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Powering Your RV or Bus: Is a Portable Power Station Really Enough?

Powering Your RV or Bus: Is a Portable Power Station Really Enough?

As portable power stations continue to grow in battery capacity and features, many RVers and buslifers may be wondering if the simplicity and convenience of these all-in-one solutions is enough to replace the more complicated and expensive power systems typically installed in off-grid vehicles.

If you're curious about exploring alternative options for your vehicle, then read on to find out if a portable power station alone is enough to reliably power your RV or bus when you're off-grid.

Spoiler alert: It is!

How Much Power Does an RV Need?

When it comes to determining how much power your home on wheels might need, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The amount of electricity required to keep your RV or bus running depends on a variety of factors, such as the type and size of the vehicle, the number of people living in it, and the kinds of appliances, lights, and other electrical devices being used inside.

The easiest way to figure out how much power you'll need is to assess what devices and appliances you commonly use and how often you use them. Personal devices like phones and laptops are fairly trivial in terms of energy usage and may only need a mobile power bank to stay charged; however, larger appliances require a much higher load of electricity – and thus a battery size that can handle them.

For instance, a 1000W microwave has no chance at all of running if your battery or inverter is rated at only 800W. You will need a system with a max output that not only matches this power requirement - but also factors in the appliance's startup power. This amount can be as much as 20–100% greater than its rated continuous output, so your power source must be capable of handling this momentary surge of high output.

Likewise, you'll also need to factor in how long these appliances are running when in use. The duration that your battery can last is determined by its capacity, which is rated in watt-hours (Wh). Fortunately, while a microwave may burn through 1000Wh of power, you will likely only be using it for a couple of minutes at a time, which means the device will only use about 33Wh of your battery.

The Most Power-Hungry Appliances

The heaviest power load is almost always found in your kitchen. Instant Pots and coffee makers have a high load of anywhere between 800–1400W, but they are relatively low in consumption because of their short duration of use. (Your oven and stove likely do not use electricity but rather propane—so for the most part, you can rule them out of your power calculations.)

A blow dryer is also a high-load device at around 1200–1400W, but it is used for no more than 10 minutes at a time, so it will only use about 133Wh. Conversely, a space heater can range from 300–1400W, but it is a high-consumption device because it is constantly running when needed.

Everything else—such as your RV fridge, lights, TV, and fans—will consume around 400–1000W total throughout the day.

What About AC Units?

AC units for RVs require an immense amount of power to run, making them impractical for most off-grid scenarios. Particularly in the summertime, you can expect a rooftop AC unit to burn through roughly 8,000W of power per day! For that reason, most RVs are unable to run their AC units on even the most expensive solar panel installations available; rather, they will need to plug into "shore power" at campsites or on-grid locations that can feed an adequate amount of power. Without such access, these AC units are simply not an option for most RVers. As such, we will not factor in the use of air conditioning for the sake of comparison in this article.

Typical Off-Grid Power Systems for an RV or Bus

Now that you have an idea of how much power your RV needs, you can begin to look into the various off-grid power systems available for your vehicle.

If anyone has expertise on this topic, then it's Anker Ambassador and off-grid systems specialist Chuck Cassady. Chuck's company Chrome Yellow is an industry leader in the conversion of school buses into fully-functional homes on wheels (AKA "skoolies"). After years of installing power inverters, batteries, solar panels, and working with complex electrical wiring, Chuck knows exactly what type of system will work best based on his client's needs.

Is there a standard installation that will handle most needs? If daily power consumption is modest for a small to medium-sized RV or bus, Chuck recommends a system that is capable of 2,400W output and a 2,048Wh capacity.

It just so happens that the Anker PowerHouse 767 portable power station matches these requirements exactly. A longtime skeptic of portable power, Chuck suddenly had a change of heart when he noticed that the PowerHouse could not only achieve the same power delivery that he usually installed in his clients' vehicles, but that it could do it more conveniently, easily, and cost-effectively.

This exciting discovery inspired him to produce a comparison video, which puts the PowerHouse 767 head-to-head against two other popular options for off-grid power that are a nearly exact match in specs: 

Let's take a deeper look at how each of these three options compare in terms of function, ease of use, and cost:

Component-based System

Component-based systems are the most commonly used in skoolies, but they are also the most complex and expensive of the three. This system requires multiple devices, such as an inverter, a battery bank, solar panels, and various pieces of hardware and wiring in order to directly match what is achieved with an all-in-one device like a portable power station.

