We are currently spending much time on the topic of lithum batteries in a camping van, and of course the topic of power stations and power banks comes up. A power station or powerbank is a portable lithium battery, which offers many ports for running and charging devices. This way nothing more stands in the way of using electric devices on the go. In this article we have a look at how these portable powerstations work, for whom they are made, which brands are there and what one should watch out for. Moreover, the Jackery Explorer 500 EU Power Station arrived here for testing, and we can report on our experiences.
Cooperation / Advertising
We were provided the Power Station from Jackery for free for testing purposes.
We have not been paid or otherwise influenced for this test, and write, as always, about our expericences with this device in a neutral way. The reason most of our device test reports are positive, by the way, is because we decline most cooperations, where we are less than convinced by the product.
Also: To celebrate their debut on the european market, Jackery is offering 20% discount in their Amazon shop starting 17.3.2021. If you’re on the lookout for a power station, this deal pays of in all cases.
What is a power station?
A power station is basically
- a portable lithium battery, which
- has a robust case and at the same time integrates
- an inverter and
- ports for devices.
- a solar charge controller and
- further features are built in.
Such a power station can therefore be charged at home, in a hotel or in the car, and then power devices on the go. And not just in the car, but also in nature. The portable lithium battery can even be recharged directly in nature (or: off-grid) using solar power. This way you are very independent and still do not have to do without electrical devices.
A power station with you while camping offers comfort away from the camper van that one could not imagine a decade ago. Only thanks to lithium technology can a power station be constructed with sufficient capacity and low weight.
So this is not only a nicht um einen Akku zum fixen Einbau im Wohnmobil, sondern um eine tragbare Lithium-Batterie mit der man dann an beliebigen Orten Geräte betreiben kann. Although we usually travel in our camper van and have our electrical installation, we find such a power station very interesting. Because we aren’t always inside the camper van, and there are definitely situations where we can imagine using a power station.
Who needs a power station?
Obviously, a portable power station is particularly interesting for all those who have no electrical installation or one that’s not self-sufficient enogh in their vehicle.
Here are some examples:
- A power station for camping is ideal for those who travel with a tent but still want to charge cameras, smartphones and computers. Because devices can only be charged and operated in the car to a limited extent.
- For occasional campers, who, for example, are traveling with a spartanly equipped VW bus or another vehicle with a camping box, a portable lithium battery is a comfortable solution, which doesn’t need to be permanently installed. Mini-camper are often used flexibly, a camping-box is only put in before the next trip. A power station complements such a use case perfectly.
- Fishers who want to prepare coffee or tea have an almost noiseless power station with them.
- Caravan campers who do not have a 12V installation at all, but still want to be self-sufficient from time to time without having to convert the electrical installation, can travel a bit more independently with a power station without any assembly.
- Owners of older VW buses who do not feel like modernizing the technology in them, but still want to carry modern electrical equipment with them, also get a convenient upgrade option with a power bank.
- Travelers who need to operate medical equipment. Patients who need CPAP therapy can operate the corresponding devices with a power station, for example.
We drove a 30-year-old VW bus for several years. It had a small cabin battery, which was about enough to operate the lighting. But it wasn’t very big and also a little decrepit. We knew we wouldn’t keep the vehicle forever, and that’s why I didn’t want to invest thousands of euros into modernizing the electrical system. With a power station we could easily have bridged the time to the next camper van. Unfortunately, there were no portable lithium batteries back then.
Do you need a power station in the camper van?
Almost all modern camper vans have their cabin battery built into the camper in the usual way, and electrical devices can be operated directly in the camper van.
Nevertheless, we find that a power station in addition to the permanent electrical installation in the camper somewhat extends the radius of action and possibilities. A power bank in the camper van allows electronic devices to be used outside of the campervan, whether on a boat excursion or when sitting in the shade under the tree.
In addition, a portable lithium battery for the camper van is ideal if you only want to use it sporadically. For camping van renters, for example, installing an inverter is not possible, but the Power Station is easy to take with you.
- For people with a camping van, who use a rubber dinghy during the day, who want to hop from island to island and from beach to beach all day, a power bank is useful during the day.
- Camping van renters are usually not allowed to build anything into the rented motorhome. However, very few off-the-peg camping cars offer inverters or a solar system. Carrying a power bank with you in the camping van is an uncomplicated solution, and a portable lithium battery can be transported easily in the rear garage.
- People, who work on the road but do not always want to sit inside the camper van for working benefit from a power bank in the camper. Activities such as video editing require a lot of electricity, and the battery of a laptop is quickly exhausted. With the Jackery Power Station you are independent and can work for longer periods of time anywhere. Whether in the lounge of the surf club, the Greek café or just in the shadow of the village square.
