Photos by Rob Brown Illustration by Len Churchill
While portable battery-powered generators (BPGs) deliver less power than fuel-powered generators and for much shorter periods of time, they do have distinct advantages.
They are more compact in size and lighter in weight than fuel-powered generators, don’t produce noxious fumes and are super quiet when operated. They aren’t an option when it comes to powering an entire house, but they are admirably suited when you need to keep the basics going during an emergency, or for off-grid events at the beach, cottage, camping or at the park. There is a bewildering array of BPGs on the market. Though most are quite compact, you can get models as small as smartphones that fit into a jacket pocket or backpack, and some as large as fuel-powered generators.
There are three important factors to consider when buying a BPG. Peak (surge or starting) watts is the wattage needed to get the appliance running, running watts is the wattage you need to keep it running, and watt hours is the total amount of energy available for you to use. The higher these rates are, the more expensive the generator is likely to be. Most BPGs can be charged three ways: plugged into a 110/120V wall outlet; plugged into a vehicle’s 12V outlet; or connected to a solar panel. Expect any of these methods to take from half to a full day to fully charge your generator. Some BPGs have internal batteries, while others rely on external batteries that you may be able to use with other power tools.
Price: $100 to $7,400
Peak watts: 200 to 5,000
Running watts: 150 to 3,000
Watt hours: 72 to 6,000
Average (or common) run times: mini fridge (17 hrs); electric grill (50 mins); smartphone (50+ charges); coffee maker (88 minutes)
Battery: 18V to 56V
Weight: 1-1/2 to 100 pounds
Make sure the BPG you purchase meets your anticipated power needs. Most manufacturers provide a list of how long you can expect to power various devices. When in doubt, err on getting a more powerful battery, as you never know what the future will hold.
Keep the batteries fully charged so you’ll be ready to use the generator at a moment’s notice. For extra convenience and security, keep a spare set of charged batteries on hand as well. A blackout can come at any time, and once it does it’s too late to charge the battery.
Make sure you read the fine print. Some generators with internal batteries must be used and the batteries recharged on a specified basis (for example, once every six months) to preserve the lifespan of the battery packs. Even if you just run down the charge then recharge it, that might be enough to maintain proper performance.