How to Make a Generator Safe for Electronics?

Cleaning Generator Power

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Nothing beats a generator when it comes to powering your RV while dry camping. You have electricity with a click of a button, be it day or night, sunny or rainy.

However, generator power can sometimes be very damaging to your RV appliance, especially if the power produced is dirty. You need to clean up your generator’s power to keep your appliances safe and extend their working life.

But the question is, how to make a generator safe for electronics?

The most reliable way to make a generator safe for electronics is to get an inverter generator. For non-inverter-type generators, you can use a surge protector or a power line conditioner to make the power clean.

Dirty power is a serious issue and should be addressed immediately.

In this post, we’ll talk about what causes generators to produce dirty power and the best ways to clean generator power.

Is Generator Power Safe for Electronics?

No, the power produced by most portable generators is not safe for electronics unless you have an inverter generator. Conventional generators produce power and feed it directly to the outlets. Whereas, the inverter generators stabilize the power before sending it out.

All generators function the same way to produce power. An engine rotates the alternator, which produces Alternating Current or AC. At this stage, the electricity produced by the generator is dirty, as it has a lot of fluctuations or Harmonic Distortion (THD).

Note: Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) is the technical term used to indicate how dirty or clean the generator power is. Generally, the higher the THD value, the more fluctuations in the current produced and vice versa.

In a traditional generator, this dirty power from the alternator is sent directly to the generator outlets to feed the appliances. This makes the power from a conventional generator unsafe for electronics as it has a higher Harmonic Distortion.

In contrast, an inverter generator takes the AC power produced by the alternator and sends it through a computerized rectifier. This rectifier converter this dirty AC power to DC first and back to AC.

However, while converting from DC to AC, the rectifier minimizes distortion or surges in the current, making it clean. This helps inverter generators produce clean power which is safe for all types of appliances.

If you want to buy a portable generator for your RV then the Honda EU2200i is my recommendation that produces clean power (< 3% THD). Inverter generators not only produce clean power but are also quieter and more fuel-efficient compared to traditional generators.

What are the Signs of Dirty Power?

Generally, the most common signs of dirty power are flickering lights, breaker tripping, appliances heating, and making a humming noise. You can use a Kilowatt Meter to check if your generator has a high THD.

Dirty Power refers to the electrical power that is unstable or is not constant. It is the power that is unsafe for most electrical appliances, especially sensitive electronics.

But, what are the signs of dirty power?

Well, the most common sign of dirty power includes

  1. Lights will start blinking when turned on
  2. Frequent circuit breaker tripping
  3. Excessive heating of appliances, especially sensitive electronics
  4. Appliances making an unusual humming sound
  5. Motorized appliances like a blender or hairdryer may rev up and down

If any of these signs seem common to you, then the power coming into your RV is most probably dirty and needs to be cleaned immediately.

But, how to check if my generator is at fault?

There are two easy ways to find out if the power fluctuations are caused by your generator. 

First, check to see if you have a conventional or open-frame type generator. If the label on your generator or the manual doesn’t mention the inverter, then there is a good chance you have a conventional generator. Additionally, look for the THD value in the user manual if the value is more than 5%, then the power is unsafe.

Secondly, you can use a Kilowatt Meter to check if there is fluctuation in the power output of the generator. Simply connect the Kilowatt Meter to any outlet on a running generator and run an appliance. The reading on the Kilowatt Meter will fluctuate, indicating a dirty generator power output.

What are the Causes of Dirty Power in Generators?

Usually, a cheap non-branded generator can be a big cause of dirty power in an RV. These generators use cheap parts which don’t work as intended. However, with branded generators, the fuel quality, clogged fuel line, and poor maintenance can be the common causes of dirty power.

The most common cause of dirty power in generators is the quality of the unit itself. Most non-branded cheap generators use low-quality parts which don’t work as intended, resulting in power fluctuations.

However, power fluctuations are also found in high-end branded generators. Here are some reasons why your generator is producing dirty power.