- For us, a power station turned out to be a useful tool during a video shoot. The Power Station can be used to quickly recharge camera batteries, even during mobile use. In addition, you can operate video lights on the move when there is no power supply or when wiring using an extension cable (for example, in a hall with strict safety regulations) is difficult.
Who is a Power Station not suitable for?
A power station is not perfect for people for whom the electrical installation in their motorhome is sufficient. If you only want to use electricity only inside the camper van, a portable lithium battery offers no added value.
And if you buy an inverter, solar charge controller and battery as individual parts, you can choose the specification for each component individually. With the Power Station, the device is of course only available as it is offered by the manufacturer. A 500Wh is enough, but do you want a 2000 Watt inverter? Bad luck, this is not offered.
In addition, a power station is simply too heavy for camping if you are not using a car. So it will hardly be the right choice for backpackers, because you don’t necessarily want to drag a portable lithium battery over many kilometers. So for a power station you need a car in order to be able to transport it comfortably.
Presentation of the Jackery Explorer 500EU Power Station
The Jackery Explorer 500 EU is a newcomer the the power station market in Europe, and we were able to take a closer look at it in advance of its release. Before we get to the overview of the Power Station, let’s take a look at what such a device offers and how to use it.
- VON JACKERY ENTWICKELT - Unser Explorer 500 ist eine mobile Powerbank der Premiumklasse. Hergestellt aus PC+ABS Materialien, verschleißfest und langlebig. Smartes LCD-Display zur Anzeige von Eingangsleistung, Ausgangsleistung und verbleibender Batterieleistung. Die eingebaute Lampe kann als automatisches SOS-Signal genutzt werden. Abmessungen: 30 x 19,3 x 23,4 cm; Gewicht: 6 kg.
- IDEALE MOBILE STROMVERSORGUNG- 1) Unterwegs: Digitale Geräte wie Kameras, GoPro und Drohnen bleiben voll aufgeladen. 2) Wohnmobile: Mini-Kühlschränke, Kaffeemaschinen und Herde ohne zusätzliche Ausrüstung mit Strom zu versorgen. 3) Partys: Mixer, Projektoren, Fernseher, um viel Spaß zu haben. 4) Outdoor Aktivitäten: Unterstützt das Laden des E-Bikes, der Kajak Batterie uvm. 5) Zuhause: perfekte Wahl für Ihre Werkzeuge oder als Notstromaggregat.
- ÜBERZEUGENDE LEISTUNG - Die hochwertige Lithium-Ionen-Batterie mit langer Lebensdauer versorgt die 230V/500W Steckdose (Spitzenwert 1000 W), 3 USB-A-Anschlüsse und den 12V Autoanschluss mit genügend Power. Einfach aufzuladen mit Solarmodul, Netzteil oder im Auto.
- LEISE, SICHER & UMWELTFREUNDLICH - Der Akku dient auch als Solargenerator mit integriertem Solarladeregler mit MPPT-Technologie für höchste Ladeeffizienz. Das BMS-Batteriemanagementsystem umfasst Überhitzungsschutz, Kurzschlussschutz, Überstromschutz und Überladeschutz, für maximale Sicherheit.
- AUSGEZEICHNETE QUALITÄT - Jackery ist spezialisiert auf nachhaltige Lösungen für die Outdoor-Stromversorgung. Unser Produktdesign ist Gewinner des Red Dot Awards 2016 und erfreut sich damit höchster Beliebtheit bei Hunderttausenden von Kunden weltweit.
Never heard of Jackery? Neither have we so far. It’s actually a Californian company that, according to its website, was founded by a former Apple battery engineer. I couldn’t find out whether that’s actually true or a marketing story. Jackery isn’t just a slap-on brand, because the reviews in America go back a long way and are very positive.
In any case, the company offers portable power stations and solar modules and is now also represented in Europe. And we were allowed to test such a power station.
The technical data of the Jackery Explorer 500 EU
Here are the key data of the Power Station:
- 500Wh capacity
- Integrated inverter with 500W continuous power (with pure sine wave), 1000W peak power
- Integrated MPPT solar charge controller
- 3x USB-A
- 3x 12V DC (1 cigarette lighter connection, 2x DC plug)
- 1x 230V socket
- Charging via 12V in the vehicle, 230V or solar (separate solar module required)
- The Power Station weighs 6.4kg and, at 30x19x24cm, is about the size of a sheet of A4 paper.
- There is a 2 year guarantee and lifetime support.
