Tips for Choosing the Right Portable Generator

Generac Portable XG Series XG8000E Electric Start

Portable Generators Provide Power When and Where You Need it.

Portable generators make a lot of sense when you need power where there is none available. Job sites without utility service, campgrounds that lack electrical hookups, picnics, tailgating, and anywhere else that can’t be reasonably reached with an extension cord.

Fortunately, portable generators are available with capacities that range from less than 1000 watts to more than 15,000 watts. Whether you need a little power at a campsite or a lot of power on the job, there are portable generators designed to fit nearly every need.

Power Quality

A sine wave illustrating how current direction changes 60 times per second in AC current..

A clean AC electrical signal at the proper frequency and voltage provides the best power.

Portables can produce good quality power, but many do not, and that is especially true in the off-brand market where manufacturers save money by using low-tech speed governors and alternators, or inadequately sized motors.

The A-C signal should have a frequency of 60 hertz with a sinusoidal waveform, but as load increases, frequency drops as the motor slows and then current increases as the voltage drops with the frequency. The distorted power characteristics can play havoc with electronics and may damage motors.

Engine Safeguards

Generators are often used for extended periods of time. It’s not uncommon to start a job-site portable at the beginning of the work day and keep it running all day long. At the campground, operating a small refrigerator will require a generator that can run all day and into the night.

The Westinghouse WH1000i

Inverter Generators are Quiet and Fuel Efficient

One very important safeguard for engines is a low-oil shutoff feature. If oil levels drop to a level that could cause engine damage, the generator will shut down automatically before damage occurs.

Another safeguard that isn’t as obvious is an adequately sized engine. When generators run at their maximum specified power, an engine that is barely able to keep up won’t take additional load easily and wear increases dramatically. A better generator will have an engine that provides an adequate margin of power for the generator’s continuous load rating.

Backup Power

Generac model# 5875 shown with automatic transfer switch

Standby Generators are a Better Choice for Emergency Home Backup Power

Planning to buy a portable generator for use when the power goes out? Think carefully before you go ahead. Some manufacturers advertise their products for use during a power outage, but a portable generator may not be the best choice.

Unlike standby generators, portables are not automatic and they tend to be noisier and have shorter maintenance periods. They don’t start automatically and won’t run if you are not home to hook them up, start them, and keep them running with a continuous supply of fuel. If you can’t install a standby unit, a portable may help out—if you’ve properly prepared your home in advance.

The best connection is provided through a manual transfer switch and inlet box. The generator connects to the inlet receptacle with a heavy-duty cable from the manufacturer. The transfer switch isolates your home from the utility lines and powers a limited number of circuits from the generator.

A second option is to use outdoor-rated, heavy duty extension cords. These allow you to power individual appliances, but furnaces and other hard-wired appliances won’t have power.

Important Safety Note: Never backfeed your home through an appliance outlet. Online forums and blogs may say it is okay, but it is a potentially deadly practice that can kill utility workers or unsuspecting neighbors. Always connect the home with a manual transfer switch and a correctly sized cable.

Load Capacity

Wherever you plan to use your generator, choose one that will supply enough power for all your loads and provide a margin that prevents accidental overloading. Total the power requirements in watts for each load, then add the highest surge load to the total.

Briggs & Stratton Elite 7000 Watt Electric Start Portable Generator

Briggs & Stratton Elite Series products have heavy-duty components and features for long-lasting durability. They perform tirelessly around the home, farm or on the job.

Surge is the additional power a motor or other inductive loads require to start. Many motors use triple their running power as they start. A refrigerator that normally uses 900 watts will require 2700 watts for a second or two when the compressor motor starts.

If the power in watts is not provided for an appliance, calculate it by multiplying volts by amps. Amps should be provided on an appliance nameplate. In some cases, power is expressed as V-A, which roughly translates to watts.

A five-amp appliance that runs on 120 volts uses 120V x 5A = 600 watts.

Some generator brands list their models by surge load rather than continuous load. Compare these two models. Although they appear similar, one provides much more power than the other.

  • Company A offers the M-3500 with 4200 watts of surge power and 3500 watts continuous power.
  • Company B offers the S-3700 with 3700 watts of surge power and 2900 watts of continuous power.

Selecting a good portable generator that fits your purpose and your power requirements will ensure your investment provides long-lasting service and electrical power when and where you need it.

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Active Tropics Heat Up with Five Tropical Cyclones

As of this date, August 04, 2014, the ocean tropics are very active with five named storms.

Five tropical cyclones shown in the ocean tropics including Bertha, Iselle, Julio, Genevieve, and Halong.

