I have been searching for a portable power station that can meet my energy needs on the go and power my home office during power outages for some time now. And with the Bluetti AC60, I found a compact solution.
The Need for a Power Station
Additional power on the road is always welcome. As photographers, we have quite some gear to charge, and we also want to review our photos, for which we have to power our laptops.
A few years ago, I rented an RV for a trip through France. Being a rental, its batteries didn’t have enough capacity for more than one day off the grid. Hence, I had to find powered campsites most of the time. Back then, a portable power station could have given me more flexibility.
But portable batteries are expensive and might seem hard to justify unless you’re on the road a lot. That’s why the perfect solution should also work in a home setup. UPS mode, which stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply, is a great additional feature for that. You can plug a station supporting UPS between the grid and the devices you want to power. In case of a blackout, the power station seamlessly takes over, and you don’t even notice that the grid is down.
Where I live, we don’t get many outages. In the last 12 months, we had two. Although annoying, it still doesn’t justify the investment in such a battery. But we also get plenty of thunderstorms, during which I usually unplug all my equipment. That time can add up, so in that case, a strong enough battery to power my office for a couple of hours would be a big plus.
Important Information About Power Stations
I was already aware that the inverters used in power stations to convert the DC current from the battery to AC, require power to operate. However, I wasn’t fully aware of the significant difference in efficiency that can result from using such power stations with different AC loads. If you use low-powered AC devices, the efficiency can drop to 70, 60, or even 50%.
This knowledge is essential when choosing a power station, as those don’t only come with varying capacities but also with different inverters. The Bluetti AC60, for example, has an inverter that can power an AC load of up to 600 watts in normal mode. For short periods, it can double the load. Bigger stations support even higher loads.
But bigger is not always better. If, for example, your typical load is less than 100 watts, the efficiency can be quite low for large stations. That’s why you should get a wattmeter before you buy a power station. Make sure to measure the load of the devices you intend to power and choose the battery’s capacity and power accordingly.
Thankfully, power stations like the Bluetti AC60 also include a set of DC outlets. The AC60 has one 12V car cigarette lighter port, which you could use to power a DC fridge, two 15-watt USB-A outlets, and even a 100-watt USB-C outlet. With such a variance of DC outlets, you often don’t need to use one of the two AC outlets, as even a laptop can directly plug into the USB-C. Charging your phone works wireless by placing it on top of the AC60.
The loss when operating the AC60 in DC mode is low. You’ll lose some power if the fan becomes active at higher loads. Otherwise, the efficiency is very good. I did a test drawing 60watts from the USB-C and got 90% efficiency.
But what about the AC efficiency? My office setup consists of a Dell XPS, a monitor, and a Sonos speaker – that’s it. At this relatively low load, I get an efficiency of 77% from the 403Wh battery of the AC60. It can power my office for 4.5 hours. For higher loads, the efficiency should increase, as I explained above and as other tests I’ve read confirm.
More capacity would have been welcome, but I guess there’s always a compromise with batteries, especially if they come with the set of features of the AC60. It’s very robust, made of high-quality materials, and water and dust-resistant. The inverter is also relatively strong for a battery of its size. Another great feature is its extensibility. The AC60 comes with two ports for plugging in Bluetti’s B80 packs. This way, you can extend the capacity to a total of 2015Wh.
The ideal use is to have the AC60 for the go, where you can mostly use its efficient DC outlets. You’ll value its compact size and weather-resistant build for that. An extension might be necessary to use it in the office for a longer time, and I hope to get my hands on one for a future test. So stay tuned for that.
What I love about the AC60 is its fast charging capability. The integrated inverter works both ways and allows you to directly plug the AC60 into a wall outlet for a maximum input of 600 watts. With it, you can charge the AC60 to 80% in less than an hour. I got to a full charge in 71 Minutes. In normal mode, it took about two hours. Note that you’ll again lose some power in the process. I measured an efficiency of around 90%.
On the road, the 12V cigarette port can also serve as input. Or you can get Bluetti’s PV120 or PV200 portable solar panels to get up to 200 watts of solar charging.
At the beginning of this article, I also mentioned the UPS mode. The AC60 includes this feature with a less than 20ms switch-over time. In the feature video, I show this mode in action. Be aware, though, that continuously operating such a power station in UPS mode will consume energy. I also noticed it with the AC60. Doing some research, I found that this is normal. However, as it may come as a surprise to some, I wanted to mention it here. It happens because the AC60 also draws energy from the battery to power its internal components. Because of it, the battery drops to 99% every 15 to 20 minutes. Recharging means an extra 15 – 20Wh drawn from the grid each hour. It can become a factor if you plan to use the AC60 in UPS mode continuously.
When buying a battery, it’s also important to understand the difference between Li-Ion and LiFePO4. Li-Ion batteries are more compact and offer a higher energy density. But they also have a significantly shorter lifespan and are less secure. The AC60 uses LiFePO4 batteries, which allow up to 3000 recharges until the capacity drops below 80%. It roughly equates to a lifetime of 10 years when used continuously. Bluetti backs the longevity of their products with six years of warranty.
And what about noise? Power stations produce heat and usually require a fan to handle it. With less than 45db when the fan is active, it is silent compared to many competitors. But as I show in the feature video, it might still be too loud if you intend to record videos in the same room.
The final feature I want to mention is the Bluetti app. Using the QR code on the AC60, it was easy to connect it. From the app, I get an overview of the different currents and loads in the AC60. I can also control features like fast charging or ECO mode. Firmware updates are also handled via the app. Those are important because the AC60 is still a very new power station, and Bluetti uses those updates to tune things like the operation of the fans, for example.
What I Like
Here, I want to highlight a few features I particularly like about the AC60. For one thing, it’s the robust build and the IP65 rating. When I bring it on a camping trip, I won’t have to worry about it. I also appreciate the 100-watt USB-C outlet. It’s perfect for powering my Dell XPS on the road. I was also surprised by the quick and efficient charging, which doesn’t require an additional adapter. I can plug the cable directly into the AC60 for charging.
There’s one more thing that can be a game-changer: the extensibility. By getting just one B80 from Bluetti, I could power my office setup for more than 13 hours based on the efficiency I measured. Now, that’s some piece of mind right there.
What Could Be Improved
While I appreciate the extensibility, it would have been nice for the AC60 to have more capacity. Comparable power stations usually pack 512Wh. With 9kg, the AC60 is also not very lightweight. The reason is most likely due to the use of LiFePO4 vs. Lithium-ion. Considering it, more weight for security and a longer lifetime is a good trade-off.
As for the inverter efficiency, I hoped it would be higher for my typical loads. As I wrote in the beginning, the advertised efficiencies usually refer to higher loads and ideal conditions. It’s good to know though, that the formula in the AC60 manual to calculate the efficiency is correct. I value such transparency, even though it requires digging a bit deeper. I downloaded the manual of some competing brands, trying to find a similar formula, but I couldn’t.
The Bluetti AC60 is currently available for $699. It is a robust and feature-packed power station strong enough to supply power throughout a weekend photo adventure. The installed LiFePO4 batteries and the 6-year warranty provide some piece of mind after making such an investment and its extensibility flexibility. And while for me, the capacity of the AC60 is sufficient for now, it’s good to know that Bluetti also has bigger stations in their AC line. As I wrote in the beginning, first measure how much power and capacity you need to make an informed decision.