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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Guest Post: A look at Generators, By Northern Raider


© 2011Northern Raider
The home of serious Preppers in the UK

Many Preppers are looking to buying Generators to run their homes and retreats after TSHTF so I thought I would have a look at the subject.

There are as many types of generators as there are types of Prepper, Petrol, Diesel, Propane, even multi fuel and the rare oddity of a steam powered one I am told.

Generally the large PLANT type generators used in hospitals or as factory back ups wont feature highly in Preppers plans because they basically are to big and to powerful and just use to much fuel, But after TSHTF Groups or Coops of Preppers may salvage a plant size genny from a dealer to run a Prepper community’s power needs.

They could possibly be fuelling it with home made bio diesel, SVO (Straight Vegetable Oil) or scavenged oil based fuel. But that would be a long term ambition for established groups and probably only in conjunction with a linked in Wind and Solar system as well. These beasts usually have water cooled systems plus battery powered starting systems and are huge heavy devices needing fork lift trucks to move, or are trailer mounted.

Individual but well motivated Preppers will normally elect to buy a far more modest generator one that is enough to provide emergency power for short and intermediate periods following a disaster or collapse.   Short term needs being such as power cuts because of storms, acts of terrorism or industrial action, days rather than weeks. Intermediate use would be from a week to possibly be up to 2 / 3 years of infrequent use, charging batteries, cooling freezers, pumping water from streams to header tanks, and lighting the retreat after dusk etc.

First off is the budget portable 2 and 4 stroke petrol powered generators so beloved of campers and RVers.  I believe 2 strokes are just too noisy, smelly and unreliable for Preppers needing to be feed both oil and petrol to work reliably, these are usually exceedingly cheap with carbon brush fitted alternators and no surge or load protection systems and fairly low generating capacity.

Next is the 4 stroke pocket gennies, these too can be very basic and unregulated but for not much more than £250 (2011) you can buy cradle mounted 4 stroke gennies with twin 220 VAC outlets ( 110VAC in the US)  of around 10 amp capacity and often a 12 VDC outlet as well.  These come with various size fuel tanks but the average run time at full load is around 4 hours. The better makes and models with come with solid state regulators, transformers and surge protectors, have electronic ignition and brushless generators, a few high quality models come with skew wound five pole windings for higher efficiency.

I find there are concerns from some owners of silent suitcase gennies about them being very vulnerable to over heating because of the sound deadening materials used to make them sub 35 db quiet, a requirement of many campsites if you want to use one.

Most of the above can be adapted to run on bottled propane gas if needed which gives you more flexibility in your planning, check before you buy to see if conversion kits are available for your model.

Moving up the table we come to the more suitable portable diesel generator, Diesel fuel is safer to handle and use, far more stable than petrol, easier to find and much easier to store. Straight from the pump its shelf life is much greater than petrol if both left untreated without stabilisers and preservatives.

Diesel gennies tend to be heavier than their petrol counterparts because they are built to operate at much higher compression rates, Petrol running around 8.5 to 1 compression ration, diesel run around 22 to 25 to 1 compression ratios.   Diesel run much slower than petrol engines 1800 to 2200 RPM compared to petrol engines 3000 to 4,500 RPM.  

Diesels engines do not have ignition systems to go wrong as they are ignited solely by the heat created through the high compression rates. Petrol engines need spark plus, leads, capacitors, black boxes etc to provide the spark to ignite the fuel.  A well maintained diesel genny generally has a working life four times longer than a petrol engine and diesels are much more fuel efficient compared to petrol.

For Preppers wanting EMP resistant power supplies Hand Cranked Diesel Gennies with MECHANICAL fuel regulators and MECHANICAL INJECTION PUMPS are the items you want on your shopping list.

Naturally all enjoy frequent oil and filter changes as per the owners hand books.

Both the petrol and diesel generators discussed above are of the air cooled variety, if you can stretch to buying a somewhat heavier but better quality liquid cooled generator then I strongly recommend you take that option.

Liquid cooled gennies are far quieter than air cooled and being liquid cooled operate far more efficiently and reliably with a thermostatically controlled cooling system, these machines can have a working life in terms of decades rather than years.

Which ever type you get ensure you get the usual spares for it such as oil, water, fuel and particulate filters, spare belts, spare ring set, spare gasket set, technical manual, ignition components if its petrol powered.

Whilst being kept as a back up it is prudent and wise to start up the genny once a month to full operating temperature to drive out any moisture than may condense inside the crank case and to prevent the windings demagnetising, when finished completely empty the fuel tank if the fuel is not treated with preservatives or the fuel will deposit sticky lacquers through the fuel system often wrecking it in the process.  If you don’t run the genny occasionally it will eventually rust up and not work when you need it.

Try and use fully synthetic engine oils to lubricate the engine as unlike mineral oil synthetics does not contain any water vapour or moisture.