Five Active Tropical Cyclones in the Ocean Tropics

East Coast

Bertha has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm. It is the second named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane Season and located several hundred miles east of North Carolina. Rapid weakening is expected over the next 48 hours as it moves north before turning east, likely as a post-tropical storm. Bertha’s main effect on the USA will be Rip Currents and high surf.

Rip currents are dangerous and may sweep a swimmer far offshore in a matter of minutes. If caught in a rip current, escape the current by swimming across (parallel to the shore) instead of against it. Most swimmers cannot swim against the current and will tire without making significant progress. Swimming parallel to the shore and away from the current makes it much easier to escape the effects.

Hawaii

Two storms will affect Hawaii later this week. Hurricane Iselle reached wind speeds of 140 mph as a Category 4 hurricane. It will make landfall on the Big Island of Hawaii late Thursday or early Friday as either a weak category 1 hurricane or a strong tropical storm. It will affect the smaller islands with tropical force winds, heavy rains, and high surf.

Approximately two and half days behind Iselle is Tropical Storm Julio which is gradually strengthening. Julio will probably reach hurricane status sometime in the next 48 hours and will probably retain its strength through the weekend. Current estimates have Julio sweeping the northeast coast of the Hawaii islands about 90 miles offshore on Sunday and Monday if it stays on its present course.

TD Genevieve and Typhoon Halong

Tropical Depression Genevieve in the Pacific Ocean presently has 35 mph winds as it moves northwest over the Pacific Ocean. It is expected to strengthen to a tropical storm on Tuesday, and become a category one hurricane by Saturday as it passes north of the Marshall Islands.

Typhoon Halong is a category four storm with wind speeds of 132 mph and is producing waves nearly forty feet high. The storm will retain hurricane strength for at least four days as it turns north toward Japan.

Forecast

The Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast has been reaffirmed as a below average year according to studies by the NOAA and the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Colorado. Cooler than normal ocean temperatures, strong high-level wind shear, dry dusty air from the Sahara Desert, and higher than normal air pressure at sea level over the Atlantic will prevent the formation of many tropical cyclones late this summer and into the fall season.

Thus far, the only named storms have been Arthur and now Bertha. Arthur passed over the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Bertha will miss the coast entirely. If the 2014 prediction is correct, only three to four more named storms are expected before November 30.

The Eastern and Central Pacific Ocean will remain very active for the remainder of the season. Another low pressure system located off the coast of Mexico has a medium chance of forming another tropical cyclone within the next five days.

Preparation

A blue plastic tub filled with emergency supplies including food, water, first aid kit, and numerous other items.

Keep a Portable Emergency Kit Stocked and Ready
(image via Ready.gov)

Residents of Hawaii should stay informed by monitoring broadcasts by National Weather Service and local authorities and by following instructions. The NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center has a detailed list of preparation instructions for residents.

Despite a below normal season, Gulf Coast and East Coast residents should remain prepared with planned evacuation routes in the event a hurricane threatens land. Service standby generators and keep maintenance supplies on hand to keep them running for extended periods. Have a ready bag of emergency supplies. Store potable water—one gallon per person, per day—for a week or more and non-perishable foods including canned meats and vegetables.

Mobile Link with Generac Guardian Standby Generator

Generac Guardian with Optional Mobile Link – Access your Generator Controller from anywhere

Portable generator owners should perform maintenance, rotate fuel supplies and keep them fresh with fuel stabilizers.

An NOAA weather radio can provide alerts 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep you informed of approaching bad weather.

Stay prepared. A hurricane or tropical storm can strike within days of forming. A less active than normal season still offers a good chance that a hurricane or tropical storm will reach land this year. Don’t be caught unprepared.

Image: Five Tropical Cyclones by NOAA NWS Ocean Prediction Center

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Basics of Home Generators for Emergency Backup Power

An infographic showing various severe weather types that impacted the USA during 2012.

2012 U.S.A. History of Extreme Weather

Events in recent years have punctuated the fragility of our nation’s power grid. Hurricane seasons over this year and last have been relatively quiet, but tornadoes, ice storms and other weather-related events have done their share to knocked out power.

There are always equipment failures and accidents, and with every outage comes the possibility of days without electrical power.

Trying to find emergency power during an outage is difficult. Home centers quickly sell out their inventory of portable generators and standby units take time, permits, and electricians to complete the installation.

Backup Options

Mobile Link with Generac Guardian Standby Generator

Generac Guardian Standby Unit shown with Mobile Link Option – Stay Connected 24-7 from anywhere.

The best option for homes and businesses are standby generators. They work with an automatic transfer switch to detect power outages and switch on automatically to supply electrical power when the utility cannot.

When the electric utility restores power, they turn off and switch back to the utility supply. Most residential and commercial standby generators operate on natural gas or propane which eliminates frequent refueling. Since they are fully automatic, they work whether you are at home or away on vacation.

