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POWER AND LIGHTING

PORTABLE GENERATORS

When the sun won't shine a genny comes into its own


Solar power can be a viable camping power source, but the portable generator/battery charger still has its place, particularly in situations where sunlight is unreliable.

 If you’re planning to camp in remote areas of the Victorian High Country, or along the Great Dividing Range from the NSW-Victorian Border to North Queensland you can’t rely on solar power alone, because the sun’s rays may not make it through cloud, mist or the thick leaf canopy. A portable generator may be handy to recharge your fridge battery.

However, take note of the fact that nearly all camping parks, most National Parks and many other sites completely ban the use of generators at any time. Bush camping is different, because it’s often possible to set up well away from other campers and that’s when the little genny comes into its own.

In our generator survey we’ve restricted our choices to the type of portable generator most people can fit into an already well-packed 4WD and with a ceiling price of $2000.

A generator’s perceived role is to act as a backup power source, supporting the vehicle’s starting battery, deep-cycle fridge battery(s), solar panel generator with at least 80-watt capacity, and to run one or two 240V appliances such as a battery charger, an iPod or MP3-player docking station, small TV and a laptop.

 

Generator battery charging

During Outback Travel Australia’s Camper Trailer Torture Test we needed to use our backup Honda portable generator on a couple of occasions, after deep water crossings shorted out trailer power supply circuits when the connecting plugs between 4WD and trailer filled with water. At the end of long driving days the trailer batteries had been partially discharged by the trailer-mounted fridges, because no charge had been running to the batteries from the 4WD alternators.

Solution: hook up the petrol generator’s 12-volt leads to the trailer battery for a couple of hours, to ensure the fridge stayed safely cold and boost the battery voltage at the same time; dry and clean up the trailer connections; and replace the power supply fuse so that the trailer battery charged from the 4WD next day.

Note that this is not the optimum way to charge a flat battery, because the voltage is a nominal 12V and the current is only around eight amps.

If you intend to use your petrol generator to charge 12V starting or deep-cycle batteries on a regular basis that’s best done using the generator’s 240V circuit, via the same modern, electronically controlled battery charger you use at home with mains voltage, but even then it can take several hours to recharge a flat battery.

A faster alternative is a purpose-built, petrol-powered battery charger that combines a vehicle alternator with a petrol engine, delivering 14+V and around seven times the battery charging current of a portable generator.

We’ve used a Christie charger on several bush trips and found it very useful.

 

Which Portable Generator for You

A portable generator that meets our stated criteria isn’t going to be one of the hardware chain ‘cheapies’, because they don’t deliver electricity flow of sufficient quality to meet the needs of delicate electronic equipment. The minimum requirement you should look for is a four-stroke – not two-stroke – inverter/generator that produces pure sine wave power and we’ve not seen anything in the market below around $600 that fulfils these criteria.

Most low-priced generators rotate two coils of wire inside a circumference of magnets and the engine must maintain a constant speed of  50 cycles per second or 3000 cycles per minute (3000rpm) to produce the standard 50 Hz (cycles per second) of mains-equivalent power frequency. If electrical load makes the engine revs change the frequency is disturbed.

The engine in an inverter/generator rotates several small coils of wire in a circumference of very strong magnets. Each rotation of the engine produces some 300 overlapping sine waves of AC power. Engine speed can then reflect electrical load, without disturbing frequency, so an inverter/generator with less than full load can run at lower speed, potentially saving fuel and reducing noise.

Speaking of noise, most quality generators are built to comply with the USA’s National Park Service (NPS) noise limit. This limit is expressed in decibels and shown as dB(A): the most common global measurement of sound pressure level. The US NPS generator noise limit is 60dB(A) at 50 feet (15.2m) from the source, 67dB(A) at 23 feet (7m) and 74dB(A) at 10 feet (3m).

So, which inverter/generator should you buy? The decision should be made on the basis of power requirements, after-sales support and price.

If you need only backup power, with the ability to keep the fridge going when your solar power isn’t working and run a couple of LED lights, a small generator will do the trick. Around 700 watts continuous power is as small as they get.

To run a camping fridge, TV or computer and lights, all at the same time, requires bout 700 watts of continuous power; add a small freezer and a microwave and the demand doubles to around 1400W and if you wanted to replicate the comforts of home, including an aircon unit and coffee machine, you’d need around 3000W.

Some people prefer to buy a generator that can also be used as power backup at home, to keep essential items operating. The rule in this case is to buy the most powerful one that you can fit into your camping vehicle.

