Whether you need backup power at home or a generator for a jobsite, learning about the different types can help you make the smartest choice for you.
If renting a generator is on your checklist, you might be surprised to discover a wide range of options available. There is a generator type for every application, from powering machinery for large-scale highway projects to providing peace of mind in the event of a blackout. To help guide your decision, we’ll cover the most common types of generator, as well as other factors to consider when renting or purchasing a generator for your business or worksite.
Different kinds of generators: An overview
All generators provide electricity, but different capacities, fuel sources and degrees of portability make some better suited to certain applications than others. Choosing the right generator type will ensure you get the amount and duration of power you need.
As the name implies, portable generators are designed to be moved around as needed. They are perfect for charging or supplying short-term power to power tools, appliances, smartphones, laptops and other devices. They feature outlets and ports (such as USB-C) on the front or side for easy access. Need a jobsite generator? A portable generator may fit the bill.
Power output typically corresponds with size. This rugged 3.9kW construction generator, which can be carried by one or two people, can run for up to five hours on a tank of gas and power multiple tools or provide short-term emergency power. Larger construction generators like this 7.9kW generator, mounted on a wheeled cart, can power compressors, grinders and fusion welders.
Runtime — the length of time you can run the generator on full load between tank refills or battery recharges — ranges from five hours to 12 hours. Portable generators are typically fueled by gasoline, diesel or propane, but battery-powered models, which offer near-silent operation, are an increasingly popular option at jobsites and in the home.
If fuel efficiency is a top requirement, consider choosing an inverter generator. Unlike standard generators, which produce full power while running, an inverter generator electronically throttles up and down its power output to meet demand. The fuel source is typically gasoline or diesel, but the smaller tank means you’ll spend less money at the pump. Thanks to the way in which inverters generate a current, they are silent.
Inverter generators lack the massive power capacity of larger standard generators, but a top-end commercial inverter generator (5kW or higher) is capable of supplying backup power to an entire home. Mid-size inverters (2.5kW to 4.5kW) pair well with RVs and small construction trailers. Smaller models (up to 2kW) are ideal for charging laptops, smartphones and power tools.
If uninterrupted power is critical to your small commercial space or your commercial or industrial business, a standby generator is a must. These machines, which look a bit like stationary trailers and generally require their own concrete pad, are powered by either large diesel tanks or a direct connection to a natural gas pipeline.
When the power goes out, standby generators can immediately turn on and feed power to the local electrical panel. For commercial facilities such as hospitals, or for schools, this kind of generator provides critical power backup to help ensure safe conditions and reduce downtime. For homes located in storm-prone areas, they are crucial lifelines for keeping emergency lights and appliances functioning until the grid can be repaired.
Standby generators are available in wattages ranging from 7kW to 25kW for homes and over 250kW for commercial facilities. Runtimes depend on the power draw and the fuel tank size. A standby generator can power a medium-sized home for anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 hours. It should be allowed to cool down every 500 hours of operation.
Like standby generators, industrial generators can provide robust backup power, but they can also function as the main power source for energy-hungry mining projects and data centers. More rugged than standby generators, they’re built to withstand a variety of industrial environments, and they offer far greater capacity. Industrial generators range from a trailer-mounted 2000kW mobile model to stationary giants capable of generating several megawatts.
Best generator for construction
The right jobsite generator depends on the needs of the construction crew and project. For powering tools such as compressors and grinders, a medium-size portable generator will do the trick. For more demanding applications, such as powering light towers or multiple large jobsite trailers, a higher capacity unit like this 68kW towable industrial generator will meet your energy needs.
Best generator for home use
If you want a quiet, fuel-sipping power source capable of keeping your freezer cold or your laptop charged if the power goes out, an inverter generator is likely a good investment. For more demanding applications, such as powering your entire home in the event of a blackout, a standby home generator capable of outputting power from 7kW to 25kW is the better option.