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Sorry can't be definitive generators spark compromise and personal choices

January 30, 2014
Sorry can't be definitive generators spark compromise and personal choices

After an extended practical evaluation of popular generators GoSee is unable to be definitive. We agree with one of GoSee's valued Old Heads Ozzie Traveller who has serious experience in being comfortable on the road, he says -Whatever is chosen will be a compromise and; whatever is chosen is a personal choice.

GoSee believes that adding a generator to a travel kit is a camping luxury which can clutter a balanced choice of camping essentials with overkill add-ons.

For example boiling the billy/pot/kettle can clutter the travel kit with gas, electric, solar-battery, liquid fuel and wood fired options. Once you start carrying two sets of items, gas kettle plus electric jug; gas frypan plus electric frypan, then storage space soon becomes clogged up. To some extent a belt and braces attitude is fine, but GoSee believes the first essential for economic, easy, comfortable travelling is to refine travel gear down to the bare essentials.

A particular example of near perfection in this area is equipment like the DreamPot thermal cooker. In one compact versatile unit is combined thermal efficiency for both hot and cold meals with the pots needed for a working camp kitchen.

2000 will power a hair dryer
2000 will power a hair dryer

This is not the case with generators. There are many personal decisions to be made. The first question is do you really need a generator?

Do you need to run the microwave and aircon when away from mains power?

GoSee knows of an on the road motorhome in which the microwave has not been used in about eight years. In really hot weather is a caravan park powered site a better option overall?

In 1993 as part of an extended caravan touring session GSA MD Graham Wallace packed a 1kVA generator into his camping kit. In 12 months it was used once. That was for soldering job on a broken cruise control wire. This was really the  result of an oversight as Graham had not packed a 12V soldering kit.

Graham says that during the year on the road he used and preferred gas.  His twin gas bottle needed refilling every two to three weeks, he said.

For those who need a campsite which has its own "power station" there is a price. Cost, weight, convenience and the need to carry fuel and oil for the unit are the main practical factors.

Another social issue is noise. Regardless of ratings of typically 65dBA at 7m being perfectly acceptable to GoSee's ears. The neighours on nearby campsites may not agree, frictions can develop between the people involved and a peaceful escape can become an unhappy experience.

The GoSee evaluation includes generators from Powertech which are sold through Battery World stores. Battery World is one of GoSeeAustralia's valued sponsors.

The Powertech 2kW portable sine wave inverter generator is small and easy to manage with a rated 2000 watts output. It will run the washing machine in the GSA 21ft Blue Sky caravan. It will do that and bring the electric jug to the boil. It will not run the washing machine, jug and a hair drier all at the same time. It is not able to provide enough power to start and reliably run the Blue Sky's Ibis airconditioner.

GoSee found that while some lower cost generators will start an aircon system. They will not re-start it.

Commenting on a generators ability to start and restart an RV airconditioner Industry expert Ron Lewis who sells the Kipor GS2600 generator said:

2000 powers a 2.2kg washing machine for a full wash rinse and spin
2000 powers a 2.2kg washing machine for a full wash rinse and spin

"The Locked Rotor Current of the Ibis roof-mount unit is specified as 20 Amps; this (LRC) value is essentially the “worst case” current draw this air conditioner can present on start-up when, for example, the gas lines are fully pressurised.

"The Maximum Output of the GS2600 model is 2600 Watts (as the model designation implies) which translates to a maximum of 10.8 Amps at 24 Volts, 50 Hz, single phase. "Generators are designed to provide an “instantaneous” over-supply of a further 100 percent approx. of capacity to cater for things such as motor start-ups, where the start-up load can be up to 7 times the normal operating current.

"Such an overload situation can only be sustained for up to maybe one second maximum, after which the generator will cut out.

"So, in summary, the GS2600 should do the job, but will be working close to its maximum limit to achieve aircon start-up. Hence, if any other power is being consumed at the time start-up is required, the GS2600 model may then have trouble starting the aircon. "Either way, for a load as big as the air conditioner, the Smart Throttle would need to be turned off, so the generator’s engine can be running at the right RPM to best cater for the high load demand.

"Based on the above comments and figures, I wouldn’t be even remotely contemplating buying a 2000 Watt model; to do so, I imagine, would see you back here (at the dealership) to either, buy a bigger unit, or repair the 2000 (so you can then sell it on, anyway)".

2000 powers a toaster and electric kettle
2000 powers a toaster and electric kettle

For GSA the Powertech 2kW's benefit is in conjunction with the caravan's solar power system.

It provides power for battery boost backup for the Blue Sky's solar power system which is used for the essential need to run laptops and charge phones to keep us on line in remote places.

