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Old 10-09-2019, 02:38 PM
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California power outage - can people use home generators?


The article doesn't mention home generators. Does the wildfire concerns extend to there use?
https://www-m.cnn.com/2019/10/09/us/...www.cnn.com%2F

Quote:
Pacific Gas & Electric started the shutoff early Wednesday, leaving parts of 22 counties -- including northern portions of the San Francisco Bay Area -- in the dark.
As many as 300,000 additional customers are expected to lose power later in the day -- including in Alameda and Santa Clara counties, which contain the Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose areas -- for a total of 800,000 homes, businesses and other buildings affected, the company said.
We implement this public safety power shutoff as a last resort," Sumeet Singh, vice president of PG&E's Community Wildfire Safety Program, said Tuesday, citing forecasters' warnings that parts of Northern California are under extreme danger of fire because of high winds.
.

Last edited by aceplace57; 10-09-2019 at 02:43 PM.
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Old 10-09-2019, 02:49 PM
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Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
The article doesn't mention home generators. Does the wildfire concerns extend to there use?
If you mean "their" use, not "there" use, why not? How could a power company prevent you from generating your own power for private use?

They could legally prevent you from feeding the power back into the grid, for obvious safety reasons. What if a lineman for the county was working on the line?
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Old 10-09-2019, 10:15 PM
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They could legally prevent you from feeding the power back into the grid, for obvious safety reasons.
I suspect that's already illegal (as well as massively stupid) everywhere.
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Old 10-12-2019, 04:17 PM
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What if a lineman for the county was working on the line?
And if it blows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain.
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Old 10-13-2019, 02:55 PM
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I suspect some are surprised at generator output levels. Most being sold at the big box stores may power a frig and a couple of lights, but not much more. More powerful units get expensive and larger. A related issue is fuel. When power goes out it does so for gas station gas pumps as well. Making matters worse is what homeowners here in California are being told...power could be out for a few days. Generators consume fuel and you'll need a lot of it for several days. Storage of large amounts can be problematic on several levels.
Something also to be aware of if you are using a generator to run your fridge is that it is likely to shorten the life of your compressor substantially.

When the compressor starts up, it usually pulls quite a bit of power from the capacitance that is in the power lines. It uses much more power for those first fractions of a second than it does in normal operation. This is fine for grid power.

What is not fine is when you are trying to power that with a generator. You don't have capacitance of hundreds of miles of wire, you only have it of your house and what is hooked up. If the generator is not overpowered, if it is putting out just enough to power your fridge, then it will likely make it hard for the compressor to get up to speed, and wear it out prematurely.
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Old 10-13-2019, 03:12 PM
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Something also to be aware of if you are using a generator to run your fridge is that it is likely to shorten the life of your compressor substantially.

When the compressor starts up, it usually pulls quite a bit of power from the capacitance that is in the power lines. It uses much more power for those first fractions of a second than it does in normal operation. This is fine for grid power.

What is not fine is when you are trying to power that with a generator. You don't have capacitance of hundreds of miles of wire, you only have it of your house and what is hooked up. If the generator is not overpowered, if it is putting out just enough to power your fridge, then it will likely make it hard for the compressor to get up to speed, and wear it out prematurely.
Fridges are cheap. With that said, what you are talking about is the fridge causing a voltage dip since the generator needs time to respond to the sudden load increase. I think some model of fridges may have easy start capacitors to reduce this dip.

Anyways the voltage sags until the generator can respond. Call that a second or 2. And the windings in the fridge motor get hotter.

I don't think under normal circumstances this extra heating over a normal start causes any measurable wear at all. What kills a fridge eventually, I think, is either one of the bearing surfaces in the compressor wearing out, a seal wearing out, or piping leaks draining the refrigerant and leaving the compressor trying to compress air.

I would agree that if the fridge motor were already about to seize from bearing failure, it would overheat more on a generator start and might burn the enamel on the wiring. But this wasn't really the cause of death.
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Old 10-13-2019, 03:50 PM
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Fridges are cheap. With that said, what you are talking about is the fridge causing a voltage dip since the generator needs time to respond to the sudden load increase. I think some model of fridges may have easy start capacitors to reduce this dip.

