Big or small, diesel or gasoline, generators have become a ubiquitous part of Burning Man. Black Rock City is a noisy place. Music, laughter, questionable performance art, chanting, shouting, singing and drumming are all part of the experience. Yet, while the drone of raves in the night is something we can all adapt to, the relentless brrrrraaaaaaaaappp of a noisy generator is quite another. Just as bad, the exhaust — bet you never thought about that! — can be like sleeping inside a garage with a car running.
You should first consider environmentally friendly energy solutions, such as solar, but if you do choose to bring and share a generator, please be considerate of others by following these guidelines for both diesel and gasoline fueled machines.
Yours will be one of thousands of small, gasoline burning generators brought to the playa every year. While convenient and easy to transport, they are the least efficient and clean source of power generation when considering the amount of fuel they consume for the power and pollution they produce.
Using newer models and keeping them well maintained is essential for reducing both fuel consumption and pollution, as well as prolonging the life of the machine.
- Bring the quietest generator you can afford, and the smallest that will meet your actual needs. Larger generators are more difficult to transport, use more fuel and create more pollution. Newer machines tend to be more fuel efficient, cleaner and quieter.
- Between trips to Black Rock City run your generator for a short time every few weeks. This will help keep it running efficiently and cleanly.
- If you only use your generator once a year, or store it unused for more than a few weeks, when putting it into storage consider running it with the fuel line closed until it stalls. This will clear the fuel out of the carburetor and fuel lines, reducing the build up of gummy deposits that will ultimately damage your machine making it hard, if not impossible, to start, and causing it to run dirty.
- Better yet, if storing it between burns, drain the fuel tank completely or at least add a fuel stabilizer to the remaining fuel. Old gasoline goes “stale” and loses combustibility, and it can also attract water which in turn may cause corrosion of the internal metal parts of the generator. None of these improves the health of your generator.
- Regularly clean and maintain your generator. Thoroughly cleaning your generator as soon as possible after leaving the playa will help prolong the life of the machine and help keep it running as cleanly as possible.
- If possible, have your generator professionally serviced annually – this will reduce fuel consumption and reduce pollution.
- Gasoline generators can be lethal if not used correctly. They produce carbon monoxide (CO), an odorless, colorless, and deadly gas. NEVER run a generator inside or immediately next to tents, yurts, and other structures where people are living and working.
- If you are near a running generator and start to feel sleepy, dizzy, nauseous, or headachy, turn off the generator (if you can) and immediately leave the area and find fresh air.
- RVs with onboard generators are designed to eliminate the danger of CO poisoning, however, every RV should have a working CO alarm installed.
- Don’t overload your generator – this can be dangerous and increases fuel consumption and pollution.
- Don’t leave a gas generator running unattended.
- Make sure people can’t trip over any power cords.
- Don’t run your generator late at night or early in the morning.
- Place the generator as far from other camps as possible.
- Surround your generator with a sound shield or baffle. Do NOT bury it to shield the noise. No matter how well it is filled afterwards, the hole leaves a tremendous gouge in the playa. Make sure that any baffle box is well ventilated as well as allowing good air intake. A quick online search – general and on burner specific information sites – will reveal numerous designs for DIY baffle boxes.
- Protect the playa surface by placing your generator on a barrier such as cardboard or plywood.
- NEVER refuel a gasoline powered generator while it is running. Fuel spilled on hot surfaces can easily ignite or explode. Allow the generator to cool completely before refueling.
- Use secondary containment when refueling to prevent accidentally fuel spills from contaminating the playa.
- Do not overfill your generator.
- Gasoline MUST be stored at least 25 ft away from your generator (a source of ignition) and placed in secondary containment. (Check out this excellent overview of safe fuel storage on playa.)
- Make sure you have an ABC class fire extinguisher nearby and in clear view.
- …and consider developing a plan to use alternative energy generation for future trips to Black Rock City.
Some sources of information for the safe and efficient use of portable gasoline powered generators:
The large generators you see in Black Rock City are often powered by diesel fuel. Proper sizing of diesel generators is important, and can be tricky when considering the operational rise, peak, and fall of the event cycle. Picking a generator with the highest power output might seem like an easy failsafe, but it can cause equipment issues and be a potentially costly mistake.
Oversizing your generator to account only for peak load will actually work against you during the build and strike periods of your operation. When underloaded, a diesel generator has to work much harder to reach its operating temperature. This will not only strain your glow plug, but also the diesel engine. Underloading creates low cylinder pressure, making your diesel genset work that much harder to remain efficient and causing the build-up of soot that can quickly clog your cylinders. More seriously, running your generator at lighter loads also causes glazing. These issues combined will quickly grind your generator to a halt and can cause serious damage if left unchecked.
The ‘load’ of your diesel generator is the power being consumed from the generator. The difference between your anticipated peak power usage during build/strike vs. event operations may warrant a second, smaller generator. This will not only protect the large generator from underloading, but will help you reduce your fuel consumption.
Some groups may go about it a different way and bring in a load bank to increase the load on the generator for periods when the population of their camp is low. While this is an effective method, it also will cause an increase in your fuel consumption. Consulting with someone familiar with proper power grid sizing is advised.
Now for the next challenge — environment. Engine manufacturers usually guarantee a certain performance provided that some values are not exceeded, this is considered its rating. Site conditions that affect a generator rating may include, temperature, altitude, humidity, corrosive atmospheres, and dust. In order for the generator to meet its performance expectations in the hot and dusty environment of the Black Rock desert, a formula must be used for your specific equipment in order to calculate and ensure that the connected load does not exceed power derated for ambient temperature. Consult the equipment manufacturer specifications for further info.
More often than not, groups with large diesel generators are participating in the BRC Fuel Program. This fuel safety program is in place to reduce the amount of large fuel loads transported into the city and stored within camps.
For further information on participating in the BRC Fuel Program you can visit THIS webpage.
Important event guidelines on fuel storage safety can be found HERE.
Best practices for Theme Camp layouts that include generator and fuel storage placement can be found HERE.