West Mountain Radio PWRGate

12v shack backup. Choose quality powergates over junk

Last Updated on September 1, 2022

Powergates for 12v backup power

Powergates, power paths, PWRgates, power plus, power mini, there are so many names for devices that switch to a battery for power when your mains supply fails. These devices are suited to both shack and portable use. Some have solar panel inputs without the need for solar regulators as it’s all built-in.

Choosing quality power switching over junk for your shack’s 12v backup is super important. With our planet warming, long days of extreme temperatures put a greater demand on electricity grids increasing the risk of failure, not to forget the extreme weather. This post will give you an idea of where to start for your shack 12v backup.

When it comes to a reliable power supply you really do get what you pay for. The next time you’re without power for an extended time, being able to rely on your battery backup system is priceless.

12v backup

Our climate has changed.  The stable climate we once took for granted has made way for climate instability.

Ferocious storms, fires and floods are now the norm, and with this ever-changing environment comes power uncertainty. Australia has seen one in one hundred year disasters become an annual event. Our daily news services are now full of climate-related events on a global scale.

Long days of extreme temperatures also put greater demand on electricity grids.

12v backup
VK3TWO and VK3KRD portable on Mt Macedon

As amateur radio can provide essential communication in times of need, a reliable and long-lasting power supply is now essential in the shack and in the field.

Fortunately, solar and battery technology is becoming cheaper and better but beware of the cheap and nasty switching components that can render your battery backup system worthless in a time of need. You wouldn’t want to connect a poor-quality power switching device into your station radios or even your IC-705 if you’re portable.

Battery Technology

Battery technology is constantly evolving. The ability to store energy is becoming easier and cheaper, but the care and handling of batteries needs to be considered. LiPo or Lithium polymer batteries for example are capable of delivering very high current. They need to be charged on a cell-by-cell basis and are used in devices from mobile phones and laptops to jump-starting a car.

If you’re building your own battery packs, consider using a battery management system to look after the charging and use of batteries. LiPos are ideal as compact power supplies for portable amateur radio use, but what about a battery for the shack?

Most probably think of a car battery as a source of 12v for the shack but they’re cranking or starting batteries. Deep cycle batteries are more suited to the shack.

Car Battery V Deep Cycle Battery

Deep cycle batteries are more suited to the shack’s 12v backup.

AGM Battery

Deep cycle batteries have thick plates and can be discharged down to 80 percent or deep cycled time after time without causing damage. Starter batteries however deliver short, high-current bursts to crank an engine, meaning they frequently discharge only a small part of their capacity.

The life span of a deep cycle battery depends on how it’s used, maintained and charged, as well as external factors such as temperature. How often and how deep you deep cycle a battery also affects life span.

While it’s almost impossible to provide a definitive life span, an AGM or Absorbed Glass Mat deep cycle battery usually lasts between four to eight years, a gelled deep cycle battery for two to five years.

Integrating a battery into the shack

Integrating a battery into the shack requires a bit of thought such as where to store it, cable distance and voltage drop, longevity, and most importantly, charging.

Deep cycle AGM batteries are top of the list for shack backup batteries. Charging is a very important consideration. Deep cycle batteries will self-discharge if left without a load over an extended period of time and storing in an uncharged state can cause sulfation and damage performance.

Keeping your battery primed and ready for use requires a device know as a power gate. A power gate switches between two sources of power for the shack – the mains-connected power supply and the backup battery.

When power is lost to the shack the power gate will switch seamlessly to the battery. Power gates can be used in the files as well.

The current rating and voltage drop of the power gate needs to be considered. If you just want to power a 50w VHF radio, then your current requirements aren’t as much as if you want to power several radios, the low voltage shack lighting, and maybe a low voltage computer monitor.

From personal experience, not all power gates are the same. You get what you pay for. Steer clear of the cheap brands as they’re cheap for a reason. Usually, the quality of components and workmanship is lacking. The Chunzehui Power Path is a good example of cheap and nasty.

This product is rated at 30 amps of continuous power and sells for around $40 USD. It failed within 2 days of minimal use with the destruction of one of the MOSFETs despite operation being well below the values specified. The subsequent replacement also failed in a similar period of time. Replacement parts for the Chunzehui Power Path are non-existent… well not that I could find.

Introducing a quality powergate

A product which you’ll pay a good price for is the West Mountain Radio Epic Power Gate. It continues to perform as the product description states doing exactly what the manufacturer promised. This product, which sells for $190 USD, supports a continuous current of up to 40 amps and battery charge rates of up to 10 amps.

The Epic charges a variety of batteries. It has LED indicators which shows the state of the device, and a USB port which also shows on-screen battery voltage, charge rate, and charge mode.

The best feature of the Epic power gate is the facility for a solar panel. A 250 watt panel on the shack roof will almost eliminate the shack power supply for RX use with the added benefit of reducing your energy bills.

There are many other features of this power gate designed with the amateur radio operator in mind.

In these times of power uncertainty, a charged battery in the shack to provide many hours of uninterrupted operation would have to be high on the list of things to set up.

If this is on your to-do list, shop around and read the specifications to make sure what you purchase meets your needs and is right for your shack. It’s also prudent to read the product reviews as someone else’s pain may be your gain. Keep your DC cable lengths as short as possible and use cable that’s capable of high current.

When it comes to a reliable power supply you really do get what you pay for. The next time you’re without power for an extended time, being able to rely on your battery backup system is priceless.

West Mountain radio PWRgate internal view

West Mountain Radio PWRgate. Ideal 12v backup for the shack