Mar 9, 2021

Advantages and disadvantages of diesel generators

Published by: Maiko Kiis
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Industrial emergency generators ensure that critical industries stay powered at all times. The standard in the industry is diesel powered electric generators, which are widely used as standalone and emergency units for telecommunication towers, construction, camper vans, events, boating and more. 

They are the technology of choice because of availability, quick start up, affordable price and availability of diesel. 

In 2019 the global diesel generator market size was USD 12.98 billion due to diesel generators being cheaper in comparison to most other sources of energy generation.


ADVANTAGES OF DIESEL GENERATORS

Modern diesel engines have overcome disadvantages of earlier models of higher noise and maintenance costs. They are now quiet and require less maintenance as compared to gas engines of similar size.

The main pros of diesel generators are:
  • Relatively low maintenance. This is because the generator’s engine requires fewer components to start, so you won’t have to worry about changing spark plugs or rebuilding carburetors like you would have to with a gas engine.
  • Durability. Diesel engines are quite tough in the workplace, so they will hold up through much wear and tear in a variety of environmental conditions.
  • Safe storage. While still flammable, diesel carries a much lower risk for igniting than other types of fuel, like gasoline.
  • Power output. Diesel generators are capable of handling larger power loads and will run for longer durations than other types of generators available.
  • More rugged and reliable.
  • Easy access to fuel. Often portable diesel generators are transported on the back of diesel vehicles. This means you don’t need to have two different fuel types when you’re out and about doing work.

The main pros of diesel generators compared to petrol generators:
  • Diesel engines are more fuel efficient that petrol engines. This means longer running time when running at the same capacity. Some diesel engines consume up to half as much fuel as compatible petrol engines.
  • Diesel fuel is cheaper than petrol meaning they are cheaper to run.
  • Diesel powered engines require less maintenance. This is in part due to diesel engines not having spark plugs or carburetors. This means no need to replace spark plugs or rebuild carburetors.
  • In terms of life span, a diesel engine is much longer lasting. When compared to a typical petrol engine, a diesel engine can last up to 3 times longer.
  • Diesel fuel is safer with less risk of ignition when compared to petrol.


DISADVANTAGES OF DIESEL GENERATORS

Nevertheless, diesel generators have a series of drawbacks, especially for the environment. Being one of the cheapest sources of energy available presently, other setbacks are starting to weigh in. In order to meet the European Union’s climate neutrality goals by 2050, the energy market is essentially bound to shift to renewable power solutions.

The consumption of 1L of diesel emits on average 2.7 kg of CO2. Compared to other sources of power, diesel generators tend to have an outsized impact on pollution. It does not just create carbon monoxide but also other air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. In light of European policies and regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and the underpinnings of the Paris Agreement, diesel generators are destined to lose their position to cleaner alternatives of energy generation. 

Diesel generators also contribute to noise pollution and compared to some energy source, may have a high upfront cost and servicing and maintenance works may be expensive. The major ongoing service requirement for a diesel engine is regular oil changes. Well-maintained diesel generators can last for a long time, but poorly maintained generators are prone to failures.

In cold weather, starting the generator can be problematic. It can be overcome by the application of glow plugs and other heating elements which warm up the engine including the incoming air. But this comes at an additional cost. Furthermore, diesel generators emit hazardous exhaust fumes, are heavy and not easily portable. 

(Portable) diesel generators are most often combined with batteries for energy storage, although this combination poses some disadvantages. Batteries are far too heavy for many applications, discharge quickly and have long recharging times. It is also known that the useful lifetime of the batteries are short, they cause air acidification and the production of batteries uses up scarce natural resources such as cobalt and nickel.

The main cons of diesel generators:
  • The price of diesel will continue to rise due to regulations.
  • Needs regular maintenance to keep the generators running.
  • Fuel injection system and other parts are more likely to break down, resulting in lack of reliability and high costs for spare parts. Diesel engines are made from big and heavy components that can make repairs expensive.
  • Although cheaper in price, the cost of installation may take more time and be more costly.
  • Noise pollution. Diesel units can be very noisy, so they’re often placed away from work areas
  • Diesel generators are far too heavy and bulky to be considered mobile and compact.
  • They must be kept dry, otherwise they corrode easily. 
  • It is necessary to winterize the generator if using it in a cold climate.

Petrol, gas and other generators have similar problems as that of diesel generators. Petrol generators can also be very noisy and hard to start in cold weather. Furthermore, petrol has a higher price than diesel, which means that frequent use can quickly turn into an expense. Gas-powered (natural gas or propane) generators have the same functionality as petrol powered generators. Although, natural gas is cleaner than diesel, it is still a fossil fuel, thereby emitting carbon dioxide and other pollutants and is responsible for a lot of atmospheric methane.


MAINTAINING A DIESEL GENERATOR

Maintenance is a key consideration for any generator. Manufacturers recommend following a specified maintenance schedule to keep your generator running at its peak. Usually, this happens after a certain amount of service hours. You should perform maintenance any time that you notice your generator isn’t operating as efficiently as it should. 

It’s also a good idea to perform maintenance whenever there has been a major weather event. For example, after a dust- or rainstorm. Exposure to dust and other airborne contaminants can greatly affect your generator’s performance, causing clogs in the filters and making your generator work harder to do the same job.

While maintenance requirements are low for diesel generators, some tasks will need to operation periodically. These include:
  • A general inspection of all components.
  • Draining and changing the coolant, oil, and fuel.
  • Cleaning or replacing filters.
  • Testing the generator battery.
  • Running the engine to test operation.

Regular maintenance will help maximize the investment that you’ve made in your diesel generator. Keep up with your maintenance tasks and attend to any repairs promptly, your generator will work for years to come. We recommend setting up a preventative maintenance plan in advance. This ensures that your generator operates at maximum efficiency. Be sure to keep a log of these inspections so that you can refer to it if necessary.


IF DIESEL GENERATORS ARE NOT FOR YOU

If you are looking for a small, portable and silent generator, fuel cell generators may be the solution for you. What will make fuel cell generators one of the leaders in the industry is their extreme reliability, minimal need for maintenance, redundant internal systems and high resilience to extreme environmental conditions.

Fuel cells are 2x more efficient than diesel powered generators, thus less fuel is needed. Under ideal conditions, diesel fuel can be stored between six and twelve months, whereas hydrogen can be stored for very long periods. Fuel cell generators provide reliability and durability in challenging conditions and are corrosion-proof.

PowerUP’s product range includes 200 W, 400 W, 1 kW and 6 kW generators for many industries and applications, such as sailing, camper vans, off-grid houses, construction, electric vehicles and many others.


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