As expected, after another round of promises that things will only get better, South Africa this week went into another round of Stage 6 loadshedding. That means no power for 12 hours out of 24, and the nation tearing out its collective hair.
Devices like uninterruptible power supplies and high-capacity powerbanks have already been essentials to keep devices running, or at least to switch them off safely. But when there is no power for half the day, such devices leave one distinctly, err, disempowered.
Portable power stations are a natural antidote, as they keep both office equipment and home appliances going through most stages of load-shedding. However, not all portable power is created equal. Most high-capacity options either break the bank or cannot be recharged fully between loadshedding rounds. Low-capacity devices that recharge quickly tend not to last through a 4-hour bout of load-shedding.
Now, the EcoFlow River 2 Max has come to the rescue. We’ve been using it for two months and, after it left us wondering if it had been an over-investment, it suddenly came into its own this week as load-shedding spiked again.
What is it?
The River 2 Max is part of the EcoFlow River 2 series of affordable entry-level portable power stations with up to 1kWh in power output. The River 2, River 2 Max and River 2 Pro offer increasing capacity at increasing prices. We opted for the middle ground, based on a combination of price, size, power and recharge time. The River 2 Max weighs just over 6kg, making it easily portable around a home, office or camping site. It delivers 500W from lithium-ion batteries that charge in an hour, using EcoFlow’s X-Stream technology to support up to a 360W AC input. That means it can always be ready for the next round of load-shedding.
We also paired it with EcoFLow’s 220W Bifacial portable solar panel, which recharged it fully in less than 3 hours. It can also be charged from a car or a USB connection. Initially, it was used to run a mini fridge, computer, WI-FI router and fibre access point throughout stage 4 loadshedding slots
Another EcoFlow technology, X-Boost, allows the River 2 Max to power higher-wattage devices that require up to 1KW to be powered up initially.
It houses an astonishing number of ports for plugging in a variety of devices, from USB-A and -C for smartphones and compatible laptops to car cigarette lighter style outlet to AC/DC outlets. It can be recharged from both a solar panel connector and a kettle cord power point.
Once loadshedding subsided – partly thanks to Government wanting to put on a good show for the BRICS summit in August – it did not stand completely idle. It joined us for a weekend in the Pilanesberg, where both power and connectivity are in short supply. The result: we did not notice power outages aside from flickering of lights when the source of power shifted from the mains to the Max.
This week, it became an essential item again, as our solar power failed to keep up fully with the new load-shedding schedule. That was partly the fault of an electric vehicle we were testing, and had plugged in to be recharged via solar power. It provided a good test of the portable power station’s ability to fill the gaps, and we were not left in the lurch.
What does it cost?
Recommended retail price is R12,999, from https://za.ecoflow.com/products/river-2-max-portable-power-station.
Why does it matter?
Solutions to stage 5 and 6 loadshedding are not only about the amount of power available, but also the recharge time between bouts of loadshedding. The longer the charging time, the less utility the device offers. The River 2 Max strikes a neat balance. As EcoFlow puts it, “now more than ever it’s important to ensure as many people as possible have access to flexible, reliable power for energy peace of mind .. renewable energy is no longer a luxury”.
What are the biggest negatives?
- It’s not a low-cost option, although it delivers great value for money.
- Can’t power a regular home appliance like a standard fridge.
What are the biggest positives?
- Long product life. With the average lifetime of portable power stations at around 500 cycles, meaning that they would have to be replaced after a year-and-a-half or so of daily use. Advanced LFP (LiFePO4) batteries on the River 2 series increases that six-fold, to 3,000 cycles. A 5-year guarantee backs it up.
- Recharges faster than any portable power station we’ve tested.
- Convenient and portable.
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee