by Bryan A. Thompson
Last Updated 2/10/03
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Choosing a generator
Easy, right? Go to Lowe's or Walmart, spend $599 and get a 6KW generator. Then you have to worry about lifting it (they're 167lbs without fuel) into the truck (they're assembled from the store and will not fit into a passenger car). Then you have to find a way to use that power. Hopefully before you left the store, you notice that it only has a 15A output with standard connectors - the rest of the power comes out through that weird 4-prong circular outlet that won't connect to anything in your house. To use the full capacity of these generators, you have to get a licensed electrician rewire a generator patch panel into your breaker box ($750 parts and labor) and buy an additional $100 cable to connect that panel to your generator. Then when you start it up, the noise these things create will make the neighbors a lot more likely to call the police. In order to maintain proper frequency and voltage output, they have to run at full power - always. They're every bit as noisy as a lawn mower, which means you probably won't be able to run it at night or in a quiet neighborhood. In short, they're cheaper because they suck.
The Honda 2000i - A Review
The Honda EU2000i
I live in an apartment, and I knew the neighbors would either call the police with a noise complaint or steal the generator if I tried to run it regularly. So I got the quietest thing I could. Then I did an electrical power assessment (also available as an Excel document) and bought the cheapest quiet generator I could find that would meet my emergency needs. Other factors were weight, run time and fuel efficiency. This one weighs 46lbs dry. I don't want to have to get up and refuel it in the middle of the night, so 8-10hrs run time was critical. I don't want to store a 55 gallon drum of fuel to get through an extended outage, so efficiency was crucial. Since this model is so popular, a propane conversion kit is available for about $200. This generator meets all of my needs.
Unfortunately it's only a 1600W continuous generator. They sell 2500W continuous models, but they're a lot heavier and more expensive. If you need more power, they can be paralleled with a cable available from Honda. They're only available from Honda Power Equipment (not the same as Honda Motorcycle/ATV dealers) dealers, so I had to consult the Honda web page then drive 100 miles to get it.
It's rated for 1600W continuous, or 2000W peak, and has a strict internal circuit breaker to enforce this limit. It has a standard NEMA 5-20P 125V Duplex plug, so all your standard <15A stuff will plug into it (and so will a 20A 125V plug).
It is quiet - 59dB full load, 53dB with 1/4 load. I live in an apartment. When I put it out on the deck with a full load connected and close the door, I can't hear it.
It has a 12VDC at 8A output, but you have to buy a $15 cable to use this feature.
It has an Eco-mode option that throttles back the motor speed to keep the generator quieter (even at its full-rated-output) and to conserve fuel. It has a 1.1 gallon tank. It runs for 4 hrs at full-load or 15 hrs at 1/4 load. On propane, it can run for an indefinite period of time.
It's small and lightweight - 20"x16"x12", 46lbs dry.
It's reasonably powerful - 3.5HP OHV (OverHead Valve) engine for extended continuous running.
It's extremely clean power so things like printers, copiers, AC motors, etc can be powered by the generator without frying something. The power is from a power inverter, not a big AC motor like most cheaper generators. The upside of this is that it's possible to throttle back the motor without affecting the output voltage, so the Eco-Throttle can be scaled back.
A propane conversion kit is available for about $200. This minimizes the mess associated with gasoline and allows the generator to run for an indefinite time.
Problems I encountered with the Honda EU2000i, and some some of my solutions
They cost $1000 new. You probably want to secure the generator to something when it's outside. I use a bike cable lock through the handle and around a gas pipe. If someone saws through the pipe, they probably won't be around to sue me.
It's only 1600W - My peak energy usage is about 8KW. It was necessary to use time-shifting and load shedding techniques to minimize my electrical energy requirements.
You can't just plug in a full load without killing the motor. The load has to be brought online slowly. Disabling Eco-Throttle helps somewhat here. Here's my solution to this problem: The Emergency Power Distribution System
They vent excess fuel through a tube out the bottom of the generator - so it leaks raw fuel. I store it in a double-trash bag to keep it from fouling the carpet. In the future, I plan to convert the generator to Propane to eliminate these problems.
They have a deceptive handle on top of them that makes everyone think they can lift it one-handed. When full of fuel, it weighs 50+lbs. It's easy to jerk your arm out of socket if you're not expecting this sort of load. A wagon would be great way to store the generator, fuel, extension cords, etc. If the wagon had sides, it would also be possible to make a crude rain shelter for the generator using a tarp.
After reading the reviews, I expected it to be a lot quieter than it is. It isn't annoyingly loud like a leaf blower, but 59dB isn't *that* quiet and will probably still disturb some neighbors. I decided that the best way to handle this is not to run it at night. I just run it long enough to charge large UPS batteries, then power everything electrical at night through the UPS batteries. This means no cooking or heating with electricity at night, so I bought an emergency heater and Coleman stove that runs on Propane.
It shakes like crazy when running - I mean, really badly. They have some big spring-shaped rubber feet in the bottom of the unit, but they don't go nearly far enough to keep it from shaking the floor where it's sitting. I use a high-density chunk of foam sold as a seat cushion in the sporting goods section of Walmart to isolate some of the vibration it causes. Without this, I don't know how the RV crowd (the primary market for these things) can stand it.
Efficiency, Fuel Consumption Rate, Operating Costs and Maintenance Costs
See the Energy Efficiency Comparison Chart (or as an Excel File) for more information about how the generator compares to other forms of energy consumption.
15.87% when running on gasoline, 19.72% when running on propane. There are much more efficient uses for gasoline and propane, so unless you absolutely need the electricity, don't burn the fuel in the generator.
This is where a fuel cell would quickly pay for itself, even when inverter inefficiencies are factored in.
$400 used, $1000 new for the generator. This translates to $625/KW.
10W30 Motor Oil, Spark plug, air cleaner element, fuel