1. Contaminated Fuel

Fuel contamination or degradation will make a generator run rough while also losing engine power. As the engine revs up and down so does the electricity produced by the alternator resulting in the fluctuation in the power output.

Improper fuel storage is the #1 cause of fuel degradation. Use fresh fuel when running a generator or follow the proper generator storage procedure.

2. Clogged Fuel System and Air Filter

When the fuel system and air filter of a generator are clogged, it obstructs the flow of fuel and air into the engine. This deteriorates the engine performance which results in power fluctuation.

Proper maintenance can prevent such issues and keep your generator in top working order.

3. Overload and Load Imbalance

Overloading your generator will not only make it louder but also produce dirty power. As the generator goes over its maximum output wattage, the alternator fails to maintain the voltage, resulting in fluctuation.

On the other hand, when the load on a generator is shifted often from high to low, the unit can’t handle the load imbalance making the power fluctuate.

4. Poor Maintenance

Maintenance is the key to longevity and optimal performance for any generator. Poor maintenance can be a big reason your generator is producing dirty power despite having the best portable generator using premium fuel. 

Make sure to run schedule maintenance on the generator without fail.

How to Make a Generator Safe for Electronics?

To make your generator safe for electronics invest in a good quality inverter generator. You can also use a surge protector, power conditioner, or UPS to clean dirty generator power.

The main factor that contributes to power fluctuations in a generator is how the generator is producing the alternating current before sending it to the outlets.

The power that is sent through the inverter has low fluctuation. On the other hand, the power that is sent to the outlets directly from the alternator will have higher fluctuations.

However, there are ways to combat electrical fluctuations to keep your RV appliances safe. Here are the most reliable ways to prevent dirty power from damaging your RV appliances.

1. Buy an Inverter Generator

The most convenient way to get clean power when boondocking is to get an inverter generator. An inverter generator produces power like any other generator but takes an extra step to clean the power to make it safe for consumer electronics.

They are not only reliable for the power they produce but are also quieter, more fuel-efficient, and lightweight. However, inverter generators are expensive when compared to conventional generators, but the benefits pay off in the long run.

Though inverter generators come in low wattage ratings, you can always connect two inverter generators in parallel to double the power. The Honda EU2200i is the best you can buy when it comes to inverter generators and is also parallel ready.

2. Using a Standalone Inverter

You can use a standalone inverter if buying an inverter generator seems like an expensive investment. A standalone inverter is a device that takes power from an external source (a generator in our case) and cleans the power, making it safe for appliances.

If you have an appropriate size inverter installed for your house batteries, you can take the dirty power from your generator and pass it through the inverter. This will clean the power and make it safe to run your appliances.

All you need to do is run the power cord from your generator to your house battery charger, and you have clean power.

3. Use a Power Line Conditioner or Surge Protector

Though both a power line conditioner and a surge protector does the same thing, one is better than the other.

A power conditioner takes the dirty electricity produced by the generator and conditions it until it’s safe for your electronics. It works to stabilize and clean dirty power while also balancing the voltage.

A surge protector, on the other hand, just helps to prevent high voltage from reaching your appliances. Here are two surge protectors from Progressive Industry from both a 30 amp and 50 amp RV.

4. UPS to Clean Generator Power

A UPS or Uninterrupted Power Supply is a device that is widely used by PC owners to counter power fluctuations from damaging their computers. It also has a battery that provides backup if the power were to fail to enable you to save your data.

You can use a UPS to clean up your generator power to run your RV appliances safely. All you have to do is run the generator power through the UPS to feed your appliances.

However, make sure to turn off all the appliances connected to the UPS before turning the generator off. Failing to do so will damage the battery inside the UPS.

The APC UPS 1500VA Sine Wave UPS Battery Backup is a great option if you’re looking for a UPS to clean your generator power.

Conclusion

Dirty power is a serious issue that can damage electronics if not addressed in time. Blinking of lights, frequently tripping breakers are some of the common signs of power fluctuations.

In generators, dirty power can be a result of a cheap generator to poor maintenance. However, making your generator power safe for electronics is as easy as getting an inverter generator or using a power conditioner or UPS.