 

 

Cummins P1100

The Cummins P1100 generator is rated for 700W continuous running, with 850W peak power. It has a 4.2-litre fuel tank for a claimed 4.3 hours of continuous operation. Although not a sine-wave generator the P1100 delivers stable power via automatic voltage regulation. It has 12V DC battery charging, LED display and ‘low oil’ engine shutdown. Claimed noise rating is 56dB(A) at 7m.

The unit measures 490 mm long, 295 mm wide and 445 mm high, and weighs a hefty 20.5kg.

A two-year limited warranty is offered.

 

 

Cummins P1700i

The Cummins P1700i generator is rated for 1400W continuous running, with 1650W peak power. It has a four-litre fuel tank for a claimed four hours of continuous operation. The P1700i has auto idle, power save mode for running light loads, standard 12V DC output facility, LED display and ‘low oil’ shutdown. Claimed noise rating is 59dB(A) at 7m.

The unit measures 490 mm long, 295 mm wide and 445 mm high (identical to the P1100) and weighs a solid 25kg.

A two-year limited warranty is offered.

 

 

Engel SHX 1000

The Engel SHX1000 is rated at 1000-watt peak power at 240V, via single power point and has 12-volt DC charging terminals. Power comes from a four-stroke Honda engine (model GXH50) with a 3.8- litre tank and is said to run for up to 8.6 hours at half load and 5.5 hours at full load.

With the option of silent mode or power mode, the claimed sound level is 58dB(A) at half-load at a distance of 7m.

The SHX1000 measures 465mm long, 265mm wide and 380mm high, and weighs in at a light14kg.

 

Engel SHX2000

The Engel SHX2000 is rated at 1700-watt peak power at 240V, via twin power points and has 12-volt DC charging terminals. Power comes from a Honda four-stroke engine (model GXH100), with a 7.7-litre tank that is said to give seven hours operation at half-load.
The claimed sound level is 63dB(A) at half-load at a distance of 7m.

The SHX2000 measures 560mm long, 340mm wide and 415mm high, and weighs 21kg.

 

Honda EX7

The Honda EX7 has a continuous rated output of 600 Watts, with 700-watt peak power, via a 240V power point and 6A/12V battery charge socket. Power comes from a four-stroke engine, with a tank capacity of 2.3 litres and a claimed running time of up to 4.6 hours.

The claimed sound level is 56dB(A) at 7m.

The EX7 measures 450mm long, 240mm wide and 380mm high, and weighs 12kg.

A four-year domestic warranty is offered.

 

Honda EU10i

The Honda EU10i has a continuous rated output of 900 Watts, with 1000-watt peak power, via a 240V power point and 8A/12V battery charge socket. Power comes from a four-stroke engine, with a tank capacity of 2.3 litres and a claimed running time of up to eight hours at the economy setting.

The claimed sound level is 52dB(A) at 7m (at the economy setting).

The EU10i measures 450mm long, 240mm wide and 380mm high, and weighs 13kg.

A four-year domestic warranty is offered.

 

Honda EU20i

The Honda EU20i has a continuous rated output of 1600 Watts, with 2000-watt peak power, via twin 240V power points and 8A/12V battery charge socket. Power comes from a four-stroke engine, with a tank capacity of 4.1 litres and a claimed running time of up to 15 hours at the economy setting.

The claimed sound level is 59dB(A) at 7m (54dB(A) at the economy setting.

The EU20i measures 510mm long, 290mm wide and 425mm high, and weighs 21kg.

A four-year domestic warranty is offered.The Honda EU20i is selling for around $2000

 

Hyundai HY1000Si

The Hyundai HY1000Si generator has a continuous rated output of 950 Watts, with 1000-watt peak power, via a single 240V power point and 12V battery charge socket. Power comes from a 49cc, 1.7kW four-stroke engine, with a tank capacity of 2.7 litres and a claimed running time of up to six hours.

The claimed sound level is 59-63dB(A) at 7m.

The HY1000Si measures 490mm long, 275mm wide and 415mm high, and weighs 13kg.

 

Hyundai HY2000Si

The Hyundai HY2000Si has a continuous rated output of 2000 Watts, with 2200-watt peak power, via twin 240V power points and 12V battery charge socket. Power comes from a 133cc, 3.0kW four-stroke engine, with a tank capacity of seven litres and a claimed running time of up to 6.5 hours.

The claimed sound level is 65dB(A) at 7m.

