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Will Generators Work After An EMP?

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a short burst of electromagnetic energy that can occur naturally from lightning and solar flares or from a man-made event such as the high altitude detonation of a nuclear bomb.  A severe EMP generated by a nuclear bomb in the earth’s atmosphere would immediately damage the electrical grid and most electronic devices in a wide geographic area.  Because generators, both permanent standby and portable, contain many electronic components, it is likely that they will be damaged to a point where they are inoperable.  However, EMP’s involving lightning or solar storms are typically less severe, posing the greatest to the power grid itself, including transformers. With a (less severe) naturally occurring EMP, most generators have a good chance of remaining operable, along with most electronic devices.
You can attempt to protect your generator system from an EMP but success will depend on many variables such as the cause and severity of the EMP as well as your chosen method of protection.  One method of protection used for smaller portable generators is to “shield” them in a “Faraday Cage” or “Faraday Bag”, which are metal enclosures made with a good electric conductive material such as aluminum or copper.  A Faraday device blocks electromagnetic fields by distributing them around it’s exterior, protecting what’s inside.  Another method of protection, while not as practical, is to remove all vital electronic components from your generator and store them in a Faraday Cage or Bag.
Even if you are successful in protecting your generator from a severe EMP by use of an enclosure, you are not out of the woods. Remember that generators need fuel in order to run.  Larger standby generators run on natural gas or liquid propane or diesel fuel.  If your natural gas utility shuts down, you cannot run your generator and if you use liquid propane or diesel fuel from a tank, you will only be able to run your generator as long as there is fuel in the tank.  Portable generators run on gas and while you may have enough gasoline on hand to run your generator for a day or a couple of days, you will eventually need to make a trip to a gas station, whose pumps will likely have been taken out by a severe EMP.  And even if your generator is running, remember that an EMP can destroy all devices with electronic circuitry, whether they are plugged in or not.
In sum, while precautions can be taken to increase the odds of your generator working after a severe EMP event, the risk is high that you will be without power.
If you are concerned about the ability of your generator to function after any kind of EMP, you might consider purchasing a small portable solar charger.  These are lightweight chargers that harness sunlight via solar panels to produce energy that can charge smaller electronic devices such as cell phones, iPads and portable radios. While the power generating capability of solar chargers is very limited, they can charge some of your essential communications devices.  Don’t forget to store all of these items in a Faraday Bag or protect them in some other way as they could always be rendered inoperable if left exposed to the effects of an EMP.
Will Generators Survive an EMP?
Whether you have a permanent standby generator or a smaller portable generator, the ability of your equipment to survive an EMP depends largely on the severity of the EMP.  As mentioned previously, EMP’s can occur naturally from lightning or from solar flare disturbances or they can be generated by the detonation of a nuclear bomb in the earth’s atmosphere.
While the damage inflicted by either kind of EMP can be enormous, damage stemming from a nuclear EMP is thought to be the most severe.  The damage could cover an entire continent and involve not just the electric grid but virtually everything that contains electric circuitry, including permanent standby generators and portable generators. The damage would be widespread and would include automobiles, trucks, aircraft, pumps at gas stations, water plants, refrigeration systems, HVAC systems, sewage plants, etc.
It is very difficult to protect a permanent standby generator from a nuclear EMP partly because of it’s size but you can attempt to limit EMP damage by installing safety devices such as suppressors and voltage transient protectors.  This can get a bit complicated, but a discussion with your electrician will help you with a protection game plan.  Protecting a portable generator from a nuclear EMP is not quite as challenging as smaller portable generators can be stored in a Faraday Cage or a Faraday Bag.  If storing the entire generator unit is not possible, you can always remove electric components from your generator and store them in a Faraday device where they will be protected.
EMP damage resulting from natural occurrences such as lightning or a solar flare has the potential of being severe but would be centered on the electrical grid.  Permanent standby generators and portable generators would not be affected directly, nor would appliances with electrical circuitry. In fact, if the electric grid were to “go down” due to an EMP with natural causes, that is the moment for a backup generator to shine.  All the generator needs is a source of fuel to run on and they can deliver electricity to power your home or small business as you planned at the outset.
How Do You Protect A Generator From an EMP?
In the event of a nuclear bomb-generated EMP, it is very difficult to protect a large permanent standby generator in a Faraday Cage or Bag due to its size.  You can achieve some level of protection by having your electrician install equipment mentioned previously (suppressors and voltage transient protectors). Your electrical contractor can review all of your options when it comes to protecting your permanent standby generator from severe EMP damage.  Smaller portable generators (or their electronic components) can more easily be placed in Faraday Cages or Bags to protect them from more severe EMP damage.