Generac XG Series Portable Generator

8000 Watts of Portable Electric Power.

Portable generators can also supply emergency power, but they do not operate automatically. Typical operation involves starting the generator and connecting appliances with extension cords.

A better way is a manual transfer switch with an inlet box, which allows powering of furnaces and other permanently connected appliances. Portable generators usually run on gasoline and require regular refueling.

Maintenance

Maintenance kits offer items necessary to perform complete routine maintenance.

Maintenance Kits Keep your Generator Running.

Generators can run for extended periods of time. Just like a car needs maintenance, so does a generator. Check the oil with every fueling on portable generators and every 24 to 48 hours for standby generators. Top off the oil but do not overfill. Don’t forget to check the coolant level on liquid-cooled models and fill as necessary.

Oil and filter changes are required every four to six days (100 hours is typical) for portable generators and every eight to ten days (200 hours is typical) for standby models. Spark plugs change intervals run approximately every 400 hours of operation.

It is a good idea to keep a three week supply of maintenance items on hand for use during extended outages. With proper maintenance, a generator will offer years of service and thousands of hours of run time.

Power Capacity

candle with flame

A power outage can leave you with this for your only source of light and warmth.

Many homeowners will opt for a unit that delivers power for essential needs. Refrigerator, freezer, pumps, furnaces, and a few lighting circuits. The amount of power required for those items determines the size of the generator. Businesses often have fewer options for standby power and will usually select a unit that not only keeps essentials operating, but also keeps their doors open.

Fuel use is directly related to power consumption. Base consumption begins with the fuel required to start and run the engine, and then increases with the electrical load. The less power used, the less fuel is consumed.

Standby units begin at about 7 kilowatts and run up to 22 kilowatts for air-cooled machines. Liquid cooled units can supply from 20 kilowatts to 150 kilowatts or more. Conduct a power audit to determine the amount of power required.

Installation

Home Standby Maintenance

Home Standby Maintenance

Unless you have considerable experience as an amateur electrician, you’ll want to hire a licensed professional to install a standby generator or a manual transfer switch. Standby generators also require plumbing for the gas lines, and you’ll need to check with the gas company to make sure the line and meter can supply the correct gas pressure and volume.

Some portable units require changes for grounding when connected to a home. Be sure to check the owners manual and provide for proper grounding. Knowing how to do it in advance will save fumbling in the dark and pouring rain with flashlight.
Don’t forget that electrical and plumbing work requires building permits and inspections.

Fuel Storage

Standby units run on either LP or Natural gas. LP gas is stored in tanks while natural gas is supplied through municipal gas lines. LP users will want to make sure they have enough storage to run the generator and home appliances for days.

Portable generators that run on liquid fuel such as gasoline present a problem. Fuel ages and must be rotated on a regular basis. Storing gasoline in regular containers is restricted by many communities. Home owner insurance can also impose restrictions in some cases. Check with local authorities before storing large quantities of fuel.

Plan now and the next power outage won’t leave you in the dark.

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Use Standby Generators for Independence and Home Safety

Transmission tower supporting high-voltage electrical transmission cables.

The Nations Power Grid Supplies Electricity to Homes Throughout the Country

Power outages happen for many reasons. Severe weather is the number one cause and weather-related outages often affect large areas. Every year, millions of Americans make-do without electrical power for extended periods after a strong or severe storm knocks out power for days and sometimes for weeks. Many are forced to leave their homes when cold or extreme heat makes their homes unlivable.

But weather is not the only reason for power outages. Equipment malfunctions, accidents, and wildlife are other common denominators in many outages. The aging infrastructure of the nation’s power grid is responsible for widespread outages every year.

What would happen if your power went out for a week? Chances are you and your family would have to seek shelter elsewhere at a hotel or with a relative.

A standby generator offers independence when the power goes out and your home remains safe and comfortable.

Power Outage

We have come to rely on electrical power to a great extent, and our homes are designed to use it. Many systems in homes won’t work without it, and long term outages can inflict damage that costs thousands of dollars to repair. Often, ordinary homeowners insurance won’t cover the repairs or only part of it.

Sump pumps are quite common in modern homes. Rain soaks into the ground near the foundation and is directed to a sump pit through a drainage pipe. The pump switch turns the pump on and empties the pit outside, away from the home. Without power, the pit can fill up and overflow to flood the basement. Damage includes excessive mold, water damage to carpet, finished walls and furniture, and damage to appliances such as water heaters, furnaces, and washers and dryers.

Most heating and cooling systems don’t work. Furnace fans require electricity to distribute or remove heat. Hot water heating systems require electric pumps to make them work, and central air conditioners are known for their high electric power consumption. In sub-freezing weather, water pipes can freeze and burst. Once the power returns, the home floods unless the water is shut off before hand.

