One of the biggest challenges and concerns that often plague the off-grid community is how to generate comfortable amounts of electricity. Harnessing solar and wind power allows you to set up a passive source of electricity that doesn’t have an ongoing cost other than minor maintenance. Due to a potentially high upfront cost of these sources, however, many off-grid-living enthusiasts opt for a gas generator for at least part of their electricity needs.
There are a wide range of different gas generator types in different sizes and levels of output. The one you’ll want is determined primarily by how much regular electricity it’s going to be providing, and how much it will need to take on in case of an emergency. Generally speaking, the higher the output you need, the bigger and heavier your generator is going to be.
Wattage For Your Cottage
Wattage is the total power output of the generator. Every appliance and electronic device you have hooked up to the generator will need a certain amount of this wattage to function. Manufacturers sometimes list the amount on the device or in the instruction manual, but if you can’t find it, refer to this chart to get a general idea.
The largest gas generators are stationary, and require a lot of effort to move and specialized knowledge to install. They’re usually meant to be placed at a location permanently, but can kick out the most wattage by far. They get up into the range of kilowatts, but models that are this powerful cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
Many people living off-grid instead opt for a portable generator. As the name indicates, they’re relatively small and easy to move. With portable generators, you’re looking at a maximum wattage output of around 10,000. However, it’s possible to stack two or more portable generators in parallel so that they can produce more total output.
There is one more nuance to understand with wattage. “Continuous Rating” is the amount the generator can produce while it is running so long at is has fuel. There are also separate “Surge Ratings” and “Maximum Ratings”, however, which indicate how much the generator can handle in short intense bursts, such as starting a motor.
Portable generators don’t require any special knowledge to set up or run. The larger ones usually come pre-mounted on a frame with wheels.
Gas generators generally have standard NEMA outlets, or the type commonly seen everywhere in homes and businesses, so you can plug appliances and electronics right in. If you’re plugging in sensitive devices (like computers) that might be harmed by a power surge, however, it’s best to invest in an inverter generator.
The inverter internally converts the AC voltage to DC, then back to AC for a steady final output amount. Generators that don’t have inverters are prone to damaging spikes.
Modern gas generators are usually turned off simply by flipping a switch on or off. You may encounter some older models that require you to pull a choke cord, however. The run time will depend on the tank size, but most portable generators can be expected to go roughly 10 hours per full tank.
Generators can use gasoline, diesel, bio-diesel, natural gas and propane. Each has their own relative merits and disadvantages, but the key factor is probably going to be which type of fuel is most readily available to you. No matter which you pick, keep in mind that this is a combustion engine and will produce carbon monoxide, so the generator needs to be kept outside.