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Feel the Power (of a Backup Generator)

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David Ashton
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Niiice....
David Ashton   6/18/2014 8:39:07 PM
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Very nice Max.   In Zimbabwe we get power cuts (for load shedding) for 4-5 hours aa day.  When we were back there recently we had one for 14 hours.  But 10 days is a loooong time. 

We don't have piped gas in Zimbabwe so most people have a petrol (gasoline) or diesel generator.  Were I to go back there to live I would get a diesel one with electric start. 20 KW is a lot of power though I guess you would need it with air conditioning.  Air conditioners are rare (and not often needed) in Zim.  and most people have a small gas (propane) type 2-plate cooker  and cylinder for cooking when the power is off.  So you can get by with 2-5 KW.

I'd also get solar panels and some batteries and an inverter.  If you only want some lights and a TV and fridge you could get by with a 1KW inverter, and you wouldn't have the cost of the diesel or the noise (or the fumes, which get a bit oppressive when everyone has their genny running).

Would it be rude of me to ask how much your generator cost?

 

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Niiice....
Max The Magnificent   6/19/2014 9:21:04 AM
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@David: We don't have piped gas in Zimbabwe so most people have a petrol (gasoline) or diesel generator.

Everything is a trade-off -- given a choice I would have loved a big tri-fuel generator (just in case), but in reality I don't think I'd ever use anything but the natural gas.

I did some research at the beginning -- the beauty of natural gas is that it tends to keep on coming after all else has failed (excepting a MEGA-disaster like a big earthquake that breaks the lines -- and I'm hoping we don't run into that here in Alabama).

FYI While I was having the generator installed, I also had the house's main electric hot water tank replaced with an 80-gallon Natural Gas version that doesn't need electricity at all.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Niiice....
Max The Magnificent   6/19/2014 9:29:36 AM
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@David: Air conditioners are rare (and not often needed) in Zim.  and most people have a small gas (propane) type 2-plate cooker  and cylinder for cooking when the power is off.  So you can get by with 2-5 KW.

To be honest I would have been happy with less, but it was one of those "good," "better," "best" type choices. A solution that could run the entire house 100% would have been mind-bogglingly expensive. At the lower end I could have had something that would just have run the fridges and a few lights. I opted for a middle solution -- here in Alabama it can get really hot in the summer (it's about 94F these last few day sand it can easily top 100) -- it can also get %^&* cold in the winder with ice storms and suchlike. My generator is NOT hooked into the HVAC's emergancy heating coils -- just into the general-purpose heat-pump -- so it's enough to stop us boiling or freezing.

It's also nice to have most of the plug sockets powered up (you can plug in small lights and suchlike) -- plus the main family room's lights and TV and cable and Wi-Fi.

If we were just looking at the power going down for an hour here or there I wouldn;t have bothered -- it was loosing it for 10 days that was a "wake-up" call -- I opted for a solution that would keep us going for a while if things really went pear-shaped.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Niiice....
Max The Magnificent   6/19/2014 9:33:37 AM
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@David: Would it be rude of me to ask how much your generator cost?

I could have got it for about $4,500 if I'd purchased it directly over the Internet, and I believe they would have delivered/placed it where I specified, but if I wanted it moving after that it would have been my responsibility. I opted to let H.C. Blake purchase it because rthen they take full responsibility for installing it and maintaining it and everything, so it cost a bit more but I think it was worth it.

FYI The real cost is in the insrtallation -- adding the extra electric panel and the transfer switch and all that stuff -- it would be a much better idea to have this all installed from the beginning if you were building a new house.

Rcurl
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It's a secure feeling
Rcurl   6/19/2014 9:52:33 AM
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After the big blizzard about 20 years ago we were without power for more than a week. No power, no phone, no cell coverage...nothing.

After several days the snow cleared enough that I could drive to a friend's house where there was a working phone.  I was looking for a portable generator, but as you might expect they were in very short supply after a weather anomaly like the blizzard. I finally found a 5KW manual-start generator that someone had returned to one of the big box hardware stores and was fortunate enough to nab it. I set it up in the back yard and as I was uncoiling the cable towards the breaker panel the power came back on.

Well, it served us well for a number of years but it had the shortcomings that it was too small to run very much of the house, and being manual start, it was difficult for my wife to get it going by herself.  We looked at whole-house natural gas generators but couldn't afford one.

Last year I did some consulting work for a local generator company and while I was there I straightened out some problems with their phone system. I didn't bill them for it because it was a trivial thing for me. Apparently the phone system problems had been a BIG problem for them, because to show their gratitude they gave me a used 25KVA natural gas Generac system.  They even came out and did the gas plumbing!  All I had to do was the electrical part of the installation.

As you found out, it's really a secure feeling when the power goes out, there's a few seconds of silence, and then the generator springs to life. We've put 55 hours of run time on the generator in the last year.  We've got more than enough power to run everything in the house. If I had known how great these things are I woud have found a way to get one long ago.

 

Max The Magnificent
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Re: It's a secure feeling
Max The Magnificent   6/19/2014 9:57:02 AM
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@Rick: I set it up in the back yard and as I was uncoiling the cable towards the breaker panel the power came back on.

LOL Isn't it always the way? (I remember that big blizzard)

Max The Magnificent
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Re: It's a secure feeling
Max The Magnificent   6/19/2014 9:58:22 AM
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@Rcurl: ...to show their gratitude they gave me a used 25KVA natural gas Generac system.  They even came out and did the gas plumbing!  All I had to do was the electrical part of the installation.

FANTASTIC!!!  Did you do the electrics yourself? If so, I am VERY impressed!!!

Max The Magnificent
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Re: It's a secure feeling
Max The Magnificent   6/19/2014 9:59:50 AM
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@Rcurl: ...As you found out, it's really a secure feeling when the power goes out, there's a few seconds of silence, and then the generator springs to life...

It's also a secure feeling when the power hasn't gone out -- just knowing it's sitting there outside my house poised to spring into action makes me happy.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: It's a secure feeling
Max The Magnificent   6/19/2014 10:01:22 AM
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@Rcurl: If I had known how great these things are I woud have found a way to get one long ago.

I agree, me too.

I have no plans to move ... but if we ever do, one requirement will be a natural gas supply -- and if we ever build from scratch (if I will the lottery), then the generator will be in the specs from the get-go.

HankWalker
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The Neighbors
HankWalker   6/19/2014 11:45:24 AM
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I would save some circuits for any neighbors living within extension cord distance. When power was out for week+ in Houston after Hurricane Ike, those with natural gas generators would power their neighbor's fridge. Less power for yourself, but it builds up major "they owe you" neighbor credits.

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