Portable Backup Power.
February 08, 2021
By Steve Maxwell
Declining generator cost and greater concern about the reliability of grid power are the two main reasons more property owners than ever are interested in electric generator backup. The thing is, most of your clients only know that they want this sort of protection, not how backup power works nor how to choose equipment wisely. This is especially true when it comes to one of the most popular backup options – the large portable generator. Learn how to sell this option to clients and you’ll expand the scope of your projects and look good in the process. Besides, the best backup power installations depend on features that should be built in right from the start of major projects.
Why Big Portables Are Popular
Generators come as small, big, quiet, not-so-quiet and permanently installed versions. And of all these choices, large portable generators are the one category that’s consistently popular with home and small business owners. Defined as putting out 8,000 watts of power or more, large portables deliver plenty of juice and they can be used for more than just electrical backup. Your clients can use the generator at the lake or for building projects beyond the grid. Value is perhaps the most attractive feature for these models. Large portables deliver the most electrical power output for a given price and have become very economical in recent years.
It’s one thing to own a generator, but another thing to legally connect that generator to items in a building. Electrical authorities everywhere forbid direct connection of a generator to an electrical panel unless that system is physically prevented from back feeding generator power into the grid. The issue is line worker safety and the threat posed if power accidentally comes back into the main service lines from a generator connected to the supposedly “dead” side of the power grid. Laws are in place to protect workers from this potentially dangerous connection and it means there are only three options for legally making emergency generator connections in homes and businesses.
GENERATOR LEGAL HOOK-UP #1
EXTENSION CORD CONNECTION
Today’s multi-outlet generator extension cords mean this option isn’t as troublesome as it used to be because only one extension cord needs to come indoors. That said, extension cords still leave a lot to be desired. They’re what most clients end up using unless they’re taught about generator connection alternatives, and it’s worth steering them to something more convenient than cords. Besides the hassle of connecting items with multiple extension cords, it’s almost impossible to make full use of the power of a large portable using extension cords only. There are only so many things you can plug into cords.
GENERATOR LEGAL HOOK-UP #2
METER BASE CONNECTION
Imagine an extended, cylindrical meter base with a port for accepting a proprietary cable that connects to a generator. This is how a meter base generator connection system works. It’s the simplest to install in an existing building without doing extensive electrical work.
GenerLink is the best example of meter base generator connection hardware right now. When power goes out, plug one end of the connection cable into the meter base and the other end into the generator. Fire up the engine and that’s it. The GenerLnk automatically disconnects generator power from the grid, while also allowing generator power to flow into the main electrical panel and to the various circuits. Besides connecting and firing up the generator, part of the meter base connection regime happens down at your electrical panel. You’ll need to switch off the breaker serving high-load, non-essentials such as the electric water heater, baseboard heaters or clothes dryer.
GenerLink keeps on delivering generator power to the house as long as the generator is running and even after grid power is restored. The generator needs to be shut off for grid power to switch back ON. There are only two drawbacks with GenerLink. It’s a fairly expensive unit ($1,100 to $1,500 in Canada with cable depending on the model), and not all jurisdictions allow GenerLinks to be installed. Check with your local municipality to see if it’s legal in your area.
GENERATOR LEGAL HOOK-UP #3
MANUAL TRANSFER SWITCH
The best time to install one of these is when major electrical work is already being done on a building. Transfer switches provide an opportunity to connect a generator cable to your electrical system, and connect either the generator or the grid to the building circuits, but not both at the same time. Transfer switches typically work with a small, secondary panel. Essential circuits are connected to this panel during installation, and this panel is the only one that gets energized when the manual switch is flipped during and outage. The connection between the grid and panel is cut when the transfer switch is moved to generator mode, then re-established when the switch is pushed back to grid mode.
As a contractor, the public sees you as an expert in all things related to building, so it’s natural they’ll turn to you for basic advice on generators. The better you know the subject the better you’ll build your reputation as an expert.