A refrigerator can keep food cold in normal conditions for about half a day. Add ice and you can extend that period indefinitely, but where do you buy ice during a power outage? Frozen food will stay frozen about a day, but after that it begins to thaw and becomes unsafe.

Standby Generators

Automatic Home Standby Generators

Automatic Home Standby Generators

A standby generator works automatically and is permanently connected to the home. An automatic transfer switch controls the source of electricity that the home uses. In normal circumstances, the switch feeds the home with power from the electric utility.

When the power goes out, the standby generator system senses the outage immediately and begins a sequence of actions to switch the home to standby generator power. After a short wait to ensure the outage was not momentary, the generator automatically starts and reaches operating speed in a few seconds. The transfer switch isolates the home from the incoming utility lines and connects the generator supply to the homes electrical system.

Most standby systems operate on municipal natural gas or the home’s propane gas tank. Natural gas offers a virtually endless supply of fuel, while an average-sized propane tank will keep the generator running for days. In contrast, most portable generators require frequent refueling with gasoline that may be in short supply during a power outage.

Independence

Standby generators are often packaged with an ATS that includes power management to control appliances that draw large amounts of power.

Standby generators supply homes with power when the utility cannot.

The first thing most people do when the power goes out is call the electric utility to report the outage. Later they call back to find out when the utility will restore power. As the heat inside the home builds or the temperature plummets, homeowners look for other ways to stay comfortable. Such conditions are an inconvenience for many people, but for the elderly or those who rely on medical equipment, power outages can be life threatening.

The standby generator changes that because in less than a minute, the home has power again and the inhabitants are kept comfortable and safe because the home’s essential systems are still operating.

When the homes around the neighborhood are lit by candles and battery operated lanterns, the home with the standby generator has lights, cold food and drink, and a homeowner that isn’t worried about a flooded basement or spoiled food.

A standby generator isn’t something that gets everyday use like a furnace or air conditioner, but when the power goes out, it keeps people in their homes instead of looking for shelter.

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How Our Emergency Storm Preparation Plan was Put into Action

An approaching storm with dark clouds and a squall line.

Stay Alert when Severe Weather Threatens and Be Ready with an Emergency Plan

The opportunity to test our emergency storm plan came less than two weeks ago. Tornadoes are not common in our area, but they do occur and the siren going off at 2:30 AM demanded action.

Earlier, a severe thunderstorm watch had been issued and then came the tornado watch. As the large storms moved toward us, the thunderstorm warning was issued complete with hail, damaging winds, torrential rain, and frequent cloud-to-ground lightning.

I was awake at 2:30 in the morning to keep an eye on the weather when the sirens began to sound.

My first action was to wake my wife, grab the dog and the phone, and head for the basement bathroom. She called her mother and her sister to make sure they heard the sirens. Outside, we could hear the wind howling around the house and through the trees. Was it a tornado or very strong wind?

We didn’t know.

And then the power went out.

Emergency Kit

A power outage in a wind storm is never a good thing. You don’t know how long it will take to come back on. A wind storm in 2011 destroyed our neighborhood power lines and power was out for more than a week in 100-degree heat with high humidity.

A blue plastic tub filled with emergency supplies including food, water, first aid kit, and numerous other items.

Keep a Portable Emergency Kit Stocked and Ready
(image via Ready.gov)

Good thing I’ve kept an emergency kit stocked and ready for more than 30 years. It contains most of the usual things you’d expect and a few you might not. There is a battery operated florescent lantern, two flashlights (recently upgraded to LED type), batteries, candles, strike anywhere kitchen matches (in a zipper bag) BBQ lighter, space blankets, disposable ponchos, plastic tarp, water purification tablets, soap, crayons (they never dry out), and portable radio. Tools include a hatchet, belt knife, and multi-tool among other things.

Up until about 20 years ago the kit was maintained in an old Boy Scout knapsack. Today we keep it in a five-gallon bucket from the home center with a lid. It’s very portable—just grab and run. You can sit on it and if you need to, it holds five gallons of water.

Essential Power

Generac Portable Generator Connected to a home via a dedicated cable.

A Portable Generator can Supply Essential Power During an Outage.

The portable generator kept in our garage is not quite as convenient as a standby generator. Standby systems are fully automatic, operate on natural gas or propane, and start automatically whenever the power goes out. They work with an automatic transfer switch, and there just isn’t a more reliable source of emergency backup power available.

Unlike the portable generator, they don’t require you to venture outside when the rain is coming down in buckets, the wind is blowing 80 miles per hour, and the tornado sirens are blaring.

