What Generator fuel type is best for me?
Choosing the best generator fuel type really depends when, where and for how long you believe you will need to use your generator. Each type has its pros and cons. Using this guide you will be able to make the right choice for your needs. The key considerations involved in choosing a fuel type will come down to a few factors. How long will the generator likely be needed for? Hours, a couple of day or even weeks? Where is the power production likely to be needed and what types of fuel can most easily be got at?
Advantages & Disadvantages
Gasoline generators are by far the most common, especially in the portable generator market. This means that there is a huge choice available at a range of sizes. Gasoline is also very readily available in most places and so can be very convenient to obtain. Although it can soon become scarce following natural disasters such as storms and earthquakes when you may need your generator the most!
The largest drawback of gasoline is the fuel itself. It is very volatile and must be handled carefully as it and its vapours can easily ignite. The fuel also does not stores well, generally no longer than a couple of months is recommended without adding fuel stabilisers, as described below.
Gasoline is also quite an expensive way to generate power compared to some of the alternatives. If power is likely to be required over a longer period of time as emergency backup or as the main source in a remote location this can be impractical. Powering a small cabin or essentials in a house for a couple of weeks could easily add up to hundreds of gallons of gasoline.
Diesel generators tend to start from about a 1000 Watts and upwards as the fuel is not well suited to smaller engines. Although that are far less diesel generators on the market choosing to go diesel does have a number of advantages. The main one is the general cost efficiency of producing power with diesel. The cheaper fuel which will give you more power for you buck. As well as the price diesel is also much safer than gasoline, it will generally not combust from a naked flame alone. You can safely store large quantities without having to worry about causing a fire hazard. Although, like gasoline, the fuel will spoil in storage eventually (but not for around 18-24 months).
Diesel engines have a much longer life than some of their alternatives. Maintained well your diesel generator could prove a great investment in terms of both fuel savings and overall longevity. The engine is also capable of running even in extremely cold condition when using fuel additives such as link to fuel additive. So if you need a generators that can run comfortably in sub-arctic conditions diesel is definitely worth considering.
However there are some trade offs, diesel fuel will generate the most emissions from all of the options listed so ventilation is vital for safe running. The engines also run a lot louder that gasoline, propane or natural gas and so if running from your home you might want to consider some sound proofing options as well.
Propane generators have the great advantage of long lasting fuel. Bottles can be stored for years and still be usable. With liquid propane the fuel will literally last as long as the containers can contain it. If you believe your generator will be used sparsely this could be a great option. As well as shelf life propane also runs much cleaner and quieter than diesel or gasoline which makes it great for use in urban areas.
During times of natural disaster or area wide power outages it will also be a lot easier to obtain liquid propane bottles even when the garage pumps aren’t able to operate.
The largest drawback to propane is the burn time and cost efficiency of the fuel, depending on generator size you could end up paying 3 times for the same power output compared to diesel. This can cause a need to storing a number of bulky gas bottles.
Natural gas supplied straight from the fittings from your home or workplace can be extremely convenient and is often the first choice for static standby generators. Natural gas enjoys all the same benefits as propane. Running clean and quiet making it ideal for keeping the neighbours happy! Choosing natural gas connected to your existing supply means that you don’t ever have to worry about manually fueling your generator. As long as the supply lines are intact you are good to go.
The drawback in this however is the fact that if the gas lines are knocked out by earthquakes or hurricanes then you are likely to lose both your mains power and gas.
You also have to consider that as well as paying a higher cost for your generated power, at about 3 times that of diesel. You will also have to pay for professional installation of your generator.
Tri-fuel & Dual fuel
Today there are many standby and portable generators that will work with a number of different fuel types. You will see these advertised as dual fuel or tri-fuel generators. The combinations will generally be natural gas, liquid propane and gasoline. By buying a multi-fueled generator you can make the most of the advantages listed above while avoiding some of the disadvantages.
Choosing a standby generator that can run on both the natural gas supply from your home and also on propane bottles can be very convenient. You can enjoy an endless supply of natural gas with the reassurance that if this supply where ever broken you can switch to using propane. Many standby generators offer the dual fuel feature and generally it is very simple to switch between the fuels with a few minor adjustments to your generator.
Tri-fuel generators tend to be portable. These can run on gasoline, propane or natural gas. Choosing the go for a tri-fuel generator could be the right choice for you if you plan to be using your generator in a range of situations where the supply of a single type of fuel cannot be guaranteed. However when purchasing any multi-fuel generator it is important to note that you won’t get the same power output from each fuel type. Propane and gasoline will usually produce the same power output however running the same generator on natural gas will usually results in a 20% drop in overall wattage output. If you are planning to occasionally hook your generator up to natural gas you will need to be aware that you might need to make the concession on what you will be able to power during that time.
As well as the fuel itself there are also a range of additives that can help you project your generator and give it a much longer lifespan.
Due to the way that many generators are used and stored it usually occurs that a tank of fuel or stored fuel may sit for many months or even years before being used. Fuels like gasoline and diesel deteriorate over time and can become unusable and harmful to engines. With gasoline especially it can cause a buildup of ‘gum’ inside the engine which will eventually affect the efficiency and output of your engine.
To combat this problem you can choose to use one of the many fuel stabilizers on the market. Adding these to your fuel will help to keep the fuel fresh for longer and will protect your generators engine from any unwanted build up resulting in better power productions and a longer life. Leading additives are relatively cheap and worth the investment.
If you need to rely on power production in extreme cold weather conditions you may also choose to use an cold weather additive. The basic function of the additive is to prevent fuel thickening in cold weather.
Using this in combination with a diesel generator can allow your generator to start on run in temperatures up to minus 20 degrees!