The number 500 in the name indicates the size of the battery, in this case a little over 500Wh, which thanks to lithium-ion technology can also be used almost completely. And yes, you correctly conclude from this: There are also other sizes to buy. The offer currently ranges from very small 160Wh to 1000Wh.
The EU in the name indicates that this is the completely new EU version, because so far the Jackery products were only available in North America. The EU version has sockets that fit European plugs.
Like many lithium products, the Power Station is made in China. The housing bears the CE mark. However, it is not waterproof.
The display of the Jackery Power Station
There is a display on the housing of the Jackery Power Station. This shows
-) The current state of charge in percent
-) The current output (sum of all three types of ports)
-) The currently consumed power (when charging)
The outputs of the Jackery Explorer 500 EU
The Jackery Explorer 500 EU offers three output blocks, each of which can be activated and deactivated with its own button. This avoids loss of performance for unused ports.
230V devices can be connected to the appropriate socket. If you want to operate several devices, this is possible via a distribution socket, as long as the total power consumption remains below 500 watts.
Many small devices can be charged via the three USB plugs, for example:
- EBook reader
- Camera batteries (with suitable 12V chargers, which I highly recommend for on the go)
Unfortunately there is no USB-C port. For many modern devices, an adapter is required for this.
Finally there is a 12V plug as known from the car (cigarette lighter), as well as two further 12V DC plugs.
Lifespan and repair options of the Jackery Explorer 500 EU
Jackery indicates a service life of > 500 charging cycles. This is similar to most lithium batteries, and usually only means that the capacity after these charging cycles is, for example, only 80% of the original capacity. This does not mean that the Power Station will become unusable right away.
The battery consists internally of 18650 batteries and the housing is not welded, but screwed. This indicates a certain suitability for repairs, although no information is available to date as to whether corresponding offers are being offered. The operating instructions generally prohibit opening the housing.
Nice additional feature of the Explorer 500 EU: the flashlight
A nice additional feature is the flashlight on the narrow side of the housing.
This means that the Power Station can be carried comfortably and you can illuminate the path convieniently. Admittedly, this is a bit heavy, but it is useable for short distances. And you don’t have to worry that this light will run out of power.
Incidentally, the function is intended to send emergency signals in nature. It remains to be seen whether European campers need it so urgently, but when camping you often need reasonable lighting at night, and I can already imagine how it will be used.
Charging the Jackery Power Station 500 EU
The Power Station can be charged in three ways.
- At the 230V socket, the charging cable is included. If the battery is completely empty, it takes about seven hours.
- The Power Station can also be charged in the car at the 12V socket, the charging cable is also included. An empty battery should be charged in about 8 hours.
- The Power Station can also be charged via solar. The MPPT solar charge controller is already integrated in the power station, and the solar panel is available from Jackery. How long this takes logically depends on the solar module and the amount of sunlight.
Many scenarios are therefore conceivable.
- You can charge the Power Station at home and then use it during the day.
- In the camping van or car, you can charge the Power Station while driving to the next destination, and then operate a compressor refrigerator on site.
- The PowerStation can also be charged via solar and can therefore be operated stationary for a longer period of time without having to go to a car or a power socket.
The matching 100W solar module from Jackery didn’t arrive in time for the test, now we’ve had the opportunity to try out the Solarsaga 100 Module.
It makes for a very high-quality first impression:
- The handles are not only practical for transport, but also make the solar bag stiffer than our other solar bag. Unfortunately, the handles also make the solar bag a little bigger.
- Four metal eyelets allow the solar bag to be secured against wind.
- Two feet hold the Solarsaga solar bag up securely, these are attached to the bag easily with vecro.
- In one of the pockets, you’ll find a cable with a compatible plug to the Jackery Powerstation. Setting it to work is plug & play: put it up, plug it in, charge.
- Moreover, the pockets contain a USB-C, as well as a USB-A plugs. These let you charge small devices such as smartphones directly.
- PERFEKT FÜR JACKERY EXPLORER - Die umweltfreundliche Solaranlage ist der ideale Generator für die Jackery Explorer 240/500/1000 Powerstationen (separat erhältlich). In Kombination ergibt sich damit die perfekte Stromversorgung für unterwegs.
- HOHE EFFIZIENZ - Die hocheffizienten monokristallinen Solarzellen erreichen eine Umwandlungseffizienz von 23%. Strapazierfähiges ETFE-Material auf der Oberfläche sorgt für eine lange Lebensdauer, hohe Lichtdurchlässigkeit und leichtes Gewicht.
- RED DOT AWARD WINNER 2018 - Der Jackery SolarSaga 100 Sonnenkollektor zur Gewinnung von Solarenergie ist ergonomisch, einfach mitzunehmen, robust und wetterfest und erfreut sich damit höchster Beliebtheit bei Millionen von Kunden weltweit.