The only item that needed immediate power was the sump pump and we have a backup that runs from a battery for up to seven hours. I wasn’t too worried about the generator yet. There was plenty of fuel if the power stayed out and we had the lantern, candles, and flashlights. Once we had two candles lit—the tall kind enclosed in glass—we turned the lantern off to save the batteries.

Disaster

If disaster had actually struck, we had two cell phones and a land line phone near the basement bathroom door. When trees fall on power lines however, telephone lines are often broken at the same time. Having two distinct ways to call for help is a good idea; one serves as a backup to the other.

The sirens shut off ten minutes later and the wind died down to a mere gale. When the rain lightened, I went outside to assess the damage and connect the portable generator. I keep it maintained so it is always ready. Put it on the driveway and fill with fuel. Plug it into the inlet box and start it up. After a minute to warm up, I turn on the breaker and the set the manual transfer switch.

We had essential power for lights, the fridge, sump pump, and furnace and A/C.

Afterward

Automatic Home Standby Generator by Generac

Automatic Home Standby Generators Start and Run Automatically

Twenty minutes later, I went back outside and disconnected everything because the power came back on—another reason to upgrade to standby power. It was a relief since the power company had only told us they were still assessing the outage. The outage was probably caused by tree branches hitting the distribution lines and a breaker tripped to isolate the problem.

Two tornadoes were spotted. One by a trained spotter and the other by an actual professional storm chaser. Neither funnel touched down, but the closest persisted for about 10 minutes.

It wasn’t much of a disaster, but it was an emergency and we were ready. I’m going to add an NOAA weather radio to our kit which can provide weather alerts specific to our area. A radio like that could have informed us that the wind outside was just wind and not a tornado.

Being ready with an emergency kit, an action plan, and an emergency source of power made the situation less dramatic. In an emergency, that is important because it helps you focus and remain calm.

Are you ready?

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Guardian 22kW Largest Most Efficient Air-Cooled Standby Generator

22kW Guardian Standby Generator shown with Generac's Smart Switch ATS

Guardian 22kW with Smart Switch ATS

Generac’s newest addition to the Guardian product lineup is the largest capacity air-cooled standby generator on the market. No other generator manufacturer currently offers a comparable air-cooled standby unit. The generator supplies up to 22 kilowatts of power while running on LP gas and 19.5 kilowatts on natural gas while using less fuel than similar units with a smaller capacity.

Fuel Efficiency

A glance at the specification sheet for the 22kW, which provides a side-by-side comparison of Generac’s 16, 20, and 22 kilowatt Guardian generators, shows the 22kW uses less natural gas at either half load or full load than either the 20 kW or the 16kW and still generates more power. LP consumption is just slightly higher than the 16 and 20 kilowatt models at half load, and less than the 20 kilowatt at full load, but the fuel used per kilowatt of electricity produced is much lower for both fuels under any load condition.

Chart comparing the fuel use of 16, 20, and 22kW Guardian units showing better efficiency of the 22kW- producing more kw on less fuel.

The 22 Kilowatt Guardian produces more power on less fuel.

Generac points to three design changes that improved efficiency. A better fuel delivery system, engine modifications, and the use of low-loss steel in the unit’s alternator—the component that generates electricity. Low-loss steel is an alloy that reduces electrical losses and improves the efficiency of motors, generators, and transformers.

 22 Kilowatt Models

Norwall Power Systems offers the 22kW in two packages:

The Smart Switch included with the 6551 is an automatic transfer switch (RTSY200A3) rated for use as a 200-amp service entrance and equipped for whole house managed power.

New to the 22 kilowatt models is a reduced exercise cycle of just five minutes, programmable to run on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly schedule.

Using Digital Power Management technology, the Smart Switch ATS can manage two central air conditioners without additional hardware. Adding a PMM starter kit and Power Management Modules allows the switch to manage up to four additional high-voltage, high-current loads such as an electric hot water heater, well pump, or electric dryer. Digital Power Management prevents overload conditions while allowing the generator to power multiple heavy loads, all while keeping your home cool and the lights on.

Guardian Standby Features

The Guardian models come equipped with True Power technology to provide utility-quality power to meet the needs of motors, appliances, and sensitive electronics. Less than 5% total harmonic distortion of the AC signal and voltage regulation within 1%, even under heavy load.

Compliance with National Fire Codes allows installation within 18 inches of the home, subject to local regulation and the location of nearby vents, windows, and doors.

A compact and attractive design, all-weather aluminum enclosure and quiet operation makes the 22kW unit practical in any residential setting. At 68dB, these generators produce noise that is lower than the average residential central A/C unit.