Anyways the voltage sags until the generator can respond. Call that a second or 2. And the windings in the fridge motor get hotter.

I don't think under normal circumstances this extra heating over a normal start causes any measurable wear at all. What kills a fridge eventually, I think, is either one of the bearing surfaces in the compressor wearing out, a seal wearing out, or piping leaks draining the refrigerant and leaving the compressor trying to compress air.

I would agree that if the fridge motor were already about to seize from bearing failure, it would overheat more on a generator start and might burn the enamel on the wiring. But this wasn't really the cause of death.
I don't know about fridges being cheap. You can get a cheap one, but most tend to run enough that you don't want to just be throwing them out. My brother had a bit of a tiff with the local power utilities, and lived on generator power for a while. Killed a fridge every couple months.

Looking into it, a fridge generally needs about 3 to 4 times the starting power as it needs for running. If it cannot pull this, then it will not only possibly damage the compressor, but the generator as well.

Most household outlets provide about 1500 watts max, but they can go up to higher loads briefly. With a fridge plugged in that uses 700 watts to run, it will need somewhere in the 2000's watts to start. If your generator only puts out 1500 watts per line, then it will not be able to put out the power needed to get the compressor properly running, even thought the nominally 1500 watts house outlet can.
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Old 10-13-2019, 05:34 PM
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Something also to be aware of if you are using a generator to run your fridge is that it is likely to shorten the life of your compressor substantially.

When the compressor starts up, it usually pulls quite a bit of power from the capacitance that is in the power lines. It uses much more power for those first fractions of a second than it does in normal operation. This is fine for grid power.

What is not fine is when you are trying to power that with a generator. You don't have capacitance of hundreds of miles of wire, you only have it of your house and what is hooked up. If the generator is not overpowered, if it is putting out just enough to power your fridge, then it will likely make it hard for the compressor to get up to speed, and wear it out prematurely.
Adding that a fridge does not require that much power even during startup. I measured mine and it ran at about 200 watts and started at 600 watts. Not a big load on a generator which can supply a startup surge of basically a order of magnitude more. Mine doesn't even seem to slow down for the fridge kicking in to any noticeable degree as it does with some other devices.
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Old 10-09-2019, 02:50 PM
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Yes. Sales of generators have been booming. The concern is not the use of electricity, but the fire hazard caused by high-voltage, long-distance transmission lines in conditions windy enough to potentially knock them down, short them out, whatever.
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Old 10-09-2019, 04:31 PM
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Yes. Sales of generators have been booming.
I imagine this will give a big boost to home batteries (e.g. Powerwalls) in the coming year. Some, no doubt, will combine them with solar panels and be able to stay off the grid for extended periods of time.

Last edited by dtilque; 10-09-2019 at 04:33 PM.
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Old 10-09-2019, 04:49 PM
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I wasn't sure if they were worried about any electrical spark or just the transmission lines. . . ..
Yeah, it's the transmission lines. They're not worried about fires in the areas being served, at the end of the lines, so generators in the blacked out areas are no problem. It's the areas that the big lines run across that are being protected.
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Old 10-09-2019, 02:59 PM
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I wasn't sure if they were worried about any electrical spark or just the transmission lines.

I'm so thankful my mom's house and my house are protected with natural gas generators. It's the best investment we've ever made. They come on several times a year during short outages.

Our installation never back feeds power to the main line. There's a transfer switch that isolates the house.

Last edited by aceplace57; 10-09-2019 at 03:04 PM.
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Old 10-09-2019, 05:04 PM
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People will be surprised at the rise in their natural gas bill.

My generator was on for 5 days and the utility bill rose by over $60. It can add up quickly. It's about 3 times more expensive than electricity from the utility.

