How to Choose a Power Generation System

Making sure your business is prepared for emergencies is essential. In a sudden blackout, you could lose valuable time and money. That’s why choosing the right commercial generator is an important decision for your business — one that is best made with knowledge of the facts.

If you need a new industrial generator, Gregory Poole offers state-of-the-art equipment with expert advice every step of the way. We can help with choosing the right industrial generator for your business needs without exceeding your budget. In this guide, we’ll discuss seven factors to consider before purchasing a power generation system.

Factors for Choosing a Generation System

So, what size commercial generator do you need? There are seven main things to consider when choosing the right commercial generator:

  1. Power usage
  2. Single-phase vs. three-phase
  3. Running time
  4. Fuel preference
  5. Noise level
  6. Location
  7. Generator dealer

You know your business better than anyone, so the decisions you make in any of these categories will be yours to make. However, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the expertise of professionals like an electrician and your generator dealer when it comes to choosing a power generation system.

Knowing how to size a commercial generator isn’t a task that just anyone can do, so getting expert advice will only help your decision-making process. But it’s crucial to understand how these factors may influence each other based on concerns regarding costs, location and general usage.

1. Figuring Out Power Usage

Sizing a generator doesn’t refer to its physical size, but rather the amount of power it will use. Figuring out how to size a generator for industrial use comes down to one simple question: How many watts are needed to keep your business running?

If you’re only going to be using the generator to keep office lights and small electronics working, your generator won’t be using much power. But if it’s large machinery you need to keep working, your generator will need to be up for the challenge.

The easiest way to get a rough estimate for sizing a commercial generator is to look at your recent electric bills. Your electric company can give you a breakdown of your peak times and the watts used.

The numbers from the previous year should give you a rough idea of how much power you’ll need. To be on the safe side, choose a generator that can accommodate more wattage than the highest wattage used.

While this number will give you a reasonable estimate of how to size a generator for industrial use, it’s always best to get in touch with your electrician or generator dealer to get a more accurate, professional estimate before making any purchases.

2. Single-Phase vs. Three-Phase Systems

While all generators provide energy, the method in which they provide it can vary. Mainly, generation systems will be single-phase or three-phase, which refers to the waves of power provided by the systems. A single-phase system will go from zero to the peak power and back to zero. The return to zero is so quick that it’s not noticeable, but it means there is only a single wave of power delivered.

With a three-phase system, three waves of power are delivered, which means that while one wave is returning to or at zero, another is returning to or at peak power. This provides a more consistent stream of power.

Three-phase systems are ideal for commercial use, where a lot of consistent power is needed. However, depending on the size of your business, you could do well with a single-phase system, as well. The latter costs less since it’s delivering less power overall. But the security of consistent power might be worth the cost if the generation system is used to power large machinery.

Deciding between a single or three-phase system is another reason why it’s crucial to have a proper estimate for how much power your business will need.

3. How Long Will It Run?

It’s impossible to know how long an emergency will last, which makes it tricky to estimate how long you’ll require your generation system to power your business. A generator may need to run indefinitely, so it’s essential to make sure it has everything needed to run smoothly.

You’ll need to consider what type of fuel you’ll be using. Some are easy to store on-site for long periods, and some are extremely efficient, requiring smaller amounts. If your generator runs out of fuel during an emergency, you’ll also need to consider how to obtain more.

Alternatively, if you intend to use a power generation system as your primary form of power, the runtime will vary greatly. Calculating the approximate amount of time your generator will run can have a direct impact on which fuel type you choose.

Discuss with your generator dealer what you expect your runtimes to be and how much fuel is needed to keep the generator running. You’ll also need to consider whether you can store additional fuel on-site and, if so, how much you’re able to safely store.

4. Renewable vs. Non-Renewable Fuel Types

Deciding which type of fuel to use is a major consideration when choosing the right industrial generator. It requires proper research and expert advice because relying on rumors and personal opinions about certain fuel types won’t be an asset. Also, fuel quality should be considered, and this is best done by experienced professionals. Deciding between renewable and non-renewable fuel types is the first step. With modern advancements, it’s important to realize that the old facts about fuel types may not apply today.

