Having an additional power source during a power outage or a portable generator during your off-grid RV trips has many benefits. But you should be aware that these benefits come with very high risks if you don’t take precautions. One such risk is the damage that can occur when you power electronic devices with a generator. This is why it’s important to learn how to make a generator safe for electronics before you start using it.
How Can a Generator Damage Electronics?
To understand how can generators damage electronics, we need to discuss some more technical details first. The leading cause of damage to electronic devices is power fluctuations. This means that power surges and drops happen while the generator is operating, all because the motor of most conventional generators cannot maintain a steady speed of 3600 RPM.
Today, most modern technology and electronic appliances have microprocessors and circuit boards that cannot handle dirty electricity or unstable power. This momentary RPM fluctuations, also known as total harmonic distortion (THD), can do real damage to sensitive electronics such as mobile phones, laptops, or computers. Luckily, there are several things you can do to prevent damage by ensuring a consistent power output.
How to Make a Generator Safe for Electronics (6 Options)
In this section, we’re going to discuss the best options to protect your small devices and appliances from unstable electricity.
1. Use a Surge Protector
Let’s start with an inexpensive, simple way to combat power surges. You can do this by getting a surge protector device (SPD). As the name suggests, this handy device protects your electronic devices from a power surge by conducting the excess voltage from the power input to the grounding wire.
For surge protection to work correctly, the protector has to be connected to the grounding wire. Apart from proper generator surge protector installation, there are several other things to keep in mind to get more consistent power. The first thing is that surge protectors don’t last a lifetime. The shielding this device offers is counted in joules. The joules rating refers to how much energy they can absorb.
However, after some time, the protector wears out, and the level of protection decreases or is no longer there. Some surge protectors will notify you when this happens, but many will continue operating, and you’ll know they don’t work only after the damage is done. This is all to say how essential it is to replace surge protectors from time to time, primarily after they handled a severe power surge such as a blown-up transformer.
Finally, although this method is completely valid, you never know when your surge protector can fail. That’s why it’s a wise choice to have other guarding layers in place. You can also look into other options on the market that offer a warranty on electronics to have an additional layer of safety.
2. Use a Surge Arrester
The next option on our list is similar to the previous one but on a larger scale. Surge arresters are used for your whole house, and they protect your electronics from various serious power surges. These surges can be caused by a generator, but also by lightning nearby or the main power supply.
Depending on your needs, there are multiple types of arresters you can choose from. They can also be installed in various places. Making these decisions requires professional help, so hire an electrician if you don’t have the necessary skills.
As for electronics safety, you can count on an arrester to absorb up to 90% of the surge. This is not all, but it’s enough to keep your devices safe. You can use it in combination with surge protectors, which would absorb the rest of the surge.
As you can imagine, given that surge arresters provide a high level of protection and are so powerful, they are also pretty costly. Besides this, you also need to invest in several surge protectors, so make sure you’re aware of that if you decide on this option.
3. Use a Power Line Conditioner
The next option is using a power line conditioner to make your generator safe. This is also a more expensive option than a surge protector, but it provides complete protection, similar to the surge arrester. It works by filtering out the dirty power and smooths out any electricity fluctuations from the input power. It eliminates power surges, unstable voltages, electromagnetic (EMI) and radio frequency (RFI) interferences caused by various devices.
One significant benefit of a generator power line conditioner is that it can be the only method you depend on to make the generator’s power supply safe. You don’t have to combine it with any other device and spend additional money. You can choose between entry-level brands such as Monster, but you can also go for more established, higher-priced brands such as Furman, Panamax, or Bryston. Keep in mind that the quality depends on the price when it comes to choosing a power conditioner for your generator.
4. Use an Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR)
Another device to look into for clean energy is an automatic voltage regulator. Like previous suggestions, this device detects the voltage from generator terminals and compares it to a stable reference. It then smooths out any shifting voltages from the generated electricity. By adding this device to your generator, you get a more steady flow than a standard generator alternator provides. Some portable generators already come with this device.
