What a Portable Power Station Taught Me About My Energy Use – CNET

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I had a mental image when I first unboxed this portable power station. I envisioned myself beside a lake on a crisp spring morning, fishing rod in hand, with my electric kettle plugged into a 20-pound block of battery, preparing another cup of hot tea.

That dream didn’t survive a quick test in the kitchen. The kettle overloaded it and shut it down.

To be clear, it’s not the fault of the Goal Zero Yeti 700 itself. This power station, which Goal Zero provided for me to test, performed admirably when tasked with doing things that were within its power. If anything, I learned that a lot of what I would task a power station with in a blackout would be well within its limits — and the Yeti might outperform its billed capabilities.

The lesson I learned from trying to run an electric kettle, among other things, is that finding the right backup battery option entails considering the power needs of your favorite appliances. And those needs might exceed your expectations.

About this power station

The Goal Zero Yeti 700 is by no means the biggest, most powerful portable battery the company offers. It holds a capacity of 677 watt-hours, has a power output of 600 watts, with a surge output of 1,000 watts, and retails for about $600.

It’s part of a new lineup of Goal Zero portable power stations. These are made with lithium iron phosphate as their main chemistry. That gives them a longer lifespan in a smaller package, although they’re more dense and heavy. At about 20 pounds, it’s heavier than my largest cat. 

A black and white cat standing with his forelegs on top of a gray and black portable power station.

The Goal Zero Yeti 700’s lithium iron phosphate chemistry means it’s really dense. That’s why, despite weighing more than Gerard, it’s significantly smaller.

Jon Reed/CNET

The new series of Yeti power stations is built to withstand the elements. It’s sturdy, clearly designed to take a beating, and the outlets are all covered by a sturdy plastic flap. In an inadvertent test, Gerard, the aforementioned large cat, knocked a water bottle off my desk onto the Yeti while it charged my phone. I toweled the power station off, and it kept chugging along like nothing had happened. The Yeti allows you to watch its power output and capacity in real time on a display panel.

Goal Zero sent me the 700 model, but this line of power stations also comes in smaller models, the Yeti 300 and Yeti 500. Each one has a smaller capacity in a slightly smaller package. I saw all three at CES 2024 in January, and the Yeti 300 seemed especially portable.

The company, like others that make power stations, also manufactures much bigger batteries designed to back up more of your home during an outage. This one is built more for camping and outdoor adventure, but it does come at a more affordable price point.

Is my refrigerator still running?

Goal Zero’s website says the Yeti 700 can run a refrigerator for up to 8 hours. I don’t know if my fridge is just more efficient, or if that number is an intentional underestimate, but it kept my fridge running for 14 and a half hours in a simulated outage.

My fridge, an 18-cubic-foot Frigidaire, is Energy Star-rated and estimated to use about 453 kilowatt-hours per year, or 1.24 kWh per day. That math — that the 677Wh battery kept it going a little more than half a day — checks out.

Refrigerators use power in uneven ways. When it’s just chilling there, the fridge only draws about 6 watts from the battery. When it cycles on, that number ticks up to about 100 watts. When I added something that required significant cooling — in this case, a 12-pack of sparkling water cans and a 12-pack of Mountain Dew Baja Blast Zero Sugar cans (yes, you can buy it in stores), all at room temperature — the energy use shown on the Yeti spiked to 300 watts until the drinks were cold.

The refrigerator test was key for me. I’ve been through enough power outages to understand the cost of having to throw out all your food and condiments the next day. A small, relatively inexpensive power station that can keep a fridge going for the better part of a day can pay for itself in a grocery trip or two.

Power around the kitchen

I plugged in other devices that I would likely need to use in a blackout — my laptop, my phone — but neither one put much of a dent in the Yeti’s capabilities. I trust I could keep my devices charged for quite a while on this little thing.

My thoughts turned to the most important meal of the day: coffee.

I have a small, low-key coffee maker, a Mr. Coffee 5-cup programmable model. It is perhaps the second-most-basic coffee maker you can get, after the non-programmable one. So I plugged it in to make my regular morning dose of too much caffeine.

