Renogy Phoenix Generator

Renogy Phoenix Generator

I'm in a park a quarter mile from the nearest power outlet working from a laptop with two percent remaining on the battery, and I'm not the least bit concerned. I plug my power cable into an outlet in my briefcase, and, eureka, I have enough juice to charge my laptop five times over. And when that's tapped, I can get more power without moving.

The Renogy Phoenix Generator isn't just a 13-pound battery pack disguised as a briefcase. It's a mobile solar power station. Unhitch two latches and the briefcase opens like a clamshell to reveal two panels capable of siphoning 20 watts of solar power into a 16-amp hour (about 250-watt) lithium-ion battery.

Before I started using the Phoenix, I couldn't have told you the first thing about watts or amp hours. Now that I've used it some, let me state the obvious: the Phoenix isn't going to power your home. Heck, it probably won't power your hair dryer. But it provides more than enough juice to charge all of your gizmos through the unit's AC outlet, 12v lighter outlet and four USB ports.

Imagine you're at the beach, and, like me, can't refrain from checking your email. With the Phoenix, you can text and email with abandon while your kids try to drown each other. The unit is even water resistant, should you catch a splash. Or perhaps you're camping for some reason, and, naturally, ill-suited for any permutation of wilderness. You can plug in a portable radio and drown out the impending dangers with the reedy voice of Ira Glass. If you find yourself in the dark, the unit even includes a surprisingly bright flashlight.

The Phoenix requires a full day of direct sunlight to completely charge, though I got mine to 35 percent in a few hours by a window. (The unit includes a handy LCD panel that indicates remaining power and output usage.) Furthermore, because it supports external solar panels, you can go full survivalist and create your own mini solar array. (Renology even sells a compatible 100-watt foldable solar suitcase for $255.) If you max out solar capacity, you can charge the Phoenix in just a couple of hours of daylight. Procrastinators, don't fret. You can always charge on before reaching your destination by either plugging the unit into a traditional power outlet or your car's cigar lighter, both of which will cut the charge time in half.

At $700, the Phoenix isn't inexpensive, especially when compared with other battery packs. But the Phoenix is much more than a battery pack. It's a solar power generator, which, unlike a gasoline generator, will never run out of fuel, so long as the sun rises. It's simple to use, compact, and it won't leave your clothes smelling like petrol.