Mobile Link installed on a Generac Guardian Standby Generator

Mobile Link Keeps You Updated with Status Alerts

Generac’s intuitive Evolution Controller has a two line display and an easy to read backlit keypad. With an optional basic or advanced wireless monitor, the controller is accessible inside the home. Or add the Mobile Link option and access the unit from anywhere in the world via Generac’s Apps or online dashboard.

Covered by Generac’s 5-year limited consumer warranty.

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June 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season off to a Slow Start

Satellite imagery shows the well organized storm system that could become a tropical cyclone off the coast of Florida later this week.

A well organized area of thunderstorms could easily become a tropical cyclone.

The end of June, 2014 brings the possibility for the first tropical cyclone of the season to the coast of Florida. At 2 PM EDT, an area of low pressure with thunderstorms was increasing in organization just 125 miles east of the coast of Florida. The National Hurricane Center gave an 80 percent probability this for the system to become a tropical depression within 48 hours.

Update 1 PM CDT: Depression 1 was upgraded to Tropical Storm Arthur at 11 AM Eastern time on July 1 with sustained winds of 40 MPH and a track that takes it up along the East Coast of the United States. Arthur is the first tropical cyclone of the Atlantic Season and may strengthen into a hurricane by Friday, July 4.

Elsewhere across the Atlantic Basin, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, no tropical cyclones have formed since the start of the Atlantic season.

The Northeast Pacific Ocean is a different story. There are two tropical storms (see graphic in next section) currently off the coast of Mexico. Tropical Depression 4E was upgraded to a tropical storm on Sunday, June 29. On Monday, June 30, another system intensified into a second tropical storm named Elida.

Satellite imagary shows two tropical storms side by side off the western coast of Mexico.

Twin Tropical Storms in the Eastern Pacific Ocean

The twin storms in the Eastern Pacific are the third and fourth named storms of the Eastern Pacific storm season. Two other named stormed have already run their course. Storms in this area of the Pacific Ocean don’t usually pose a threat to the United States, but often cause flooding, mudslides, and power outages along the coast of Mexico and Gulf of California, and the Baja Peninsula.

July Outlook

Hurricane season in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico begins on June 1. Historically, tropical cyclones become more frequent and more intense as the season progresses from late spring through late summer. The season peaks during late August through late September with a historical average peak around September 10. The season declines during October and ends on November 30.

Tropical Storms, Hurricanes and Major Hurricanes can form at any time during the year and are not restricted to the hurricane season.

The 2014 Atlantic season forecast called for an unusually quiet hurricane season, and has thus far has met that expectation. There are no guarantees the season will remain quiet and the storm forming off the coast of Florida may become the first named Atlantic storm of the year. Given that long range forecasts have a low expectation of accuracy, there is a possibility that July could produce a number of storms.

Seasonal Impacts and Preparation

Tropical Storms and hurricanes produce high winds and torrential rainfall and cause flash floods and inland flooding, power outages, mud slides, and are responsible for numerous deaths every year.

Associated hazards of hurricanes include extreme storm surge and coastal flooding, extreme winds, and tornadoes. Storm surge can overwhelm natural and man-made water barriers and flood low-lying coastal areas. Flooding associated with hurricanes and tropical storms are responsible for loss of life and property damage every year.

Everyone living along coastal areas and inland from coastal areas affected by hurricanes and tropical storms should prepare in advance by:

  • understanding local evacuation plans and routes.
  • purchasing an NOAA weather radio.
  • building an emergency storm survival kit.
  • stocking non-perishable food and potable water for at least one week.
  • installing an emergency standby generator system or
  • have portable generator with installed manual transfer switch.
  • storing fuel supplies for portable generators.

When a storm threatens land:

Even though the 2014 forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season predicts fewer storms than most years, preparation is still important for those living on coastlines and inland regions. Prepare now.

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Off-Grid Power Systems: Keeping the Lights On

solar panels on a slanted roof.

Solar Panels for Off-Grid or Renewable Energy

Living and working off the grid doesn’t necessarily mean you give up every convenience or necessity that requires electrical power. People and businesses in remote or rural locations often require sources of electrical power other than electric utilities. Some choose a low-environmental impact way of life while for others, utility power isn’t available or comes at a high cost.

In both cases, a regular and reliable source of electricity is still needed. Solar and Wind in combination with battery banks make up the most common off-grid and renewable energy systems.

Off-Grid Power System Overview

an off grid telecommunication facility that relies on solar panels for the primary source of power.

Solar Powered Off-Grid Telecommunication Facility

In a typical configuration, solar panels and wind turbines connect directly to a battery charger which feeds a battery bank and a power inverter. The inverter changes the direct current (DC) from the battery bank or battery charger into 120 / 240 volt AC for use by the home or business. The main service panel receives power from the inverter instead of from utility lines.

If the battery bank charge drops below an acceptable level, a standby generator starts automatically to charge the batteries and provide power to the home or facility.

