Choices for Emergency Power


Portable gas generators seem to be doing a brisk business these days, particularly since Hurricane Sandy left so many citizens without power for so long.

(We even read yesterday about some local city officials who commandeered city trucks and delivered generators TO THEIR OWN HOMES!  But that’s a shameful story that we can examine later …)

portable gas-powered generator

Portable Gas-powered generator

When it comes to generators for home use, the 6 to 8.5 kilowatt models seem to be the most popular.

Generators for neighborhood use

We have a generator for our neighborhood community emergency response team that is rated at 8,000 Watts. Its purpose is to run some outdoor or improvised lighting for our Central Command Post and to serve as a charging station for our radios, computers and golf carts. It (like most high-output models) comes with wheels for the chassis so that it can be moved around “easily.” The quotations around the word “easily” should give you a clue about its real mobility.

The machine provides adequate output for our purposes and we’ve evaluated the advisability of additional generators that could be moved to different sites in our six neighborhood divisions. Unfortunately, units of this size are both heavy and cumbersome, requiring serious manpower to move them about. At the size of a small refrigerator, storage space also becomes a factor. They also have to be run periodically (minimum every 6 months) to keep them in good shape. If you’re considering generators, maintaining them can become a major undertaking unless you incorporate that into your team training activities.

The fact that this type of generator runs on gasoline is a plus in the sense that you, and we, can likely count on having one or two vehicles available with full gas tanks. Otherwise, storing gasoline separately might present a problem. The question then becomes how many hours a day will we need to run the generator and how long the fuel will last. (Generally speaking, the larger the unit, the more fuel it will require, which should come as no surprise to anyone.)

There are also generators that run on propane or natural gas. These burn cleaner, but require separate storage of the fuel.

What equipment can they power?

Our 8 kW unit can power a full-size refrigerator, freezer and a bank of lights, and charge batteries and other electronic equipment; a smaller 2.5 kW unit, properly managed (that is, taking turns running equipment, not trying to run it all at once) could provide emergency power during the day and to a household for short periods in the evening. The advantage of the smaller units is that they are actually portable, probably more fuel-efficient, and not so noisy.

How to make a decision?

In every case you’ll need to do your homework by answering these questions:

  • How much capacity do you really need?
  • Does the generator have the receptacles you need (where you plug in your equipment)?
  • Where will you store the generator?
  • Where will you store the fuel?
  • Who will be responsible for maintaining the machine?

What about Solar for emergency power?

A wide array of portable solar power units is available. (You may find them in the camping/RV department of whatever catalog you’re looking at.) Solar panels can easily recharge your computer and other electronic equipment and run low-energy equipment such as lights or a small refrigerator; larger panels can recharge 12 volt (car) batteries. With the proper set-up of battery and inverter (to convert the DC solar power into AC for use by home appliances) you can store solar power so as to be able to use your equipment at night when the sun isn’t shining.

Solar may well provide alternative sources of power for your individual household and even for emergency power to a Central Command Post. Again, you’ll have to consider how much capacity you need, and where to store the system.

Permanent stand-by power

If your community or personal situation warrants it, permanently installed solar systems or back-up generators can provide you with convenient power when the grid goes down.

For example, the Generac Guardian series of standby generators provide excellent and fine quality power. A 20,000 Watt unit (ample to power a modern home) runs a little over $5,000.  We are seriously considering one or more for our neighborhood and a couple of people are considering them for their personal needs.

The bottom line is that you need to determine what your actual needs will be, assuming a 10-day to 2-week outage. What electronic and electrical items will you need to power and over what duty cycle? Consider all of the alternatives, including the ease of use, amount of fuel required and the source.

 Visit our –>  Serious Emergency Equipment store.

To help with your research, we’ve put together a small collection of options for emergency power.  Go to the store by clicking the link above.  Then, go to “Emergency Power” in the “Browse by Category” section.  Check out our comments; read the reviews; compare prices.  These are all relatively expensive purchases, so you’ll want to do your homework before making a decision.

You’ll see in the comments which pieces of equipment we already have for our neighborhood; we’d be happy to answer any questions about them.  And, if you have comments based on your own experience, please pass them along!


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