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A Guide to Buying a Diesel Generator

Updated on May 28, 2016


A diesel generator is an electro mechanical machine that produces electricity. It comprises of a diesel engine coupled to an alternator. Its primary purpose is to provide power when the electrical grid is not available due to several factors (remote areas, grid stability, fault). Developing nations have grids that are not stable and as a result have a large requirement of diesel generators. Developed nations grid supply is generally stable and hence the applications are limited to areas such as critical power (hospitals, data centres, airports), commercial cases where loss of power will incur significant costs and remote areas (mines, communities) where grid supply is non-existent. Other applications include military, marine and telecom.

Selection criteria

In order to select the appropriate generator, the following factors need to be considered:

  • Application
  • Prime or Standby Power
  • Operating Conditions
  • Commercial impact

The ideal diesel generator would have the following features:

  • Reliability
  • High performance
  • Support
  • Efficiency
  • Durability
  • Competitive pricing
  • User friendly
  • Functionality

Diesel Generator Features

Generator range

Today there is a large range of generator manufacturers in the market place producing high quality product to simpler low end product. For the purpose of this article we will define the range by the following categories:

  • Tier 1 – high spec custom build generators for severe environments and for prime power applications. Eg. mine site no grid, dust, high temperatures, continuous operation where loss of power will cause large financial costs.
  • Tier 2 – quality mass produced generators that can be used for prime power applications and critical standby. Eg. emergency power for high traffic airport.
  • Tier 3 – low end massed produced product for minimal operation in standby application. Price sensitive. Eg. Standby power to a local restaurant that operates under a reliable grid.


Tier 1 generators are manufactured by companies who are based locally. They will either modify tier 2 product or custom build a generator. Components used will be specific to the application reliable and have high levels of support. The end product will be able to meet the demands of the application. Pricing can be 5 x tier 2 product however provides the best return on investment.

Tier 2 generators are manufactured by large engine companies based in the US and companies operating in large markets such as China and Europe.

The large US engine companies are conglomerates with several divisions. Their generators come under their power generation division. They are able to produce consistent reliable product and local support. However due to their structure they are limited on their ability to produce tier 1 product. Typical constraints are:

  • Company manufactured components
  • Approved suppliers
  • Mass produced
  • Design variations limited

Large manufacturers based in Europe and China are not tied to any particular brand of component given them scope to assemble diesel generators that meet the requirements of the majority of the market. Due to their large plants they have scalability and can acquire componentry at competitive pricing. They are able to provide local support via subsidiary, distributors and component manufacturers . Labor costs are lower than that of developed nations. The ability of their resources restricts them from producing tier 1 product. Any variation from their typical designs can reduce reliability. Their pricing is generally 30% lower than US engine conglomerates.

Tier 3 generators are produced by companies based in China. They use replicated components of well-known brands. They are not build to any particular standard. Reliability is low and support out of China is non-existent. Procurers can be attracted by the low pricing these generators are on offer for. Pricing in general can be up to 40% lower than top tier 2 counterparts.

Tier 2 - Diesel Generator



In conclusion it is important to understand the application and environment that the diesel generator will be operating in. This will provide guidance on which manufactures should be consulted providing the best return on investment.


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