If you constantly suffer from power outages, consider investing in a secondary power source. Although there are various electrical backup options for generating power in the absence of primary electricity, two main options you can choose from are inverters and generators.
But how exactly will you know which option is suitable for you? More importantly, how are they different?
In this article, we compare the basics of generator and inverter functions and explore their unique differences. With our guide, you can determine the best use cases for generators and inverters and use the information to determine which option is best for you.
What Is An Inverter?
An inverter is a device that converts direct current (DC) voltage to alternating current (AC) to supply clean and stable electrical power that can power appliances. Its main function is to produce high-quality electrical energy that mimics the quality produced by main electricity grids.
Made up of components such as batteries and circuits, an inverter is typically used as a power source for appliances that require AC to function. It converts the DC energy stored in its batteries to AC energy and provides backup energy to power appliances.
How Does An Inverter Work?
To understand how an inverter functions, it is important to first understand how AC and DC currents work. Understanding the operation of these appliances requires a peek into the concept of electricity at a microscopic level, particularly what goes on during the generation of electricity.
For there to be electricity, there needs to be electrons- one of the three particles that make up an atom. From the basic science of electricity, we understand that electrical current is generated by the flow of electrons. However, current is further divided into alternating and direct current
Alternating current is a type of current that periodically reverses its direction backwards and forward, traveling long distances without losing too much energy. This current also easily tolerates high voltage. As such, it is ideal for usage in residential buildings which is why electrical supply to homes is in the form of AC. Many devices in one's home- such as air conditioners and refrigerators- require AC energy to function.
Direct current, on the other hand, is a type of current that flows in only one direction. Although devices such as laptops may run on DC, these devices typically come with in-built converters to convert DC to the AC needed for function.
So, back to the operation of an inverter.
Put simply, an inverter works by converting the DC energy stored in a battery to usable AC energy for your appliances. They do not generate energy but convert readily available energy in battery storage for use.
Inverters are electronic devices that convert the DC energy stored in batteries to AC energy which is used to power homes. These devices have multiple electronic circuits for load management and battery charging control. This way, an inverter performs the role of ‘adaptor’ for powering low-voltage home electronic appliances.
What Is A Generator?
Like an inverter, a generator is an appliance used to generate backup electricity. However, instead of converting energy, a generator generates electricity using the principles of electromagnetic induction.
Typically, the conventional generator functions using fossil fuel such as gasoline, propane, or diesel. It combusts this fuel for mechanical energy and uses this mechanical energy to generate electrical energy.
Generators use an internal combustion engine with its shaft connected to an alternator that produces AC energy. The engine operates at a constant speed, ensuring the production of a fixed electrical frequency of AC energy which is then distributed into a home to power appliances.
How Does A Generator Work?
As previously mentioned, generators typically run using an internal combustion engine that runs on fuel. The engine, in turn, runs on fuel which is any combustible material fit for the generator's engine.
As the fuel in the engine burns, the shaft connected to the engine turns. This shaft is connected to the alternator's rotor which contains a set of electromagnets that spin around a stationary part of the engine known as the stator windings.
The spinning rotor creates a rotating magnetic field in the engine that generates electrical current in the stator windings. This electrical current that is induced from the stator windings in the alternating current fed through a circuit breaker and wiring into a building to power appliances.
The voltage and frequency of the AC generated depends on the type and model of generator being used. Additionally, voltage and frequency may vary with country and region. The frequency of AC output of a generator in the US is typically 60 Hz while that of Europe is 50 Hz.
For example, the AC output voltage for generators in the US is 120V for single-phase voltage or range from 120-480V for three-phase voltage while the frequency is 60 Hz. However, in Italy the single-phase voltage is 230 V, the three-phase voltage is 400 V, and the frequency is 50 Hz.
Inverter vs. Generator: What's The Difference?