Last edited by aceplace57; 10-09-2019 at 05:06 PM.
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Old 10-10-2019, 05:42 AM
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My generator was on for 5 days and the utility bill rose by over $60. It can add up quickly. It's about 3 times more expensive than electricity from the utility.
Out of curiosity, what level of usage does this represent? Are you just keeping the fridge and one or two lights on, or does $12 per day buy you enough fuel to power a typical home life?
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Old 10-10-2019, 07:46 AM
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People will be surprised at the rise in their natural gas bill.

My generator was on for 5 days and the utility bill rose by over $60. It can add up quickly. It's about 3 times more expensive than electricity from the utility.
And that's with natural gas. I ran the numbers and with gasoline it's something like 10x more expensive in fuel alone. But it doesn't happen that often.
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Old 10-10-2019, 07:59 AM
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And that's with natural gas. I ran the numbers and with gasoline it's something like 10x more expensive in fuel alone. But it doesn't happen that often.

Never heard of a diesel generator? Derp!

The one my cousin had was fired by a jet engine.
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Old 10-10-2019, 09:01 AM
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Never heard of a diesel generator? Derp!

The one my cousin had was fired by a jet engine.
I looked into that, but it had a much higher cost up front, again gas seemed to work good, but I know that other fuels are better and diesel motors should last longer.
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Old 10-10-2019, 09:11 AM
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It is probably easiest (least costly) to have a natural gas generator certified for California emissions. Diesel probably is the hardest.

For example, the propane generator listed by SamuelA in one of his previous posts does not ship to California.
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Old 10-13-2019, 03:09 PM
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People will be surprised at the rise in their natural gas bill.

My generator was on for 5 days and the utility bill rose by over $60. It can add up quickly. It's about 3 times more expensive than electricity from the utility.
Well, sure. But Mom's insulin and all the food in the fridge was saved. Sounds like a wash to me, but, yeah, I get that people will be surprised.
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Old 10-09-2019, 05:21 PM
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So what is the chance of the natural gas supply getting cut at the same time the power is cut?

Do natural gas pumping stations need grid power to run?
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Old 10-09-2019, 05:35 PM
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So what is the chance of the natural gas supply getting cut at the same time the power is cut?

Do natural gas pumping stations need grid power to run?
I suspect they have generators. And the pumping stations may be outside the area of the shutdown.
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Old 10-09-2019, 05:53 PM
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A lot of houses affected are not in the middle of the woods or something, and not in areas where generators are typically needed. I'm not affected, but part of my town is a few miles away, in the hills, but highly residential.
But given the ads for generators on TV, there will be a lot more houses with them this time next year.
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Old 10-09-2019, 05:49 PM
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So what is the chance of the natural gas supply getting cut at the same time the power is cut?

Do natural gas pumping stations need grid power to run?
Very high in the event of a major earthquake.
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Old 10-09-2019, 05:56 PM
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Very high in the event of a major earthquake.
The danger isn't that the gas goes out, it's that the lines are ruptured. We all have wrenches tied to the shutoff valve so that we can shut the gas off in the event of an earthquake first thing.

Did not hear that gas was a problem during the fire, but I think it was dangerous in burned out houses.
And good old PG&E managed to blow up a neighborhood with gas without a fire.
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Old 10-10-2019, 02:40 PM
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The danger isn't that the gas goes out, it's that the lines are ruptured. We all have wrenches tied to the shutoff valve so that we can shut the gas off in the event of an earthquake first thing.

Did not hear that gas was a problem during the fire, but I think it was dangerous in burned out houses.
And good old PG&E managed to blow up a neighborhood with gas without a fire.
Yeah, been through a 9+ quake that ruptured everything. That's why I mentioned it.
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Old 10-11-2019, 01:32 PM
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Do natural gas pumping stations need grid power to run?
I asked some gas utility guys this week and the answer is it depends. These were LDCs that didn't do much pumping (that's mostly at the transmission level), but some had experienced electricity-related problems. Apparently ERCOT and some As/NM/El Paso generators cut off power to their own suppliers back when the southwest got cold in 2011.
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Old 10-11-2019, 02:22 PM
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I asked some gas utility guys this week and the answer is it depends. These were LDCs that didn't do much pumping (that's mostly at the transmission level), but some had experienced electricity-related problems. Apparently ERCOT and some As/NM/El Paso generators cut off power to their own suppliers back when the southwest got cold in 2011.
Meaning a brownout caused the power to the fuel supply pumping stations for the natural gas generators to be lost? That's an interesting case of cascading system failure.
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Old 10-11-2019, 04:49 PM
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Meaning a brownout caused the power to the fuel supply pumping stations for the natural gas generators to be lost? That's an interesting case of cascading system failure.
I think so. I'll see if I can find anything written because I'm curious how it went down.


