, etc.
3. Watch Out for Misleading Claims
Sometimes listed specifications can misrepresent a system’s true capabilities.
For instance, a spec sheet may say that a system has 2 x 1500-watt outputs. This can be interpreted in two different ways. The system could have two outlets, each capable of outputting 1500W independently for a total max output of 3000W or it could have two outlets capable of outputting a joint maximum of 1500W — a key distinction because you don’t want to overdraw your system.
In this case, we’re missing information about the inverter. If the system has a 3000w inverter, it’s likely each outlet can output 1500W independently. If the system has a 1500W inverter, then it only has a 1500W combined maximum across both outlets.
Whether this is confusing on purpose or by mistake, you need to make sure you know exactly what the system can do before you click “Add to Cart.”
Contact the manufacturer if you come across confusing or missing information, things that don’t make sense, or claims that seem too good to be true. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and lots of them. If you have a hard timegetting in touch with areal person, that’s probablya red flag. If a company is hard to reach before you’ve given them a bunch of your money . . .think about how hard they’ll be to reach after.
4. Understanding System Life
When you buy a power station, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. One of our favorite ways to measure value is by asking “how long is this going to last?” When investigating options for a power station, looking at system life may seem straightforward, but there are a couple of things to consider.
The first is battery life.
Battery life is measured in charge cycles and years using a “whichever comes first” system. One charge cycle is equal to a full discharge and recharge of the battery. A battery that’s gone through all its charge cycles, it will hold less charge with each use. The same thing will happen after a few years, regardless of how many cycles it’s gone through.
The second thing to consider is your intended use. If you plan to use your system primarily as a backup, it's unlikely you’ll go through all the battery cycles before age starts to affect the battery. In this case, you should focus more on the number of years a battery will last.
If your system is intended for more frequent use, you should focus on the number of cycles the battery has. The more cycles, the more uses you’ll get out of your system before the battery dies.
Your final consideration should be the quality and warranty of the system you’re looking at. While batteries tend to be long-lived, other components may not last as long. Regardless of how often you think you’ll use your power station, look for a high-quality system with a good warranty that’s backed up with reliable service.
5. Options for Expansion
Expandable or modular power stations give you the freedom to build a system to your needs. They bridge the gap between a custom job (which requires time, knowledge, and is work-intensive) and a totally prefabricated system (which lacks flexibility). You get the best of both worlds with a safe, easy-to-use system that can be modified to meet your specific needs.
Look at the expansion options when you consider buying a system. Does it allow you to increase battery storage? Can you change its function with additional components? How easy/cost-effective is the expansion?
Make sure you also understand the limitations of the expansion options. For instance, increased battery storage means you can run your system longer, but also means it will take longer to charge.
In addition to being customizable, a modular system makes repairs easier and helps extend system life. A system that can be broken down into parts is more convenient to repair because you can focus on the damaged components without compromising the whole power station. You can also replace modules as they give out or become outdated instead of replacing the entire system.
The possibilities with a modular system are basically endless, so take advantage and build a system that’s right for you.
Don’t fixate on a single power station right from the get-go. Shop around and pick a few options you like. Once you have a handful, compare them.
Important things to focus on might be battery capacity, inverter size, AC charging speed, solar panel input, weight, expansion, UPS functionality, and warranty.
Here’s what a comparison might look like:
*UPS: Uninterrupted power supply. A form of emergency backup power that’s meant to plug in between your device and the wall outlet and will automatically take the place of grid power if it ever goes down. Learn more about UPSs HERE.
You can see where I’ve highlighted the “winning” specs for each power station. Both options have their merits, but if you need a system with that can be used as a permanent backup for your fridge or medical devices, you would likely choose the X2. If you need a lighter system that lets you improve the solar charging speed and can expand its battery capacity indefinitely, the Flex is the system for you.
Use a table like the one above to help you whittle down your options until you’ve found the best system for you. You can download your own blank copy of this table here.
This should go without saying, but when you get your system, test it out—and soon!
Take it camping, if that’s why you bought it, or have a fake power outage. Put the system through its paces to make sure it does everything you want it to do. Learn the proper care and maintenance routines so you can get the most out of it.
Be sure to call the manufacturer if you have any questions about how it works and do it right away so you can return it if it doesn’t meet your expectations. You’d be surprised by the number of people who buy a system and immediately toss it in their garage or closet without even opening it. Months later, they want to use it, but the power station is either dead or not what they expected and it’s too late to return it.
Don’t get stuck with a product you can’t use or don’t like. Take it for a test drive ASAP.
Buying a power station might be intimidating at first, but knowing some of the basics can make it a much less stressful experience. Don’t let purchase anxiety prevent you from being prepared, powering your on-the-go lifestyle, or anything else you plan to do with a portable power station.
Shop around, do your homework, ask lots of questions, and I guarantee you’ll find your perfect system in no time.
A majorly helpful resource when buying a power station is the customer support team for the product. Their job is to help you, so they should answer your questions promptly and clearly.
Even after you’ve bought the product, you want a team who’s as invested in your success as you are, who will help answer your questions post-purchase, and who will work efficiently to service your product when the need arises.
Do your homework, not just about the product, but about the company. Do they have a history of good customer service? Are they U.S.-based? What kind of turnaround time do they have on warranty services or replacements?
Finding a company that truly supports you will make it so much easier for you to find a power station that meets your needs.