Portable Power Station vs. Home Battery: Which One Do I Need?

Do you just need a small boost of electricity, or are you looking for a power source to last for days on end? Answering this question can help you decide.

Portable power station solar electricity generator outdoors on wooden table with laptop, mobile phone and light electronic devices charging. Wireless charging lithium battery backup for use off grid.
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The first time you had to endure a power outage, you were probably unprepared: These events catch most people off guard, and few people plan for them ahead of time. What if the next time the lights go out, you could switch on a big battery that would keep your house -- or at least your essential appliances -- running until the grid comes back online?

That's the promise of portable power stations and home batteries. These devices are an effective way to supply backup power to your home and protect yourself from future outages. But first, you'll need to figure out which application is the right fit for your home and budget. 

"It really depends on what the end user is looking for," said Buck Buchanan, marketing director with Geneverse, which makes portable and home battery systems.

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Here's how to decide between a portable power station and a home battery backup.

What is a portable power station?

A portable power station is a battery that can be charged up and used to power other electronics. These power stations can range in size, but are generally small enough to take with you on the go.  

You charge a portable power station by plugging it into a standard wall outlet or connecting it to smaller, portable solar panels. Once the power station is topped off, you can more or less bring it anywhere as a portable source of electricity for your gadgets.

Buchanan said the two most common uses for portable power stations are camping (usually for charging phones or powering a fan) and emergencies (like a power outage). But in the latter case, Buchanan said most customers don't think about buying a portable power station for emergencies until they go through a power outage without one. "It's something you don't think about until it happens," he said.

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The most common power capacity for these devices is 1,000 watts, according to Buchanan. That amount of electricity is enough to power a computer, charge a few phones or even run the fridge under the right circumstances. "It all depends on what you plug into it," he said.

These power stations can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. It depends on the size of the battery and the types of features you want. The higher the power and energy storage capacity, the higher the price tag. 

What is a home battery?

A home battery is a much larger battery that's integrated with your home's electrical system, supplying power to certain parts of your home when the power goes out

You can use these in a few different ways. If you pair a home battery with solar panels, you can store your excess solar energy during the day and then deploy it in the evenings when your home is using the most power. If you take advantage of time-of-use-rates, this could help you save money on your utility bills too.

The most common use for home batteries is to provide backup power to your home during a power outage. The power from these batteries could support your home's electronics for many hours or even days, depending on the energy storage capacity of the battery and how much of your home you want to supply power to.

"It's basically your own power plant at home," Buchanan said.

Home batteries come in many sizes, usually in the 10 kWh to 20 kWh range, according to Buchanan. Depending on how big of a battery you buy and how you finance it, it can cost as little as $8,000 or as much as $30,000, Buchanan said.

Can I use a portable power station as a power backup for my home?

If a home battery isn't in the budget, you might be wondering if a portable power station can do the trick. Well, not quite. "[Portable batteries] are extremely useful, but if you're looking for that whole home backup solution, you're looking for a home battery," Buchanan said.

A portable power station is better than nothing, though. You could use it to keep phones charged or plug in a couple of other essential devices. But it won't keep your lights on or support major appliances for long.

When is a home battery worth it?

If you live in an area with frequent blackouts, and those pose a big risk to you or your family, then a home battery could be a great solution. Buchanan suggests thinking about it like a pool: it might not add a ton of value to your home, but if you want it and can afford it, go ahead and get it.

A home battery can also be a worthwhile investment if you're pairing it with solar and leveraging time-of-use rates. In that situation, a battery can help you save big on utility bills, and would pay itself off faster.

On the other hand, if blackouts where you live are infrequent, you don't have solar panels and your utility doesn't charge you time of use rates, then a home battery might not be that useful to you. Instead, you could probably get by with a portable power station to keep your essentials charged for a fraction of the cost.

Frequently asked questions

What is the energy storage capacity of a home battery?

There's a big range here. Home batteries can store as little as 3 kWhs or as much as 30 kWhs. The average size is somewhere in the 10 kWh to 13 kWh area.

How much does a home battery cost?

The cost of home batteries typically depends on their energy storage capacity. Smaller home batteries can cost as little as $8,000, while bigger models can run up to $30,000.

Will a home battery power my whole house?

If you size a home battery correctly, it can power your whole house for a couple of days. But it depends on your appliances and the size of your home.

Article updated on April 19, 2024 at 9:54 AM PDT

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Mike De Socio
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Mike De Socio Contributor
Mike De Socio is a CNET contributor who writes about energy, personal finance and climate change. He's also the author of the nonfiction book, "Morally Straight: How the Fight for LGBTQ+ Inclusion Changed the Boy Scouts-And America." His path in journalism has taken him through almost every part of the newsroom, earning awards along the way from the Boston Press Photographers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. As an independent journalist, his work has also been published in Bloomberg, The Guardian, Fortune and beyond.
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