CAMPSITE POWER – Chapter 5, Inverter Generators
Up until today, we have been exploring methods for providing campsite electrical power primarily from the sun and storage batteries. If you haven’t been reading the previous chapters on Campsite Power I encourage you go back and review them before immersing yourself in this chapter. Without a basic understanding of storage batteries, solid state power inverters and the relationship between power and voltage you might find this chapter confusing.
They can be noisy, noxious, loved, and hated. I am referring to portable AC gasoline engine powered generators often carried and used by campers in areas where no electrical power is available.
For the moment, I am excluding installed RV generators such as the Cummins-Onan models often factory installed in motor homes. These are not “portable” in respect to this chapter.
There are two types of portable generators commonly available. One is the synchronous generator that directly powers an AC alternator from the engine. These generators run at a constant speed of 3,600 revolutions per minute (RPM) to maintain the needed AC power frequency of 60 cycles per second, or in modern terms, Hertz (Hz). This class of generators is often mistakenly associated as having “dirty power” and being objectionably loud. We will discuss this type of generator next week in Chapter 6.
In this chapter, we are going to look at a class of generator commonly known as Inverter Generators.
Inverter generators operate on an entirely different principle than their synchronous cousins.
The generator engine drives a three-phase alternator (vs. single phase alternator on a synchronous generator) that generates power that is unusable as household power as generated. The three-phase power is fed into a solid state (no moving parts) inverter similar to what we reviewed in Chapter 4 that works directly off of a battery. This inverter converts the power from the alternator to a useable 120-volt household power.
There are benefits to this type of generator over the synchronous models:
- They are usually smaller and weigh less.
- They are more fuel efficient.
- They are able to run their engines at slower speeds when power demands are low.
- The voltage produced by the inverter is less likely to have harmonic distortion.
- They can be quieter.
Generators in this class are commonly available with power outputs of 1,000 or 2,000 watts. This power rating is for short durations. Continuous power output is normally 20% lower than the advertised rating.
Inverter generators over 2,000 watts are available for powering RV air conditioners and large microwave ovens. You may also hook two smaller inverter generators together, combining their individual power output, to run larger current appliances. This has become a popular method since a single and obviously more fuel-efficient generator is all that is needed when not running a RV air conditioner.
The downside to an inverter generator is the purchase price when compared to synchronous models. They can cost two to four times more.
Two of the most popular models of inverter generators are manufactured by Honda and Yamaha. A 1,000 watt model is the preferred size for tent and pop-up campers. Those with trailers and small motor homes often prefer one providing up to 2,000 watts.
After dominating the inverter generator market for years, the Japanese models are being challenged by several quality products built in China. Champion Power Equipment of Santa Fe Springs, California builds one of these products.
Champion owns their own manufacturing facility in China. Their products are engineered and serviced by their United States facility.
Champion has built an excellent reputation for technical service, product quality and the availability of service parts should they be needed.
A few months ago I purchased two of the Champion 2,000 watt inverter generators along with the device needed to connect both of them together. After conducting some extensive side-by-side power testing and a comparison of noise levels with competing models from Honda, Kipor and Yamaha I was pleased to find that the new CPE 2000i performed as well as the competition. I have been extremely impressed with the CPE 2000i performance, design and build quality.
You must remember that I am an admitted “tool junkie”. I own several different models of portable generators built by both the Japanese and now Champion. I don’t need all of them, I just like to collect, dissect and evaluate them. I consider them part of my “Beanie Baby Collection”.
The Champion 2000i has an 80cc engine and sips fuel like a southern lady does her tea. It runs quietly at under 60 dba, a rating of sound pressure used to measure loudness. At a distance of 30 feet the generator is no louder than a conversation between two campers. Using a single generator, I have been able to quickly recharge my batteries for night use, make a pot of coffee, run the microwave and Nancy’s hand held hair dryer (not all at the same time).
It stows away neatly in the side compartment of the camper or truck and at less than 50 pounds can be conveniently carried by one person.
The cost of the Champion 2000i is 30% to 40% less than the popular red and blue Japanese models with comparable performance and service-support.
Since it is a relatively new product sold only through a network of authorized dealers, demand has recently exceeded supply. But, the company promises a vastly expanded network of dealers and models by the beginning of the 2011 camping season. Currently the Champion 2000i is available in the US from Sam’s Clubs, Champion Fulfillment, Amazon.com, and Northern Tool. Northern sells it under the Category 5 by Champion Power Equipment logo. In Canada you may purchase it from from Costco.
An inverter generator would make a great Christmas present for “you know who”.
I’m considering giving one of my Champion 2000i generators to Nancy with a big YELLOW bow on top.
Until next week – Happy Camping Trails to All.