Remember that in n cases where you have a “natural” EMP event caused by lightning or solar flares, your generator equipment is not at a great deal of risk as the primary damage will be to the power grid itself (substations, transformers, etc.) and not your generator.  In these instances, if you have a large permanent standby generator, it should automatically engage upon loss of power from the grid.  If you have a smaller portable generator, you can start it manually.
Where To Buy an EMP Generator?
By definition, an EMP generator is a device that knocks out all electronic devices within a certain range.  They are often used as sources of entertainment in books and movies and are not available for purchase by consumers.  However, EMP generators can be made at home by do-it-yourselfers with wires, on/off switches, a soldering iron and a shell such as a disposable camera enclosure.  If you have an annoying neighbor who plays his stereo at all hours of the night, you may be tempted to build an EMP generator but they can get you into trouble, not to mention being dangerous!
On the other hand, if your search for an “EMP Generator” means that you are looking to generate power for your home or small business in the wake of an EMP event, you can purchase a larger permanent standby generator system or a smaller portable generator.  Permanent standby systems are typically installed by licensed electricians, while portable generators are available at dealers and at most home improvement stores.  While both of these types of generators are designed to deliver electricity in the event of a grid outage, remember that they can be damaged by an EMP if not protected.
Will an EMP Destroy Solar Panels?
While solar panels can be affected somewhat by an EMP, they should largely survive an attack because they do not house circuit technology (they are just gathering devices for the sun’s energy).  Some estimates have an EMP event diminishing the power generating ability of a solar panel by roughly 10%.  What’s important to understand is that a solar power system consists not only of solar panels, but also circuit-based equipment such as solar charge controllers (which charge batteries) and voltage inverters (which convert battery power into AC power).  Both of these components can be damaged in an EMP attack because they contain electrical circuitry.  So, while solar panels themselves will continue to function after an EMP attack, you should have a backup solar charge controller and a backup voltage inverter stored safely in a Faraday Cage where they are kept out of harm’s way and available to use in the event of an EMP.
Will an EMP Affect Solar Power?
Whether or not a solar power system will be affected by an EMP will depend on what produced the EMP and it’s severity.  Remember that EMP’s can be created naturally by solar flare disturbances and lightning or they can be generated by the detonation of a nuclear bomb in the earth’s atmosphere.
As a general rule, EMP’s caused by lightning or solar flares are not as severe as nuclear EMP’s and should not damage a home’s solar power system.  EMP’s caused by lightning or solar flares can cause an outage to the grid which means that a home can continue to generate electricity from it’s solar power system.
In the case of a severe (nuclear) EMP attack, solar panels themselves can survive and retain roughly 90% of their effectiveness.  There are no circuits in solar panels that would be prone to severe EMP damage. However, solar power system components such as solar charge controllers and voltage inverters can be damaged severely as they both contain circuits.  For this reason, it is always a good idea to have spare solar equipment components stored in a safe enclosure such as a Faraday Cage or a Faraday Bag.
Worth noting is the fact that many solar system owners have their systems connected to the grid so that they can sell excess power back to their local utility.  This connection to the grid exposes the homeowner to the risk of EMP damage originating in the grid, where power surges can travel back to the home, damaging not only solar power equipment but also devices throughout the home. There are retrofits available that can make a solar panel system a true backup power system that operates without a connection to the grid, which would lessen the risk of EMP damage.
Can a Solar Generator Survive an EMP?
Solar generators are smaller portable generators that gather power from the sun via solar panels, with the power being stored in batteries within the unit.  An inverter within the generator converts battery power from DC into AC so that electronic devices can be charged.  While solar generators have limited power capacity compared to gas-powered portable generators, they work well “off the grid” as they do not require gasoline to operate.  There are many models available with a wide range of capacity but the typical solar generator can charge smaller devices like cell phones, GPS devices, MP3 players and laptops for many hours.  In fact, one solar generator that we came across was rated to power a large refrigerator for between 6-25 hours!  The advantages of solar generators are quiet operation and the fact that they don’t require fuel. The disadvantages include a slow battery charge rate, limited power capacity and high cost.   Solar generators are not a suitable backup for a typical home due to the limited power capacity.
There is no “EMP proof” solar generator available to our knowledge.  However, a solar generator can survive an EMP if it is stored in a Faraday Cage or a Faraday Bag.  If a solar generator is outside of a protective enclosure when an EMP event occurs, two parts of the generator that are at risk:  the inverter and the battery charge controller.  For this reason, you should buy spare versions of these two parts and store them in a Faraday Cage or Bag.  In sum, if your solar generator unit is exposed when an EMP event takes place, having a spare inverter and a spare battery charge controller safely packed away in your Faraday Bag means that you will be able to use them to restore operation to your EMP-damaged solar generator.
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