How Do Portable Generators Work?

There are a few good reasons why you might need to rely on a portable generator, and the first thing we would say is don’t wait until an emergency hits before you decide to invest in one. Chances are, if it’s down to a localized power outage or adverse weather conditions, you won’t be the only one who’s been caught short in your neighborhood and that could mean one of two things, short supply of cost-effective and reliable generators being available to actually purchase, and price hikes to accommodate for the surge in demand.

So it’s good that you are reading this article today and if you don’t already have a backup power source at home, this might just spur you on to invest. So let’s take a look at the hot topic of today and answer the question of how do portable generators work?

So you can picture the scenario. Conventional electrical power is down. There’s been an unexpected outage or you just so happen to be off grid on some kind of outdoor adventure. Not the survival kind otherwise you’d be asking about how to build a fire using only flint, but the kind where you might have rented an RV or gone off on a camping, hunting or fishing weekend away with the guys.

You’ve all brought your laptops, your smartphones and someone thought it would be a great idea to bring a fridge for all those beers you intend sinking. Or its hurricane season. Hilda or Manuel or whatever their name happens to be, has just hurtled on through, rattling the shutters and taking out your domestic power.

The electricity has gone down and you’ve got all the family over. You were literally just in the middle of preparing a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. Just how do you get quick, reliable and safe access back to your essential appliances? With a portable generator of course.

So, in a Nutshell, How Does a Portable Generator Work?

We will try and keep this simple and not overly technical. Of course the answer to that question also very much lies in what kind of generator you own, but let’s assume that it’s a common gas-powered style engine which is what the most robust and reliable units are run on. Of course, there are other types of fossil fuels you can use and you can get much smaller backup power supplies that are adequate for charging needs and essential small appliances that are battery operated.

However, let’s assume we are talking a powerful gas-fueled generator that will get your household back up and running in an emergency or keep all the camp inhabitants happily fed, watered and entertained on a trip away.

In layman’s terms, a portable generator can provide a source of electricity for your gadgets and appliances by using a gas-powered engine. The engine further turns an onboard alternator which is itself then responsible for generating electrical power.

Your generator will feature a series of outlets (AC, DC, USB, etc.) that allow you to then plug in external electrically powered devices, tools, appliances and those gadgets that we mentioned earlier. Depending upon the overall power of your generator (and they do vary immensely) and to a lesser extent how much you spent on it, your unit will have more or fewer outlet combinations available.

The Primary Components of a Typical Portable Generator

Again, this will differ according to the make and model, but generally speaking, a portable generator is going to consist of just a few key component parts that will have been assembled together to form a single, practical unit, typically housed in a metal frame. Those component parts are:

  • Internal combustion engine
  • Alternator
  • Starter
  • Fuel tank
  • Outlets

It really is that simple. Of course, many units these days contain far more functionality than that but at its basic level, that’s all a portable generator is. It’s further differentiated from a standby generator in that it’s not a permanent installation. If you do live in an extreme weather zone, you may instead have a permanent standby solution installed at your home.

How are Portable Generators Rated and Classified?

You’ll see the letter W next to a series of numbers when generators are being described, and that denotes Watts or power. The higher the W, the more powerful the generator. Your reasons for investing in a portable generator will determine the total level of watts that you need to have available.

If you are looking to run your entire home temporarily, lights, TV, cooker, washing machine, refrigerator, etc. then you are going to need plenty of running watts. If you just need a short-term solution for running a couple of smaller appliances, then you can get away with that number being lower.

A microwave, for example, runs on 650 W, a toaster on 1200 W, a portable heater on 1200 W and your refrigerator on 750 W. Throw in some lights, your television, and your computer, and if you want to run all those simultaneously, it could add up to 5000 W of running power.

What’s the Difference Between Running and Startup Power?

Many devices require a surge of power to effectively get them kick-started which may be higher than the power they settle down and run at when in continuous usage mode. So check both the starting and running requirements of all the appliances you are looking to support.

Large motor-driven appliances, in particular, need a more substantial initial surge and if you already know that you are going to want to run multiple devices concurrently then settle upon a portable generator that you know is going to be up for the task in hand and can adequately handle these requirements.

On a Final Note of Caution

The absolute safest and best place to operate your portable generator is outside. A generator can be a useful, powerful, durable and reliable source of backup electricity but please ensure that your family is kept safe and protected from potential risks associated with carbon monoxide.

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