Inverters and generators both serve a similar application for providing backup power when necessary. However, they do this using different principles. The inverter converts the DC power in the battery into AC power, but it does not generate electricity itself. The generator uses fuel support to convert it into electrical energy. The most common generator fuels are diesel or gasoline.
Principle of Storage
The most obvious difference between inverters and generators is the principle of operation of energy storage. Inverters store energy for use inside batteries in the form of DC. Home appliances cannot use this DC energy so the inverter's components convert it to ready-to-use AC current. As a result, inverters have a short start-time as their batteries enable them to instantly provide electricity when there is power outage.
On the other hand, generators do not store energy. A generator needs to be started by running the engine. This might cause a time lag between starting time and when backup power is received.
Inverters typically receive power from a battery that needs to be changed. Depending on the type of inverter, this energy might come from electricity (on-grid inverters), sunlight (solar/off-grid/PV inverters), or a mixture of both (hybrid inverters).
Conversely, generators are powered using internal combustion engines that use fossil fuels. These fossil fuels are usually any combustible material fed into the engine, but the most common fuels used are propane, diesel, and gasoline.
Inverters only store and reconvert energy. The battery-stored DC energy is converted to high-quality AC electrical energy signals. This signal shares similar characteristics with those provided by electricity grids.
Generators use the calorific value of fuel to generate electricity. The AC electrical energy is generated due to the continuous movement of the rotor within the IC engine.
An inverter uses a combination of switches and rectifiers to convert DC to AC, after which the output wave is passed through a filter to produce a clean, smooth, and stable current. This current is then fed to electrical outlets in a building in the event that the power supply is cut off.
Conversely, generators are powered by fuel to turn mechanical energy to electrical energy. As the generator operates, its motor rotates, thereby generating alternating magnetic fields inside the generator. This in turn generates electrical output known as ‘dirty power’ due to voltage spikes that causes a high total harmonic distortion (THD).
Inverters are typically noiseless during operation. They utilize smart microprocessors that act as a buffer that helps to dampen the sounds made by the system during operation to nothing more than a slight humming or buzzing sound. However, they make beeping sounds to signal power outages and serve as an alert when electricity comes back on. An inverter’s noise level depends on its brand and quality but the average noise generated by an inverter is estimated to be around 50-60 decibels.
On the other hand, a generator's engine is constantly in motion to generate electricity. The average generator motor needs to run at a rpm to generate electricity efficiently. This constant motion causes a lot of noise that is usually difficult to contain.
Noise generated by a generator ranges anywhere from 50 decibels to 100 decibels depending on the type and size of the generator. Typically, diesel generators are the loudest due to the more violent combustion of fuel that results in more vibrations than is usually found in other types of generators.
Portability of an inverter or a generator depends on its weight and size.
Inverters are not very bulky and they do not require a large space for installation. However, because they work only with a certain set of connected batteries that may be bulky. This makes it difficult to easily move inverters around.
On the other hand, generators are bulky and typically feature a system encased in a metal frame that takes up a large frame. However, many generators come with wheels. This means that while they may be heavy and inconvenient to move, they can still be transported easier than many inverters.
Inverters are usually more expensive than generators of the same output ratings. This is due to the innovative technology and components that go into creating these noiseless, combustion-free electrical solutions. It is also important to keep in mind that parts such as the batteries may be equally expensive to replace if necessary.
Generators are typically less expensive to purchase and install. However, prices usually vary with size, capacity, and model. Additionally, because they are cheaper and have been around for longer than inverters, generators are cheaper to fix when necessary and replacement parts can be found easier in the market.
Inverters are low-maintenance, mostly because of the absence of complicated moving parts. All you need to do is ensure the water level is optimal and that the batteries are adequately charged.
Generators require more maintenance effort than the typical inverter. They need regular maintenance services for a long lifespan, including oil changes, checking of water level, and ensuring other components are in good shape.
