The Difference Between Prime Power and Standby Power

Electrical Power

I'm in my first year of business school and I live with an engineering student on campus. He was telling me about the importance of understanding how different generators work, in case I ever need to source a generator for my business. I want to have a broad understanding of the technical and ideological knowledge necessary to own and operate my own business someday. What should I know about the differences between different types of generators?

Whether you're purchasing a generator for emergency use in disaster scenarios or to power your cabin or RV, there are many models to choose from. Each generator has different technical specifications and power rankings, and it's important to make sure that you find a model that works for you and meets your needs. If you're purchasing a generator, you should know about the differences between prime and standby power. 

The best way to understand the difference between a prime generator and a standby generator is to think about their uses. A prime generator is primarily used for conventional types of electricity. What constitutes conventional electricity? Residential use, electricity used for production needs, and electricity to power construction all are examples of conventional electricity.

A standby generator functions as more of a failsafe. For example, in normal conditions, a standby generator remains powered by the mains just like any other appliance. However, if your mains power goes out unexpectedly, a standby generator will kick in to continue powering everything in your circuit. As a result, a standby generator is a great way to minimize interruptions when your building relies on a constant flow of electricity. 

Capacity also plays an important role when choosing between a prime generator or standby generator. When you choose a prime generator, you're picking a generator with a large capacity. This translates to a power supply that can operate continuously in normal circumstances and even output an overload capacity of about 10 percent for up to an hour. Prime power supplies get their name and classification from a mathematical formula that calculates how much power a generator can supply. Many people think of prime generators as "unlimited" since they are able to operate for long stretches of time, thanks to their capacity.

On the other hand, a standby generator has a smaller capacity. While it can still power a load for a while, you would never want to rely on it as your main power source. A standby generator may be limited, but it usually has enough juice to help you get the job done while your engineers troubleshoot the cause of interference with your prime generator. This makes them ideal in power outages and other emergencies, but makes them poorly equipped for constant demands. 

A continuous power generator is also worth mentioning. These kinds of generators are very similar to prime generators, with a few key exceptions. For example, while both prime generators and continuous generators provide prime power, only a prime generator has the capability to provide overload power.

A continuous generator has a base power rating which it can't exceed. While this is a deal breaker in some industries, for other businesses, it's less of a sacrifice. If you can allocate the funds toward it, it may be a worthwhile purchase, since having the flexibility to overload the power supply if necessary is always a good feature to be able to tap into. 

Especially if you're in an industry that needs electricity to run, such as a TV studio or production warehouse, it's wise to select both a prime and standby generator. This provides you with a power solution that helps to protect your business without sacrificing any downtime during an outage.

That being said, there are times where you may just be able to select only one type of generator. In these cases, it's valuable to understand the different strengths and limitations of prime generators, continuous power generators, and standby generators, and you should read up on reputable models like Perkins diesel generators. With the right information, you can weigh your own priorities and ultimately select the generator that is best for you and your needs.

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