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Why Every Business Could Use an Industrial Backup Generator

Updated on March 29, 2013
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In my industry, I will hear my peers from other companies bicker over whether or not they should invest in industrial backup generators for their businesses – usually at our twice-annual telecommunications conventions. In fact, at the convention we held last week in Atlantic City, there was an entire panel held (of which I was a participant) to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of standby generators for commercial and industrial use. The arguments were thoughtful and occasionally pretty heated on both sides of the table, and it would be a stretch to say that anyone convinced the other side to switch over to their way of thinking, but we wound up with an insightful discussion of the subject matter anyway that left all of us with a lot to think about.

I was and am of the thinking that, whatever the cons of investing in a top of the line backup generator, the pros heavily outweigh them. So I wanted to collect some of the common critiques of industrial generator use and respond to them summarily. My goal isn't necessarily to get you to run out and sink thousands of dollars into a generator set right now, but to clear up some misconceptions and address how there's never been a higher demand for an emergency power source than there is right now – from where I'm standing, a powerful commercial generator is an essential purchase for almost any business.

Aren't Generators Too Expensive?

This is the primary concern for businesses on budgets who would otherwise want the security of a standby generator. It is true that a decent generator to power a whole company for as long as necessary will require quite an investment. Even basic home generators start at around $3000, and you'll be looking at a lot more than that for a new industrial generator. That doesn't include the price of installation – trust me, you'll want a professional installation – or, of course, the price of fuel to keep the lights on. So, yes, I understand that this can be simply unfeasible for the kind of small, struggling businesses that are so frequently found in today's economic climate.

That said, there are plenty of options for companies without a lot of extra cash to still buy a quality generator that does everything they need done. Do a little digging, and you will find affordable used generator sets and surplus equipment that will do the trick. Just because a generator is used doesn't mean it's ineffectual; industry standards for these things are quite high, and even a thoroughly used product will have been rigorously inspected and tested long before it arrives at your doorstep.

What About the Cost of Fueling a Generator?

If it's fuel costs you're concerned about, you have some options to choose from there, too. The most common fueling options for industrial generators are your standard diesel, liquid propane and natural gas. Of these, diesel is the most expensive with the cheapest generators, and natural gas is dirt cheap with pricy generators upfront. Natural gas allows you to hook into your preexisting gas lines, and since natural gas infused with methane is a renewable resource, you will save tons of cash in the long run. You also shouldn't be calculating how much energy you need generated based on your current energy consumption – you will be running just the bare bones of your business, so run some tests again after you've turned off any appliances or lights that aren't absolutely necessary.

The key point to keep in mind when you are deciding whether or not you can afford to invest in a backup generator is, in the event of a blackout, how much more do you stand to lose if you can't keep your business powered? I know for the telecom industry, if we're unable for even a few hours to provide the consistent service we're known for – even if it's due to events beyond our control ­­– you could stand to lose everything. So you need to ask yourself, especially as major natural disasters seem to be more common every year: Can I afford not to have a commercial standby generator ready to go at a moment's notice?

Won't Basic Upkeep Take Up a Lot of Time and Effort?

Yes, like any big piece of equipment like a generator, owning one will require some diligent care; but if you perform your inspection routines regularly, you shouldn't run into any time-consuming malfunctions anytime soon. If, on the rare occasion, you use the backup generator for more than a day straight, go ahead and get it serviced. Like a car, get the oil and filters checked on a regular basis, and make sure to check the oil every day. Additionally, don't overwork your standby generator (the rule of thumb is to never go above 75 percent of its capacity) and replace any worn or warped parts or brushes as quickly as possible – don't let it sit like that for long. If you can keep up these basic maintenance routines, you will have that generator waiting for your next emergency for years to come.

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