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new residential generator - defective control

Live in NE down an isolated road,, tired of losing power 10-15 days a year, decided to get high quality propane generator to run the whole, big house in case of (frequent) outage,, installer came highly recommended. Buried 500 gallon tank, big job.  I was present with him at first start up, it made a whining, oscillating sound that installer told me did not sound quite right, he said the gas valve probably needed adjustment, left me with distinct impression it was no biggie, just fine tuning, didn't hear from him about it again, he parried my constant emails, as essentially 'no biggie'.  A few days later was the freak October snow, lost power for four days.  Generator ran the house, but whining sound got louder and I noticed light bulbs brightness oscillating with the sound. I called factory tech help for the generator, they told me it was a major problem, oscillation meant voltage surge that could destroy my appliances. Now, my installer says it is a defective control panel, covered under factory warranty he can't replace it for weeks, but don't worry he measured voltage oscillation, it is no more than 10%, so OK to leave generator on line while waiting for new panel. My questions:

-- it is OK to leave generator online to kick in during possible outage while waiting for control panel fix, or could voltage surge dangerously?

-- is leaving it online going to void my warranty?

-- are my applicances, HVAC or house electrical systems possibly already damaged due to four days of running off the oscillaing generator?

-- can I trust my installer at all after this? (now i worry he cut corners or misled me about other aspecgt of the job, including propane pipes under active driveway?

sorry for the long winded post.


  • TonyS
    TonyS Member Posts: 849
    I lost power for 8 days

    a couple of weeks ago and I have learned a great deal about generators lol.

    First off it is obvious within a few years standard ac generators will be worthless.

    Many of the new computer operated appliances wont work on them, these include...constant pressure pumps, ecm motors,high efficiency front load wash machines, high end dishwashers, modulating boilers, many electronics, ect.

    Units that run at 3600 rpm no matter what the load is, are just plain out fuel hogs and have voltage regulators that fail and can smoke everything in your house.

    The simple answer to your problem is ...Buy a Honda inverter.

    I purchased a 2000 watt unit.(of course it was more than double the 6500 watt unit at harbor freight) and with a six switch transfer box and a little regimentation we were able to have water, fridge, wash clothes, and a few lights ( heat was supplied with a wood stove) we used 13 gallons of fuel in 7 days.  The Honda was worth every penny.
  • gennady
    gennady Member Posts: 839

    why did not you consider installation of freewatt plus? 
  • neophytehomeowner
    neophytehomeowner Member Posts: 10
    now i feel worse

    thanks for the input.

    I have a HE frontloader washer and fancy dishwasher and the rest of those newfangled gizmos.

    Are you saying they are all toast when my expensive generator gets done with them?
  • neophytehomeowner
    neophytehomeowner Member Posts: 10
    freewat plus?

    well, i have never heard of it and my contractor did not mention anything about freewatt plus or anything about special voltage requirements for newer electronics. what is freewatt plus? does it retrofit onto a standard, big propane standby generator>

    does anybody out there have any views regarding my original questions? thanks very much
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,907
    A few thoughts...

    I too lost power -- for about a week (just under seven days).  My faithful 8 KW running 10 KW alternator did just fine thank you.  Yes it is older (like, 15 years old); yes it runs at a constant 3600 rpm; yes it uses more gasoline than the newer ones and yes, it is noisy.  It also produces power which is very nearly pure sine wave (it's as clean as the power company), which is voltage regulated within 2%, and which is frequency regulated with 2%.  This is quite good enough to run anything other than an electric clock (and some high fidelity sound equipment).

    There are some inverter type generators out there which do as well -- Honda makes some, but there are other makes.  They are quieter and more efficient.  They do have some fancy electronics in the control boards which worries me some (I like things real simple, thank you) but they do do the job.  They are also pricey.  If you are planning to run anything electronic -- even an automatic water feeder or a newer oil burner, for instance, never mind your microwave or TV -- these are what you need.

    There are others, much less expensive, which do not produce pure sine power.  If your main use is lighting or motors with manual controls -- such as power tools -- these may suffice (I wouldn't chance a newer refrigerator on one, though).