Inverter and Generator Comparison Chart
The differences between inverters and generators can be summarized below,
Energy is stored in the batteries in the form of direct current (DC)
Energy is generated through electromagnetic induction and not stored
Generates power from batteries that are charged using electrical sources or solar energy
Uses fossil fuel such as gasoline, propane, and petrol
Stores DC energy and converts it to AC energy
Uses the calorific energy of fossil fuel to generate mechanical energy that is converted to electrical energy
Converts DC to AC and filters the output current to provide smooth and stable electrical supply
Burns fuel to generate mechanical energy which is in turn converted to electrical energy and an unstable electrical supply
Not very noisy as noise level varies between 50 and 60 decibels
Very noisy and noise level varies between 50 and 100 decibels
Not a bulky system but the batteries make it difficult to move them
Heavier than inverters but they typically come with wheels that aid movement
Generally cheaper than many inverters
Inverter vs. Generator: Which One Should You Choose?
Inverters and generators are both great backup options to keep you powered through a power outage. However, when it comes to making a choice between both options, the right option for you depends on your needs and the intended application.
Inverters are generally quieter and are known for being the more efficient option. They easily manage electrical load and adjust output voltage to meet the voltage needs in the necessary application. More importantly, they do not utilize fuel, making them an eco-friendly option that doesn’t contribute to toxic emission.
Although inverters are not bulky, they have batteries big enough to keep them running for a fairly long period. This makes them ideal for smaller power needs, especially one where noise and toxic emission is a safety concern.as such, inverters are perfect for use at home as a power backup or in a RV system. Since they come in various sizes, it is impossible to ignore the versatile benefit that inverters offer.
Additionally,while inverters are typically charged using electricity, they can be harnessed to solar powers. Using solar systems, solar-powered inverters will convert energy from the sun to usable AC for your appliances. This offers clean energy and uninterrupted power supply to power your appliances ranging from your mobile phone to laptop, air conditioning, and, with the right size , larger appliances like refrigerators.
However, it is equally important to remember that inverters are quite expensive and not easy to move around. so , if you do not mind spending quite the buck for backup moderate-energy output, inverters are the best option for you.
On the other hand, generators are designed to meet higher power demands and extended use due to their large fuel capacities. Hence, they can be used to power heavier appliances and are a great option for areas with frequent power outages. More importantly, they \are typically cheaper than inverters.
However, generators are extremely noisy and contribute to pollution due to the burning of fossil fuels. They are high maintenance and have a high running cost due to the fossil fuels they demand for operation.
Regardless, if you have higher power output needs and need a backup option you can transport easily, you may consider choosing a generator.
A Popular Generator with Built-In Inverter - Solar Generator
Electrical inverters are great but what if you could get a generator that used the sun’s energy to generate a clean and reliable power supply?
Solar generators function using photovoltaic panels and batteries that capture the sun’s energy and store it as DC energy. Using a built-in inverter, these generators then convert the stored energy to AC energy that will power a wide range of appliances.
Solar generators come in different sizes and capacities. They are very versatile and can be used at home and outdoors such as during camping trips.
Growatt’s range of solar generators features a selection of solar-powered generators that offer infinite green energy to power your home in the event of power outage. With these solar generators, you do not need to deal with noise and emissions but still enjoy a stage source of backup power supply.
Growatt solar generators are powered with durable lithium-ion batteries that provide long-lasting, high-quality, uninterrupted power supply. With these generators, you enjoy a portable power solution that offers clean solar energy, reduces carbon footprint, and reduces reliance on main power grids.
Recognizing the differences between inverters and generators is crucial for making informed decisions about the right backup power supply for you. While both serve the purpose of providing electricity in the absence of a primary power supply, they operate on distinct principles.
Inverters offer a clean, quiet, and steady supply of power ideal for lightweight and sensitive electronic devices at home or in RV system. On the other hand, deliver high wattage output for heavy-duty appliances and are indispensable in areas that deal with frequent power outages.
Ultimately, choosing between an inverter and a generator depends on the particular requirements and your preferences. With our guide, you can confidently decide which power solution aligns best with your electrical needs.