July 3, 2024

Powering Creativity: The Rise of Hybrid Generators in Film Production

Gain insights from Australian-based unit managers Ritchie Young and Dick Beckett on why these innovative, efficient and eco-friendly solutions are the way of the future.

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A Fast-Changing Landscape

Screen production is a fast paced and energy-intensive industry.The shift towards cleaner and more efficient energy sources is not just a trend but a necessity.

Traditionally, productions have been powered by diesel and petrol generators, but the landscape is rapidly changing with the introduction of hybrid technologies. These innovations combine batteries with traditional generators to deliver substantial benefits across environmental impacts, cost efficiencies, equipment safety and operational flexibility - future proofing our industry. 

Hear from unit managers Dick Beckett and Ritchie Young on the benefits of running a hybrid system.

    Tips on Hybrid Generators

  • Plan ahead: organise and familiarise yourself with a hybrid generator during pre-production time to allow for a seamless shoot.
  • Don’t overload them: Unlike traditional diesel generators that operate best at full capacity, batteries perform optimally at 50%-60% load. Therefore, choosing a higher kVA than the production needs is recommended for optimal performance and battery health.
  • Availability: The batteries used by Ritchie and Dick are manufactured by POWR2 in the UK and are available for hire through Aggreko in Australia. For smaller scale needs, 5 kVA battery systems can be rented from Equoia, offering flexible solutions tailored to varying production requirements and mobility. Check out both these suppliers via our Supplier Directory.

Environmental Benefits

One of the most compelling reasons for embracing hybrid generators is their significant reduction in carbon emissions. Ritchie Young, of Red Fox Unit Services, highlights his experience on NBC’s La Brea (Season 2), where they used two 90 kVA batteries, alongside two 100 kVA diesel generators to run the entire 28 truck unit base through a Melbourne winter shoot (pictured to the right). 

The generator was only required for two hours a day to charge the batteries. "We saved approximately 50,000 litres of diesel and avoided an estimated 250,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions,” Ritchie explains.

These savings not only align with global environmental goals, but also position productions favourably for future regulations and industry standards. 

Silent Operation 

Dick Beckett used a similar hybrid generator setup as Ritchie to power 40+ trucks on the tentpole film Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. 

He found another key benefit was the generator’s capacity for silence.The battery component of hybrid generators are noiseless, and can be powered up at all hours to reduce impact on residential or rural locations. 

Dick says, “It allows people to start at 4.30am in order to make a 7.00am crew call…you're able to do it without breaking curfew. So that's a significant advantage for shooting in an urban setting.”  

Hybrid generators can also be positioned close to the unit base and set, which alleviates logistical issues, and creates better access for cast and crew transport. 

Future-Proofing the Industry

Looking ahead, the adoption of low-carbon technologies such as hybrid generators is not just a matter of choice but a strategic imperative. As streaming networks and global productions prioritise emissions targets, eco-friendly production solutions are needed to remain competitive. 

"If we don't get on top of this technology, we are going to lose the industry in this country," Ritchie advises. 

This forward-thinking approach not only attracts international productions, but also supports local content creators aiming to meet stringent targets when selling overseas.

Equipment Safety and Reliability

Hybrid generators also offer enhanced safety and reliability for modern digital equipment. Traditional diesel generators are notorious for voltage fluctuations that can damage modern appliances. 

"Every time you're running a diesel generator, you're risking blowing up anything digital," Ritchie cautions. 

In contrast, hybrid generators provide a stable sine wave of power supply, ensuring that modern equipment and appliances operate without risk of damage, thus safeguarding production investments. 

Cost and Logistical Efficiency

The upfront investment in hybrid generators is the biggest challenge. But they prove more cost-effective over the long term. 

"It takes less diesel to recharge the battery than it does for the diesel generator to drive the whole rig," Dick explains.

This cost efficiency extends beyond fuel savings to operational benefits, including reduced maintenance costs and easier shooting logistics. 

“If you're away on difficult locations where the fuel logistics themselves are an issue, then being able to run with battery power and limiting the fuel consumption becomes a strategic advantage,” Dick adds.

Hybrid systems also provide real-time data on power storage and diesel levels, and remote management capabilities via mobile apps. People can literally set up generators to charge at the end of a shooting day and control the turn-off time from home. This also helps with battery life.

In summary, hybrid generators signify more than a technological advancement. They’re a fundamental transition towards sustainability and efficiency in screen production. We’re excited to see Australian productions starting to embrace hybrid generators in a rapidly evolving and exciting landscape.

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