Both diesel generators and natural gas generators have their own advantages and disadvantages. When clients ask us about what type of generator they should get for their facility, our answer will demand on their specific circumstances. We’ll often ask them these questions first:
- What fuel supplies do you have access to?
- Do you need the generator for continuous or standby power?
- What is your budget for purchasing this generator and overseeing its maintenance?
These questions will help us get a better idea of your basic requirements of the residence, business or government facility where the generator will be used.
Below are some of the traditional pros & cons associated with the two fuel options. While comparing, remember that advances in technology have made the differences between the two options much less dramatic with the latest batch of generator models.
Pros and Cons of Diesel and Natural Gas Generators
- Cost: Natural gas generators tend to be less expensive than diesel generators for the initial investment, up to a certain size. Natural gas is traditionally a cheaper fuel source than diesel as well—although fluctuating fuel prices make it hard to predict the best option in the long term.
- Fuel Efficiency: Diesel generators have always offered an inexpensive power generation option in the long-term, due to their fuel efficiency coupled with initial investment. Although diesel fuel might be more costly than natural gas, generators will get more energy out of diesel so this factor often depends on the relative prices.
- Fuel Supply: Natural gas generators typically rely on pipelines for delivering the fuel. This can be a problem during installation, as availability of the fuel source can present a challenge or affect the location of your generator. On the other hand, it can be an asset as there is no need for fuel storage tanks. Another thing to consider is how your fuel setup will operate in emergency situations. Natural disasters like earthquakes can disrupt access to the fuel through pipelines and prevent the generator from functioning as intended.
- Reliability: In general, the modern advances in diesel engine technology means that these generators require less maintenance and have longer lives than their competitors.
- Noise: Older diesel engines have the reputation of being very noisy. While newer models have improved on this issue, noise remains a big concern in places where people will be in the vicinity. Natural gas generators are consistently better in this regard.
- Environmental Impact: Natural gas is one of the cleanest fossil fuels to burn and offers fewer risks in cases of spillage than diesel or other fuels. These two selling points make natural gas a clear choice, if being environmentally-friendly is your main concern. Diesel is being met with increasingly stringent regulations around fuel storage.
- Odor: Diesel generators are traditionally thought of being both messy and smelly. Although better technology has changed the story here, most diesel generators will still produce a strong odor—which can be undesirable in certain settings.
- Safety: Natural gas is extremely flammable and even small damage to the pipeline can pose a fire hazard. By contrast, diesel is relatively safe. The major issue with diesel fuel is contamination during storage. Water or condensation can easily become mixed with diesel fuel if stored incorrectly, which can damage the engine. As a result, it is often necessary to add fuel stabilizers or periodically filter the fuel for contaminants.
Overall, there are good reasons to use both diesel generators or natural gas generators to power your facility, depending on the specific needs of your organization.