Padgett's Zen of a Comfortable Life and the Portable Generator

Copyright (C) 2017 by padgett, all rights reserved

Evolution in Action: Why the Portable Generator

My life has been strange and wonderful even though most (including employers) have not had a clue what I am doing, nice part is that I'm no longer part of a small group responsible for saving the world.

OTOH some have said I am mental. Though having saved for all of my career have made it to "eccentric". Is true I understand technology better than people. 1957 was my turning point when I realized playing tic tac toe with a computer at the Frankin institute that I could manage a draw but never win (kind of like Vegas). Here in 2017 that makes 60 years of watching technology as evolution in action (thanks Jerry) from the bleeding edge.

Been designing small travel trailers as a hobby since college daze & was invited to join several startups but preferred playing with airplanes and computers. Later in life when alone again I first purchased a small class A RV that had demonstrated 30mpg but naturally went broke after 500 units (Vixen TD21) . That was when I first discovered the need for the ability to have AC in all times and places. Purchased a Honda EU2000i but was not reliably starting the AC.

Decided I no longer needed to tow a race car (another hobby) and carrying a bicycle was a pain so sold the RV and bought (for half the price) a TrailManor 2720SL folding hard-sided camper to tow with my Jeep Grand Cherokee (am a sucker for a DOHC 6 - goes back to my childhood). This was in early 2014. At the same time I bought a larger generator, a 2500/2200W Predator thinking that would be enough to run the AC.

Annually I go to an airshow that is a week of dry camping often in the 90s (Florida). The Predator was expected to provide quiet, clean power and enough to start my 13,500BTUH AC. It didn't. Perhaps once in five or ten tries the AC would start. If not was a matter of restarting the generator and waiting a few minutes to try try again. Sometimes it would manage to start before I gave up in disgust. This resolved me that it would never happen again. However I knew even a 2KW gen could run the AC, the problem was starting the AC. For this I needed to do some study. Fortunately just about everything you need to know is OnLine. You just need to know what question to ask. Exactly what question.


2015 Shootout
2016 Maturation
2017 New Breed
Quick History of Generator Inverters

Early Work: 2014-2015

So 2014 was the year I started a complete study of ACs and their requirements and the portable generators available and their specifications. Keep in mind that at that time I was still working and always had a portable computer with me since 1983 to be able to find out what the panicked phone call I received was about. 24/7. Just by 2014 it had shrunk from 32 lbs to 3 and I had a MiFi device to connect to the Internet. Good thing since land lines are now hard to find.

This required an indepth study of both ACs and portable generators. ACs are simple and boring but respond well to use of a soft-start device if you must run a 13.5 AC from a 2KW class generator. However my AC pulls 1440W when running on low fan.Most 2KW generators are rated for 1600W contunous and it is best to keep the load under 80% so really need an 1800W continuous rating - and then have little reserve for anything else (charging batteries, making coffee, etc.). I had little interest in conventional wisdom (parallel two Hondas or go to a 100lb 3KW class device).

So my first step was to review the literature, I began studying the reviews and specifications of every Generator/Inverter (at the time only G/I devices had clean enough power for my devices) on the market. Some thing I found quickly was that: - Other than Honda and Yamaha, all smaller generators seem to be made in China (well one in Korea)
- Chinese generators had a terrible reputation
- There were four major suppliers (checking AliBaba I learned to spot design indicators of each. Also CARB approved motors have a sticker on each identifying the manufaturer.
- Almost all of the "lesser" generator/inverters (not many in 2014, a whole bunch in 2016) were badge-engineered versions from one of the four suppliers.
- All of the designs were similar e.g. 2KW class G/Is either had a 79cc, or 98 cc, or 125cc engine - Where they were different was in the quality and tolerances specified and the electronics used. (e.g some had an ECON switch).
- Some indication of the quality was in the warrenty lenght: 90 day, one year, some even had three year warrenties. These tended to have the fewest complaints and often cost a bit more. The lowest cost model generated the most complaints.
- The names meant nothing, some of the most famous names were on inferior designs.
- My criteria (less than 14.5 inches wide, under 70 lbs, quiet) narrrowed the field further.

ps given a choice I would prefer a "Made in America" device but the last one I had from over a decade ago was so loud I could not hear myself think. One thing oriental manufacturers understand is how to build a small engine muffler. Gave that one away as a housewarming gift.

