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As far as I know, a SATA connection would power whatever hard drive is connected to it. I've had an SSD in my 2009 Macbook Pro for a couple years now and its been fine.
I mean, some USB devices such as external DVD writers etc can require two USB ports (one to power one to read) but I highly doubt this would be the case with a 2.5 Internal HD.
Most likely your sister just needs a new battery as they burn out after X amount of cycles (one charge and full drain = 1 cycle). The amount of cycles your Battery has had can be seen in the Power Section of the System Report on your Mac. (click on apple in top left, about this mac, more info, system report, power, battery info)
After around 1200 cycles your Battery will start to fade and eventually die out. Sounds like the "Genius" guy in the store was just trying to find an excuse to make her purchase an upgrade rather than offer a legitimate fix to the problem.
Also, if you do get a new battery DO NOT get it from Apple as they charge around $150 for the battery and fitting service, you can get official ones on eBay much cheaper and do it yourself no prob.