I Need Backup

Reader Contribution by Jack Fernard
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While the sun may be a never ending source of energy, I’m not always able to see it. About this time of year it goes away and randomly teases me for the next few months. The solar array sitting in my backyard does a surprisingly good job of producing energy in this cloudy weather, but what am I going to do when it gets a foot of snow on it? For this reason, I decided to purchase a backup generator.

There are many different kinds of generators available and on the surface they are pretty much the same. But if you’re living off-grid and relying completely on yourself, then there are a few things you should keep in mind.


The fuel you use to run your generator is going to depend a lot on your particular situation. I’ve read of people using diesel and this fuel does have its advantages. If you live on a farm and have a tractor or two in the barn, then chances are you have diesel easily available. Another fuel would be propane. If you live a ways back off of the beaten path, then chances are, you’re using propane for cooking or heat. And while propane may be more expensive than diesel, it stores a whole lot better. The last thing you want to do is come home after being away for six months and find out the fuel for your generator has gone bad.


Generator capacity is usually measured by the electricity produced. This is measurement is called ‘kilowatts’. Smaller generators consume less fuel hourly and can be mobile, but the bigger generators get more done. When shopping for a backup generator, ask yourself what you want the generator to do. Do you want it to just keep the lights on or do you want it to run the whole house? Do you want to be able to bring it with you or do you want it more permanent? Do you want it to charge your batteries when there isn’t enough sun available to keep up with your demands?

Output Quality

This is something I found to be extremely important but rarely mentioned. The quality of the AC (Alternating Current) power output is crucial for certain electronics. To better understand this, imagine a generator that is pedal powered. If this generator was connected to a lightbulb and you started pedaling, you would see the lightbulb brighten as you pedaled faster and then slowly go out as you slowed your pedaling. This varying output works for the light bulb as the light bulb does not require a clean or consistent AC output to operate. Switch the lightbulb with a laptop computer and the results will not be so positive. The electronics associated with your off-grid system may have the same need as the laptop mentioned above. Don’t be the person who spent several thousand dollars on a generator only to find out that your off-grid batteries won’t charge because of a sloppy AC output.

For me and my family as we live off-grid, the backup generator is a seamless and vital part of our power system. Should the electrical demand in our home exceed the energy stored in the batteries, the generator will kick in automatically and instantaneously supply what we need — without us ever knowing. Should there be a malfunction in the PV electronics, then the generator can act independently to power our home.

Having the right backup generator will provide you with real sense of security as you will know that no matter what, your family won’t be in the dark.

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