Guide to Buying A Commercial Generator
Time spent without electricity is money lost, regardless of what kind of business you’re in. Just recently, Delta reported a $150 million loss when it lost power to its operations center in Atlanta for five hours. An outage due to utility line work or bad weather can cripple your business. For every business, a power outage looks different.
In the food industry, losing refrigeration or a source of heat can put you at risk of losing groceries and the ability to prepare food. In manufacturing, machinery downtime can render you unable to provide supply to meet your demand. In professional services, a loss of power can come with a loss of data.
In any business, security cameras and other features can become instantly useless. While the effects of a power outage on a business vary greatly, the key to keeping your business up and running is the same — a commercial power generator from Quinn Company.
How does a generator keep your electricity flowing? Instead of relying on electricity, generators have their own engines. The source of the engine power differs, but the bottom line is that when the engine kicks on, the generator converts that energy from the engine into electricity for your business.
While the function of commercial power generators is very much the same, many aspects of these generators is very different. Size, power type and the length of power needed, among other things, vary based on the type and size of business you have. So how do you know what you need? We’ve reviewed some of the basic things to consider when purchasing a power generator below.
Stationary vs. Portable Power Generation Equipment
For your main business facility, this distinction is a no-brainer. You’re going to want a stationary generator to provide power in this situation. A stationary (or standby) generator connects to your electricity line. It monitors your electricity to make sure it’s coming through the utility lines and into your business. If at any point that supply of electricity stops, the generator automatically switches on, so your electricity supply is back up and running in a matter of seconds.
Yes, these generators are often larger in size and higher in cost, but when you’re considering a backup power source, you want something automatic and stationary.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for portable generators in businesses — it just means they shouldn’t be the primary source of your backup power.
The first step is to determine how many watts you’re going to need to keep your business up and running during a power outage. Wattage varies greatly depending on what type of business you have.
For example, if you have a small business and are looking for a power generator to primarily keep office lights, computers, printers, network and other devices up and running, your power usage is going to be significantly less from a manufacturing plant that needs to power machinery.
You know which of these two scenarios is closest to your business, but how do you estimate the wattage you need? The easiest way is to look through your electric bills over the past 12 months.
Many utility companies highlight your peak demand on your monthly statement. Once you have your peak demand each month for the past 12 months, find the highest wattage. This is a good base, but, to be sure that you have enough reserve power, take 25% of that number and add it to the highest wattage. Now you know the approximate wattage you need in a commercial power generator.
It’s important to note that while an estimate is a great way to begin evaluating your generator options, but, before you make a purchase, you should always have a generator dealer or electrician give you a more specific estimate of your power usage. Then, you can be confident your commercial generator will supply the electricity needed to keep your business running in a power outage.
Generator Fuel Type
Once you’ve estimated the amount of power you’re going to need to keep your business up and running, it’s time to consider the fuel type. As we mentioned, the electricity that generators produce begins with an engine. That engine can run on diesel, gasoline, natural gas or propane. Each of these types of fuel has their own set of pros and cons — it isn’t as simple as which fuel is easily accessible, although that is a big part of the decision process.
You must give some thought to where the fuel is going to come from — is it something that is going to have to be stored on site? If so, capacity and fuel shelf life come into play. If you’re looking for a generator with more than 150kW of power, diesel will be the most efficient fuel type for you.
- Diesel — The most popular fuel type for commercial generators is diesel. It’s readily available and runs efficiently. Diesel generators are among the cheapest to run and maintain. It can be stored on site for up to two years and can survive the winter with the simple addition of additives.
- Gasoline — Getting gasoline is easy and affordable, however, in an emergency with high demand, gasoline could become more challenging to get. If that’s a concern, consider storing gasoline on site. However, it’s only good when it’s stored for one year or less, and it’s highly flammable, which puts your business at an additional risk. While gasoline is a common type of fuel, it isn’t as common in commercial generators for these reasons.
- Natural Gas — If you have a natural gas line at your business, the benefit to selecting a natural gas generator is that you don’t have to worry about storing any fuel on site. It’s readily available to you and your generator. This fuel type isn’t afraid of the cold, and, while a generator running on natural gas will use more of it, it’s affordable and convenient if you’re hooked up to your local natural gas line.
- Propane — While propane comes with an unlimited shelf life and is considered a clean-burning fuel, the cost of propane usually rules it out for larger businesses — not just the cost of the fuel itself but also the expenses of storing it on site. For a smaller business, however, propane can be a great option. Propane generators use more fuel than diesel generators, but they also are often quieter to run.
- Dual Fuel — If you’re using your generator as a primary source of power, purchasing one that runs on both diesel and natural gas may be in your best interest. Dual fuel generators give you a backup source of fuel that ensures you won’t lose power due to a lack of fuel. If one fuel source runs out, the other kicks in. Of course, you’ll want to consider the factors we mentioned for both diesel and natural gas if a dual fuel generator is of interest to you. Quinn Cat has a comprehensive lineup of generators that can support each different fuel type so that you can make the best decision for your business’s needs.