The battery charger provides three functions.

  • Convert alternating current (AC) from a wind turbine into DC current.
  • Charge the battery bank from the solar panels and wind turbine.
  • Prevent overcharging of the batteries by monitoring battery charge levels and limiting charging power as batteries approach peak charge.

Modern off-grid systems often combine the inverter and charger into a single unit. In some renewable energy systems, a connection to the local grid allows the system to sell excess power to the local utility.

Battery Banks

Deep cycle batteries are connected together to provide electrical power. Series connections increase voltage, parallel connections increase current. Large six-volt or 12-volt lead-acid batteries are common, but other battery sizes are also used.

Consider a battery bank built of 12-volt, 50 amp-hour batteries. By connecting three batteries in series, the output is 36 volts and 50 amp-hours. Groups of three batteries wired this way will each produce the same output. If each group is connected in parallel, the output current rises with each subsequent connection.

With twelve batteries series-wired in groups of three, and then each group connected in parallel, the output voltage is 36 volts, but the output current is 200-amp hours. Power = Voltage x Amps = 36 Volts x 200 Amp-Hours = 7200 watts.

Solar and Wind Power Generation

Solar panels receive sunlight and produce DC current to charge a battery bank. They are wired so that their output voltage matches the battery bank voltage. The biggest drawback to solar power is that the sun only shines for part of the day. On cloudy days, the power output is lower because the panels receive less sunlight.

Wind turbines produce three-phase alternating current which is not directly compatible with the battery banks. As the turbine spins faster, the frequency of the alternating current rises. Turbine voltages are selected for efficient conversion to DC current and feed the battery bank to keep it charged. Naturally, when the wind doesn’t blow, the turbines cannot produce power.

Off-Grid Standby Generators

Generac EcoGen standby generator for Off-Grid use.

Generac EcoGen 6kW

Norwall Power Systems offers models from two manufacturers that are designed specifically for use with off-grid power systems and operate on propane (LP Gas). These standby generators are ideal for residential or commercial use where utility power is unavailable.

Note: Off-grid applications void the warranties of most standby generator systems, but these standby units include off-grid consumer warranties.

The Kohler Variable Speed 6kW Standby Generator for Off-Grid Use

Kohler 6kW Variable Speed DC Generator

The EcoGen by Generac supplies 6kW of power and has an extended run time of up to 500 hours without maintenance. This generator can supply the home directly with 120 volts or 240 volts (conversion required for 240 volts) or supply power to the inverter/charger to charge a battery bank.

Kohler Variable Speed DC 6kW generators come in 24, 36, and 48 volt models and can charge a battery bank directly without the need for a charger or converter. Engine speed varies with electrical load, resulting in lower fuel costs, reduced noise, and longer engine life.

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Save up to $300 on Select Cummins Power Generators

For a limited time, save up to 300 dollars off the regular Norwall PowerSystems price on select air-cooled standby generators from Cummins Power Generation. The sale includes 20-kilowatt and 13-kilowatt residential standby packages that include an automatic transfer switch. Packages without a transfer switch save 150 dollars off the regular Norwall price.

Cummins Power Generation supplies air-cooled generators that run on either LP Gas or Natural Gas. 20-kilowatt models are configured to use LP or NG during installation while 13-kilowatt models are factory set to run on LP or NG.

A 5 year, 2000 hour limited consumer/commercial warranty is included for all air-cooled standby generators.

20 Kilowatt Standby

Cummins Onan Standby Generator shown with ATS

Cummings Onan Air Cooled 20kW with ATS

20-kilowatt models eligible for 300 dollars in savings are generator packages that include either a 100 or 200 amp, service-entrance-rated automatic transfer switch. Some packages are cold weather equipped and some include installation harnesses. Others are cold weather equipped and come with installation harnesses.

RS20-C250 200-amp ATS equipped for cold weather

RS20-C2100 200-amp ATS equipped for cold weather with two 100-foot install harnesses

Eligible for 150 dollar savings are packages that only include the 20-kilowatt standby generator or the 20-kilowatt standby generator equipped for cold weather.

20GSBB-6713 20kW standby unit.

20GSBB-6714 20kW standby unit equipped for cold weather.

13 Kilowatt Standy

Cummins Onan air-cooled standby generator shown with ATS

Cummins Onan 13kW Standby with ATS

Similar 13-kilowatt standby generator packages that include a service-entrance-rated automatic transfer switch are also eligible for 300 dollars in instant savings off Norwall’s regular price. Packages that include installation harnesses or are cold weather ready (or both) also qualify for the savings.

RS13NG-C1100 200-amp ATS, cold weather equipped, two 100-foot install harnesses.

