By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Traveling in Oregon’s high country in the height of summer may be hazardous to your comfort.
Well, actually, traveling anywhere at high altitude, in high temps, if you’re depending on a generator to run your air conditioner, can lead to disappointment. We found this out when at 5,000 feet, and 105 degree weather, and our faithful Yamaha suddenly turned “faithless.” Or so it seemed.
For most of us, our generator is a simple beast, not like modern day internal-combustion units that come equipped with “smart” stuff like oxygen sensors and systems that adjust for varying conditions. So here are some fun facts that may turn out to be not-so-fun:
Once you hit 500 feet above sea level, engine power decreases 3.5 percent for every 1,000 feet of increased altitude. With us at 5,000 feet, our little generator was suffering a rough 16 percent power loss. Strike one. Then bring in the heat factor. Engine power decreases 1 percent for every 10 degrees in temperature increase above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Sitting at 105 degrees, we were then 20 degrees above the magic number, meaning an additional 2 percent power loss. A total of 18 percent “less available” power.
And never forget to figure in the stupidity factor. Our generator is mounted in the back of our towing pickup — equipped with a canopy to keep everything safe and dry. Normal operations call for us to open the canopy lid and drop the pickup tailgate while operating the generator. But when you’re tired from the road, ready to get out of the heat, leaving the tail gate shut (even with the canopy lid up) can quickly increase the generator temperature and, in turn, decreasing the power efficiency in a big hurry.
In the end, it all added up to several very uncomfortable hours of no air conditioning. Good old Yamaha turned to “Yammer-ha” when there just wasn’t enough power left to overcome the resistance of our air conditioner. We ran a fan and drank plenty of water until things got back to normal.
Lessons learned: When figuring how much muscle you need in your generator, add more if you plan on any high country travel.