If automatic voltage regulators fail, they usually cause loss of excitation, which causes the generator to shut down because there’s no voltage. However, if your generator doesn’t have the functionality to shut down on an under-voltage fault, it will keep running, and serious damage can occur.
If you decide on this method, be prepared to combine it with a power line conditioner or a surge protector strip for best results.
5. Use an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
The next option is using an uninterruptible power supply that functions similarly to a battery. It stores the electricity and ensures steady power when the main source goes out, such as in power outages situations. It supplies power for just enough time so you can turn off or disconnect your electronics or restart your generator. There are various types of UPS devices, but here are four points to keep in mind.
UPS with a Generator Mode
UPS with generator mode ensures that your UPS supplies the stored power to your devices and also smooths out generator fluctuations. If you decide on getting a UPS, make sure it has this functionality.
Double Conversion UPS
As the name suggests, this UPS type converts AC to DC and then back to AC. Thereby ensuring consistent, stable, and clean power.
UPS Just for Electronics
Consider getting a dedicated UPS device for every sensitive device. On the one hand, this protects your electronics. On the other, it also prolongs the working life of your UPS.
A refrigerator, for example, needs a lot less power than a computer to shut down properly. Therefore, it can hold up and not be damaged if an abrupt power outage happens. If you connect several devices to one UPS, a refrigerator will use much more power than it needs to safely shut off, making the UPS last shorter. If you also have a TV or a computer connected, they won’t have enough power to safely shut off because of the refrigerator, so the chances of damage are higher.
Proper UPS Installation
For a UPS to work properly, you have to install it correctly, just like many other options we mentioned above. Our best recommendation is to hire a professional. This is not only the safest way for you; it’s also the most likely way to do everything right. Besides this, insurance companies often require an electrical certificate for compliance for purposes that you can only get from a professional.
6. Use an Inverter Generator
Indeed, inverter generators are far superior to non-inverter generators. While a regular generator directly feeds the generated AC power to the power panel and the connected small appliances. An inverter generator turns AC to DC and then to AC again. The final result is clean AC power with minimal harmonic distortion, similar to the electricity you get from a wall outlet.
Inverter generators are a bit pricier but worth it when compared to the price you’d pay for a conventional generator damaging all your electronics. We have a dedicated article that explains the difference between inverters and generators. It explains all the details about how they work and what makes an inverter generator more suitable for electronic devices.
If you already have a portable generator, you can consider getting a power inverter separately and installing it to your conventional generator. You can also opt for a solar generator for your home or RV since they supply pure sine wave energy, suitable for powering electronics.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are six ways to ensure your generator supplies safe electrical power for your electronics: use a surge protector, surge arrester, power line conditioner, automatic voltage regulator, uninterruptible power supply, or an inverter generator.
In short, yes. A conventional or a non-inverter generator supplies uneven AC power. It causes drops and surges that can damage sensitive devices.
It depends on the generator type or safeguards you are using. Suppose you have an inverter generator or a whole-house generator connected to your home with a transfer switch. Then you can safely use them for charging electronics. But, if you have a regular generator, you will need to add extra layers of security such as surge protectors and arresters, AVR, UPS, or a power line conditioner.
Inverter generators are generally the best option to power delicate electronics because they provide steady, clean power. So, if you’re currently in the market for a new portable generator, and you know that you’ll have sensitive electronics connected to it, you should look into inverter generators.
Yes, a home standby generator that comes with a transfer switch is usually suitable for powering sensitive appliances and electronics. Most standby generators are rated safe for electronics.
As you can see, protecting your electronics from dirty power is possible. There are several ways, budgets, needs, and various safety levels. It’s essential to remember that replacing sensitive electronics will usually cost more than going for one of the top 6 options from our list. Save yourself some money and don’t stress out, and learn how to make a generator safe for electronics with our simple guide.