Do I Need a Generator ?
Do I Need a Generator?
One of the key components of an off-grid system is the generator. Most people do not use a generator as their sole source of power, but choose rather to have a “backup” generator. The reason soon becomes obvious—the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. For the times when your solar or wind power system is not producing enough power, if you want electricity you’ll need a backup generator.
The purpose of the backup generator is to recharge your batteries when your primary system is not producing enough energy to do the job. Generators can be set up to start automatically and turn off when batteries are fully charged, or can be turned on and off manually.
When we started our project, we started with a portable generator to supply our power needs until permanent systems could be completed. The first one was a 7.5 kw industrial diesel generator that worked well—until it broke down. Then I found that parts were no longer available for that model. I now had a 200 lb. paper weight on the property. Unfortunately, this was to be the trend with all the portable generators to follow – they would either break down right after the warranty period or parts would not be available, or both.
A portable generator is OK to start with, but if you can afford a good quality permanent generator, the sooner the better. I believe it will serve you much better in the long run than the cheaper models. Also, you may not want to incorporate a lower quality generator into your power system for fear that it could damage your expensive power equipment.
What Kind of Fuel Should I Use?
It’s up to you. When choosing a generator, there are three basic fuels – propane, gas, or diesel fuel. Many people choose propane generators because they are clean and quiet. We had propane on the property for water heating and cooking so it was an option, but I chose diesel. Part of the thought process goes back to “ Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket.” If the water heater, the stove, and the generator all ran off the same source, and we lost our propane, we would lose the generator too. By diversifying our fuel sources, we increased our odds of having functioning systems in the event of a major catastrophic event – we hope.
Our generator is a Northern Lights 6 kw. diesel generator served by a 110 gal. tank. It has served us well thus far and the parts are available. In fact, I bought extra parts so we could hopefully reduce the down time in the event the most common repairs are needed. Of course the goal is to have enough solar or wind (or both) to not need the generator very often. The less burning of fossil fuels, the better.
One word of caution. If you are planning on incorporating your generator into your system so it will automatically turn on to charge your batteries when they get too low, you may want to order one already set up that way from the factory. I did not do this, so I have to turn my generator on manually when I need it. I hope you can avoid making the same mistake I made. There are “generator start control modules” available to auto-start some generators, but I have not been able to get one to work on mine (yet).
A good backup generator is an important investment. It is important to do as much research as you can to determine the right generator to meet your needs. That’s what I’d like to emphasize the most. Determine your needs, your goals, fuel availability, your environment, and then --- look before you leap.
"...look before you leap".