Preparedness is a subject that has been close to my heart ever since a hurricane tore through my community back east, many years ago. It left many people completely devastated. Since that event, I have done a great deal of research in order to be prepared for any emergency. One of my first tasks was to investigate alternative forms of energy.
Power outages are one of the primary aftermaths of a natural disaster or other emergency. Lines get blown down, power stations get damaged, or gas lines get cut.
Boomers and homesteaders who are prepared can help keep a bad situation from becoming worse – not being able to generate heat, cook food, keep medicines cold or maintain life-maintaining medical devices.
One solution is the fuel-powered generator.
Types of Generators
Generators can be powered by a number of sources. Much of America’s power is generated by hydro-power – damned water rushing over turbines. We have wind power out here in the west coast. Lots of geothermal (natural hot water) as well. Back east, lots of power is generated by coal-fired plant. And it seems like solar energy is everywhere now.
We had a great guide in the September 2014 Independence Report on wood gas generators. They’re really something to consider, but can be a bit expensive to buy (although they can be very inexpensive to operate).
So, other than wind and solar power, none of these are practical for a single family. And if your life depends on it, wind power really isn’t an option… especially on calm days! And a string of cloudy days can drain the batteries from a solar powered system. We need something we can depend upon regardless of weather conditions!
Remember PACE – Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency. We want back-ups for our back-ups when our lives depend on it.
That brings us to fuel-powered generators.
As I found during my investigation, there are a few different options to choose from. It is best to consider them all to find that one that best suits your needs.
To begin, you have to decide which type of fuel is best suited to you, your family, and your particular situation. These machines run on many types of fuel including diesel, gasoline, liquefied petroleum and natural gas.
Those generators that use natural gas, are usually fixed or permanent. Those that use other forms of gas are available in portable models.
Gasoline is an extremely common and easily obtainable type of fuel. Gasoline generators are also widely available in portable versions and are reasonably priced.
One of the disadvantages of gasoline generators is the flammability of this type of fuel. Gasoline is extremely flammable and should never be stored in large quantities in close proximity of your living quarters.
Gasoline vapors are poisonous to humans and its storage life is relatively short in comparison to other fuel types, although this can be extended with easily obtainable additives.
One very important drawback of fuel generators is the cost of the fuel itself. While gasoline is generally readily available, it also seems to be the first commodity hit by inflation or international events. If someone in the Middle East gets indigestion, gas prices seem to rise! This type of generator is better for light loads and survival energy in extreme emergency situations.
Diesel is one of the least flammable types of fuel, and one of the least expensive fuels to use.
Like gasoline, diesel must be enhanced with additives to prolong its shelf life, as well as for it to function within sub-arctic conditions.
Even with this fact, it is usually less expensive than other types, especially when generator sizes and capacities are compared. Also, using “farm diesel” or “red diesel” – diesel fuel with red dye that is only allowed to be used in equipment and vehicles which do not travel on public roads – is cheaper due to no transportation tax being added to the price.
Diesel generators can be more expensive to operate in long term situations. This type of fuel may also be harder to obtain, as not as many pumps in fuel stations carry diesel when compared to the number that pump gasoline.
Many states and cities have regulations for hours of continued operation of diesel powered machinery. There are portable types of diesel generators available; however, fixed diesel generators are more cost efficient.
Natural Gas Generators
Natural gas (NG) generators are extremely effective and efficient, but are only used as fixed permanent generators. NG is a mixed formula of hydrocarbons, mainly consisting of methane, and may be produced from gas wells or in combination with crude oil production.
It may be stored in either a gas form, CNG (Compressed Natural Gas), or in a liquefied form known as LNG (Liquified Natural Gas). The latter is the most common. Natural gas is the one of the most emission compliant fuels, and is clean burning.
Natural gas is also one of the most convenient to store. For both vapor and liquid forms, small natural gas generators are relatively inexpensive when compared to others.
Portable verses Permanent Generators
It is essential to determine the situation you are preparing for when deciding whether a portable or permanent generator best meets your personal needs. Both of these have their benefits as well as disadvantages. Two of the most important items to consider are the availability of the type of fuel required and what it will power.
• Small, portable generators are considered to be in the 3,000 to 4,000 watt range. They are capable of powering items such as refrigerators, microwaves, sump pumps, televisions and a number of lights. Many portable generators use traditional engine fuels. There are some available that use propane, as well as types that are known as dual fuel. Dual fuel generators may use either gasoline or propane. It is important to remember that this type is also more expensive. The price range for portable gas generators is around $400 to $800.
• Small stationary and mid-sized portable generators output 5,000 to 8,500 watts. These types will power many of the same appliances as small portable generators, and a few more such as additional lights and heating systems. Mid-sized portable generators cost between $500 and $1,000, and small stationary generators are usually about twice that amount.
• Large portable generator output is around 10,000 watts. This type of generator adds more options of which items in can power. Additions include small water heaters, electric stove ranges and central air systems. The price range for large portable generators is $2,000 to $3,000.
• Large stationary generator output is 10,000 and 15,000 watts. This type powers all of the appliances covered by large portable generators, as well as a few more. An example of additional items include washers and dryers. The price range for large stationary generators is $5,000 to $10,000 and this does not include installation costs.
While there are many options and considerations when choosing an appropriate generator, your selection will depend on cost, your individual needs and the resources expected to be available in emergency situations. It is important to keep in mind that the fuel required may not be readily available in emergency situations, so plan ahead and purchase sufficient amounts well in advance of needing it.
The purchase of a generator is a viable solution and should be viewed as an investment into your independence and safety.