Gaining Power: The Ultimate Guide To A Food Truck’s Power Supply

Food trucks have exploded in popularity in recent years, as more people than ever become inspired by food and look to bring their own recipes and creativity to the streets.

However, setting up a food truck isn’t easy, and there are so many things to consider, from the format of the truck to water supplies, storage, workspace and of course, power requirements.

Food trucks require a lot of power, to allow the various appliances to function properly. There are three main power sources that food trucks use, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Gaining Power: The Ultimate Guide To A Food Truck's Power Supply

In this guide, we’re going to look at how food trucks get the right amount of power, as well as some other important and useful information about these different power sources and which may be right for you.

How Do Food Trucks Get Electricity?

It’s a really important question! We may use food trucks a little too often, but how often do you consider what goes on behind the scenes, or how the sausage is actually made? 

Most food trucks will use ovens, fryers, refrigerators, freezers, stoves, grills and all sorts of appliances that chug a considerable amount of energy, and often need to be able to function for a long time off the main power grid.

How do food trucks manage to keep the lights on, let alone rustle up some of the best food you’ve ever tried?

There are a few solutions, and some trucks may use more than one for extra redundancy.

Many food trucks will use gas or diesel generators which are portable yet powerful, as well as inverter generators, solar panels, propane tanks and even the engine of the food truck itself for some appliances.

These are all good options, but some are better than others, not least because reliability is really important when running a food truck. No power means no food, and no food means no customers, which means lost money and time. 

All of this is to be avoided at all costs, which is why power is such an important consideration for food truck owners. Let’s take a look at some of the most common options to give you a better understanding of their capabilities.

What Is A Portable Generator?

What Is A Portable Generator?

A portable generator is a small engine that produces electricity.

It’s used to provide emergency backup power during outages, and it’s often used to run refrigerators and air conditioners in homes or for camping trips, but they can also be used very effectively in food trucks which benefit massively from the stability and reliability of portable generators, as well as their power capabilities.

Portable generators come in various sizes and generally, this will affect how much power they can output. The preferred style of generator would be an inverter generator, which is a little more expensive but far more efficient on fuel while providing higher quality electricity and less noise and pollution.

The beauty of these generators is that they come in varying power levels, from very compact 1000 W versions to massively powerful 4 or 5000 W generators that can power several appliances at once with relative ease.

It’s important to understand how much power you need, and then find a generator that can meet these needs, ideally with some excess headroom for emergencies or newer, more power hungry appliances.

How Does The Portable Generator Work?

A portable generator is essentially a small engine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. It’s used to run everything from lights and fans to refrigerators and air conditioning units. The most common type of portable generator is the diesel-powered one, but petrol generators are also available.

How Expensive Is A Portable Generator?

A portable generator is a great way to provide power to your food truck. They’re relatively inexpensive to run, especially if they are efficient inverters, however, they can be expensive.

A decent portable inverter can cost several hundred dollars, while some can stretch to a thousand dollars or more depending on the power output, however in terms of reliability and power, few other options are suitable so they really are worth the cost.

What Is A Solar Panel?

What Is A Solar Panel?

One of the most common ways to generate electricity for a food truck is through solar panels. These provide enough energy to run all the equipment needed to prepare food. They also reduce the amount of diesel used to fuel the generator, which means less pollution and the avoidance of costly fuels such as diesel or gas.

A solar panel converts sunlight into electricity using photovoltaic cells. The best panels will convert between 10% and 20% of sunlight into usable energy, and while a panel set up can be expensive, they are getting cheaper all the time, as well as more efficient as the technology develops.

Solar panels are great for the eco-conscious and will improve the image of your food truck, and the upfront costs will be offset with reliable and constant electricity which is a very low cost after purchasing.

How Expensive Are Solar Panels?

The cost of solar panels varies depending on where you live, but they can range between $3,000 and $10,000 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). This means that if you want to generate enough energy to power a standard home, you’ll need to invest anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000.

A food truck may require a much smaller amount of power, and as such, the costs will be a lot lower than this, but solar panels can still be quite expensive compared to a propane tank or gas generator setup.

What Is A Propane Tank?

What Is A Propane Tank?

A propane tank stores gas under pressure and is used to fuel most cooking appliances. The tanks are usually made of steel, but some are made of plastic.

They come in different sizes, ranging from small ones for home use to large ones for commercial kitchens or food trucks. They are a preferred choice due to their reliability and cost-effectiveness.

How Do Propane Tanks Work?

A propane tank stores liquid propane gas (LP) which is used to fuel cooking appliances like stoves, ovens, grills, and barbecues.

The propane tanks are usually placed outside where they can easily be filled with propane and don’t take up as much space, however, there are drawbacks. Propane tanks are cumbersome and unwieldy and aren’t the most eco-friendly either.

How Long Do Propane Tanks Generate Electricity?

A 20lb tank of propane can run for around 5 hours depending on the power draw, so larger tanks can run for longer as long as the power requirements are steady.

Obviously, there is a lot of room for a variance here and your mileage may vary depending on these factors, but propane is very reliable and is great to have as a backup. It’s also great for powering grills and other gas tops directly.

How Expensive Are Propane Tanks?

The cost of propane tanks varies depending on where you live, but generally speaking, they run around $100-$200 or more depending on the size, the state of the market and local demand as well as the mix of gas.

Which Power Source Is Best For Food Trucks?

Which Power Source Is Best For Food Trucks?

There’s no right answer here, it depends on what you want out of a power source. If you’re looking for something cheap and reliable then propane is probably the best option, however, if you want something eco-friendly and sustainable then solar panels are the way forward.

An inverter or portable generator makes a fine backup option to keep handy for emergencies, however, some models can provide all the power you need in one easy to move and use package which means less time prepping and more time cooking.

The power provided by solar panels is very cheap after the initial upfront cost, but solar power may be unreliable and may not always be able to provide you with enough power to run your whole truck on solar alone all of the time.

If you’re able to, blending these different options can give you the benefits of all of them and offset some of their key weaknesses, but it really depends on your actual power requirements and the appliances you use, as well as the type of food you’re making and if your truck is used full time or just for occasional events and special circumstances.

Final Thoughts

The truth is, food trucks have several different and effective power sources that all have their own strengths and weaknesses. 

It’s important for you to weigh these up according to the needs of your business as well as your available finances to find a solution that allows you to set up your food truck and get the best out of it without running into high costs right at the beginning of your journey.

Hopefully getting a better understanding of what is available will help you find the perfect solution for your needs.

Hilary O’Shea