- PRAKTISCH, SICHER & ZUVERLÄSSIG - Ausgestattet mit 1 USB-A (5V, 2,4A) und 1 USB-C-Anschluss (5V, 3A), zum Laden von Smartphone, Tablet und Kamera. Abmessungen: Entfaltet: 122 x 53,5 x 0,5 cm, Gefaltet: 61 x 53,5 x 3,5 cm; Gewicht: 4,68 kg.
- ZUFRIEDENHEIT GARANTIERT - Die Zufriedenheit unserer Kunden ist uns bei Jackery besonders wichtig, wir sind stets offen für Fragen, Meinungen und Vorschläge, und unser Serviceteam ist immer erreichbar.
By the way, you can also connect and operate loads to the Power Station and charge them at the same time.
As with most other lithium batteries, charging is only possible at temperatures above 0 °C, even if the battery is still delivering power down to -10 °C.
Using the Power Station
After the Power Station has been charged, it is ready for use. But how does that work exactly? Well that is very easy.
- The display is activated via a button and the respective outputs via additional, separate buttons.
- Then you plug your devices into the respective port and you can then observe the power consumption and the (falling) charge level of the Power Station on the display.
If you no longer want to use or charge any devices, you should deactivate the respective ports using their buttons to avoid energy loss.
Practical test of the Power Station Jackery Explorer 500 EU
In order to subject the Jackery Explorer 500 EU to a real test, we not only wanted to charge a few batteries with it, but also wanted to challenge the power station appropriately when camping. Because the charging batteries worked with no problems whatsoever even when all connections were fully occupied. So we wanted to set the test a level up.
Well, that’s not very easy in February in Austria, with lockdown on top.
Nevertheless, we had a suitable, if a little weird, idea. End of February, we decide to visit a south-Styrian vineyard. There, we enjoyed our afternoon, soaked up the sun, had a picknick, and afterwards wanted to enjoy a coffee between the vines.
As a coffee fan, I already have an espresso machine and a milk foamer suitable for a camper van, which have respectively low power consumption of 500W. These devices are perfect to use for the test.
You cannot operate the milk frother and espresso machine at the same time on the Power Station, because both require 500W power. In total, that would be too much, which is why you have to prepare coffee and milk foam one after the other.
Using it is very easy:
- Plug in the espresso machine, switch it on, wait. The espresso machine is warming up, and we can see the power consumption on the display of Jackery Explorer 500 EU Power Station. The Piccola Piccola consumed about 560W, which exceeds the continuous output of the Jackery, but it still worked.
- After the heating process was complete , we prepared a first espresso. This was possible without any problems because the machine’s pump, at around 70W, only needs a fraction of the power of the heater.
- The milk frothing was also wonderful afterwards, and we enjoyed our cappuccinos right in the vineyard.
The test was therefore a complete success. With a power station you can do things that would otherwise not be possible – even things that you never wanted to do before;) The test shows, however, that a power station offers real added value when camping.
The test is also available as a video on YouTube.
Using a power bank in the camper van
Of course, you don’t have to flee into wilderness, you can also operate the Power Station in a camper van. A power bank in the motorhome can be quite useful, as described, and thanks to several 12V sockets, charging there is even easier than in a normal car.
We tried it out the next morning for breakfast coffee, and it was here that we got to know the power station’s power limit of 500W. Because the Power Station switched itself off because of excessive power consumption.
We were able to turn it on again without waiting and prepare the coffee and milk foam. The shutdown had not happened the day before outdoors, which could be due to the lower temperature outdoors. During the second coffee, the power station did not switch itself off either. The heater was probably a little more power-hungry during the initial heating process.
Disadvantages of the Power Station
- The 500W power limit is not sufficient for all devices (but there are larger versions)
- The rubber covers of the 230V socket and (to a lesser extent) the 12V socket do not stay closed and open by themselves.
- Unfortunately only USB-A, no contemporary USB-C (easily solved with an adapter though)
- The case is not waterproof
Is a power station with 500Wh enough?
Small power stations offer a few hundred watt hours (Wh), 500Wh is currently the solid middle class, but you can also get over 1000Wh.
But how much is that actually? What can you do with it, how many devices can you charge, and how long can you use a cool box with it? Here are a few examples.
The capacity of Power Station compared to the board battery in the camper
How much is 500Wh actually? Well, to give you a feeling, it can be compared with a typical on-board battery in a motorhome.
The comparison with the cabin battery in the camper is not so easy, however, because the capacity is listed in Ah there, but this would not be comparable due to the different voltages.
