STANDBY GENERATORS SHOULD BE A LIFETIME INVESTMENT
There aren’t many things left today that we consider a life time investment. Your home may be one. Some pieces of furniture in your home may be another, if it was well built and kept in the right environment. Consider most everything else you purchase today and not many will still be around and working 15 or 20 years from now. We spend $20, $30,000 or more on a vehicle that loses 15% of its value when you drive it off the lot. If it is still working trouble-free 10 years later, we are very fortunate indeed.
Unlike most things you purchase today, a diesel standby generator should be a lifetime investment. A good diesel engine, running at 1500 rpm (50hz) or 1800 rpm (60 hz) should run a minimum of 12,000 hours. Most will run in excess of 20,000 hours with reasonable maintenance (yearly oil changes and inspections). The alternators, if equipped with a working anti-condensation heater should last even longer. A standby generator operating in the Caribbean will usually run an average of 200-500 hours/year depending on the reliability of the Utility and how many Storm Events occur. So, based on these numbers, the generator should be around 24 years or longer (depending on how well it is maintained).
The important thing is to make sure all the accessories that are put on by the Generator Manufacturer will last as long. Steel enclosures may last the lifetime of the generator in Chicago. But none will last in the Caribbean, especially if near the coast or on an island smaller than Hispaniola. Make sure that the generator back end is equipped with an anti-condensation heater and check it periodically (put your hand on the generator barrel to see if is slightly warmer than the ambient temperature) to make sure it is working. The electronic control panel is probably the most complex part of the generator set and therefore the most likely item to give trouble. Make sure that you, as the owner, can have anyone of your choice troubleshoot and repair it. If it requires passcodes and proprietary Electronic Tools, you may have to fly someone from the Mainland USA in someday just to repair it. This can be a very shocking surprise when it happens. We, as do many of our dealers and associates throughout the Caribbean, routinely replace Generator Proprietary Controls with Deep Sea Electronic (DSE) controls, which can be troubleshot with wiring diagrams on line or with phone support by anyone. If so many Generator Control Panels are replaced by DSE panels, why not just start out with one in the first place?
While you are considering features, look at the fuel tank. Find out how long the generator will run on one tank of fuel. Most will only run 8-12 hours. In a prolonged outage, that means you will be filling the tank daily or, worse, twice a day. In such cases you will need to get an additional tank and plumb that to the generator. Why not start out with a 72 hour tank to begin with? The cost to purchase a larger fuel tank (if offered by the Manufacturer) with the Generator is a fraction of what it will cost to add one on later.
So be an educated buyer when looking at Standby Diesel Generators. Know what to look for and ask questions of the salesman selling you the generator:
- Can the engine and all generator components be serviced on your island and, if so, by whom? Is it exclusively the person selling you the generator? Does someone need to be flown in from Florida to service any component of the Generator? If the selling dealer goes out of business or changes management, or you no longer want to do business with them, what are your options?
- Where can you get parts, and how long will they be available? Is this an established manufacturer with parts availability in the Caribbean? With many low cost Generator Manufacturers, the engine is from an unknown manufacturer. Worse, some are Chinese counterfeit copies of name brand engines.
- What is the enclosure made of? If not 100% aluminum, it will rust. Some manufacturers use a hybrid of plastic and steel, but the steel still corrodes. Within 5 years, you will have problems.
- Who can service the Electronic Control Panel? If only a licensed dealer, you may be looking a very expensive surprise someday.
- Is there an anti-condensation heater, or is one available as an option? Can this be replaced if it burns out?
- How big is the fuel tank? How many hours will it run? Confirm these numbers with the generator specification sheet. It will tell you how many gallons the tank will hold. A good spec sheet will tell you the fuel consumption at various loads. Use 50% load as an average. If you want to be more conservative, use 75% load.
The purchase of a Standby Generator should be a lifetime investment. Take the time to look at what you are buying and make sure your purchase will last your lifetime.