Letter Re: Natural Gas Powered Generators in a Disaster–Their Compressors, and Yours

Thanks for the information you deliver every day. I have recently gone on Social Security Disability and have some money to further our preps. My wife and I will hunker down in place, that being said, we have done what we can to make this as easy as possible. We can heat our home without electricity, but still need a solution for limited electric needs in the event of power outage. We are looking at the Honda EU2000i portable generator with the multi-fuel upgrade. In our years here we have never lost our natural gas supply, but have often lost our electric power. We propose to hook the genny up to our house gas supply, ready to go into service when the lights go out. 15 amps of 110 AC plus the 12 DC power would be a great addition to our supplies. Given we have beans, band aids and defense, this is a big purchase at $1,200 or so. I’m looking for advice.
Thanks, – Michael From Pennsylvania

JWR Replies: That is probably a decent solution, but only if your local gas utility provides natural gas via local wellhead pressure (possible in Pennsylvania, given your oilfields) or if they supply remotely-sourced gas via natural gas-powered line compressor stations.  If they use grid electricity-powered compressors stations (which is still the norm), then the gas pressure could stop after a couple of days of a power grid failure. But if they use natural gas-powered line compressors FROM END TO END, then you’d be fine.

You need to call your local utility and ask for a subject matter expert to talk to, to be sure. DO NOT settle for “happy-happy” front office assurances of system reliability and continuity. You need to talk with an engineer who knows about their set-up, first hand.

The second issue is the requisite size of your generator. Most residential refrigerators normally draw around 12 amps, but the peak load (on startup), expressed as Locked Rotor Amps (LRAs), can be substantially higher. Your generator needs to be able to handle that LRA load. You will need to research the LRA rating of your particular refrigerator’s compressor. Here is an example: (Click on “Specifications.”) This is a typical modern 23-cubic foot refrigerator that draws 8.5Amps when running, but the Minimum Circuit Required is 15 Amps. The latter reflects the LRA requirement.