Three generators side by side

Everything you need to know about portable generators – see Geek

Duromax / Blueity / Westinghouse

If you regularly host outdoor events or are concerned about the contents of your freezer during a power outage, buying a portable generator is a good idea. But not all generators are the same, and each type has its pros and cons.

People buy a portable generator because they need temporary electrical power away from the regular power grid. This could be because your power is out and you want your appliances to run, or maybe you host outdoor events regularly; You may just want more comfort while camping.

There are three main types of portable generators (conventional, inverter, and solar), and they are unique enough to meet almost every requirement. Your needs may include fuel economy, low price, high production, reliability, versatility, and portability. Concerns can be things like safety, noise, and environmental impact. Whatever you are looking for, one of the three types of portable generators should be a good fit.

conventional generators

Westinghouse generator with wires attached to it
Westinghouse

The main advantage of a conventional generator over other types listed in this article is its power output. While there is a full range of conventional generators, they usually have an output of at least 4,000 watts and up to about 12,000 watts. While this is overkill if you want to hook up an audio system for a family barbecue, it’s ideal if you’re going to be running several large appliances during a power outage. It is also cheaper than a solar generator or inverter.

This increased power has a cost. Conventional generators run at full power all the time, so if you buy an 8000 watt generator it will produce 8000 watts whether you like it or not. This won’t cause anything to explode, but it can be considered a waste of fuel if you don’t need that much power. Conventional generators are also louder, worse for the environment, and less mobile than other options on the market.

As with other fuel-powered generators, there are safety issues to consider. Thousands of people are hospitalized or killed each year while using generators improperly. A conventional generator runs on fossil fuels, usually propane, gasoline, or diesel. Higher priced generators can be “dual fuel” and run on more than one power source, usually propane and gasoline.

Propane is safer to store and will not expire if stored properly, but gas and diesel degrade over time. Fossil fuels are highly flammable and need to be stored properly. Fuel-based generators emit highly toxic fumes, so never use one in an enclosed area. Set up your generator outside and away from any windows.

inverter generators

inverter generator in picnic

An inverter generator is similar to a conventional generator but has one important difference. Unlike a standard alternator that runs continuously at maximum capacity, an inverter produces only the same amount of power you need. The two main benefits are fuel savings and noise reduction. A generator that doesn’t work as hard doesn’t use as much fuel, and will be noticeably quieter.

Inverter generators tend to be smaller than standard generators, and their efficiency means they require smaller fuel tanks. This makes it much more portable than a lot of traditional generators.

The main downside to the inverter generator is the price. They are often between 20% and 100% more expensive than a standard alternator, and there are not many good and cheap options. However, the additional fuel efficiency mitigates the increase in price, especially when gas prices are rising. A good and efficient inverter generator may balance out the price difference very quickly.

Inverters also tend to be less powerful than conventional generators, which range from 2,000 watts to 4,000 watts. Standard generators usually range from 4,000 watts upwards. Like the price issue, you can mitigate that—although the repair is expensive. You can run most inverter generators in parallel with another generator, doubling the output.

You should consider an inverter generator if portability and efficiency are more important than raw output. If you go camping regularly or host many small outdoor events, an inverter generator is perfect for you.

solar generators

Solar generator on the lawn

Solar generators are the most affordable option, costing seven times the cost of a standard fuel-powered generator. Price is not the only issue. With fuel-powered generators, production is stable and guaranteed. However, solar generators that require sunlight can be affected by things like cloud cover, position location, and day length – so they’re nowhere near as reliable as their fossil fuel counterparts. Solar generators store energy in a power bank, which manufacturers hope will notify you in any cloudy spots. But the power bank will not charge when it is working at capacity.

Solar generators come with a set of solar panels that need to be placed outside and connected, so they take up much more space and are less portable than a regular generator.

Current solar generators provide much less electrical energy than their fossil fuel counterparts. Most generators available have less than 1,000 watts of output. If you choose a top-tier model, you may get 2000 watts. This is enough to power something like a refrigerator, but not much. Because of the low output and reliance on direct sunlight, I would not recommend purchasing a solar generator for emergency use.

Not all is bad. Solar generators also have some important pluses. The absence of a motor means that it is completely silent. Sunlight is free, so solar generators cost nothing to run after the initial purchase. Fuel prices often fluctuate, so determining an accurate running cost of gasoline and diesel generators is not easy. However, the solar generator will pay for itself if you use it often. You can also charge your solar generator from panels or other energy sources before you need it. You can then use your solar generator as a portable power station.

There is also an important safety aspect. Solar generators do not release toxic fumes – the panels still require direct sunlight, but you can place the generator’s power bank in an enclosed area without any danger. You also do not need to store large amounts of highly flammable fuel.

You should consider a solar generator if you are concerned about the environment and safety. Just make sure it’s within your budget, and that you have room to set up the plates.

Are there any comprehensive options?

Given the wide variety of generators on the market, there is likely to be one that comes close to your exact needs. However, if you want multifunctional software that can manage in most situations, you’ll need to balance output, portability, and reliability.

I think the best overall option is a high output inverter generator capable of producing at least 6000 watts. For your money, you’ll get something the average person can move around in and that can also comfortably operate basic equipment in an emergency.

While transformers of this output are quite expensive, it is still cheaper than buying two transformers to connect them to each other. They’re also quieter and more portable than similar conventional generators, so you can use them for events as well as standby power.

As with all high quality fuel-based generators, there is no compromise on reliability. Nor should there be. The item for emergency use must be reliable, otherwise it is useless.

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