The HY2000Si measures 545mm long, 290mm wide and 500mm high, and weighs 27kg.

 

Kipor GS1000

The Kipor GS1000 generator is rated at 900 Watts, with 1000-watt peak power at 240V and 3.9 amps, via a single power point and a 12V charging socket. Power comes from a 53.5cc, 1.3kW four-stroke engine with a 2.6-litre fuel tank that provides a claimed four-hour duration at 900W.

The claimed sound level is 54–59dB(A) at 7m.

The GS1000 measures 460mm long, 248mm wide and 395 mm high, and weighs 14kg.

A two-year nationwide warranty for domestic use applies.

 

Kipor GS2000

The Kipor GS2000 generator is rated at 1600 Watts, with 2000-watt peak power at 240V and 7.0 amps, via twin power points and a 12V charging socket. Power comes from a 105.6 cc, 2.2kW four-stroke engine with a 3.5-litre fuel tank that provides a claimed 3.5-hour duration at 1600W.

The claimed sound level is 54–59dB(A) at 7m.

The GS1000 measures 520mm long, 300mm wide and 425mm high, and weighs 22kg.

A two-year nationwide warranty for domestic use applies.

 

Kipor GS2600

The Kipor GS2600 generator is rated at 2300 Watts, with 2600-watt peak power at 240V and 10 amps, via twin power points and a 12V charging socket. Power comes from a 171cc, 3.3kW four-stroke engine with a 4.6-litre fuel tank that provides a claimed three-hour duration at 1600W.

The claimed sound level is 63-72dB(A) at 7m.

The GS2600 measures 524mm long, 317mm wide and 453mm high, and weighs 26kg.

A two-year nationwide warranty for domestic use applies.

 

Piranha TG1000i

The Piranha TG1000i generator is rated at 900 Watts, with 1000-watt peak output at 240V and 3.9 amps, with a single power point and 12V charging socket. Power comes from a 53.5cc, 1.3kW four-stroke engine, with 2.7-litre fuel tank that provides a claimed four-hour duration at full load and seven hours at half-load (Eco-throttle). A low-oil-level alarm is fitted.

The claimed sound level is 54-59dB(A) at 7m.

The TG1000i measures 450mm long, 230mm wide and 460mm high, and weighs 14kg.

 

Piranha TG2000i

The Piranha TG2000i generator is rated at 1600 Watts, with 2000-watt peak output at 240V and 7.0 amps, via twin power points and 12V charging socket. Power comes from a 105.7cc, 2.2kW four-stroke engine, with 3.5-litre fuel tank that provides a claimed 3.5-hour duration at full load and six hours at half-load (Eco-throttle). A low-oil-level alarm is fitted.

The claimed sound level is 54-59dB(A) at 7m.

The TG2000i measures 550mm long, 270mm wide and 460mm high, and weighs 22kg.

 

Subaru R1700i

The Subaru R1700i generator is rated at 1400-watt continuous output and1650 Watts peak power, via twin 240V power points and 12V battery charge terminals. Power comes from a 1.5kW four-stroke engine with a 3.5-litre fuel tank that provides a claimed four-hour duration.

The claimed sound level is 59dB(A) at 7m.

The R1700i measures 490mm long, 295mm wide and 445mm high, and weighs 20.5kg.

 

Yamaha EF1000iS

The Yamaha EF1000iS generator is rated at 900 Watts, with 1000-watt peak power at 230V and 8A, via a single power point and 12V charging socket. Power comes from a 50cc, 1.6 kW four-stroke engine with 2.5-litre fuel tank that provides a claimed 12-hour duration at one-quarter load.

The claimed sound level is 47dB(A) at one-quarter load and 57dB(A) at full load, at 7m.

The EF1000iS measures 450mm long, 240mm wide and 380mm high, and weighs 12.7kg.

 

Yamaha EF2000iS

The Yamaha EF2000iS generator is rated at 1600 Watts, with 2000W peak power at 240V and 15A, via a single power point and 12V charging socket. Power comes from a four-stroke engine with 4.2-litre fuel tank that provides a claimed 4.0-10.5-hour duration.

The claimed sound level is 57dB(A) at full load, at 7m.

The EF2000iS measures 490mm long, 280mm wide and 445mm high, and weighs 21kg.

 

Christie Battery Charger

This petrol-powered battery charger consists of a Honda GXH50, 50cc,1.6kW four-stroke engine driving a Bosch 12V/55A automotive alternator. It can be set manually for low (14V) or high (14.6V) charge rates and delivers up to 55 amps. High-current, three-metre leads, with heavy-duty alligator clamps are provided.

