It’s a good idea to reduce power consumption whenever possible to save money and save the planet. During a power outage, if you are relying on a battery backup system to continue working, you can extend your battery life by choosing low power technology options. This document provides some suggestions for low power computing.
Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
An uninterruptible power supply can provide sustained high quality power to computers. Examples are the CyberPower 1500VA and American Power Conversion 1500VA systems. These units cost about $220 each and can provide 900 to 1,000 watts of power for about 10 minutes. Others with more power capacity cost more.
At a load of 100 watts, the American Power Conversion system can provide about 1.25 hours of power. The CyberPower unit is rated at 1,000 watts for 2.5 minutes or 500 watts for 10 minutes, and perhaps a similar runtime to the American Power Conversion system under a load of 100 watts.
For tech equipment it is important to have a pure sine wave system which is what these systems provide instead of a modified sine wave system. Also, the ability to handle high wattage output is important with traditional electronics that use more wattage.
These units are typically not designed for extended work, but only intended to help with brief outages and provide enough time to finish work, save files, and shut down if a longer outage is expected.
Portable Battery Power Pack Systems
A battery power pack system can be used during extended power outages to allow ongoing work with tech devices. This is particularly important for support providers to continue offering help to others in need.
Smaller units with USB connections are popular with travelers and those who need to recharge their devices on the go. [Examples]
Larger units are available that have USB and household AC outlets. These are popular among camping enthusiasts and RV owners. Popular brands include:
The Jackery brand seems to have the most models to choose from with different power capacities available.
This document will use the Jackery Explorer 240 as a basis for discussing low power tech options.
Output Watts and Watt Hours
When comparing portable battery power pack systems, there are two specifications to consider:
- OUTPUT WATTS. This measurement indicates how many total watts output can be provided at one time. This is the power load that the unit can handle. The sustained output watts is important because you will want to know that your devices when in use won’t exceed the capacity of your power pack. Some systems will also indicate a measurement of peak load which indicates a power demand that can be accommodated for a very brief time.
- WATT HOURS. The watt hour measurement conveys the length of time the power pack can provide power at a certain load. For example, a 300 watt hour system can provide 100 watts of power for 3 hours, or 30 watts of power for 10 hours, 2 watts of power for 150 hours.
Units that provide more watt hours will typically be bigger, heavier, and more expensive.
Low Power Computing
There are a few low power computing options to choose from. Your needs will determine what works best.
- SMARTPHONE. For many people a smartphone will be their primary essential tech device. With a smartphone it’s possible to make phone calls, check email, and browse the web. The smaller display may feel limiting, but otherwise, smartphones are powerful computing devices.
- An Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max has a larger size to accommodate a larger battery. It also has the ability to set the display to a static image or slow frame rate whenever possible. These two features result in an impressive 28 hour battery life. Fast charging of the device means you can charge up quickly, and then work for an entire day. During a power outage, this means you could significantly reduce your dependency on your available power sources.
- TABLET. A tablet device, like an iPad, Samsung tablet, or convertible laptop can offer good battery life and a larger display more suitable for some business tasks such as working on spreadsheets or full-page documents.
- An Apple iPad provides a larger screen than an iPhone, and depending on the work being done could last for 10 hours of use.
- LAPTOP. Some laptop computers use a lot of power. However, smaller lighter models may have lower power demands.
- An HP Stream laptop in the 11.6-inch size has a cost of about $220 and can provide 5 hours of use on a single 2.5-hour charge. [Learn More]
- In a real-world test using an older HP Stream of this size, at about 50% charge one hour was needed to reach full-charge. The power required to charge while the computer is being used is about 30 watts. As the unit gets closer to a full charge, the power load drops to about 20 watts.
- SBC SYSTEM. A single board computer is typically a computer that fits in your hand but can function like a desktop computer when used with a display, mouse, and full-size keyboard.
- A Raspberry Pi computer is one of the more popular SBC systems. While the computer itself can cost as little as $40, a system with a case, memory card, power cord, cooling fan, and other parts can cost about $150 for the kit. [Learn More]
- A low-power portable 15.6-inch HDMI display can be purchased for about $220. [Learn More] A 5-watt USB power source is all that’s needed to run the display.
- In a real-world test, using a Raspberry Pi with 8GB RAM, the power required was 2 watts using a USB A to USB C power cord connected to the Jackery Explorer 240. An external display powered with a USB A to USB C power cord was using 5 watts of power. So, a total of 7 watts was needed to power the system. Assuming the power load would remain consistent, a Jackery Explorer 240 could power that desktop computer system for about 34 hours.
Best Practices for Charging Devices
Many devices have fast charging modes that use higher wattage to reduce charge times. As long as this doesn’t cause overheating or damage batteries, it can be a convenient way to quickly charge a device.
Usually a fast charge will provide a very quick charge to reach 60% of a device’s battery capacity. Charging up to 80% can go fairly quickly. However, beyond 80%, modern devices may have slower charge times to reach full capacity.
Consider using the fast charge feature when available to quickly reach the highest level of charge possible in the shortest time. If charging is efficient, then you can spend as little time possible depleting your power source.
Low Power Devices are Cost Effective
When seeking out a portable battery power pack system, choosing low power devices can reduce your requirements for power.
For example, if you use the Raspberry Pi computer described above, you can operate for 34 hours on a Jackery Explorer 240 system costing about $200.
If you decide to use a power-hungry gaming desktop computer, you might get only 1-hour of use if using the Jackery Explorer 240.
To get more runtime for a power-hungry desktop computer, you may need to purchase several Jackery Explorer 1500 systems at a cost of $1,600 each. At 150 watts, you can go 10 hours on a charge. So, you would need three of these systems, stored with a full charge to be ready for 30 hours of computing during an unexpected wide-spread power outage. The cost would be $4,800. The cost per watt hour is about $1 compare to 10-cents for 1,000 watts from a typical municipal power system.
Low power devices can save you thousands of dollars.
If you’re seeking to build a wind and solar power system with battery backup, low power devices can reduce the cost of your entire renewable energy system.
Low Tech is Best
In terms of low cost and exceptional reliability, low tech solutions are often best. Instead of using LED lights and laptop computers, consider using candles for light with pen and paper for your writing.
Want to save energy when sending someone a lengthy message? Light a candle, then use pen and paper to write. When done, take a photo of what you’ve written and send it using email or a text message. That will require just a few seconds of battery power rather than 10 to 20 minutes or more.
Need to organize your thoughts or manage a tasks and reminders list? Don’t use note apps and task managers. Write on paper, and periodically take a photo of your documents as a backup.
Consider having a low-tech day once a month where you explore how many tasks can be accomplished using low tech methods.
Evaluate Your Needs
You may find that binge watching your favorite shows and spending all day on social media requires thousands of dollars in battery powered emergency energy systems. If that’s the case, you may not need a larger power system. You may need to consider a life change. What if you didn’t have any electricity at all? Could you accomplish all you want and need? If not, consider changing your needs.
Some people rely on healthcare equipment. It’s important to plan ahead and be prepared so life sustaining machines can be kept powered for days. If you life in a home, a power generator may be an option. Even if you have a power generator, consider having additional reserve power with battery-based systems.
There are many situations where having power available can provide a sense of security. The above document offers some points to consider for creating the system that best fits your needs.