Tech review: Power station and solar panel can keep power flowing when the lights go out
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Tech review: Power station and solar panel can keep power flowing when the lights go out

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The Jackery Explorer 240 Portable Power Station

The Jackery Explorer 240 Portable Power Station (Jackery)

If you are a regular reader of this page, you may remember the Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240 and SolarSaga 60W Solar Panel from my holiday gift guide.

I received the Explorer 240 ($249.99 at jackery.com) and Solar Panel ($179.99) just in time to include them in the gift guide, but I wanted to give these a full review because I love batteries and solar power.

My wife will tell you I have way too many batteries, and I'll tell you what I tell her: I just want to be very, very prepared.

Our family moved to Katy, Texas 40 years ago, and in our first hurricane, we lost one window and were without power for almost a week.

I still laugh when I remember my mom lamenting about how she would be unable to vacuum that week.

Since that power outage, it has been my mission to be ready for the next one.

Jackery makes gadgets to help people power and charge their devices. I first became aware of it through its external battery packs that are used to charge phones and other small devices. I reviewed my first Jackery battery in 2013.

Rechargeable batteries have improved a lot in the last seven years.

The Explorer 240 is a battery that's designed to do much more than charge your phone (which it does really well).

Explorer 240

The Explorer 240 weighs just 6.6 pounds and is easy to carry around to use where you need power. It has a built-in handle and feels about like carrying around a six-pack of longnecks.

The large-capacity battery pack (240 watt-hours) does take a while to charge. It will charge from an AC plug or from the 12-volt port in your car in 7 to 8 hours.

From the SolarSaga 60W, in direct sunlight, the Explorer 240 will charge up in 7 to 10 hours (solar charging can be finicky).

The Explorer has a standard AC plug (200W continuous, 400W peak), two USB ports (each providing 2.4A) and a 12-volt DC car port that's powered by a 240-watt-hour lithium-ion battery.

Each output (AC, USB, 12v) is controlled by its own power switch, so you can be sure where the power is flowing.

The 240 has a small LCD status screen that is very easy to read and tells users everything they need to know. It includes a bar graph along with a percentage to show the battery's charge level. Along each side are readouts of how much power is being input or output.

It's very interesting to see how much power is used by each connected device.

It is also interesting to see how much power is produced by the solar panel and see how the level of charge goes up or down if you just pass your hand in front of the panels or if the sun disappears behind a cloud.

SolarSaga 60W Solar Panel

We already know that plugging the 240 into a wall plug or into your car's 12-volt port is the fastest way to charge the battery, but what if your power is out or you're camping in the middle of nowhere?

Solar panels are a great way to keep your gadgets and batteries charged. The only limitation is the size of the panels and the amount of sunlight you get each day.

The SolarSaga 60W Solar Panel is actually three solar panels that fold up into an easy-to-carry 4-pound bundle with a handle like a briefcase.

Folded, the SolarSaga 60W measures 17.5 by 12 by 2 inches. The thickest part is a zipper compartment on the rear that covers the panel's ports. The panel has an 8mm DC plug to connect to the Explorer 240's charging port.

It also has two USB outputs (one USB-A, one USB-C) so you can charge a phone or tablet directly from the solar panel.

As the name implies, the SolarSaga has a rated power capacity of 60 watts with a solar cell efficiency of 23% (which is very good). This means the SolarSaga can convert 23% of the sun's energy into usable electricity.

When you unfold the panels, the array is three feet across. There is a pull-out stand on the back to prop up the panels like a picture frame, but I found the width of the unfolded panels needed a bit more support to stay in position. You want to keep the panels so they face the sun as directly as you can. If all three panels are not aligned correctly, your charging will take longer.

Use the status display on the Explorer 240 to help optimize your solar panel position. Make small adjustments, and you can watch the power input go up and down on the display.

The 240 has a power input capacity of 40 watts (that's all the power it can take in from any charging source).

In full sun, the best I could achieve was 30 watts from the SolarSaga 60W, but I expect that's because it is the middle of winter. From a charge level of 33%, it took me two afternoons of full sun to charge up the battery to 100%.

The panels are backed with a canvas material, but the unit is not waterproof. A little water should not hurt them, but don't leave them out in the rain.

How much power can it give?

The Jackery Explorer 240 is a good trade-off of size and weight vs. battery capacity.

It's not too heavy to carry on a camping trip or to a tailgate party, and it provides a good amount of power.

In my testing, I ran my Dyson fan for more than 10 hours. This is a critical test for me, because if my power goes out, I'm going to need my fan to sleep.

According to Jackery, the Explorer 240 can charge a tablet seven times, charge a smartphone more than 20 times and power a 32-inch flat-screen TV for more than three hours.

The 240 can also power a CPAP device for people who have sleep apnea. Jackery recommends disabling the CPAP's heater/humidifier to extend the battery's charge.

This is a great mid-size battery pack. We've all seen small external battery packs designed to charge your phone a few times, and I've reviewed some really big batteries that are the size of a small cooler, but the Explorer 240 is just the right size for a lot of uses. The battery pack is too big to take on a plane, so you won't be taking it on that hunting trip to Alaska unless you're driving the whole way.

The 240 and the solar panel would be great additions to your emergency kit. This combination could keep your phone powered indefinitely as long as you have direct sunlight every few days.

The variety of switched power ports, including AC plug, means you can charge pretty much anything that doesn't draw huge amounts of power. This is perfect for a weekend camping trip or your next power outage.

Pros: Light, good capacity, well built.

Cons: Panels are not weather-resistant; longer charging times due to 40W input limit.

Bottom line: Great for peace of mind when the lights go out.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at jrossman@dallasnews.com.

Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com

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