    In your particular situation, a whine is not normal (unless something is seriously overloaded, in which case a circuit breaker of fuse should protect) but if your stuff is still working, there may not be any permanent damage; only time will tell.  However, except in a real emergency (and that blizzard wasn't) I wouldn't chance it.

    That said, though, there is another possible source of whine and poor regulation, other than the control board: the connection of the generator to the house.  Code requires, for very good reason, that a generator be connected through a transfer switch which allows either the grid or the generator to be connected, but never both.  Further, the transfer switch must interrupt the two hot leads and the neutral, but must not interrupt the ground -- and all four wires must be present and accounted for.  A bad ground or a bad neutral, either one, can cause poor regulation and whines (from overloading or excess voltage), so that is something which you should have checked.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Whining Generators:

    Jamie is correct in everything he says.

    Have you been in contact with the generator set manufacturer about your "whine: and fluctuation problems? Most reputable manufacturers are loath to have their brand names posted on forums like this one in a discussion on an installer giving poor performance and hoping that the warranty will run out so they can walk away.

    All the Sparky's I know and work around would never let something like this go on. And if a warranty problem, would have the bad board shipped overnight or two day.

    I've not heard any whining generator sets unless there was something wrong with it. You might need to consider moving up to the next step.
  • neophytehomeowner
    neophytehomeowner Member Posts: 10
    thanks but . . .

    Thanks for the input.

    This is a high - end 20 kw standby propane generator by major manufacturer.

    Does anyone know:

    -- might my appliances/electronics/hydronic heating system be already damaged in some way short of completely not working due to fluctuating voltage for 4 days when generator kicked in during snowstorm?

    -- does defective controller on generator straight out of the box indicate a 'lemon' whereby manufacturer should provide a complete replacement ?

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,907
    Two your two specific questions:

    no, and no.

    If the appliances are still working, they are probably OK.  As a general rule, circuit boards fry, and that would be obvious.  Motors and suchlike don't fry; if they work at all, they work.

    and No, if in fact the controller board is defective, you don't replace the whole thing, just the controller board -- and it would be very very smart to figure out why the controller board has a problem.  Like any other electronic circuit, they can be defective from the word go, although it is rare -- but they can also be fried very easily by other causes.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ChasMan
    ChasMan Member Posts: 462

    I have a Honda 3KW Eu3000 is, Id like to know how that is suposed to pump water.

    I mean, they are 120v, who has a 120 volt well pump?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,907
    Well now...

    You don't, at least not with a typical submersible pump (240 v).  That's a nice little inverter type generator -- but it was only meant for smaller 120 volt loads.  Power tools, camping, things like that.  Not houses.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Defective Controls:


    A 20 KW gen.set is not a shabby unit. It is not something you purchase at HD, load in the back of your pick up truck and hook it to a propane tank. Backfeed the panel with a large extension cord and be good to go.

    Is the installer a dealer for this gen. set or did he purchase ot from somewhere? A 20 KW LP fueled unit is usually ordered from the factory with the transfer switches provided. A 20 KW unit usually has pretty steady power and surge protectors are usually installed to protect sensitive electronics. The place I work has two 30 mile extension cords providing power to 10,000 to 20,000 people, depending on the season. Surge protectors are highly recommended. They have whole house protectors.

    You need to contact the manufacturer to find out where you stand.
  • Ex Maine Doug
    Ex Maine Doug Member Posts: 162
    Standby genny reliability

    A friend had a whole house NG generator installed with transfer switch and auto start and auto exercise. The Gererac unit faithfully auto exercised (another useless feature) but then failed when they had an actual power failure.  Then it was a board(s) failure.  There was always something wrong and it took a year to get it to run properly. 

    It seems these days that the more electronics we put in them the more they fail, just like the power company power when it snows.  What happened to mechanical govenors?  Electronic controlled diesels are great- until the connectors collect enough moisture.
  • TonyS
    TonyS Member Posts: 849
    edited November 2011
    120 volt pumps

    They are common in 1/2 horse models. Add a cycle stop to prevent starting and stopping and your honda will easily handle the load. Otherwise you have to go all the way up to a 6500 watt unit to get 240 volts.
  • ChasMan
    ChasMan Member Posts: 462
    rhetorical question

    Sorry, that was a rhetorical question. I used to work at a supply house.. many years ago but still. I can;t recall anyone ordering a 120v well pump. But from the literature, they do indeed make them. Interesting. Perhaps it is a regional thing. Shorter well depths like Florida or something. I have a Little 6500W 240 v jobbie I use to run the well and washer dryer with. It works great for that. The honda runs fridge, light TV etc.
  • Sal Santamaura
    Sal Santamaura Member Posts: 526
    So which one is acceptable?

