Power Inverter vs Generator

The terms inverter and generator are often used interchangeably due to the similarity in their applications. However, the two machines have different operating principles and differ in several other aspects such as usage and carbon footprint. In this article, we will discuss the differences between inverters and generators. Furthermore, we also discuss various applications where one is more suitable than the other.

What is a Power Inverter?

In simple terms, an inverter is an electrical device that converts direct current (direct current) into alternating current (alternating current). Most of the electrical appliances we use every day, such as toasters, coffee makers, washing machines, refrigerators and lamps, run on single-phase AC power supplied through electrical outlets. The inverters, when connected to 12V batteries (the inverters can also be connected to 6V, 24V or 48V battery banks), can convert the DC power from the batteries into AC power suitable for operating devices.

Inverters with DC outputs can also be used to directly connect chargers for mobile phones and laptops. This is useful when conventional AC power sources are not available. Therefore, the inverters can be used as an emergency backup in the event of a home power outage or as a portable power source while traveling (think camping trips, road trip in a motorhome or fishing trip in your boat).

However, it is important to note that inverters are not capable of producing power on their own. They need reliable battery power from which to draw power. If the batteries are empty, the inverter cannot control any device.

What is a generator?

A conventional generator is any device capable of converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. Portable electric generators typically used in homes run on fuels such as diesel or propane. The diesel runs the engine (approximately at a constant speed of 3000 rpm and an alternator converts the kinetic rotational energy into alternating current).

This 120 VAC source can be used to control common electrical appliances. However, direct DC power is not available. In cases where a reliable power source is needed for an extended period of time, a generator may be a better option than an inverter.

Generators do not require additional batteries for power. However, they tend to be noisy and produce exhaust fumes that do not contribute to their respect for the environment. Let’s take a look at how inverters and generators compare on factors such as size, weight, portability, efficiency and noise levels.

Comparison between power inverters and generators

Size and Portability: Both inverters and generators can be portable, but inverters are generally more compact in size. Generators are bulkier than inverters and require frames or wheels to mount. So if you want power for something small, like a hike or overnight camping, an inverter is the best option.

Fuel Efficiency : Inverters are generally more efficient than generators and can be more compact because they do not have large fuel tanks. However, it is important to remember that inverters work in conjunction with batteries and do not produce any power on their own. The inverters can be loaded for approximately 10 hours, which is suitable for most small-scale applications.

Noise level and exhaust fumes: The main advantage of inverters over generators is that they are much quieter and cause less pollution. Traditional diesel generators produce a lot of noise due to the rotation of the alternator. When fuel is burned, polluting fumes are also released. This leak is often considered dangerous by various health departments, which is why it is not a good idea to have a generator indoors. So, for example, if you have a food truck and want to hook up your kitchen appliances, it’s a much better idea to mount a reverse truck on your truck than a diesel generator. Lack of noise levels also means fewer complaints from neighbours.

Quality of power produced: A diesel generator is usually connected to the load without any electronic power processing unit in between. As a result of fluctuations in the engine speed, the frequency of the generated power therefore also flickers. The energy produced by a generator is therefore not “clean”. This can have a negative effect on many modern devices that are sensitive to power surges and dips. An inverter, on the other hand, has built-in capacitors that smooth the AC output produced. The power quality is very clean. True sine wave inverters produce perfectly sinusoidal waveforms that ensure the longevity of your electrical appliances. Modified sine wave inverters are best suited for light applications such as mobile phone charging.

Power inverter Vs Generator?

Conventional generators are certainly less expensive than inverters. However, the inverters provide a compact, lightweight and less polluting alternative portable power source. While generators still find use in certain cases, inverters are gaining popularity due to their simplicity of operation, portability and ease of use. When deciding whether to go for an inverter or a generator, you must first determine your specific power requirement.

If you want to run heavy loads quite regularly for a long time, then the choice of a generator is justified (for example, if you want a backup power supply for your workshop or commercial establishment due to certain power cuts).

However, inverters prove to be really useful in more general cases such as providing backup power to homes, portable power during hiking or camping trips, and mobile vehicles such as RVs, food trucks, and boats. In cases where noise levels or exhaust fumes are an issue (for example, in a confined space such as a food truck kitchen), inverters are better options than conventional diesel generators.

Where to use a generator?

A commercial diesel generator is useful in scenarios where you have to run heavy loads for a long time. Here are some cases where a generator over an inverter is warranted.

i) Your facility’s electricity supply is shut down for routine maintenance, but you must keep the facility open and operate certain equipment.

ii) Home power outage for days and emergency backup required.

iii) Outdoor events such as wedding or reception party in a remote location without a reliable AC power supply that requires heavy equipment such as musical instruments, stereos, speakers, etc.

Where to use a inverter?

In other situations where you need a clean, portable power supply for a reasonable load for a reasonable period of time, inverters are great, convenient and environmentally friendly options. Below are some cases where inverters are preferred.

i) During a fishing trip when you need a power source on your boat to charge your phone, camera and GPS.

ii) When you are traveling in a motorhome and want to keep your coffee makers, microwaves, radios, televisions and toasters running.

iii) In mobile kitchens and enclosed areas where generator exhaust could be a problem.

This concludes an extensive discussion of the various differences and applications of generators and inverters. We hope you can make an informed decision about the device you need once you determine the power you need based on your specific user situation.

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