What Generator Do You Need To Keep The Lights On At Your Farm

Ranch generators

Losing power during a storm or tornado is no fun, but if the grid goes down in a significant snowstorm, it slows the movement of equipment, machines, and repair people, which adds substantial time to outages. Although this is not usual, we all know that spending an entire week without electricity can and does happen. That is why many farmers own a generator; however, as we’ve found from experience, not all generators are created equal.

The best time to get a generator is on a beautiful clear sunny day with not a sign of impending bad weather in the forecast, but that is not how most folks buy their generators as it’s not typically regarded part of the emergency essentials. During one of the last substantial power outages (that week-long time of darkness that many can recall), residents were crazily throwing money at anyone who had generators available, and it seemed like some manufactured doomsday.

We all have heard that old saying “you get what you pay for,” but frankly, sometimes you do not even get that. During our last power outage, these wonder generators cost an awful lot of money when every Tom, Dick, and Harry homeowner were eager to spend huge amount of money on a generator to prevent their pipes from cracking.

This off-brand, off-shore built generators didn’t have the usual Honda or Briggs & Stratton motors Americans are familiar to work on, but rather some no-name engine which you cannot get parts for without waiting to get that slow boat from China to arrive. Things were so bad that power equipment repair shops turned to generator repair jobs due to the backlog of waiting on foreign parts.

Was the engine itself crap? Well, not necessarily but these generators were being run way too long and way too hard for what they were.

Today’s modern household is a combination of high-tech devices and a couple of great conservative energy hogs, such as our clothes dryers, electric ranges, old chest freezers, and well water pumps (for people without city utilities). When thinking about buying a standby generator, you need to think about your electrical needs.

Individuals who blindly panicked purchasing any generator they could get, immediately noticed that their new nifty 2500 KW generator couldn’t reach all appliances of their house. People who had bought an under-powered generator had to pick and choose what ran and what didn’t.

Two-Pole and Four-Pole Generators

Two styles of generators are there; two-pole and four-pole. Generator tops generally have an external winding of copper wire, and inside that, a rotor spins with four poles or two poles. Two-pole generators are smaller and more economical to produce, but they must spin twice as fast to put out 60 cycle power (the typical frequency in North America), unlike the more expensive four-pole models. What does this mean to us? It means deciding between a generator that only requires an engine to spin at 1800 RPM, and a generator that has to scream continuously at 3600 RPM to create usable power.

Let us go back to that cheap generator syndrome thing for an instant. These little “inexpensive” generators have small gas engines that will need to scream at a continuous 3600 RPM to give you the electricity you can use to power appliances. All the bearings in the generator are spinning at a speed of 3600 RPM too.

Cheap components do not live all that long once you run them at high RPMs, but those generators are designed to endure running for up to eight hours a day at a worksite and typically do well in that capacity. What they weren’t designed for is running for days on end, and that’s the reason why they gave up after three days of continuous operation.

It was their fault; the homeowners asked too much of their cheap little generator.

Which Design Is Best For You?

When you think about the size of generator you need, if you only expect to operate your generator for a couple of hours per day, then a less costly two-pole generator could just fit the bill, but make sure to purchase a quality one with a standard, name-brand engine you can get parts for quickly and easily locally. One caveat worth mentioning; a few generators use a gearbox to convert a lower input RPM into 3600 RPM which is good, but remember there’s a mechanical energy loss associated with the gearbox which will detract from the fuel efficiency of the motor, and the high RPM will still wear tougher on internal elements like bearings and contact brushes.

If you entirely intend to operate your whole generator day and whole night till the power is off, or if you’re powering your off-grid house without solar panels and off-grid battery bank, you require a four-pole generator. A four-pole generator will eat less fuel, run quieter, run cooler, and generally be not as likely to break down.

Any engine will run for longer and better at 1800 RPM than at the breakneck pace of 3600 RPM. Also, switching over to a four-pole generator clears up the way to diesel engines since 3600 RPM is near to or in some cases, above “red line” or maximum safe operating RPM for most industrial diesel engines.

Engine Options

Generators come with all kinds of engine options, and it’s essential to think about the size of a generator before making an investment. In a two-pole generator, you are usually stuck with a small gas engine like your lawnmower or ride-on garden tractor, but if you make the jump into four-pole generators, you have a few alternatives.

Gasoline, propane, natural gas, and diesel are standard gas options for generators, but which to pick has a lot to do with fuel availability, location, and price.

If you have a propane line or natural gas line running to your home already, then a generator which uses that gas supply makes sense, but natural gas and propane contain significantly lower BTUs per gallon or pound, so unless you’ve got a gas line feed, it is not a very viable option.

Gasoline is another good option for people who are isolated or far from the town and especially in colder climates because gas tolerates the cold better than diesel fuel.   One bonus to gasoline is it is a lot more comfortable to find fuel, although not all gas stations provide diesel but are sure to carry unless they have sold out. If pressed, someone could siphon gas from a vehicle to fuel the generator if gas stations are running low on fuel or have no power themselves.

