Generating Interest: Choosing an Off-Grid Generator
An off-grid generator is a must-have in many situations. Whether you’re at a job site, hosting an outdoor event, or taking an extended camping trip, having a generator on hand can make all the difference. These machines are also used to power off-grid homes or to provide backup for homes and farms in case of a power outage. There are plenty of off-grid generators to choose from in today’s market, making it easy to find one that’s perfectly suited to your unique needs. Use this buying guide to learn about the different features you should look for when shopping for an off-grid generator.
The main factor in deciding which generator is right for you is the size, which is typically correlated with the power level. Every situation is different, so you’ll need a basic idea of how much power is required to run the electrical items you need before you shop.
For a backup generator for a typical American household, you’ll likely want a minimum of 10,000 watts (or 10 KW). Shoot for a larger model with 25,000 watts or more if you don’t want to have to pick and choose which items are powered by the generator.
For more specific uses, a much smaller off-grid generator will likely suffice. For example, running a simple machine at a job site might require only 2,000 watts. Similarly, many off-grid homes will probably use their generator only as a backup when solar and wind energy run low, so a smaller generator is likely to be sufficient. Find out the power required to run your essential electrical appliances or tools to get a better idea of what size generator you require. You can look at the nameplate on each item to add up the total wattage required.
When shopping for off-grid generators, you’ll come across the following three fueling options:
- Gasoline: Gasoline is the fuel of choice for those who want a budget-friendly generator. It’s the cheapest fuel option, but since gasoline is flammable, users must take safety precautions when storing their fuel. Gasoline also needs to be drained from the tank when not in use since it can damage the generator if left to deteriorate. This fuel option is best for standby generators that won’t be used consistently.
- Diesel: Diesel is a very reliable fuel option, and generators using this fuel are typically some of the highest quality. However, diesel generators tend to be expensive, storing diesel requires strict safety precautions, and this type of fuel produces the most air pollution. As an alternative, users can power their unit with biodiesel to make it more eco-friendly.
- Propane: Propane is the most convenient type of generator fuel. It’s easy to transport and store and is relatively affordable. Users also appreciate that propane is the cleanest-burning of the three fuel options and has the least noticeable odor. Unfortunately, most models are fueled by gasoline or diesel, so it’s more difficult to find a propane off-grid generator. In addition, they can take longer to start compared to the other two fuel types.
Choose a fuel type that works best for your budget and your application. Generally, diesel and propane generators are used for consistent or professional applications, while gasoline generators are reserved for standby use.
Off-grid generators are equipped with one of two main starter options. Today, many users prefer an electric start. This is essentially a push-button starting method that is powered by a battery. It’s the easiest and fastest way to power up a generator, but you’ll have to remember to keep the battery charged to use it.
A starter rope is the more traditional type of starter. It takes longer to start up and takes some physical strength to get going, but you don’t have to worry about whether the battery is charged up or if it will die at an inopportune time.
One thing some buyers overlook when shopping for off-grid generators is the level of noise they produce. Generally, high-powered generators are quite noisy, so it’s important to consider whether that will create problems in your daily life. Will it keep you awake at night or bother your neighbors? Will it upset your pets? Will it make it difficult for employees to do their job? Think about where the generator will be installed and whether you need to consider the level of noise produced.
If you do require a quiet off-grid generator, look for models with a low RPM. You can also look for generators that have been certified by the U.S. National Park Service for use by RV campers, as these models are generally quieter when they run.
Some generators come with an inverter option; they are often referred to as inverter-generators. Essentially, these units put out an alternating current, which is then converted to DC voltage and then “inverted” back to AC voltage. It allows for a constant flow of current to your appliances.
In most cases, an inverter-generator is preferred because it is quieter and more efficient than a conventional generator. However, these models typically don’t reach very high power outputs, and they often are more expensive. In addition, if you are electrically sensitive (bothered by high-frequency EMFs), an inverter-generator may be grating on your nerves.
The main features you’ll need to consider are listed above, but there are few other factors that may influence your decision when buying an off-grid generator:
- Portability: Do you need a generator that can be easily moved from one location to another, or will it be permanently installed in one location?
- Enclosure: Will you need a weatherized enclosure for a generator that will be used outdoors?
- Price: What fits your budget, and when are you planning to buy your generator (prices often spike before big storms)?
Use this guide to make an informed decision about your off-grid generator purchase. Once you’ve found one that meets your needs, you can get power anywhere, any time.