If you are a savvy enough DIYer, you could potentially handle this installation yourself; however, there is an inherent risk of serious injury or damage if the system is not correctly wired. Therefore, a professional (yet costly) installation is highly recommended.

Here is a breakdown of the essential components necessary to fulfill this installation:

Victron Energy LiFePO4 Battery 12.8V/160Ah

Victron Energy LiFePO4 Battery 12.8V/160Ah
The heart of any power system is of course the battery. This one matches the energy density of the PowerHouse 767 exactly (2,048Wh) as well as features the same long-lasting battery chemistry of lithium iron phosphate.

Cost? $1,600

Victron Energy MultiPlus 12/3000/120-50

Victron Energy MultiPlus 12/3000/120-50
The inverter is essential for taking all the energy that goes in and out of the battery and making it usable. It converts DC (direct current) power into AC (alternating current) power, which allows DC-powered devices, such as batteries or solar panels, to be used with AC-powered equipment and appliances, such as lights and other household items.

For the closest comparison Chuck could find, this one is rated at 3,000 volt-amps—but the maximum rate output of it matches exactly the 2400W of the PowerHouse 767.

Cost? $1,400

Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT 150/85-Tr

Victron Energy SmartSolar MPPT 150/85-Tr
The charge controller will take the energy from your solar panels and store it in the battery for later use. This 85A charge controller is a close match to the MPPT (maximum power point tracker) found within the PowerHouse 767.

Cost? $700

Victron Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC Charger

Victron Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC Charger
The PowerHouse 767 has the ability to recharge by using your vehicle's 12V outlet, so in order to achieve that same benefit, you will need a DC-to-DC charger such as this one.

Cost? $230

Victron Energy BMV-712 Smart Battery Monitor

Victron Energy BMV-712 Smart Battery Monitor
This battery monitor allows you to view charging performance and output data just like you could with the PowerHouse 767 (although the PowerHouse's LED screen is more robust and displays more info).

Cost? $230

Additional Note About Cost

The above components are what would be considered standard and necessary for a power system installation in a skoolie. However, we have omitted a critical cost that you should also factor in: the installation itself.

A professional installation—along with other hardware such as AC outlets, USB charging ports, a fuse block, fuses, wiring, and shore power hookup—are all required elements in order to get the most out of a component-based power system and match the features of a portable power station.

We cannot speak for all installers, but depending on the complexity and size of your setup, this could add an additional cost of $2,000 or more. Individual needs may vary, so we leave this up to you to decide if the investment is worth it.

Gas Generator - Honda EU2200i

Honda EU2200i gas generator
Compared to the many features that the above component-based system offers, a gas generator is a single-function device that can only provide AC power. While this solution is certainly more straightforward, it comes with a few major drawbacks—namely cost and noise.

This popular generator from Honda may seemingly outperform the PowerHouse 767 in terms of capacity or runtime, but the obvious limitation here is ongoing fuel cost and maintenance. Plus, without the ability to provide DC power such as through USB outlets, or the fact that it can't be used indoors, the overall practicality of a gas generator is perhaps best left as a last resort.

Cost? $1,199 + fuel

Anker PowerHouse 767

Anker PowerHouse 767 Portable Power Station
Finally, we have the PowerHouse 767.

Gone are the days when a portable power station could not offer the same performance as a component-based system for RVs and buses. Not only can the PowerHouse 767 match the power and features that Chuck Cassady has been installing for years, but it can also do so with greater portability, ease, and cost-effectiveness.

Additionally, its four AC outlets, three USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, two 12V car outlets, and a 30 amp plug for RVs far outshine the capabilities of a gas generator – or the extra hardware cost that a component-based system would require.

As an all-in-one solution, it's easy to see why portable power stations like this one are growing in popularity as a viable alternative to the more conventional power systems for RVers and buslifers.

Cost? $1,999

How Does the PowerHouse 767 Compare?

the PowerHouse 767 Compare

Conclusion

When it comes to powering your RV or bus, a portable power station like the Anker PowerHouse 767 is by far the most cost-effective and convenient option. Not only can it match the features of more complex component systems, but its portability, ease of use, and impressive range of outlets make it an all-in-one solution that can even surpass them in some cases!

To learn more about how portable power can benefit your life on the road, visit Anker Power now!

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