And I meant AZ, not As.
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Old 10-12-2019, 11:11 AM
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Meaning a brownout caused the power to the fuel supply pumping stations for the natural gas generators to be lost? That's an interesting case of cascading system failure.
I believe it may have been a rolling blackout rather than a brown out.
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Old 10-09-2019, 06:59 PM
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So instead of buying Generac natural gas generators, wouldn't one of those propane fueled generators be more practical? Wired up with a single 30 amp external plug and an interlock kit? Stored in an outdoor storage shed with a battery tender on the starter battery and at least one spare battery somewhere? (even if the "spare" is just to buy and have in a bag near the generator the wrenches needed to pull a battery from one of your cars)
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Old 10-10-2019, 07:47 AM
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So instead of buying Generac natural gas generators, wouldn't one of those propane fueled generators be more practical? Wired up with a single 30 amp external plug and an interlock kit? Stored in an outdoor storage shed with a battery tender on the starter battery and at least one spare battery somewhere? (even if the "spare" is just to buy and have in a bag near the generator the wrenches needed to pull a battery from one of your cars)
It would be if natural gas supply is questionable. But if the natural gas is expected to flow natural gas is the way to go. It is both cheaper and effectively unlimited.
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Old 10-10-2019, 07:58 AM
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My cousin came back from the war and experienced brownouts every day @ 3PM at his shop.

So he bought a surplus army platoon generator and had it wired into his shop.

When the power went out, all he had to do was throw a lever.

Everyone should have a backup generator.

He eventually sold power to the power company.
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Old 10-09-2019, 08:28 PM
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I suspect some are surprised at generator output levels. Most being sold at the big box stores may power a frig and a couple of lights, but not much more. More powerful units get expensive and larger. A related issue is fuel. When power goes out it does so for gas station gas pumps as well. Making matters worse is what homeowners here in California are being told...power could be out for a few days. Generators consume fuel and you'll need a lot of it for several days. Storage of large amounts can be problematic on several levels.
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Old 10-09-2019, 08:55 PM
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I suspect some are surprised at generator output levels. Most being sold at the big box stores may power a frig and a couple of lights, but not much more. More powerful units get expensive and larger.
So I looked at this, briefly, when I used to live in a hurricane zone. The thing to do was to pair a 7500 watt generator: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01A0TLE5U/ref=emc_b_5_t

With an interlock kit and external 30 amp receptacle on my breaker panel.

With 7500 watts to play with, the fridge is ~1000 watts, starting. Less when running. All the lights in the entire house on at the same time = ~40 * 10 = 400 watts.

Computer + TV + internet stuff = 300 watts.

My house used mini splits for A/C. Each one was 700-1200 watts. There were 3. 3*1200 = 3600 watts.

So far just 5300 watts/7500. Microwave oven is about 1500 watts when running.

Basically everything but an electric hot water heater or the stove or oven could be running at almost the same time.

Yes, fuel is a problem. What I figured you'd have to do is buy some of the larger outdoor propane bottles, like these: https://www.amazon.com/Flame-King-YS...dp/B07Q47ZGK4/, and store them in a roofed but outdoor area on elevated concrete pads. (so they never sit in water and rust.)

At 50% load, it's 20 lbs of propane per 5.5 hours. So 87 pounds of propane per day.

So 3 tanks would be enough for a 3-4 day power outage. For longer than that, you need a solar/battery system. (like a powerwall)
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Old 10-09-2019, 10:20 PM
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... it's 20 lbs of propane per 5.5 hours.
Which at typical prices equates to a bit more than $2 per hour.

