Saturday, April 30, 2016

Solar Power: Part 5-Generators and shore power

When I did my tiny house build, I did not have access to shore power. I guess I could have built my home with a manual hand saw but I wanted to get the job complete. I purchased a generator to power my tools and make my life a little better. When I moved into my home, it became my power source to charge my batteries till I setup my solar panels. Now, I use it to charge my batteries when there is insufficient sunshine in the winter and when I need to use my big tools.

The first step in choosing a generator is to selected generating capacity. Generating capacity is rated in watts. For example, this portable Honda generator is 2000 watts. That is sufficient for charging batteries and most power tools. Because I was building my house, I knew I wanted to plug in my table saw and my air compressor at the same time. This would exceed the capacity of a small generator. 

I was also on a very tight budget; the Honda unit is almost a grand and I wanted to spend my money on the tiny home, not the tools. The Champion 3500/4000 unit was only a bit over $300 and provided 3500 watts of power. The disadvantage of a larger generator is gas usage. My friend Ariel in Fy Nyth has a Champion 1500 generator. Her generator uses about 60% of the fuel that I use during the same time period.

I love the portability of the Honda generator. You can toss it in the truck or on  your four-wheeler-head into the bush and do work off-site. The Champion generator can be moved but it is not a fun task for a smaller person.

The next task is getting the power from the generator to the tiny house. An extension cord works best for this task. The smaller generators will just need a regular cord, such as a 12 or 14 gauge extension cord. Larger generators are able to provide higher current, you could also use a 30 amp cord set to provide greater power to your home.
After selecting your cord set, you need a way to plug the cord into your tiny home. Of course, you could just run the extension cord into the home and plug directly but I prefer to have a formal inlet. Inlets come in 15 amp, 30 amp, 50 amp, etc; match your cord set to the inlet. 
If you wire the inlet to your transfer switch (see this article), you will not need to change from the inverter to generator manually.  I also like protecting my generator from the elements. I live in an area with extreme snow so the generator box is necessary. This is the box I tossed together one afternoon.

There are many options for generators, most operate on gas but some use propane and larger ones use diesel.  The next installment of this solar power series will cover solar controllers.

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