    Since that Generac suffered poor reliability / teething problems, which make and model is better?  The "good old days" of mechanical controls seem to be almost gone, whether discussing boilers or standby generators.

    As with most devices and situations, one is usually looking for a "least bad" option.  I'd appreciate hearing which auto-exercising, auto-starting, auto-transfer NG- and LP-powered standby residential generators have been working best for Wallies and their customers.  Both in terms of generator reliability and compatibility with modern boiler controls.  Thanks in advance.
  • ERF
    ERF Member Posts: 51
    Reliable Generators

    Sal I run a a 9 KW Perkins Diesel gen-set with a MECC-ALTE alternator.  It has auto transfer switch, auto start, auto exercise cycle very 14 days and auto battery charger plus other features, low oil, overheat, etc. It runs Tekmar heating controls, TV,  Internet, Sub Zero Fridge, 240 volt submersible pump  without a wimper.  It is as clean as utility power if not better.  I think better.  I use over the road diesel stored in HDPE containers, and have no problems since its installation in 2006 and has run without a hiccup since.  I have no NG and Propane is expensive in comparrision to diesel.  Any questions,fire away? 
  • TonyS
    TonyS Member Posts: 849
    What type of alternator

    2 stator(3600rpm) 4 stator(1800 rpm)?
  • ERF
    ERF Member Posts: 51
    Type Alternator

    Tony its a 4 pole stator , 1800 rpm
  • TonyS
    TonyS Member Posts: 849
    That is a much higher quality

    generator than the generac at home depot and im sure that its cost was significantly more.
  • Ex Maine Doug
    Ex Maine Doug Member Posts: 162
    ERF, question on auto exercise

    Does your auto-exercise actually transfer a load to the unit?  Or do you have a big heater to act as a dummy load?

    Most auto-exercise just starts the unit and runs it for some predetermined time. This is like the test button in a CO detector, it tests the button and the horn, it does not test that it is detecting CO.  So many units have passed auto-exercise and then fail on a load.  Unless a standby power source is tested under a load it has only been tested that it started and ran for a bit. Unfortunately it is inconvenient to do a load test and owners tend to not bother.
  • Ex Maine Doug
    Ex Maine Doug Member Posts: 162
    Freewatt is here

  • ERF
    ERF Member Posts: 51
    Generator Quality

    Tony I don't know what a Generac in that KW range goes for, I only know that it was worth every penny I put into it.  Its comming up on 500 hrs of operation that includes the exercise cycles and power outages.  Thats only 100 hrs. per year since it was installed.  Engines are now built in US, they are part of Caterpillar, alternator is Italian product.  Newer ones are even more compact and take up less of a foot print.  They come with  options, fuel subase, sound attenuated enclosures, filter accessories and more.   
  • ERF
    ERF Member Posts: 51
    Auto exercise

    Doug, no it does not transfer it to a load, I would have to do it manually.  So far it has not failed to transfer from utility power to generator power when we have an outage.
  • Sal Santamaura
    Sal Santamaura Member Posts: 526
    Follow up questions

    ERF, I appreciate your replies to my question.  In my opinion, while a diesel unit might be "better" in certain respects, unless one also has a diesel vehicle, issues related to the fuel (storage, aging/deterioration) are substantial negatives.  Also, in an extended electrical outage, sources of diesel fuel like service stations would likely be unable to pump from their storage tanks.  The manufacturer's information doesn't say one can use #2 either.  Most states haven't yet required 15ppm sulfer in #2, so it wouldn't be viable to hook the generator to one's #2 tank.  If that were possible, your approach would be great when combined with an oil boiler when making the heat source choice in new construction.

