Generators are a much needed piece of machinery for all businesses. Power outages, even minor ones, can delay operations and cause heavy losses. Work sites far from electrical grids also rely on generators to work necessary machinery and power lighting equipment.
Selecting the right generator for your needs
Assessing your business needs is the first step in deciding the type of generator you should purchase. These questions help you shortlist generators:
- What is the power requirement at your workplace? List the equipment that needs to be powered by the generator.
- Do you need immediate power backup or is a small delay acceptable?
- What kind of fuel does the generator use?
- How available is the fuel in your locality?
- What if any are the fuel storage requirements?
- Do you need a dual-fuel or tri-fuel configured generator?
- What is your budget?
- Are you looking for a specific brand name?
Types of generators
Generators are classified into standby and portable types. These are explained below:
Standby generators provide immediate power backup and are usually installed as permanent fixtures. An automatic transfer switch puts the standby generators back into standby mode when the power returns. The power output of a standby generator ranges from 7 kilowatts to several hundreds. Its motor is fuelled by natural gas, propane or diesel. Weekly self-tests that last around 15 minutes make sure the generator is working in peak order.
These generators are impermanent fixtures that can provide power for a few hours. They are generally used at construction sites and camp grounds to provide power for essential equipment. The fuel tank is usually built-in, and contains gasoline or diesel. Power output can range from 1-15 kilowatts to 200 kilowatts. Portable generators are typically cheaper and smaller than standby generators. Features to look out for in portable generators are - a large fuel tank for longer power backup, fuel indicator gauge, and sufficient number of receptacles to plug in equipment.
Important characteristics of a generator
The power of a generator is measured in watts (volume of the current) and volts (energy of the current). Important characteristics of generators are:
- Power output: All electrical equipment - bulbs, air conditioner, electric gate, septic tank, pump - have a power requirement. The generator should produce enough watts of power to work all the equipment at your site.
- Fuel: Large commercial generators use diesel as fuel. Diesel is delivered to the work site and stored in a tank. Though more reliable than natural gas, diesel is not a clean burning fuel. Natural gas and propane are drawn from utility pipes as and when needed by the generator. Portable generators usually use gas or propane; propane being the preference as gas cannot be stored for long.
- Warning: Portable generators should not be used indoors as it produces toxic fumes that can lead to serious health issues or even death.
- Motor speed: Generator motors can run at speeds of 1800 rpm (rotations per minute) or 3600 rpm. Motors that run at 1800 rpm last longer and make less noise than 3600 rpm motors that are smaller and lighter. Standby generators typically have 1800 rpm motors and portable generators have 3600 rpm motors. A branded motor makes access to maintenance and parts easier.
- Cooling mechanism: Generators use cooling mechanisms to prevent overheating. Liquid-cooling systems are quieter, reliable, and costlier than air-cooled systems that are louder and less effective. Larger generators of 20 kilowatts and higher are liquid-cooled, which is why they are quieter and more reliable.
- Safety features: Safety features not only protect the generator but also wiring, equipment, and the workers. A generator should shut down in case of overheating, loss in oil pressure, and overstress.
- Extra features: Steel or aluminum enclosures and good mufflers go a long way in reducing noise. The generator should also comply with relevant emission regulations.
A generator should be correctly installed to perform optimally. Usually, the dealer will offer installation, maintenance and delivery services or refer you to a licensed technician in your locality. Regular servicing makes sure the generator gives you many years of excellent service.