Another factor that goes hand-in-hand with fuel type is the length of time you anticipate needing your generator to power your business. Obviously, in the case of an emergency, you may not be sure how long you would need the power of your generator. However, if you would be counting on your commercial generator to be the sole source of power during an outage, chances are you’ll want one that can run indefinitely.
For a small business, that may be the difference between relying on a portable generator and deciding to invest in a standby generator. For all businesses, you want to make sure you fuel source can support a generator running for as long as you need it — the generator will stop running when the fuel runs out. That means, if you’re considering a fuel source you’ll store on site, you must have enough of it to keep your business up and running during an outage.
There isn’t a single recommended amount of fuel to have on hand because generators use a different amount of each. You should make sure you’ve taken this into consideration when you’re choosing a commercial generator for your business. The experts at Quinn have experience looking to find the solution that would best serve your runtime requirements so that a Cat generator can adequately support your company when the power goes dark.
Single-Phase vs. Three-Phase
Even though all commercial generators provide the same kind of power, they provide it differently. Both types of system provide power in waves. A single-phase system delivers power in one wave — it starts at zero, reaches its peak power and then dips back down to zero.
While it seems like a negative thing to have one wave that dips to zero, this is the type of power you get to your home — that dip in power down to zero is so fast it’s virtually undetectable to us.
This type of system would be fine for a small business, but for larger commercial power needs, a three-phase system is better. The difference in the three-phase system is that the power is delivered in three waves instead of one — so when one of those waves is dipping down to zero, there’s another wave of power making its peak, leaving you with one consistent line of power.
Because these systems have three waves of power, they’re able to provide a higher voltage. It’s no surprise they are more complex systems that come with a higher price tag. However, if you’re searching for a commercial power generator for anything besides a small business with a lower power need, a three-phase system is likely going to be what you need to support your power needs. It is important to know your needs and how the single vs three phase generator system can best support your ongoing operations.
For larger industrial uses, the noise level may not be a factor, but, if your business is located near other businesses and/or a residential area, the noise level is something to consider. The primary source of noise in a generator is the exhaust. If your business is near a residential area, make sure there aren’t any noise ordinances that you would be at risk of violating with your commercial generator.
If the generator will be located close to a residential area or your office, you may want to consider investing in additional features to decrease the amount of noise coming from the exhaust, like a higher-grade muffler, for example.
While a muffler can reduce the amount of noise a generator makes, there is not an addon that can decrease the noise as a result of the engine or radiator fan. There are generator enclosures available that can decrease the sound of the generator, but they come at a cost. A dealer will be able to help point you in the direction of models that have a lower noise level.
There aren’t specific indoor and outdoor generator types, but there are generators that are a better fit for one or the other. Noise level is a part of this, as we mentioned, but so are vibration, exhaust and transfer switches.
All generators vibrate. If you have chosen an outdoor location for your unit, this isn’t much of a concern. However, if your generator is going to be located inside, the vibrations can interfere with delicate manufacturing, medical imaging, occupants and other services that may be sensitive to movement. Consider the vibration and weight of the generator when installing all generators but especially units that will be located inside.
Generators have exhaust, and so make sure there’s enough distance between your generator and your HVAC. While there are codes that mandate a minimum distance, you may want to consider placing them even further apart.
The location is also important when considering the installation of your generator. Part of your standby generator installation will be one or more automatic transfer switches. This switch connects the generator directly to your wiring. When the generator senses you’ve lost your power source, it switches off the connection to the utility line and turns on the line connected to the generator.
If your generator is located near your electrical wiring, this is much easier than if wire needs to be run for a sizeable distance.
Purchasing a commercial power generator that will be your business’s primary backup source of power is a big deal. You can estimate and decide on many of these factors yourself, though we recommend the help of an electrician. The reality is, the process is a lot easier if you’re working with someone who knows the details — the ins and outs of generator models and can learn about your business needs based on those needs and their expertise.
It doesn’t stop there — the installation of the unit you purchase is only the beginning. Of course, selecting a unit that meets all your business needs and is installed properly is essential. However, once you have the generator installed, you need to know how to use it correctly and have a maintenance plan in place. The place you choose to purchase your generator from will likely be a part of both areas, so choose a dealer with an impressive level of expertise and who you can trust.
At Quinn Company, we know each business has a unique set of needs, so we focus on learning about your business and finding a power generator solution that works best for you. We are the authorized Cat® dealership for much of California and the surrounding areas, which means we can give you exclusive access to commercial generators that are durable and efficient.
In addition to having a selection of generators, we also have the parts and service to keep your generator running at peak performance. Whether you need a repair, rebuild, testing or inspection, we provide maintenance and parts for almost any kind of Cat brand generator. We’ve been helping our clients at Quinn Cat get the generators that suit their needs best for years, so we have the experience and expertise you need as you’re deciding on a position that is going to fuel your business.
Contact Quinn Company
Take the first step in finding a commercial power generator that will meet the needs of your business — give us a call at 888-987-8466 or contact us online.