July 31, 2009

Cheap Small Generators

If you consider buying a cheap small electric generator for emergency purposes, now it's the right time to do it. A year from now you probably won't find a cheap portable generator for sale because of the new EPA exhaust emissions standards that will take effect in 2011. These new standards apply to all so-called Small Nonroad Spark-Ignition (SI) Engines and Equipment with engines up to 19 kW used in household and commercial applications, including lawn and garden equipment, utility vehicles, generators, and a variety of other construction, farm, and industrial equipment. The standards are intended to reduce hydrocarbon emissions from small SI engines by about 35%, and are similar to the requirements adopted previously by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Of course, as every government regulation, this one comes with a price tag. To comply, the manufacturers have to improve engine combustion and add catalysts. They will have to apply on an annual basis for the certification and pay a certification fee. The extra cost of course will be passed to us, the consumers.

Major domestic manufacturers of gensets such as Generac and Briggs & Stratton, are already CARB-compliant, so likely they will be EPA-certified as well. However their models cost typically twice as much as some cheap imports. Right now you can still buy a small non-CARB compliant portable genset made in China for about $100 per kW power. And if you worry about environment- emergency generators should not be an issue of our concern: maybe you would use them a few hours a year, or maybe you would never use them at all. Of course, portable generators are also used for non-emergency purposes such as on construction sites. However, as CARB's Fact Sheet admitted, small engines (which besides gensets include lawn mowers and a variety of other construction and garden equipment that is used more frequently) comprise only about one percent of California’s air pollution inventory! If EPA wanted to fight this 1% pollution, it could at least allow the non-compliant models to be sold with a label "for emergency use only". Could it be that EPA employees driving to and from their work for years while working on this project, caused a greater environmental impact that all portable emergency generators combined?