Renewable sources, such as wind, solar and water, are valid options, but unlikely to be a top choice for industrial generators. Non-renewable fuel types are more common, with each possessing its own set of pros and cons. Technological advancements have also allowed for non-renewable fuel types to be less destructive to the environment, often making them a more budget-friendly and ethical choice.

Some of the most common fuel types for commercial generators are:

Gasoline

Accessibility and affordability are two of the top reasons why gasoline is so popular. It burns relatively cleanly and is fairly low maintenance, but it does require a higher temperature at which to burn. The high burning temperature has the potential to speed up any wear and tear on the engine parts and doesn’t last as long as other fuel types.

Despite its affordability and accessibility, in times of high demand — such as emergencies — gasoline can become expensive and hard to find. Luckily, it can be stored on-site for up to one year. However, due to its highly flammable nature, it requires special systems for safe storage, especially when storing it on the property of your business. Similar systems are needed for delivery, as well.

Generally, gasoline isn’t a popular option for industrial generators for the aforementioned reasons. For larger organizations, which require cost-efficiency and high product output even during emergencies, gasoline can become a hassle. But for smaller businesses or those that require a generator solely to power small electronics, gasoline may be the perfect fuel type.

Diesel

Diesel is the most popular type of fuel when it comes to generation systems. It was created to be a more cost-effective alternative to gasoline. It’s a fuel type that’s accessible, affordable and will last longer than gasoline. It also requires less heat than gasoline to ignite, which reduces the speed of wear and tear on the engine in the long run and eliminates the fear of a wayward spark setting it alight, like with gasoline.

Diesel is one of the easiest fuel types to store on-site, lasting up to two years, even in extreme weather, if necessary. However, diesel fuel can become easily contaminated, rendering it useless — and though the fuel can last through extremely hot or cold temperatures, generation systems with diesel engines take longer to start in cold weather and are harder to shut down in hot weather.

While it’s generally a fuel with more positive than negative effects on fuel economy, it does expel harmful elements when burning, including carbon.

Natural Gas

Composed of methane, natural gas is odorless, tasteless and colorless. It’s also incredibly flammable, needing only a spark and the right combination of air and fuel, making it very dangerous. For this reason, a distinct and unpleasant smell is artificially added to the gas to warn people of leaks.

However, natural gas is also the most economical of the fossil fuels, as it’s very easy to harvest and contain. Plus, it possesses excellent value as an energy source. Storage isn’t an issue since natural gas engines have the fuel readily available to the generator if you have it piped in, so storage and delivery costs and concerns are moot.

Unlike diesel or gasoline, natural gas doesn’t pose a risk of contamination or spillage. Once it’s released from containment, natural gas disappears, eliminating the risk of a messy workspace and heavy-duty cleanups.

Natural gas is also very environmentally friendly, producing little to no harmful byproducts or waste. Despite all these perks, it’s still not a very popular option for industrial generation systems. Most systems are designed with gasoline and diesel engines since they are the most popular fuel type. There are generation systems with natural gas engines, but they are much rarer, making the original purchase price very high.

Propane

If choosing a clean-burning fuel is your main concern, propane is the one for you. Propane engines are much quieter than diesel engines, but they tend to use more fuel. Propane also has an unlimited shelf life.

The need for more fuel wouldn’t be an issue if propane was as affordable as gasoline, but, unfortunately, it’s probably the most expensive fuel type available. Larger businesses that need a generation system to power machinery indefinitely may find propane cost-ineffective, especially since both the price of the fuel and the cost of storing it can be high. Smaller businesses may find the convenience of propane engines a fair tradeoff for the price.

Dual Fuel

Ideal for those who plan to use a generator as their primary source of power, dual fuel systems are exactly as their name suggests — instead of running on a single fuel type, they work with two different types.

Some are designed as hybrid power sources, using gasoline to power up —which is faster to start and lower in cost than diesel. Once the generator is up and running, it automatically switches to natural gas, which is longer lasting and lower in cost than gasoline.