RS13LP-C1100 200-amp ATS, cold weather equipped, two 100-foot install harnesses.

Models with only the 13-kilowatt standby generator, with or without the cold weather package, qualify for 150 dollars off the regular price.

13GSBA-6711 Natural Gas cold weather equipped.

3GSBA-6721 LP Gas cold weather equipped.

Cummins Standby Generators

Standby generators are permanently installed and automatically provide a backup supply of power during a power outage. When the power goes out, the generator system instantly detects the outage and the generator starts within seconds. The Automatic Transfer Switch or ATS isolates the home from the utility lines and supplies the home with power from the standby generator.

As separate companies, both Cummins and Onan began early operations in 1918 and set a course that would eventually bring the two companies together. Nearly 100 years of history in building and manufacturing engines and electrical power generators positions Cummins Power Generation to deliver the best in modern standby generators for homes and businesses.

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Safe Use of Electric Generators at Home and Away

A Generac Portable Generator providing power to a house through a 240-volt cable.

Generators Provide Electric Power When None is Available

The Internet age has brought information in vast quantities to our fingertips from just about anywhere. Unfortunately, a lot of that information isn’t perfect and some of it is downright dangerous.

Any genuine expert on a particular topic can only shake their head at some of the so-called “authoritative” information that is available. Such is the case with information on generators and how to use them, and especially with portable generators.

Make sure the knowledge you have about electric generators is correct. If you have a question, call a knowledgeable expert; don’t ask for information in forums or social media and expect answers you can count on.

Terms to Know and Apply

Volts and Amps are electrical measurements. Amperes or amps is the amount of electrical current flowing. Volts is the pressure behind the current that makes it move. Multiply volts by amps and you get watts which is a measure of the amount of work being done. Generator capacity is measured in watts or sometimes kilowatts. 1 kilowatt equals 1000 watts.

Never attempt to connect an appliance designed for one voltage to a source that supplies a different voltage. A 240-volt device cannot be powered by 120-volt outlet or vice versa.

Running or Continuous Watts is the amount of electrical power or work that a generator is capable of doing continuously. Select a generator for purchase that is capable of doing the work.

Just like a runner can put on a burst of speed at the end of a race, a generator has a surge capacity. Like a runner, the generator is only capable of producing it’s maximum or surge watts for a very short time. Continuously overloading a generator may damage it or cause damage to the appliances connected to it.

Connecting Generators

Electric cables, wires, and extension cords are rated by the number of amperes they can carry. Exceeding the ampere rating will cause overheating and possibly a fire. Ordinary, two-wire household extension cords are a poor choice for making generator connections. Select heavy-duty cables that include the ground prong on the plug for making connections.

A good choice for connecting to generator 120-volt appliance outlets are grounded cords rated for 20 amperes. Most manufacturers have cords designed for 240-volt outlets for making generator-to-house connections.

Purchase extension cords long enough for the job. Don’t connect multiple cords together.

Keep your local utility worker safe. Never backfeed a generator using a homemade cable that you plug into an appliance outlet. You could energize a utility line unexpectedly and electrocute a utility worker.

Adding a standby generator to your home is a big job and requires extensive electrical experience and knowledge. Permits and inspections are required and an improper installation or one that was not inspected could void your homeowners insurance. Unless you have the experience necessary and your local building department approves, hire a licensed electrician experienced in standby generator installation.

Generator Placement

Never run portable generators indoors or in an enclosed space such a garage or shed. Carbon monoxide can reach lethal levels in just minutes. Always run portables outdoors and at least ten feet away from the home.

Be mindful of your neighbors home. Don’t place a generator where prevailing winds will carry exhaust fumes through open windows, doors, or vents.

Place portable generators on a firm surface such as a concrete pad or driveway and never where water may collect in a puddle.

There are specific rules for standby generator placement based on National Fire Prevention Codes. Consult your owner’s manual for proper placement, but remember that local codes may override what manufacturer recommends.

Refueling

Portables require a steady diet of fresh fuel. Never attempt to refuel a hot portable. Shut it off and allow it to cool. This also provides an opportunity to check the oil and top it off as necessary. Look at the air filters and make sure they are clean. Replace as required.

Store fuel in appropriate containers designed for the type of fuel your generator uses, and in a storage location that meets local safety codes. Many communities place limits on the amount of fuel stored in at residential locations, and some limit the size of the containers that may be filled. Check for local restrictions before storing large quantities of fuel.

Motor vehicle gasoline has a limited storage life. Use gasoline stabilizers to keep your fuel fresh and rotate into use with your car, lawnmower, and other gasoline powered equipment.

Generators are becoming essential for an emergency supply of power. Understand manufacturer guidelines, use common sense, and follow all local codes and laws governing their installation and use.

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