So we first have to convert the capacity of the board battery in the camper van into watt hours, which is done quite simply by multiplying the ampere hours by the voltage (typically 12,7V).
A common size of body batteries is 100Ah, multiplied by 12,7V results in 1270Wh. But be careful: If it is not a lithium battery, then you should only use about half the capacity so as not to impair the service life of the battery. So there are 600Wh that can be effectively used. And that, in turn, means that a mid-range power station offers almost as much capacity as a typical body battery in a camper van. But just portable and with all kinds of additional features.
There are already some example camculations in the operating instructions for the Jackery Explorer 500 EU. So one should be able to
- operate a refrigerator at 60W for 37 hours
- charge a 12” Macbook 7 times
- operate a TV screen for 7.5 hours
- Use a CPAP machine for 13-40 hours or
- charge a smartphone 53 times
Of course, these are only guidelines that can differ greatly for your own devices.
Those who want to know exactly must either try it or calculate.
All you need to do is take a look at the data sheet for the device or the power supply unit. This will not always be particularly accurate, because only a few devices require their maximum performance over the long term.
For the Dometic compressor cooler CDF 36, for example, 60W power is specified. 500 watt hours are available from the Jackery Power Station. If we divide 500/60, we get 8 hours. However, that would require the cool box to consistently consume 60 watts. A compressor refrigerator switches itself off again and again, so in practice you will be able to operate it for much longer (unless you are in the midday sun of the Sahara).
Is a power station with 500W sufficient?
500W is sufficient for many devices. It can be used to charge most devices and batteries. As our test has shown, you can even use it to prepare espresso and milk foam if you choose the right equipment.
However, many devices have a higher power consumption, especially devices that generate heat. So, for example,
- Hair dryers,
- Water boilers,
- many coffee machines
In these cases the Jackery Explorer 500 EU is not enough and you should choose a model with higher performance.
For example, we tested an induction hotplate. This did not work on the Jackery Power Station, although the induction hotplate should need less than 500W according to the operating instructions at levels 1 and 2. But the starting current is probably too high, because the Jackery Power Station always switched itself off despite several attempts.
Market overview: Power Stations
Who offers Power Stations?
Originally, Power Stations appeared a few years ago from more or less unknown brands on Ebay, Amazon and other shops. In the course of time, however, specialized and well-known manufacturers recognized the need, and now there are some devices that are often in demand.
It is noticeable that some Power Stations hardly differ, if at all, and apparently seem to come from the same plant before another marketing team takes over the sales afterwards. And even if the case looks different, the data are often very similar.
There are, however, differences in the details. Here, more power from the inverter, there, more connection options or a better solar charge controller. It’s worth looking closely.
Here are some of the most popular Power Stations with a capacity of 500Wh in comparison:Table could not be displayed.
The advantages of the Jackery Explorer 500 EU we tested are
- relatively powerful inverter
- the MPPT charge controller (other only offer PWM) and
- the possibility to deactivate individual outputs. With other power stations, for example, you can only activate the entire 12V block (including USB), which probably wastes some energy.
The disadvantages are the lower number of connections compared to the competition. Here you have to judge for yourself what is more important to you.
The Tacklife Power Station has a useful feature in the form of a Qi-compatible charging pad for wireless charging on top.
The pioneer Goalzero Yeti, which has been very popular for a long time, seems to have fallen a little behind in terms of price.
Power stations are a useful accessory for all outdoor enthusiasts who do not want to go without their electrical devices. The Jackery Explorer 500 EU gave us a real-life impression, and it was very promising. The housing is robust, looks high-quality and promises a long service life. The handle is comfortable and the weight is acceptable for moderate distances. Using the Explorer 500 EU is very easy. With the included 230V and 12V chargers, you can charge the battery at home or in the car, and then use it on the go. The 500W inverter is sufficient for many devices that do not generate heat, and small devices can be charged via USB and 12V plugs. We were even able to prepare coffee and milk foam off-grid in the test. The integrated flashlight is a nice additional feature. We have not yet been able to test the MPPT solar charge controller, but we will deliver this test later. A small downer is the missing USB-C connection, as well as the wobbly socket covers of the 12V and (above all) the 230V sockets. A different mechanism would be desirable here in terms of child safety. The fact that the device is not waterproof is irrelevant from our point of view, because who wants to use electronics in the rain.
We can recommend the device, it is uncomplicated to use and does what it says on the box.
In general, Power Stations or Power Banks also offer a certain amount of flexibility in the camper van and can also be useful in addition to the fixed electrical installation in the camper. Outside the motorhome, a portable lithium battery is not only useful when camping in a tent, but generally wherever outdoor power is needed.
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