GoSee also has a jumper battery as further backup and there is a second battery in the ute. The Powertech 2kW is acceptably quiet in operation with the generator safeguarded by a Toylok and anchored to the caravan wheel on the opposite side of the Blue Sky to our work table.

GSA spent time with Honda at the Adelaide Caravan and Camping Sale in 2013 talking through generator performance. Honda offers quality units. Honda's prices are an issue for some buyers. But customer service, warranties and ease of service and parts are also important factors.

GoSee believes through our research, that the Honda EU20i comes up well. GoSeeAustralia has reports from long-term caravans on the road, they have a Honda EU20i which runs their airconditioner OK.

Ozzie traveller says - "A small genny is a wonderful device for providing small to medium amounts of 240v power for small periods of time, and it does it very well. "You may get 2-3 hours of use from a tank of fuel, but it does not take that long to boil the kettle or cook dinner in the frypan. "Equally, a solar panel of, say, 80 watts putting power into a 100Amp battery and a suitable inverter can do the same for a similar overall cost".

GoSee's evaluation supports this opinion.

Powertech 2kW generator unpacked dry
Powertech 2kW generator unpacked dry

The Powertech 2kW generator is a useful bit of kit in that context.

It comes with:

Electric key start and recoil start.

Remote control electric start.

Low noise (65dBA at 7m). It pays to check how noise levels are measured.

The 7l fuel tank gives about 6.5hrs run time.

2x230V power outlets.

12V 8.3A vehicle battery charger output.

LED indicators for output, overload and oil level.

It is portable and compact.

It is safe for sensitive electronics with its pure sine wave output.

It is also affordable. This too is a key personal needs point to take into account.

This is well illustrated by Poppybob in GoSee Forums back in 2007.

He said of the generator buying decision: "Just came online after 4 months travel. Anyway what I wish to input is, is it necessary to buy expensive brands when cheapies are usually good enough to do the job. I bought a 3.5kVA inverter gene from BBT on Ebay $594, over the 4 mths it was used every day, ran the aircon, micro oven, lights etc never missed a beat. If it lasted 2 years money well spent. Came with 12mth warranty", regards Bob.

Once again its the horse for the course situation which GoSee has found in our evaluation experiences.

The MG-4504 model from Powertech through Battery World stores is a 3kVA powerhouse. Its operating voltage is 230V. Its rated output is 3000W with a maximum output of 3100W. The digital inverter pure sine wave MG-4504 is up for heavy duty work. It is beyond the easy lifting ability of most people GoSee knows at 55kg.

It needs to be housed on a slide track in the back of a ute or in its own place built into an RV and pulled out when it is time for it to fire up. The MG-4504 is probably an overkill for the needs of the general caravanner.

GoSee believes generators are "luxury" items for caravanners.

GoSee did not try to charge the battery in the Blue Sky caravan with the generator powering the Ctek7000 as the solar system coped satisfactorily using a multi-adaptor Baintech Power Panel for charging appliances like mobiles, broadband device, iPad and laptop, but only just on the cloudy day with no sun. If these conditions prevail for a number of days the Blue Sky moves to a powered site.

Fill with oil first
Fill with oil first

GoSee purchased a 12v connector to power/charge laptops via the cig socket in the caravan. This worked well but GoSee had to research laptop voltage, then connect the 19V connector to regulate power input. Cost about $60 from Jaycar Geelong.

The Powertech products are only available from Battery World Stores.

Please read the operating instructions carefully especially in regards to filling with oil and fuel.  Actually the type of oil to use is a bit vague, where do you generally buy oil? - the usuals, servo, supercheap, autobarn BUT they do not necessarily sell or know what viscosity oil a generator needs so GoSee purchased 1 litre for each generator from Geelong Mowers and Chainsaw supplies and they sold us Honda oil. About $12 a litre. 

An important point of order, both Powertech models come dry and need to be filled with oil before they are started. 

Editors note: volt-ampere (VA) is the unit used for the apparent power in an electrical circuit. Small k is the symbol for kilo or 1000. So 90 kVA is 90,000 Volt Amps. The true wattage rating of a power supply is 1/2 to 2/3 of the VA rating.

Don't leave any fuel in the tank and drain the carby bowl if a genny is not going to be used for a long period. Stale fuel is a major problems with small engines left to stand about. Use the start cord and pull until full compression is felt. Then stop, this will close the engines valves.

Editors note: GoSee sincerely thanks Battery World for their generosity in providing the Powertech MG4504 3kW and Powertech 2kW Generators for this long term evaluation

4504 in rear of GSA ute ready for work
4504 in rear of GSA ute ready for work

Powertech MG-4504
Powertech MG-4504