Generators as an Emergency Power Source

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Generators as an Emergency Power Source

Many people, outside the prepping community, buy gasoline generators as an emergency power source. During the months leading up to Y2K the sales of these generators skyrocketed, as people everywhere expected the power to go out. The early months of 2000 was a great time to buy a generator at a discount price.

People still buy these fuel-guzzling generators today for emergency power, including whole house generators. I have a generator myself and I would use it for emergency power, if I didn’t have any other choice; but that generator is not actually part of my survival plan, it provides power for my workshop. Yet I know a number of people who don’t see any other option for providing power for their home, should they suffer a power outage.

On behalf of the generators, I will have to say that investing in a generator is much less costly than putting solar power on your home or buying a large wind turbine (some of the smaller ones are pretty inexpensive). But that’s where the cost advantage ends; any generator which burns fuel ends up being expensive to operate.

Generators are fuel hogs; there’s no two ways about it. I can run my 3.5KW generator for about 24 hours on a five-gallon tank of gas; but many generators the same size will use as much as 12 gallons per day. At current fuel prices, five gallons per day is roughly $10 per day or $300 per month. But then, my generator is s a rather small generator, definitely not enough to run my home.

A generator which provides enough power to run a large portion of my home can cost from $3,000 (15KW) to $13,000 (45KW), depending on the size. But the real killer is paying for the fuel it consumes. A 15KW whole house generator running on natural gas will cost about $48 per day to operate. That’s bad enough, but the same size generator running off of propane will cost about $140 per day to operate.

That may be worth doing for a short-term situation lasting a few days; but it would be hard to pay for over a prolonged period of time. At $140 per day, that 500 gallon propane tank is only going to be enough to run the 15KW generator for 8-3/4 days. It won’t last as long with a larger generator.

So, even if someone does invest in one of those generators, they really can’t expect it to be a long-term solution. They’re going to need something else as well, probably wind and/or solar power.

But if you were to buy a generator, how big a one would you need? That depends on how much you expect to run off of it. You would have to come up with a list of your critical energy needs and total up how much power they consume. That’s the generator size.

There’s only one problem with that; generators are normally rated in watts of kilowatts of power; but most of the things you would be running off of them are rated in amps of power drawn. So how can you figure out what’s what?

  • To turn amps into watts, multiply amps by the voltage (120 volts)
  • To turn watts into amps, divide watts by the voltage (20 volts)

Keep in mind that those amperage ratings will be the maximum that the particular item will draw. So, there’s a little play there. To get a more accurate reading, you’d have to actually run the equipment and take measurements of how much power it draws. But by going with the rated amperage draw, you will be sure to have enough capacity.