Powering On or Powering Out?

Why it’s important to think about lifetime ownership when you buy a generator set.

Generator sets are a regular sight across Africa and likely to remain that way for a long time to come.  Of course, buying a generator set is one thing.  Making sure it has a long and productive life with decent running costs is another.  How long is that life?  FG Wilson carried out field research of owners of all generator set brands globally and found that an average generator set has a life of about 10 years.  

Steve Lorimer, Aftermarket Manager at FG Wilson, says consideration of lifetime costs is very often swept away in the buying process.  “When you’re buying, it’s usually because you’ve lost power.  You’re fed up, annoyed.  It’s a problem you don’t want and a reluctant purchase.  It’s like buying insurance. The big temptation is to go for the cheapest.”

Sometimes that makes sense, if power outages are rare and the generator set is going to be used infrequently.  But when it’s going to be relied upon and used more regularly, lifetime cost and efficiency really need to be weighed up. 

That’s not always easy to do and Steve helps put it into perspective.

“Local, effective support is very important.  Our experience shows that over a 10 year product lifetime, being able to resolve an issue with one less visit to site can save you an average of $6,000 for every generator set.  That means local dealers who carry parts and who are trained to diagnose issues right first time.  We put a big priority on this and support our dealers with a parts facility carrying 11,500 parts lines, taking 500 orders a day and shipping 3 million parts a year to dealers who know our products just as well as we do.  We also test and validate all our parts and offer a warranty.  That’s important: it’s tempting to buy cheaper “will-fit” parts and while they may solve an immediate problem, you won’t get the same level of performance or lifetime and longer term, they will cost you more money.”

There are many reasons why generator sets fail and Steve picks up on this point.  “It’s easy to focus on the engine and think that if engine parts are easy to obtain, this will cover most support needs.  But our experience and external research indicate that only 1 in 4 problems occur in the engine.  That leaves much scope for other issues.  Often they are electrical and we see a lot of people attempting DIY wiring inside control panels which leads to further problems and can be dangerous.  When you’re buying a generator set, it’s really important to think about whether your supplier can support every aspect of it through its lifetime.  If they can’t, you may end up spending a lot of time hunting down people who can, and when you find them, how do you know they are trained to fix the problem properly?”

That’s not to downplay the importance of the engine in a generator set because engine life and performance are a very important consideration.  Steve calculates that an engine life of 20,000 hours versus one of 4,000 hours is worth $6,000, so yes, it really is worth buying a generator set with the best and most modern engine which is within your budget.  That can also translate into big fuel savings if you’re running your generator set regularly.  Steve says, “FG Wilson generator sets run with the most modern and fuel-efficient engines available.  We calculate that running at 75% load for 2,000 hours per year, lower fuel consumption can save you up to $21,000 per unit over 10 years versus a typical “low cost” engine based on an old design.  So yes, while a generator set with a more modern engine has a higher upfront price, over time, it will pay for itself, not only in terms of durability but also in terms of fuel usage if you’re going to use it regularly.” 

Steve gives one final piece of advice which is interesting but maybe not surprising.  “About a quarter of all reasons why generator sets fail is simply because the battery has run flat,  the unit has run out of fuel, or had poor quality fuel pumped into the tank.  A low cost battery charger and just keeping an eye on the fuel or oil situation can make these problems go away.

To find out more about FG Wilson service and support, visit www.fgwilson.com/support