So during the summer of 2014 I first studied all available information (which was often conflicting) and determined a test suite which included ability to monitor voltage, frequency, peak currents, and waveforms.. Since I had a Honda EU2000i and a Predator 2500 these were obvious choices but wanted a third - the Westinghouse (WestPro) WH2000iXLT had very good reviews, was light and quiet, and instead of 2000/1600W was actually 2200/1800W. And was available at a good price from Amazon Prime. The results of this became the original 2015 "Shootout" complete with videos of the instrumentation showing when the AC started (or didn't). See "Links" above.

More Work: 2015-2016

During 2015 the generator/inverter market exploded and many brands appeared with EU2000i class machines but few had "more". I had a very good rapport with WestPro and they redesigned the WH2400iXLT into the same size and form factor package but now with 2400/2100W, the WH2400i. This machine could also be paralleled with my WH2000iXLT. This became my "generator of choice" and took with me on all trips in 2016 and early 2017. At this point my original task seemed over and I could now start the AC any time I needed. Further my trailer was now well balanced for my need with a pair of 2GC batteries to replace the defective Grp 27 amd 200W of solar to take adavatege of the Florida sun.

Surprise: 2017

Thought the job was done but by early 2017 the market took a surprising twist: Previously it was thought that conventional open-frame and low-cost generators (about 2/3 the cost of a Generator/Inverter) were too electronically noisy (10%-20% Total Harmonic Distortion or THD) and had a hard time maintaining 60 hz under load. Most devices and partularly contractor tools do not really care and will operate as well with a square wave as a sign wave but sensitive electronics (in almost anything any more including refrigerators) did not like it and could even be damaged. The generator/inverter (most have less than 3% THD) was the accepted answer.

But 2017 is different. Modern electronics and electromechanical controls permit very fast response to loads applied or lost and can hold exatly 3600 rpm (needed to maintain 60 Hz) with millisecond response times, even when starting a 15,100 btuh room AC. These are being billed as 3500W class machines that have less than 5% THD (which seems to be "enough") and are quiet (about 2db more than a Honda). The downside is that they are larger (about 20" wide) and heavier (about 100 lbs) than their generator/inverter counterparts.

Had thought about something with more reserve power & wanted to play with one of the new ones, were a couple of inexpenvive (relatively) G/I 3KW class devices appearing including one that seemed to be the same as my 2500W/2200W Predator but with increased power but then noticed a whole new class had appeared.

This "new breed" is expanding quickly, already smaller conterparts are appearing that are 80 lbs instead of 100. These have four notable characteristics: <5% THD, quiet (relatively), have a three prong TT-30 RV plug, and are less expensive than the inverter versions. In general they also have larger engines and a much larger gas tank for AC all night long. At the same time they seem to go through about 3X the gasoline as the smaller ones. I suspect the upcoming years are going to see these get smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient.

Bottom Line: what was once difficult and expensive to accomplish is now simple and half the price. And this is just the start. As more people can air condition their campers, more people will and as demand increases prices will go down. Just like any other piece of technology you must know what you need and how to tell what meets that need. meanwhile I am enjoying cool comfort under the blazing florida sun while a cuppa is just a few steps away from the laptop.

To see more of my testing/modifying/playing with things of interest, go to my web page.

Copyright (C) 2017 by padgett, all rights reserved

Note: This page was written using Windows 10 Notepad and pictures taken personally. Copyrights/Originators noted as appropriate.