A multi-day outage could get expensive.
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Old 10-09-2019, 11:08 PM
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Which at typical prices equates to a bit more than $2 per hour.

A multi-day outage could get expensive.
Yep. Gasoline isn't any cheaper. About a gallon an hour for this generator at half load. So out of 33 kwh in that gallon you get 3. Inverter generators are more efficient but are about 3k for a similar wattage.
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Old 10-10-2019, 01:04 PM
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What I figured you'd have to do is buy some of the larger outdoor propane bottles, like these: https://www.amazon.com/Flame-King-YS...dp/B07Q47ZGK4/, and store them in a roofed but outdoor area on elevated concrete pads. (so they never sit in water and rust.)

At 50% load, it's 20 lbs of propane per 5.5 hours. So 87 pounds of propane per day.

So 3 tanks would be enough for a 3-4 day power outage. For longer than that, you need a solar/battery system. (like a powerwall)
No, you could get a larger propane tank. I use propane for heating and I have a 500 gallon tank which is filled to 80% so it holds 400 gallons of propane, which at 4.2 pounds per gallon equals 1680 pounds of propane.
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Old 10-10-2019, 03:27 PM
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No, you could get a larger propane tank. I use propane for heating and I have a 500 gallon tank which is filled to 80% so it holds 400 gallons of propane, which at 4.2 pounds per gallon equals 1680 pounds of propane.
Sure, but what does that tank cost? 3 one hundred pound tanks, which are 4 days to a week of backup power generation, would be $500 with shipping or less. (hardware store might have some for less). Each tank holds about 23 gallons.

Then the cost to fill the tanks is about $300.

You have about $1200 in just propane and your tank has to be professionally installed. So the tank alone is what, $3k?

Also propane is more expensive than natural gas. Depending on how north you are you might save money heating your place with electric heat pump mini splits (with electric baseboard heaters as supplemental heating for 1-3 days a year when it is below -18F). Though if your groundwater is cold it might be optimal to keep using a tankless outdoor propane heater (takagi makes some) and to buy a smaller propane tank when your present one fails.
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Old 10-10-2019, 07:45 AM
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I suspect some are surprised at generator output levels. Most being sold at the big box stores may power a frig and a couple of lights, but not much more. More powerful units get expensive and larger. A related issue is fuel. When power goes out it does so for gas station gas pumps as well. Making matters worse is what homeowners here in California are being told...power could be out for a few days. Generators consume fuel and you'll need a lot of it for several days. Storage of large amounts can be problematic on several levels.
I think you are underestimating them; I have one of those and it powers the entire house, including a 15000 BTU A/C in the summer which is the largest one that can still be powered before needing to go to 220V wiring, and also a very deep well pump. Though for that home I also have gas for heat, hot water, drying & cooking - any one of those things, if electric, would have required a larger generator or not to use that appliance. It's the smaller 5250 Watt type with something like 6500 surge and never had a issue or had to conserve power. I did get that with running the numbers and saw that this unit should handle the load of that house, I was not mistaken.

The missing link in your comment I feel is people don't prepare their home to run on the generator and run extension cords and can only power a few items and only using the 110 V (standard) plugs on the generator which typically only tapps into half of the generator's power to start with, and limits that to a max of 15A, so about 2000 Watts max from a 5000 Watt generator.

Additionally I have a gas station nearby which has a backup generator for just such emergencies. I also have IIRC 7, 5 gallon gas cans plus 8 gal capacity in the generator which are most of the time empty, but easy to fill especially if the storm is predicted. So lets say 40 gal is possible, as for how long that lasts, I don't use the generator 24/7 in such situations so I can go several days just fine, I can recharge devices, run heat, and fill the well pressure tank while the generator is running, Then shut it off for typically several hours, or even (and typically) all night. It really has been a cost effective solution for me that is going on 15 years, with several multi day power outages.
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Old 10-10-2019, 12:09 PM
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Also propane has a 10 year storage life. Longer, even. Limiting factor is you can't refill a propane tank more than 10 years old.

