Three green alternatives to fossil fuel generators

on October 2, 2020

As catastrophic wildfire and hurricane seasons have ravaged both coasts of the United States this fall, one lesser-known killer has been on the loose: diesel-powered portable generators.

Improper use of these backup power sources — which occurs most commonly during grid outages caused by major climate events — is typically deadlier than weather alone. Fossil fuel generators release carbon monoxide, an odorless, tasteless, and transparent natural gas that can lead to suffocation.

In addition to being potentially deadly, diesel-powered generators are loud and bulky, and they release greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Unfortunately, people will probably be turning to generators more often as climate disasters become more frequent. The good news is there are cleaner generators available. Here are three emission-free alternatives to a typical diesel-powered generator.

#1. Solar-powered generators

A greener alternative to the traditional gas-powered generator, solar-powered generators are steadily gaining in popularity in North America. Comprising two key parts — a set of solar panels and an internal storage system made up of photovoltaic cells, which catch, convert, and store sunlight as electricity — solar generators don’t emit any fossil fuels. They’re also cleaner, quieter, and safer than gas-powered generators.

While the upfront costs of a solar-powered generator can be hefty — prepare to shell out anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars for one — their maintenance costs over the course of their lifecycle are typically low. They have fewer moving parts than a fossil fuel-powered generator and won’t require a ton of upkeep for the duration of the solar cells’ lifecycle (typically 25 to 30 years). They come in a range of sizes: from as large as an outdoor home air conditioning unit to as small as a briefcase or boombox. They generally take longer to power than diesel generators, however, and are dependent on consistent sunny days, so keep this in mind upon purchase and use.

#2. Wind turbines

More commonly spotted in their larger forms on farms and in fields, wind turbines are manufactured at a smaller scale for plugging into a green generator and powering at-home projects. Though not suitable for all homes and geographic locations, home wind generators are great for those with large outdoor spaces and residents of the Midwest, where breezes are bountiful.

Wind turbines collect kinetic energy through the rotation of their propellers and store it in an attached generator. They typically cost anywhere from several hundred to a few thousand dollars, but are said to pay for themselves within a few years by their output. They’re relatively noisy compared to solar sources, but are completely green and emission-free, and therefore safer for general use than fossil fuel generators.

Unlike solar power, wind power can be collected at all hours of the day, but wind turbines’ space and location requirements make them far more prohibitive than rooftop panels. Installers recommend having winds of at least 12 miles per hour, on average, and a decent amount of outdoor space in which to install the turbines.

#3. Battery-powered generators

Also known as gasless generators, battery-powered generators are a greener, quieter alternative to traditional diesel-powered home generators. Rather than burning fossil fuels, battery-powered generators plug into an external power source (the electrical grid, a vehicle, or a solar panel, for instance) to collect and store electricity. Because they don’t use fuel, battery-powered generators don’t produce carbon monoxide or other emissions.

They’re also typically portable and are both convenient and completely safe for indoor use, so they’re your best bet to charge your lights and gadgets on your next camping trip. The average portable battery-powered generator is around the size of a countertop microwave and comes with a range of outlets, from standard 120-volt outlets to USB ports and direct current (DC) chargers. While battery-powered generators are top in terms of convenience and portability, they can take a while to charge, especially when plugged into a solar energy source, so give them at least overnight before use.