    Given all that and the number of homes heated using NG or propane, can anyone offer first-hand experience with which auto-exercising, auto-start, auto-transfer standby generators running on those fuels have been most reliable?  Are there any residential models built to the same rugged standards as the Perkins diesel unit?  Propane in particular, while more expensive per BTU than diesel, could be kept virtually forever in a large tank to power the generator.  This is especially convenient if there are no NG lines available and one also uses propane for the boiler.

    Doug, please expand on your concern about the auto-exercise feature not including a load test.  My understanding of the primary reason for auto-exercising is that it gets the engine running and oil circulating on a regular basis.  Alternators don't typically deteriorate when mostly sitting idle and then 'going along for the ride' during short weekly exercise periods.  Wouldn't an occasional  full-emergency-load test be adequate confirmation that the alternator remains OK?  This probably relates to my prime question:  which brands/models have been exhibiting good reliability?
  • ERF
    ERF Member Posts: 51
    Diesel vs NG or Propane

    Sal I too would like to know who makes a reliable NG or Propane gen-set.  i wonder what part is unreliable on the sets that are out there, engine, controller, or alternators/generator ends? 

    If I had a choice i would go with NG , we have no gas line, hence my choice of diesel .  I can run for 2 weeks on 110+/- gals of diesel. 
  • Sal Santamaura
    Sal Santamaura Member Posts: 526
    How about something like this?

    I've been searching the Internet and found this Onan LP model:


    It's water cooled,  runs at 1800 rpm and has a 4-pole alternator.  Price and kw capacity are on the order of 2-1/2 times those of your Perkins diesel set.

    Any Wallies know whether Onan products from this line have been reliable and whether their output is clean enough to avoid problems with electronic boiler controls?
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    All brands of Gen Sets are reliable until they stop.

    I asked my friendly electrical wholesaler about this subject yesterday and he felt that they all suck. He said that there are about 20 companies selling bigger sets like yours at 20 KW. Over the years, they have sold many of them. All have had some problem or another. These problems often come right from the factory. I am often asked my opinion on things or I hear a discussion. Recently, a plumber did the LP gas connections for a large gen set. It wouldn't operate. It went back and forth. The manufacturer blamed the gas connection. Round and round they went with the electrician in the middle. Finally, someone found that there was a bad wiring harness that was bad from the factory. The gas had no part in the problem.

    Onan was a company that was around for years and was well known for gen sets in the past. They manufactured their own engines. Their engines could be found on riding mowers and such. They all ran at 1800 RPM's. I have a few customers that have old ones that they don't use any more. Cummins Diesel bought them out in the Mergers and Acquisitions days for their name. They are using a GM 4 cylinder engine converted to Nat. Gas or LP.

    If you compare sets at the same output, say 20 KW, a LP set will have a smaller motor at the same rating as one with Nat Gas because LP has more "nuts" than Nat. Gas. Gasoline will be even more because the gasoline has more energy per unit (gallon).

    I think that your problem will be more with the accessories of the Gen Set than the generator/alternator set or engine.

    In my experience and thought, you have more of a service problem than a mechanical problem with your gen. set. If I had installed this unit, or I was asked to look at it, I would be relentless until it was fixed. Everything can be fixed. Genrac was mentioned. I don't know if that is what you have. But I know that they stand behind their products and will try to get this problem fixed. Thay do not want unhappy customers.

    If the installer is giving you the long attention, ask them who else you can call to have them fix it. Anyone who asks me that is putting a dagger through my heart. If he gives you some name, call the manufacturer. Call them anyway. Ask for tech support. Explain to them. Put the burden on them. Your problem is their problem.

    You live at the end of a long dirt road. Where I work, is at the end of a long runway or a ferry terminal. You can't drive there from here. Manufacturers reps come over regularly to do their job. Representing the manufacturer to keep their good name.

    Call the manufacturer. I do it all the time.  
  • ERF
    ERF Member Posts: 51
    Another Wallie

    who would know about Onan generators I believe would be (Steve Ebels/ Ebels Heatings) .  IIRC they use to rent them out and had the least amount of trouble and were very reliable.  Hasn't posted here recently but does @ Hearth.com as heaterman.  Maybe he will chime in.
  • Ex Maine Doug
    Ex Maine Doug Member Posts: 162
    ERF- Perkins diesel

    That Perkins should run forever.  I think Perkins in various forms have appeared in trucks, cars, boats, tractors, stationary power and kitchen sinks.  First started in 1932.