Diesel and gasoline have much shorter storage lives.

Also, the most common cause of small gasoline engine failure to start is residue from fuel clogging the carb. A second common failure is rusted out gas tanks.

So propane generators are cheap but less durable, less likely to clog, and the fuel lasts for 10 years or longer. Seems to be the best choice for a backup generator. Low durability doesn't matter for an engine you won't run more than a few hundred hours total.

Last edited by SamuelA; 10-10-2019 at 12:13 PM.
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Old 10-10-2019, 12:51 PM
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Also propane has a 10 year storage life. Longer, even. Limiting factor is you can't refill a propane tank more than 10 years old.

Diesel and gasoline have much shorter storage lives.

Also, the most common cause of small gasoline engine failure to start is residue from fuel clogging the carb. A second common failure is rusted out gas tanks.

So propane generators are cheap but less durable, less likely to clog, and the fuel lasts for 10 years or longer. Seems to be the best choice for a backup generator. Low durability doesn't matter for an engine you won't run more than a few hundred hours total.
The problem with propane is the availability of fuel. Fine if one has propane service with a tank with 100's of gallons hooked up ready to go, but if one is using BBQ tanks that gets a bit sketchy in terms of finding fuel, and those tanks don't last all that long. However there are quite a bit of dual fuel generators now that can run on propane or gasoline. This way one can keep it on propane until the big one hits and then use what they can find.

As for gasoline's ability to go bad, it has been a concern of mine, not just for the generator, but the lawn mower, snowblower, etc. However I have found in practice that gasoline generally is stable enough that it has never been more than a minor annoyance. The real trouble has been the snow blower, which seems like every winter, the first time, I have to remove the carb bowl and use carb cleaner on it. It's about 5 minutes extra per season. I don't recall having anything but some rough idle for the other 2 which tends to clear up with good fuel. But I do use Stable fuel stabilizer at 2x the amount suggested, and buy ethanol free gas which is also 93 octane because that's how the sell ethanol free gas here.
  #42  
Old 10-11-2019, 09:41 PM
mixdenny is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kanicbird View Post
As for gasoline's ability to go bad, it has been a concern of mine, not just for the generator, but the lawn mower, snowblower, etc... The real trouble has been the snow blower, which seems like every winter, the first time, I have to remove the carb bowl and use carb cleaner on it.
It seems to vary a lot. I stopped using my snowblower 5 years ago due to my bad knees. I get the driveway plowed when I need it. A few weeks ago I was wondering how much current the snowblower's electric start used so I hooked up my ammeter and give it a shot, not expecting it to start after 5 years. It fired instantly and ran fine. I did top up the tank with fresh fuel but it was half full of 5 year old gas. Sometimes you get lucky.

My Onan 6500 watt genny is natural gas.

Dennis
  #43  
Old 10-10-2019, 12:46 PM
DesertDog is offline
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Years ago friend of mine came across a site that was selling surplus 10kw diesel generators for $2,000 which was cheap, even back then. As a railfan, I took one look and recognized where'd they come from instantly, a refrigerator car. The square radiator at one end was unmistakable.
  #44  
Old 10-11-2019, 05:03 PM
Ruken is offline
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https://www.nerc.com/pa/rrm/ea/Pages...her-Event.aspx

I think this is the event but I didn't see anything about the death spiral that the utility guys were describing.
  #45  
Old 10-14-2019, 06:17 PM
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How does this affect a battery based system like a powerwall?
  #46  
Old 10-14-2019, 06:48 PM
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How does this affect a battery based system like a powerwall?
These provide much cleaner and more accurate power than a generator. The powerwall's lithium batteries can provide sudden surges of current as needed and there are also capacitors to help in the short term. So the sine wave produced will be very accurate.

Last edited by SamuelA; 10-14-2019 at 06:49 PM.
  #47  
Old 10-15-2019, 05:44 AM
Ruken is offline
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Per random googling: "the Powerwall 2 is a 13.5kWh capacity rechargeable lithium-ion battery that boasts 7kW peak and 5kW continuous power."
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