Dual fuel systems also provide a sense of security since there are two sources of fuel instead of one. This means that if one fuel type runs out, the generation system will automatically switch to using the other type. You may not need to store extra fuel types on-site since the generation system will use both types before needing more. Using longer-lasting fuel types is especially useful in dual fuel systems for this reason.

5. Accounting for Noise Levels

All engines will make some noise no matter what. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider where the generation system will be located and what — if any — effects it may have on the neighborhood.

If your business is located in an isolated or industrial area, you likely won’t have to worry about noise levels. But if you’re located near a residential area or close to other businesses, you may want to consider whether the noise from the generator is loud enough to be a potential disturbance. Many cities and towns also have bylaws or regulations about noise, so make sure your generation system doesn’t put you in violation of any.

Most of the noise can be attributed to the generator’s exhaust, and there are mufflers and other features you can buy to help reduce the volume. But the noise from the engine and radiator fan can’t be reduced, so if it’s too loud, it may cause problems and complaints. There are enclosures you can purchase for the generation system to help muffle the noise, but these can be very costly.

The best thing to do is to talk with your generator dealer about whether you need a quieter model.

6. Location Is Everything

You’ll also need to consider the location of your generation system. Along with the noise, vibration from the generator is also inevitable and may impact where you have it installed. If your generation system is installed outdoors, it’s unlikely to cause a problem for anyone. It can be just as harmless indoors unless the work your business does is sensitive to movement. An indoor generator’s vibrations may disturb workers and production, which can be harmful to your business’ productivity.

Because of the byproducts expelled from the exhaust, industrial generation systems are meant to be installed far away from the HVAC system for safety reasons. Guidelines are in place for the appropriate distance required between a generator and HVAC system, but it’s a good idea to be extra safe and install the generation system even further away, if possible.

Another thing to consider when deciding on a location for your generator is to be cognizant of the main wiring for your business. Ideally, the generator should be connected to your business’s wiring, so it can automatically switch on when it senses a loss of power. The speed with which it will switch on will be faster if the generator is close to the main wiring.

7. Choosing a Generator Dealer

Your generator keeps your business running smoothly even in an emergency, so it’s not something you should buy on a whim. It’s crucial to make a knowledgable decision about your commercial generation system to ensure it can power your business, no matter what. Unless you’re a generator dealer yourself, it’s unlikely you have access to and knowledge of the ins and outs of the industry, so it’s always a good idea to get expert advice from a professional generator dealer.

The seven tips provided here allow you to amass basic information about what’s needed and what may be required, but working with a dealer will allow you to ask questions and get answers specific to your business and its needs. Generator dealers have their finger on the pulse of the business and will be able to apply their specialized knowledge of generator models and their unique benefits to match you with a system that is well-suited to your needs as well as your budget.

It’s the generator dealers who will also be there to help during installation and provide tips and advice on how to properly work your generation system. They’ll also establish a maintenance plan for your specific system to ensure it lives up to expectations.

You know your business and its needs better than anyone else, but generator dealers know power generation equipment better than anyone else — and they’re there to help you make the best choice, so take advantage of their expertise.

Browse Our Electric Power Generation Equipment

With nearly 70 years of experience, we at Gregory Poole are no strangers to the ins and outs of power generation systems. Our team possesses technical expertise, used to provide you with the very best support and solutions. With 13 locations across eastern North Carolina, we are dedicated to making a personal connection with our clients and assisting them however they require.

Our Cat® electric power generators more than live up to the legendary company’s reputation, providing reliable high-performing equipment for a range of industries, including marine industries. The Cat marine generation systems come in a vast range of types and capabilities suited for personal and professional use, and new generation systems are compliant with Tier 4 standards from the EPA.

At Gregory Poole, we don’t just sell you the equipment and send you on your way. Instead, we’re dedicated to providing ongoing support to our clients, even after the sale. We’re part of a strong dealer network and proud to be your one-stop-shop for power generation equipment.

For more information about the new and used Cat equipment we offer, fill out our online contact form or call us at 800-451-7278.