Protecting against power outages

With the increasing number of power outages, many of us are looking at ways to protect ourselves when we lose power, something that seems to becoming more frequent. Loss of power means no Internet, spoiled food, no heat or air conditioning, no hot water and darkness. The conventional solution to power loss has been using a portable gas generator that runs off either gasoline or propane to allow us to power our devices off the grid. They’ve been around for years and are used by businesses, homes, on construction sites and at campsites. But they’re very noisy, they create a lot of pollution, and are often hard to start, much like our gasoline powered lawnmower. New laws are now being written in some states that will eventually restrict or ban their use.

In their place is a new class of product built around advanced battery technology that addresses most of these issues. They use Lithium-Ion batteries (Li-Ion), similar to what’s used in electric cars and computers. Unlike the generators that constantly create electricity from burning fuel, these new battery systems store power that can be tapped on demand whenever power is needed. Once the batteries become depleted, they need to be recharged, either from the grid, from an automobile, or using solar panels. Think of them as a much larger version of a back up battery pack for our phones.

One of newest and most advanced of these devices is the Yeti 3000X from Goal Zero, a manufacturer of solar powered devices and battery chargers. The company has an impressive history of providing solar powered products to needy communities around the world ever since it was founded thirteen years ago. Their new 3000 Watt-hour system will typically power a home for about a day. 3000 Watt-hours is about 1000 times the battery power in an iPhone.

Using lithium-ion batteries, the Yeti 3000X provides safe, clean, portable, non-polluting power. It’s about half the size of a carry-on suitcase and weighs 70 pounds. It costs $3500, about 2X-3X more than a gas generator.

The device has 7 ports including a fast-charging 60W USB-C Power Delivery (for computers and phones), multiple USB-A ports, regulated 12V, and two 120V AC ports (appliances, etc.). It has enough output to run refrigerators, freezers, power tools. medical devices, and other appliances.

Goal Zero arranged for a demo at a local Batteries Plus store in San Diego, one of a nationwide chain of stores selling advanced batteries and lighting of all types. Batteris Plus’ California stores are working in partnership with Goal Zero.

It was my first visit to a Batteries Plus store. The owner, Peter Schaumann, reminded me it was not a replacment for your old Radio Shack store, although it had a wide assortment of batteries for everything from key fobs to golf carts – and they provide free AAA batteries! In fact, he was correct. It was much more high tech. Unlike the old Radio Shack, the store was immaculate with products clearly displayed and organized, with literally thousands of different battery types. I was surpised to learn how widely used the Li-Ion batteries are. Li-Ion batteries come in thousands of configurations and sizes, and are used as back-up power for medical devices, automatic doors, alarm systems, as well as primary sources for thousands of products. Most of these batterries have the same form factor as our automobile batteries, but come in sizes as small as 4 inches long.

Schaumann said the new Yeti 3000X is one of his newest and most exciting products. If you want to plug it into your home during a power outage you would purchase a Home Integration Kit for $259 and have it professionally installed. Then you just connect a cable from the generator to the house. They also offer portable solar panels that can keep the generator charged and used more like a gasoline generator.

Clearly the Goal Zero back up generator and products like it are in our future, particularly as prices drop and outages increase. We’re already seeing similar capabilities being built into electric vehicles. The new electric Ford F-150 Lightening uses its built in batteries as a backup electric generator.

by Phil Baker