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13 Types of Generators and Their Uses

13 Types of Generators and Their Uses

Are you prepared for a power outage? To keep the lights on and continue powering business operations, generators can save the day in case of emergency. Generators work by converting mechanical energy into electricity which means they can supply power anytime, anywhere.

Different types of generators work best for different needs. Powering a home is much different than powering an industrial-size business operation, for example. That’s why knowing the different kinds of generators before purchasing one is so important. No matter the need, one of these generators can help.

1. Standby Generators

Standby generators create enough electricity to power an entire home, from lights to air conditioning and more. In case of a power outage, standby generators can turn on automatically. This means no downtime in the dark and no throwing out food from a warm refrigerator.

Illustration of a standby generator powering a house.

Because standby generators are built to provide large amounts of power, they are large machines—bigger than an air conditioning unit. This means they usually come with a bigger price tag as well. Most of the time, your clients will pay for the generator, home installation and yearly maintenance.

Still, for those living in areas with hurricanes or storms that cause frequent power outages, standby generators are great investments.

  • Best for: Automatically powering an entire home in case of an outage.

2. Portable Generators

Portable generators are exactly what they sound like: portable. Unlike bulky standby generators, portable generators are small enough to take on a camping trip or store in your car for emergencies.

Because of their smaller size, portable generators don’t produce enough electricity to power an entire house or construction site. But for charging phones on camping trips or powering electric tools, portable generators work perfectly. They are also a more affordable option.

  • Best for: Camping or traveling to locations without power.

3. Inverter Generators

Inverter generators use a specialized process to create clean energy. Clean energy creates a more stable output than standard generators. This specialized process makes inverter generators quieter, more fuel-efficient and safer for charging sensitive electronics like laptops or phones.

Consumers can purchase inverter generators in a variety of sizes. Large inverters can power an entire home, mid-sized inverters can power an RV and small inverters can provide power on camping or boating trips. Prices and maintenance needs will vary accordingly.

  • Best for: charging sensitive electronics or providing quiet, fuel-efficient power.

4. Induction Generators

Induction generators work by creating electromagnetic fields that turn an internal rotor at varying speeds. In order to start this process, induction generators require a large amount of mechanical energy. For this reason, induction generators are most often used in wind turbines and mini hydro plants.

Two windmills powered by induction generators create electricity from wind energy.

Some of the advantages of induction generators are their small size, easy maintenance and ability to produce power at varying speeds. However, this speed variance creates unstable wattage outputs, which makes them a poor choice for home use.

  • Best for: Generating power from large mechanical energy sources, like wind turbines or mini hydro plants.

5. Industrial Generators

Industrial generators can operate much like any standard generator, but with a noticeable difference in size and durability. These generators are so large they are often transported by crane or forklift. They can produce up to two megawatts of power and are made to withstand weather conditions, transportation and other strains found at industrial plants.

While these huge machines are reliable and powerful, they are also expensive. One workaround is to rent an industrial generator if you do not need it permanently.

  • Best for: Powering industrial operations such as chemical plants or oil well sites.

6. Gasoline Generators

Gasoline generators are popular for both at-home and commercial use because they tend to be affordable when compared to other generators. However, this may not be the case over the long term. Diesel is usually less expensive than gas, so the cost of replacing fuel year to year may add up to an overall higher price.

Gas generators may also be unreliable in emergency situations. Pumping gas requires electricity, so gasoline may be unavailable during power outages.

  • Best for: Construction sites on a budget with short-term projects.

7. Natural Gas Generators

Like gasoline generators, natural gas generators are initially cost-effective but may end up costing more overall with time. Natural gas generators connect to gas pipelines, which means they will never need to be refilled. However, connecting the generator to the pipelines means a higher installation and maintenance fee.

Compared to gasoline and diesel generators, natural gas generators produce lower emissions.

  • Best for: Construction teams that want the benefits of a gas or diesel generator in a more environmentally friendly way.

8. Diesel Generators

While initially more expensive than gasoline generators, diesel generators are usually more cost-effective over the long run. This is because diesel tends to be less expensive than gasoline, so the cost of replacing diesel fuel during maintenance is lower.

Winter diesel fuel can be used in cold weather to prevent freezing. This makes it a great option for those living in colder climates.

On the downside, diesel faces similar accessibility problems as gasoline. If the power goes out, diesel pumps may stop working.

  • Best for: Construction teams working in cold weather on long-term projects.

A chart compares the most emergency-ready generators by whether they work day/night, are weather resistant, and available during an outage.

9. Biodiesel Generators

For those who want the benefits of a diesel generator that’s more environmentally friendly, a biodiesel generator may be the way to go. Biodiesel generators use a mixture of diesel and other components like vegetable oil or animal fat. This helps reduce the use of nonrenewable fuel sources while producing lower emissions.

Like gasoline and diesel generators, biodiesel generators may be unreliable in power outages where pumps are out of order.

  • Best for: Those who want the benefits of a diesel generator in a slightly more environmentally friendly way.

10. Emulsified Diesel Generators

Emulsified diesel generators run on a mixture of diesel and water, making them even more environmentally friendly than biodiesel generators. These generators face similar advantages and disadvantages as diesel and biodiesel generators. They are a cost-effective option in the long run and produce lower emissions. However, emulsified diesel may be unavailable during a power outage.

  • Best for: Those who want the benefits of a diesel or biodiesel generator in an even more environmentally friendly way.

11. Propane Generators

Generators that run on propane are highly reliable. Propane is readily available, even in an outage. It’s also easy to store propane and it runs well in cold weather. This means that even if the power goes out in the dead of winter, a propane generator can reliably start up and provide power.

On the downside, propane burns about three times faster than diesel generators, making them a more costly option. Propane is also highly flammable and should be handled with care.

  • Best for: Those looking for a reliable standby generator who don’t mind paying more in fuel costs.

A chart compare the most eco-friendly generators by their emission rates and fuel source.

12. Solar Generators

Solar generators work by converting energy from the sun into usable electricity. They are a great option for eco-friendly shoppers as they produce no emissions and work with a renewable energy source. Because solar generators produce no emissions, they are safe for indoor use.

However, solar generators aren’t always reliable for emergency use. If the power goes out at nighttime or there is no access to the sun, solar generators won’t help. Additionally, these generators tend to be very expensive.

  • Best for: Eco-friendly construction sites in need of a non-emergency power source

13. Hydrogen Generators

Hydrogen generators convert water to hydrogen gas using electrolysis. This hydrogen gas is then burned to produce electricity. Hydrogen generators are sturdy, very eco-friendly and produce more energy per pound than any other fuel.

While hydrogen generators are difficult to find and initially expensive, they may cut your electric costs by 50% or more in the long run. Because of their efficiency and reliability, they are a great choice across the board, including in homes, businesses, laboratories, industrial plants or farms. Portable hydrogen generators can even be used in cars.

  • Best for: Eco-friendly construction teams looking to cut down on electricity costs; those in need of a reliable emergency power source.

From home use to industrial operations, generators can provide critical power when you need it. Be sure to choose the right generator size for your needs, and consider renting a generator for temporary use.

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