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Power outage… What to do?

Will a generator enable me to tend to my power needs in case of a power outage?

A generator allows you to easily generate electricity by yourself. The important thing to remember is that there are two types of generators:

  1. Regular generators, a.k.a. current generators :
    • petrol or diesel-powered
    • need to be started manually
    • limited power output
    • usually fitted with a few power outlets to hook up 1 or several appliances
    • the smallest models start from 500 euros
  2. Emergency power generators:
    • diesel-powered, automatically activated when the electrical power supply is interrupted.
    • automatically switch off again as soon as mains supply is restored.
    • a lot more expensive than your common-or-garden generators, if only because this type delivers a greater power output.

Intended use

If you are looking to get a generator, the first thing to do is to ask yourself what you want to use the unit for.

Are you intending to use the generator to supply a specific appliance?
In that case, a regular generator will do the trick. It will enable you to connect an electrical appliance to the generator using a simple extension cable.

Unless of course you are looking to continue doing what you were doing as always, as though the mains power had not been interrupted?
If you want to continue to have power throughout your home as a whole, or supply several appliances, changes will need to be made to your electric switchboard, and a change-over device will need to be put in place. In this case, an emergency power generator is your safest bet. The electrician will establish a direct connection between the emergency generator and your home power network. Please note: all changes made to your electrical installation need to comply with specific rules and regulations and your installation will need to be inspected.

The change-over device acts to disconnect your home installation from the public grid as soon as the emergency power generator kicks in, or reconnects your installation to the grid as soon as mains power is restored. This change-over device can be automatic or may need to be controlled manually.

See also: 'What should I do if there is a power cut?'

Regulations and inspections

If you wish to connect the generator to your electric switchboard, these modifications need to comply with the rules set out in the AREI/RGIE - the Belgian General Regulations for Electrical Installations.
Next, an accredited technical assessment service will need to call round to your home to inspect your installation and make sure it complies with the AREI/RGIE rules.

In addition, an installation that enables you to simultaneously draw power from the power grid also needs to be reported to your distribution grid operator and comply with the provisions of Synergrid's C10/11 Technical Requirement.

Power output

Another consideration you will need to reckon with when buying a generator is the required power output.

  • Make a list of all the appliances and devices you are looking to hook up and add up their respective power requirements.
  • Be sure to factor in an extra amount of power to establish the output level you need from the generator you will be purchasing. Especially as some appliances use more power when starting up than when they hit normal operating mode.
  • Failing to factor in this extra reserve means you are at risk of exceeding the maximum power output of the generator, which would simply cause the generator to switch off. When in doubt, call on the assistance of a professional to determine the right power output needed.

One guideline to go by: if all you want to keep powered in case of a power outage are a few basic facilities such as lighting and your refrigerator, a 1.5 to 2 kVA power generating unit will cut it. The autonomy of generators ranges from 3 to 7 hours, depending on the machine.

There are also drawbacks to consider

A current generator has the major benefit that you will not be left without your electrically powered creature comforts for the 3-hour duration - which is how long the main power could be switched off at any one time during the winter ahead. However, this is offset by a number of considerable downsides.

  • A generating unit is petrol-powered, which means you will be made to contend with exhaust fumes. In other words, neither the basement nor the garage is the right place for a generator, which should be set up outdoors.
  • In addition, when in operation the machine produces a fair amount of noise. Which is not likely to amuse your neighbours.
  • Connecting a current generator to your home power network requires skill and know-how !  Plus your installation will need to be inspected by an accredited technical assessment service afterwards.
  • A current generator uses diesel or petrol. If you are planning to get through more than one or two selective power cuts, you will need to stock up on fuel. Both the storage conditions and the generator itself are subject to applicable environmental regulations. Depending on the generator's power output and the amount of fuel you have stored, you may have a duty of notification or even require an environmental permit for the generator, for storing the fuel or both.
  • If you decide to go for These self-tests also use fuel. What is more, emergency power generators require servicing, which also comes at a price.

Taking all of these elements into consideration, you will also find that getting a generator as a pro tem solution works out at a significant outlay. One that very likely will not ever earn itself back.

Careful: danger!

Finally, do not be blind to the fact that you are dealing with electricity.
Even though current generators are user-friendly enough, it is always advisable to get a professional electrician in to set up the installation when you are considering going down the generator route.

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