Diesel engines compose the strong majority of industrial standby generators, and for a good reason. Diesel engines take advantage of their power at low RPMs, making them efficient and powerful when working at a fixed 1800 RPM for generating energy.

Diesel is known for being sturdy, robust, efficient, reliable, and simple, all of which are positive attributes to have in a generator engine. Another essential reward of diesel engines is their selected fuel of consumption; diesel.  Diesel is an energy-rich fuel, which is why diesel engines are as effective as they are.

Also, look into your local fuel tax laws as there may be added cost-effective options to getting road taxed diesel fuel for your generator. Sadly, on the other side of all this positivity, diesel engines are costly, so be ready to shell out important cash for a quality diesel backup generator.

An increasing number of agricultural businesses and farms are seeking solar to provide energy for their everyday operations. Silicon-based PV cells are the most common solar photovoltaic technology used. Most of the solar panels have a glass front that guards the PV cell and a steel or aluminum frame.

Some solar units use cadmium telluride (CdTe). Cadmium compounds are poisonous, but studies reveal that these compounds can’t be released from CdTe modules for regular operation or also during fires. Manufacturing incineration temperatures, which are extremely greater than grassfires, are needed to rescue the compounds from the modules.

Solar can be installed in flood fields, but all electrical appliances will need to be set up above the projected level of flooding. Raising equipment could increase the expense of installation and might negatively affect project economics. Also, the value of insurance will be higher for PV systems in a flooding region. A region that will not be flooded may be better suited for PV installation.

Advantages of Co-locating Solar and Crop Production for solar power farmers and developers.

Benefits to solar developers include:

  • Reduced Installation costs — The use of previously tilled agricultural may prevent the need for expensive grading to flatten land to a usable level.
  • Reduced upfront risk — Geotechnical risks can increase the cost of solar installation due to increased testing requirements. Previously tilled agricultural land was acknowledged as the “least risk option” during a series of surveys with solar installers.
  • Reduced Legal threat — By using previously disturbed land, solar contractors can cut the chance of an upfront lawsuit during the environmental review process.
  • Potential Increase PV functionality — Vegetation under modules can contribute to lower soil temperatures and increase solar performance.

Benefits to agricultural property managers include:

  • Reduced electricity costs
  • Diversification of the revenue stream
  • Greater ability to install high-value, shad- resistant crops for new markets
  • Marketing chance to sustainability-mindful audience
  • Ability to maintain crop production during solar production
  • Permit for soil and nutrient recharge of lands.

PTO-Driven Generators

For those people who have a farm tractor with a PTO (power take-off), there is excellent news! Rather than purchasing a full generator, which can be costly, you can purchase just the generator head and run it with your farm equipment. PTO-driven generators are considered as standard farm tools these days due to their inexpensive price tag. This option enabled us to purchase our 25 KW generator without going bankrupt in the method, but it will tie up the tractor while producing power. You can’t dig snow or otherwise use your tractor without disconnecting your generator.

Bridging the Gap

Now that you have an answer to what size generator do I want and have a generator chosen out, you require it to be attached to the electrical panel of your home unless you think to have miles of extension cords, which I don’t recommend. This part is something that you want an experienced electrician to handle as you can easily cross wires, burn down your house or God forbid, kill yourself, or the employee of a power company.

Any licensed electrician that wants to keep their license will provide you two choices; an automatic transfer switch or a manual transfer switch. A transfer switch does two things simultaneously, disconnects one power source, and joins another. This makes generator power and grid electricity mutually exclusive, meaning that you can’t be connected to both at the same time. This is done correctly to prevent you from supplying power back into the network so that when a power line worker goes to service a line that is probably not powered, they’re not electrocuted by the electricity you unexpectedly back-fed into the grid.

If you have a generator that works with an auto-start system, then an automatic transfer switch will make it all seamless. When the terminal goes down, your generator will start operating, and the transfer switch will switch to generator power without you having to do it manually, which is a nice advantage when it’s all set up correctly.

For the rest of the people, particularly those with PTO-driven generators, a manual transfer switch is the best option, and far more cost-effective at around $300. It is a simple box with a lever, and it will securely carry you from grid power to your generator and back again when you start the switch, either way, having everyone safe all the while.

In Brief

Buying a standby generator for the ranch, farm, your home, or homestead is a great idea, mainly since today’s modernized homes and farms depend on electricity to heat, cool, light, cook, run machinery, and pump water to make them livable. Make sure to consider what size generator I need to make sure everything runs effectively and productively in a lights out situation.

As one who likes not to be reliant on the grid, but rather self-reliant as much as is practical, owning a generator for those few events just makes sense to me. A PTO driven generator or a four-pole generator in your preference of KW rating will ultimately prove its utility, so if you have a mind to, invest in one now before the storm.

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