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What the Tech? USB-C and Power Delivery Explained

By: Goal Zero Editors

What the Tech? USB-C and Power Delivery Explained

In our What the Tech? series, we break down complex terminology, take a look at emerging power trends, and shed light on the technology that goes into making our portable power, solar, and lighting solutions. Read on to learn about the latest developments in USB technology and how they will affect your charging experience.

When thinking about USB ports and connectors, USB Type A likely comes to mind. This is the flat, rectangular connector/port most commonly used in everything from computers and laptops to wall chargers and flash drives. Other USB connector shapes include USB Micro, Mini, Type B, and Apple Lightning.

However, a different USB connector shape has emerged in recent years, and it’s becoming more prevalent with each new iteration of popular phones, laptops, and more. Chances are, if you have a brand new MacBook or Android smartphone, you are utilizing USB-C.

What is USB-C?

Smaller and more slender than the well-known Type A, USB-C is designed with a reversible tip and no “up” or “down” orientation. This means you don’t need to flip the connector around several times to fit it correctly into the port. It’s sleek enough to be used in small, thin devices such as smartphones, but also capable of handling enough power to charge larger devices like laptops and computers.

USB-C can handle higher data transfer rates and higher current/voltage for new specs, which translates to faster charge times. But the key word there is can. It’s important to note that not all USB-C ports are created equal.

USB-PD Port

USB-C and Power Delivery

Situated on the face of our Goal Zero Yeti Lithium 1400 and 3000 power stations are two new ports: USB-C and USB-C Power Delivery. The first is merely a USB-C port that operates using the latest USB 3.1 charging standards at up to 3 amps. The second supports a dynamic fast charging technology called Power Delivery.

Power Delivery (PD) is a specification for handling higher power and allows a range of devices to charge quickly over a USB connection. It operates by facilitating a conversation between two devices to negotiate a power contract so they can determine how much power can be pulled from the charger. Power Delivery starts at the 5V setting and is configurable up to 20V. Using a standard USB-C cable, it can handle up to 60W, and will go up to 100W using a designated EMCA cable.

Another point of interest regarding Power Delivery is that it allows for power to flow both ways, with no set direction based on circuit or connection. For example, if you were to connect two phones that support Power Delivery with a USB-C charging cable, one phone could charge the other and vice versa.

Goal Zero Yeti Lithium

Choosing the Right Charger

When it comes to selecting the right charging solution for your USB-C device, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, Power Delivery rating is not the same as power bank rating. A power bank rated at 60W, for example, may refer to the the total output of all ports. Just because it includes a USB-C port, does not necessarily mean that port supports Power Delivery and will output 60W on that one port alone. Instead, keep an eye out for a charging solution that includes a USB-C port with a specific Power Delivery rating of up to 60W. Next, watch out for the voltage supported by the charger. Most only support a few fixed voltages which you’ll want to verify are supported by your device for the fastest charge.

In order to ensure you are getting the most from your charge source, be it a power bank or power station, it’s best to take a look at the adapter that came with your device and match the ratings with those of the charging device. Otherwise you may get stuck with a slower than expected charge rate.

Universal Charging Solution

Imagine a world in which one cable was the be-all and end-all charging solution for all of your gadgets. No more scrambling to cram multiple cords into packs and bags, or struggling to figure out which connector matches with which device. It’s never easy to know exactly what the future of charging will look like, but this could become a reality sooner rather than later. USB-C and Power Delivery are already on track to provide a universal charging solution for everything from phones to laptops thanks to broad industry adoption of the standard which takes the guesswork out of cable and charger compatibility.

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