If you follow CleanTechnica, you’ve probably seen us review several Jackery solar generators that we’ve been sent for review (disclosure: we get to keep the units after review). In my case, I’ve reviewed both the Explorer 1000 and the Explorer 1500, both with two 100-watt solar panels. Most recently, Jackery sent me the baby in their lineup, the Explorer 300. I have to admit, I was very skeptical of such a low-output solar generator, but its compact size and light weight has won me over, and I’m going to be keeping it in my personal emergency bag.
After reading the review, if you’re thinking of doing the same, there’s a killer deal on them this week. But, first let’s look at the unit’s pros and cons so you can make an informed decision.
Where The Explorer 300 Fits In The Jackery Lineup
Before I get into the meat of this review, I need to put the Explorer 300 in perspective.
Jackery offers a very broad variety of portable power stations and solar products. I haven’t tested every power station they have, but I’ve tested enough to know that they make a decent station you can count on in an emergency. In other words, the quality is there for every unit they sell, but the capability is what differs. So, you need to make sure you buy the unit that fits your individual needs.
If you’re looking to power appliances, power tools, or other high-draw devices, you’ll want the 1500 or the 2000. During a power outage, I couldn’t find anything in the house that the Explorer 1500 couldn’t run. Doing home improvement tasks, I’ve even found that I could run saws and a small jackhammer with it. You can’t run a space heater all night with it (at its top-rated power output, it will only last about an hour), but it’s got plenty of power for lower power devices and tools to last for hours at a time. It could run LED lighting for a few rooms all night for several nights before it needs a charge.
The downside to the 1500 is that it’s bulky, expensive, and heavy. So, if you need the power, it’s great, but if you’re not needing all of that capability, it’s not worth it.
Around the middle of the pack is the Explorer 1000 (my review here). It’s got enough power to run most household appliances, but a toaster oven, microwave, or larger space heater is too much for it (it safely shuts off if you draw too much power). Like the 1500, it has a big battery that can power its maximum load for around an hour, or a small load for many hours. The other downside to the 1000 is that it won’t tell you how long it will last with a given amount of power draw the way the 1500 does, but with some simple division (1000 watt-hours, divided by the watts the display says it’s pulling) you can figure that number out.
The Explorer 300 is almost at the bottom of the lineup, but what it lacks in power, it makes up for in convenience. The small size and weight means you can put the thing in a backpack or carry it around by its handle without having to work hard. Its maximum power output is 300 watts, and if you were using all 300 watts, it would last about an hour. Once again, with lower power use, it can go a lot longer. It also has the same display as the Explorer 1000.
My Testing of the Explorer 300
I’d have to say that the coolest feature of the unit is the built in bidirectional USB-C charging. Here’s an image of it charging my laptop with a cheap USB-C to USB-C cable:
With my Dell XPS 13 running Ubuntu Linux, it only pulls 5-8 watts at idle after the battery is charged. Even crunching tough numbers decoding radio signals (I’ll get to that in a minute), the laptop only pulls 15 watts or so. That means it would theoretically run for 60 hours at idle and 20 hours being used on the Explorer 300. Charging my particular laptop takes 35 watts, and it seems like it could charge it 3-4 times.
Being able to directly charge my phone, laptop, and other USB-PD devices is cool, but what’s even cooler is that it can charge from my laptop’s USB-C charger, too. This has made testing extremely handy.
Even charging a phone, a handheld ham radio, and a power tool battery, it only pulled about 40 watts (it was 37 when I took the picture). In an emergency, that means it could do a lot of device charging for a family with no problem.
If you’re somewhere with no power, or you’re experiencing a long power outage, you can keep the Explorer 300 charged up using solar power. If you use a Jackery Solar Saga 100 watt folding panel, it will charge up in approximately 5.5 hours (if you keep it in good light, facing the sun).
I highly recommend Jackery’s solar panels, but if you need something that folds smaller, say to fit in a backpack, the Explorer 300’s charge controller can accept power from other 12-18 volt solar panels. This requires some soldering, crimping, taping, or an adapter, but this is obviously not supported by Jackery the way their panel would be. I’ll say that Amazon is your friend on this one. I personally have used it with a smaller 60-watt panel (actual power was usually around 40 watts), which would charge it in 8 hours.
Bottom line: it’s a very versatile unit that can power almost anything small, and accept power from a variety of sources (solar, USB, or the included charger). Its small size even makes it a good substitute for an extension cord for many things around the house and yard.
You Can Get One For About $210 This Week
If you think this little power station would suit your needs, Jackery has a Black Friday deal going this week. It’s normally about $300, but with the 30% discount, you can get one for about $210. When you consider that it’s a lithium battery, solar charge controller, and multi-voltage power inverter, plus laptop charger, that’s a steal.
20-30 Watts Can Do A Lot More Than You Probably Think
While I’m going to explore this more in another article, I want to point out that this little power station can do a lot more than most people imagine. Using only 20-30 watts (the Explorer 300 could do this for ten hours), I was able to power my laptop, a Yaesu FT-818 6-watt multiband transceiver, and an audio interface (kind of like a modem) to connect the radio to the computer.
I connected the radio, which runs on 12 volts, to the Jackery box via the cigarette lighter-style plug, and that gives far more power than the radio needs. The laptop was powered by the Jackery’s USB-PD port with the USB-C to USB-C cable I already had.
With that, I was able to use a basic wire antenna on my roof or a “slinktenna” strung between two trees to communicate to anywhere in North America by bouncing my 7, 10, or 14 MHz HF or “shortwave” signal off the ionosphere.
Many of these stations reported back, so two-way text communications was possible even though all I did was string some wire up in my backyard. With a better-placed antenna, I’ve had text conversations with people in Japan, Italy, and Australia, but I just moved and couldn’t do that just yet.
While most friends and family aren’t willing to get a radio license and pay ~$800 for gear, being able to get word out to the outside world after a disaster is a great thing. If my little town lost contact with the world (an errant backhoe operator did this once), I’d be able to send “I’m alive and OK” messages out for people in my neighborhood, so their loved ones will know they’re fine. Or, if we’re not OK, we can let authorities know that there are people in need of assistance.
So, don’t ever assume that a small trickle of renewable power isn’t useful. It can literally save lives. Plus, I can fit all of this gear in a backpack.
All images in this article by Jennifer Sensiba.
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