You absolutely need a generator to travel Australia, and its not negotiable at all. Have you heard that before? We have, and in this post I want to take a dive into why you might want to carry a generator, why you might not, and whether it actually is a must or not.
What’s the purpose of a generator?
For those travelling around Australia long term, or even on shorter trips a generator is a useful tool to help them keep batteries topped up, to run power hungry appliances and essentially to use almost anything that they’d be able to run at home.
Some people only turn their generators on for short bursts when they want to run a coffee machine or microwave, and leave them off for the rest of the time, and others leave them running for longer.
Do you need a generator to travel Australia?
No. Plain and simple, you don’t need a generator to travel Australia, and there’s been a major decline in the number of people using them as technology with lithium batteries and solar panels has exploded both in capability, and in pricing.
Regardless of the change in battery technology, people have been travelling Australia for decades without generators. You simply reduce your electrical demand by using 3 way fridges, gas cooking and less appliances, and it works.
By far and away most people travelling Australia don’t have generators, and that speaks volumes. However, this is not to say that having a generator on board is a bad idea, or that you shouldn’t have one, but with today’s technology you absolutely do not need one.
What’s the benefit of a generator?
There’s a long list of downsides of taking a generator around Australia, so there’s got to be some significant upsides, or people wouldn’t drag them around, correct?
Cheap power for a long time
You can pick up a cheap 2kVA generator for under $600, and that buys you very, very little in the way of batteries, inverters and other gear. If you’re prepared for the downsides, there’s no cheaper way to be able to run your 240V appliances (as long as they’re reasonable sized) when travelling.
Providing your generator has fuel, and you can keep running it, you’ll have power for a very long time. They’re quite frugal in terms of fuel consumption, and if you want to run a caravan air conditioner for 15 hours a day, its usually doable with zero integration with your battery system.
Trying to do this off grid, without a generator is really, really difficult and requires a lot of money invested (and a lot of weight).
They’ll run lots of appliances
2kVA, or 2000W is the most common generator size for travelling, and these will run virtually any appliance that you have at home, but not several at once.
It will do most 240V kettles, microwaves, coffee machines, TV’s, 12V battery chargers and even do a number of the soft start air conditioners, which is a huge reason so many people carry them.
They’re independent of the weather
You can have all the solar panels in the world, and even small camping wind turbines, but if the weather decides its not going to help you out, you’re dead in the water. If its overcast and raining for 5 days in a row, most camping setups are going to need some form of top up, and a generator is perfect for this.
You can usually charge your system off your tow vehicle, or you could move it into a caravan park and pay for 240V power, but its not nearly as user friendly as a generator.
You don’t need to move them around
Solar blankets and portable panels work well, but there’s a fair bit of manual intervention to get them to work well. A generator is set up once, and that’s it. You might need to top up with fuel every now and again, but there’s no shifting them around to follow the sun.
What’s the downsides of a generator?
Noise and fumes
Generators are hated on by many travelling Australia, and its for two reasons; their noise, and the fumes that they create. Australia has some truly amazing places, and being able to camp at many of them is a privilege. Nothing ruins the ambience more than a generator humming away for hours of the day, with the fumes almost always blowing in someone’s direction.
If you want to upset other campers, pull a generator out without a substantial amount of space between you and them. Whether their entitled to be upset or not is a whole different ball game, but even for yourselves running a generator it ruins the ambience.
Generators don’t run on thin air, and you’ll have to purchase fuel to keep them running. That means you also need somewhere to store the fuel, and unless you are driving a petrol vehicle, you’ll likely need to carry a second (or even third fuel).
This smells, can leak and is no good to be stored inside a vehicle, which can present additional issues.
Generators also need servicing, at set intervals, or hours. Some people do this themselves, but you need to know how, have the right gear and get new oil, and dispose of the old oil sensibly.
Generators are pretty heavy little suckers, and with the way weights are going when travelling Australia its imperative that they are mounted somewhere suitable, safe and easy enough to get out.
Some people mount them on slides, but for the most part you’ll have to get them out, and carry them to where you’re running it, and that’s not always doable by everyone.
Alternatives to a generator
Today, there’s two main alternatives to running a generator, or you can use a combination of both methods.
Lithium batteries and solar
There are no boundaries when it comes to off grid, lithium battery and solar setups. Well, your wallet thickness and the weight you can carry when travelling Australia will play a big role, but you can get some seriously insane battery and solar setups.
If you have plenty of roof space (motorhome, caravan or bus), you can easily fit 1000 – 2500W of solar, and 600 – 1000aH of lithium batteries (or even more).
There’s quite a few people out there today who can comfortably run their air conditioners during the day from a battery system and inverter, whilst still putting charge into their batteries.
A good system will allow for some overcast weather, and will run any appliance that you choose to from home. In many cases there are less limitations than running a generator, with some systems set up with 6000W inverters!
Of course, you only need a few days of overcast weather to roll in and even a really good system can be in trouble very quickly, so it pays to have a backup. That might be a generator, or it might be running your vehicle, or it might be swapping your cooking over to gas from induction.
Charging off your vehicle
Almost every 12V setup has the ability to charge their batteries from the vehicle. If you’re in a bus or motorhome it would be the engine in each. If it’s a caravan or camper trailer you can normally charge your batteries from the tow vehicle, and in some cases it puts a lot of power in at idle.
25 – 50 amps is fairly common, but there are options (like upgraded alternators) that would allow you to charge at 80 – 120 amps. Of course, this relies on your batteries being able to accept that sort of charge, but it is possible.
In an emergency, you could easily run your vehicle, and its probably not much more intrusive than a generator. I don’t know if I’d want to do it regularly, but it could be a solution instead of carrying a generator.
What do we run?
Our 4WD has a 230aH lithium battery, 200W of solar, a 2000W inverter and a DCDC that charges the battery from the alternator.
Together, we can run virtually any appliance for a short period of time, and that includes the induction cooking that we primarily use when travelling Australia.
The system is not big enough to always have enough power to cook on the induction cooktop, and when its cloudy for a few days or we aren’t moving we just swap to gas.
We’ve never had a generator, and I can’t see us getting one in the foreseeable future. They’re too heavy, too noisy, take up too much room and would require us to carry petrol, which I’d really rather not do.
If we get low, we can charge up by driving around (which happens normally anyway), or we can run the car to charge the batteries (which I’ve never done).
We can charge batteries with a 240V charger in a caravan park, but we almost never plug that in.
Generators are a personal requirement
As you’ve probably gathered, what suits one person may not suit another, and a lot of people do carry generators, and are very happy to have them on board.
You absolutely don’t need one, but they can be the most sensible option for a huge number of setups, and that’s just fine.
Do you carry a generator when travelling? Do you need it? Do you like it?!