It’s very noisy in operation, but usually needs to run for only a few minutes to put enough charge into a starting battery. Not ideal for running a fridge for extended periods.

Tank capacity is 1.2L and consumption is around 0.75L/hr.

The Christie 12/55 measures 410mm long, 275mm wide and 370 mm high, and weighs 12kg.

 

The LPG option

Propane-fuelled generators are very popular in the USA, but are virtually unknown here. We can't understand this situation, because most caravans and camper trailers carry LPG bottles that could easily be used to run generators as well as for cooking and heating water.

As far as we can discover the only off-the-shelf LPG generators in Australia are Elgas' Green Power models.

However, there are conversion kits available on-line for petrol generators and some of them retain the existing carburettor, allowing the engine to run on natural gas, LPG or petrol. 

 

EFOY Fuel Cell

There’s little doubt that this is a glimpse into the future. The German-made EFOY fuel cell battery charger supplied by Kimberley Kampers is rated at 65-watt output and has automatic control over a capacity of 1600 Watt-hours (130 amp-hours) per day at 5.4A.

The fuel cell requires minimal ventilation and can operate in an almost closed environment, while the vehicle is moving. Emissions are water vapour and CO2 – no carbon monoxide.

The EFOY stack runs on methanol that comes in a 10-litre plastic container, costing $60. Consumption rate is 70ml/AH.

The 1600W cell measures 435mm long, 200mm wide and 276mm high, and weighs only 7.6kg.

Claimed noise level is 23dB(A) at 7m.

RRP for the EFOY 1600W fuel cell is $6600. EFOY 2200W is $8400

 

How fuel cells work

A fuel cell is a much quieter, lighter, more efficient and less polluting user of hydrocarbon fuels than a combustion generator. Fuel cells are able to operate in a semi-enclosed environment and emit no carbon monoxide (CO). However, the technology is in its infancy and is very expensive. The big customers for fuel cells are military users, who need, quiet, lightweight, reliable generating power and damn the expense.

A fuel cell converts chemical energy into electrical energy, in a transformation that is efficient and involves no moving parts and almost no noise.

The chemical action that provides electric current takes place between hydrogen and oxygen atoms, so with straight hydrogen as a fuel there would be no emissions other than water vapour (H2O).

However, existing, commercially available fuel cells use hydrocarbon liquid fuels, so carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted as well.

In theory, ethanol (CH3CH2OH) is the ideal liquid fuel, because it’s cheap and readily available, but its relatively complex atomic structure has so far refused to oxidise readily in test fuel cells.

Methanol (CH3OH) – also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits - has a simpler structure that works well.

The centre of every fuel cell is a ‘stack’, which consists of an anode, a cathode and a membrane that acts as an electrolyte, separating the anode and the cathode from each other.

Methanol and water are introduced on the anode side while ambient air, containing oxygen, enters the cathode side. H+ ions, free electrons and carbon dioxide arise on the anode side and, while the positively charged electrical particles (protons) can permeate the membrane, the negatively charged electrons are forced to travel through a circuit over to the cathode side, thereby producing electrical current.

Oxidised carbon atoms are emitted as CO2 on the anode side and oxidised hydrogen (water vapour) emerges from the cathode side.

 

Generator Safety - Be Aware

If you’re standing near an old-fashioned generator it commands respect, because this dirty, smelly machine is extremely noisy, so you know something dangerous is going on. In contrast, a plastic-shrouded, modern portable generator makes only a gentle humming noise, so it seems quite innocuous.

However, all petrol-powered generators produce deadly carbon monoxide gas, which is invisible and odourless. Don’t even think about operating one in an enclosed space.

Also, the 240-volt power outlet on a portable generator can kill, just as easily as a household power point.

Never leave a running generator unattended: more than one devastating bushfire has started this way.

Never refuel a hot generator, whether it’s running or not. Hot engine parts can ignite petrol. Always turn the generator off and allow it to cool down before refuelling.

Turn off all connected appliances before starting your generator and turn them on one at a time; never exceeding the generator's rated wattage.

Some older generators have 12V battery charging leads that can be unintentionally pushed into the 240V outlet holes. Get rid of them immediately and replace them with dedicated 12V leads, because 240-volt current running through 12-volt battery leads has caused at least one fatality.

Our thanks to Piranha Off Road, McFarlane Generators and Kimberley Kampers in preparation of this story.


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