    Your type generator should be a reliable source of power. It would be one of my choices.
  • Sal Santamaura
    Sal Santamaura Member Posts: 526
    Follow up question

    Doug, my follow up question to you probably got lost when I combined it with a reply to ERF above.  Here is is again:

    "Doug, please expand on your concern about the auto-exercise feature not including a load test.  My understanding of the primary reason for auto-exercising is that it gets the engine running and oil circulating on a regular basis.  Alternators don't typically deteriorate when mostly sitting idle and then 'going along for the ride' during short weekly exercise periods.  Wouldn't an occasional  full-emergency-load test be adequate confirmation that the alternator remains OK?  This probably relates to my prime question:  which brands/models have been exhibiting good reliability?

  • Ex Maine Doug
    Ex Maine Doug Member Posts: 162
    edited November 2011

    I just finished writing several paragraphs when the Wall decided I had been to slow and I got thrown out. Perhaps I will be able to recreate what I had written later.

    The short answer is yes, periodic loading is beneficial.  The running with no load does not get all the parts of a power system hot. And it does not subject them to the vibration that a heavy load creates.  Boards and connectors and wiring harness(s) are an area where costs can be reduced. Alternator cooling and heat insulation are sometimes compromised in low end home power systems.

    Look at the control module in a vehicle and look at the controls in a standby home generator.  The vehicle module is sealed in a heat sink and is designed to run in a very hot environment.  The genny module is often a board(s) in a box.  Trucks with electronic diesels can be stopped dead by the connectors and it happens at the worst time. So gennys need to be run as they would be when doing what they are supposed to be doing. Sometimes is better than none.

    If I were to do a home system now, I would get one of these:


    Twin cylinder Honda, my Honda engines have always started.

    Then I would add one of these conversion kits:


    I like the portables because it can be hauled to relatives houses or neighbors etc. I would have a small shed next to the house to house the unit- quiet, protects against rain, snow etc..  My current big shed is across the parking lot- too far.

    edit:  Winco also makes a tri-fuel genny.

  • Ex Maine Doug
    Ex Maine Doug Member Posts: 162
    Fine Home Building magazine

    has 2 articles on home emergency power in the January 2012 issue. Good pictures of two and four pole alternators.
  • neophytehomeowner
    neophytehomeowner Member Posts: 10
    thanks all

    thanks very much for everyone's comments, (esp jamie hall), I feel like I know a lot more about generators now (tho I feel like the reason I paid $$$ is because I didn't want to have to learn:)

    anyway, took advice to bug the manufacturer about the issue.  I learnedtthat my installer did not get paid for coming out to fix the factory problem, but the manufacturer's authorized tech did., and he seemed like a nice and knowledgable guy.

    (Seems unfair my guy's time would not be covered by manufacturer to fix a factory defect.)

    Replacing control panel didn't help, but I am told the problem was a faulty 'stepping motor' which was replaced.  Unit seems to run OK now, at least the oscillating whine is gone.  i guess I will find out when I lose power soon.

    thanks again to all out there.
  • LarryC
    LarryC Member Posts: 331
    20 years ago I was a generator technician

    20 years ago I was a generator technician.

    Propane has approximately 80 % of the energy content of gasoline for the same volume.  Therefore you will get approximately 80 % of the full rated output when converting a gasoline powered engine to propane.

    Diesel engines when operated under low or no load will deposit unburnt fuel in the exhaust system.  When fully loaded and the exhaust system heats up, the excess fuel will catch on fire and provide some interesting sights.  Therefore auto exercising without loading the generator will test the starter and oil low pressure shutdown.  Putting a decent load on the alternator will help, but if you have frequent outages (twice or more a year) probably not really necessary.

    Fuel storage issues.  Gas goes bad in storage but is easily replaced.  Diesel can grow fungus.  Propane does not go bad .