Watching it power a coffee maker is as close as you can get to an edge-of-your seat experience with this thing. When running the coffee maker, the Yeti exceeded 600 watts of power output — just above its listed maximum. I had seen it max out and shut off due to an overload before, on other appliances, but it powered through until the coffee was done. 

One brief note on smells: When it’s running full-blast, the Yeti, like most large electronic devices, emits that wonderful smell of ozone. In this case, it totally blotted out the smell of freshly brewed coffee. A briefer note on tastes: The coffee tasted normal.

Other kitchen gadgets weren’t so lucky.

The air fryer, of course, overloaded the battery immediately. My induction burner overloaded it unless it was running at power level 3 (out of 10) or lower. It sat just above 500 watts and would boil water, eventually. 

Then, of course, there was my beloved electric kettle. It didn’t stand a chance.

The problem comes from the sheer amount of electricity it takes to heat something up. Your laptop and phone, while they get hot, don’t get hot enough to boil a liter of water in a matter of minutes. That demands an extraordinary amount of energy. Think about it in kilowatt-hours, of which this battery can hold a little more than two-thirds of one. The refrigerator, humming along using just a few dozen watts on average, can run for quite a few hours. The coffee maker, which requires more than 600 watts to operate, could run for a total of an hour, perhaps.

With that demand in mind, I put the power station through a few more strenuous tests.

A silver and black portable power station on a glass table with a silver electric kettle next to it. A silver and black portable power station on a glass table with a silver electric kettle next to it.

The Goal Zero Yeti 700 lacked the power output to heat up water in this electric kettle.

Jon Reed/CNET

Portable power tool station

I wanted to see how this small-ish power block would handle some more energy intensive tools and tasks. So I tried out some power tools.

The takeaways? Don’t try to run a saw when you can only output 600 watts. Neither a table saw nor a miter saw would even think about starting up.

We had better luck with sanders. A handheld belt sander challenged it the most, running around 600 watts, meaning you could run it off this battery for about an hour. A palm sander required only 130 to 160 watts, allowing for a longer work time.

This validated another potential use case I’ve eyed for a power station. The fact that it could run a sander for an hour or more means even a small-ish power station could serve in place of a very long extension cord for some home improvement projects. 

What to consider when buying a power station

Bigger numbers are good, right? That’s the lesson? Not quite.

Those larger capacities and power outputs come with trade-offs. First, the price tags. While there are power stations out there that could run my tea kettle, or an air fryer, or a space heater, they tend to come with prices above $1,000. If your goal is mostly to use a power station for backup in a power outage, a $2,000 battery might not have the return-on-investment you want. If, on the other hand, you’re using it every day, connected to solar panels, to run equipment in an RV or a cabin for example, bigger might be better.

More powerful, longer-lasting batteries also mean more weight. Goal Zero’s Yeti 700 is about 20 pounds, not too heavy. But consider the Jackery Explorer 2000 Plus, our pick for the best portable power station. It’s got three times the capacity and six times the power output, but it weighs more than 60 pounds, which may be hard for some folks to move around. (The Jackery does come with wheels.)

Then you need to think about capacity and power output. If you don’t anticipate needing to run anything more powerful than a coffee maker, something like the Yeti 700 I tried out might be a good fit. It’s got the capacity to keep a refrigerator on for a while — especially when you consider that the typical power outage is just a couple of hours. But if you want to run everything, you’ll need more power. A bigger power station, like the Anker Solix F3800, can run most if not all of your house. 

Practically, you’ll have to think about what kinds of outlets you need. Some smaller power stations, like Jackery’s tiny, airplane-carry-on-compliant Explorer 100, don’t even have AC outlets. You’ll be able to charge things like your laptop and phone, but not a full-size refrigerator. Make sure the plugs you get align with your needs.

There’s also the consideration of portable solar panels. A power station by itself is great, but you need a power source to charge it. That could be your car or an AC outlet in your home, but many come with the ability to charge from small solar panels. This can significantly extend the life of your power station during a blackout. A power station plus solar panels is a solar generator — something largely capable of doing the work of a noisy, fossil-fuel-chugging generator, but with no ongoing costs, maintenance or burning fumes.

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