Loadshedding appears to have become a permanent fixture in the day-to-day lives of South Africans once more.

The return of rolling power cuts have forced a number of South Africans to look into purchasing a generator. Unfortunately deciding on which generator to buy is not something you can simply opt to do while out at the shop one morning.

So how does one go about choosing a generator in 2019?

To find that out you’ll need to ask yourself and your family a few questions.

What does the generator need to power?

The first thing you need to decide on is what you want the generator to power. While having your entire house powered while the neighbours huddle around candles is desirable it might not be possible, financially speaking.

For this reason we recommend selecting a number of key appliances you’d like to power during loadshedding. Consider what you need when the lights go out and make sure you think about day-time loadshedding as well.

Consider lighting, cooking, cleaning, entertainment and climate control when deciding what appliances you need.

Once you have a list of appliances you’d like to remain on during loadshedding fish out a calculator.

How big should the generator be?

Once you know what you want to power you’ll need to determine how much power you need the generator to generate.

To do this you’ll need to determine how much power each of the appliances you’ve selected draws when it’s turned on and while it’s running. The amount of power an appliance draws when turned on is especially important as this has the potential to surge the grid.

So where do you find this information? The best bet is to search for each appliance online and see how much power it draws.

Another way, according to Adendorff Machinery Mart is to use a clamp meter to determine how many amps something is drawing.

“Use a electronic clamp meter to measure the current while the appliance is switched on. Measure the current (Amps @ AC current). This can then be used to find the wattage value via this equation: watt = amp × volt. Voltage in South-Africa is AC 220V (50 hertz),” explains the retailer.

Once you have that figured out it’s advised that you increase it by 10 – 15 percent to account for any surges in your appliances. Simply put if you intend on drawing 4 000W of power, get a generator that can push out 5 500W just to be safe.

Another important consideration to make is how big the fuel tank should be. A 12 litre tank is rated for 6 – 10 hours (depending on the manufacturer) of run-time but this will largely depend on your own usage and how many times power-hungry appliances are switched on.

It’s also worth taking into consideration what fuel type the generator uses.

How much should you spend?

The price you pay for a generator will depend on a number of factors including its power output, generating capacity, fuel tank size and additional features it sports.

A basic 2 500W Ryobi generator with pull start retails for R4 499 from Builders while a 2 000W key-start generator retails for R4 695 at Adendorff.

Larger generators such as this 10 000W affair retail for R29 950.

While you might be tempted to make a rush decision when purchasing your generator given the shortages many retailers are facing, spend time shopping for the best deal you can find.

Do you need an inverter?

Given the amount of sensitive electronics we make use of these days (consoles, PCs, smart TVs) plugging your electronics directly into a DC power source may not be the best idea.

An inverter solves this problem by taking DC energy and converting it to AC energy which most, if not all electronics need to run smoothly.

It should be noted that inverters are an additional precautionary measure

When looking for an inverter you’ll want a pure sine wave inverter which pushes power to your home at the same frequency Eskom does.

There are generators which contain inverter technology so be sure to look out for those while shopping for a generator. Alternatively you may have to purchase an inverter separately if you intend on using sensitive electronics such as desktop computers, consoles or televisions.

Safety first

So you have the right generator (and inverter if need be) for the job and now the power has gone out at home, you can just plug the generator into your home grid right? No exactly.

Generators will have outlets you can use to plug power cords directly into the machine but this presents something of a logistical problem for appliances such as the oven, or geyser.

What you’ll want to do is contact your electrician to install the generator.

Eskom points out that your electrician should install a change-over switch. This switch will allow you to manually switch between mains power and the generator. You should never have the mains and generator running at the same time according to Eskom as this could potentially cause a back-feed and damage the generator and appliances.

It should also go without saying that the generator should not be operated in-doors or in an enclosed environment. The carbon monoxide the generator kicks out can be deadly

Never fill the generator while it is running either and never smoke while filling up a generator.

We highly recommend walking your entire family through how the generator works, how to switch it on and off and basic safety tips for the machine before you even power the thing on.

[Image – Igor Ovsyannykov from Pixabay]