    Most common failures we had were dead batteries due to faulty or turned off battery chargers, failed starter motors due to non use, and electrical harness failures due to rodents.  Engine failure to start because mechanical ignition points rusted together.  Ocasionial voltage regulator failures due to running out of fuel while the generator was under load.

    Two pole machines run at 3600 rpm, four pole machines run at 1800 rpm, six pole machines run at 1200 rpm and eight pole machines run at 900 rpm.  All speeds are synchronous speeds.  Typically the generator runs faster at no load and slow down under load.  Higher speed machines are noisier mechanically and typically have shorter lives. 

    Where I worked 20 years ago, Onan and Kohler were the "quality" brand names.  Generac was lumped in with all of the Coleman, Century Powwermate, house brand (Sears, Snap on, Schauer, etc) B &S powered home owner throw away generators.  Multiquip was the high end professional brand.  Winco was slightly less industrial than Onan and Kohler but much better than any B&S powered generator.  I did not see many Honda machines because the Honda repair facility was just down the street.
  • Ex Maine Doug
    Ex Maine Doug Member Posts: 162
    Repaired and functioning?

    "Unit seems to run OK now, at least the oscillating whine is gone.  i guess I will find out when I lose power soon."

    Put the whole house load on it and run it like you stole it. It is a pain to reset all the clocks but you want that machine running as high a load as you can put on it including motors.   The Stepper motor they replaced was possibly the throttle control so having a varied load should not cause a frequency swing or voltage drop except for motor starting loads.

    Running light loads on a NG or Propane engine is not such an issue as with diesel but it would be good to know that you can run it up to 80% load capacity without a burp.  

    We will be green with envy when our power goes out and you ask "What storm?"
  • Sal Santamaura
    Sal Santamaura Member Posts: 526
    Freewatt questions

    At first glance, the Freewatt hydronic package looks attractive, but there are some aspects that bear further inquiry:

    * What mod/con is it, which HX is used and how has overall reliability/performance been?

    * A "typical" engine run time is stated as 4,000 hours per year.  What time-between-overhaul has the single-cylinder Honda engine been experiencing?  What's the overhaul cost when required?

    * There doesn't seem to be a combustion air input pipe for the Honda engine.  That implies it runs off room air.  If one must degrade a home's thermal envelope to provide ambient air communication with the outdoors for a basement / mechanical room, what's the point of the sealed combustion mod/con or trying to squeeze out every bit of efficiency using this system?

    Interesting concept, but I wonder whether it's cost-effective when all these factors are considered.  Any Wallies have experience with Freewatt and able to answer the questions?  Thanks in advance.
  • Harvey Ramer
    Harvey Ramer Member Posts: 2,239
    I have some experiance with these generators.

    The surging is caused by one of 2 things. First I would check the gas pressure going into the valve on the gen-set. Make sure it is the correct water column or psi that the gen-set requires. Check this while the gen-set is running. Also make sure your gas regulator is big enough to give you the volume you need. If it is to small it would cause the engine to surge cause it's being starved for fuel.

    If all of those things check out ok, run the gen-set with out being under load. If it does not surge without load but it surges with load, it is the voltage regulator that is causing problems.

    The voltage regulator may be hard to find if you don't know what to look for. It will typically be a small block with a couple diodes and small capacitors. It should have 4 wires going to it. 2 of the wires are directly conected to each phase of the gen output and the other 2 run down inside the gen to the exciters. 

    I'll try to explain what this little critter does. Your ac voltage output depends on the dc voltage being pumped into the exciters. The voltage regulator takes ac current from the gen output, turns it into dc, and puts it into the exciters. This little guy needs to be better tuned than a piano or you will have voltage surges. There are 3 little screws to adjust on it, UF, VOLTAGE, and STABALIZER. I don't recommend you try to do this yourself unless you are very knowledgable about this kind of thing.

    I hopes this gives you something to go off of. 

  • adpowerae
    adpowerae Member Posts: 1
    Meccalte Alternators

    Adpower’s meccalte alternators-powered generator outclasses competition on many fronts. Being a technically- proficient company, we choose the right-size engines & alternators. 
  • GCR
    GCR Member Posts: 10
    1.2 KW?

    The poster is looking for a whole house solution. The freewatt's output is 1.2 kw!
This discussion has been closed.