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Generator vs Inverter [Completely Different Devices]

DISCLAIMER: AS AN AMAZON ASSOCIATE I EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES. THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS THAT WILL REWARD ME MONETARILY OR OTHERWISE WHEN YOU USE THEM TO MAKE QUALIFYING PURCHASES. FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE READ MY EARNINGS DISCLAIMER.

A generator is an electrical machine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. On other hand, inverters are electronic devices that convert DC (Direct Current) power stored in batteries, coming from solar panels, etc. into AC (Alternating Current) that most appliances use.

Very often people confuse the inverter and the generator. Even though they serve the same purpose, these devices are completely different!

Backup systems

Electricity plays a vital role in our lives and we depend on it more and more each day. Today, you will not find a single business out there that is not using electricity in their facility.

Whether you are a homeowner or a business owner, you don’t want your important operations (or family time) to be disrupted by blackouts that can happen from time to time. Very often you hear that generators are used for purposes of backup, but there are also UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) or an Inverter that could also be handy.

UPS is basically a system with a battery and inverter inside and it will give you an Uninterrupted Power Supply for a short period of time, so you can shut down your computer after saving your precious data. If you have an inverter, it will require an external DC power source (batteries, solar) and it will supply your appliances with electricity for a longer time than UPS.

Creating solar power in your house and RV camping are popular reasons why people use inverters.

Generator backup

Another very popular backup power source is a generator. Here are some types of generators:

  1. A conventional generator – is a device with a motor that sends power to the alternator for creating electricity. Commonly runs on gasoline, diesel, or propane.
  2. Portable conventional generator – same as a conventional generator, only smaller in size with less output power. It’s a mobile, fossil-fuel power generator.
  3. Hybrid portable generator – same as a portable conventional generator, but with the ability to use different fuel sources (gas and propane, for example).
  4. Inverter-generator is a complicated system that includes a fuel tank, battery, alternator, and the inverter itself. The conversion takes place in three stages, the engine creates AC power, the alternator converts it into DC and an inverter changes it back into AC (but a much cleaner and stable version).

Conventional generators

Conventional generators are much louder than inverter-generators or inverters due to the noisy internal fuel combustion process. If noise is an issue for your purpose, go with an inverter-generator or an inverter (+ battery bank). Emissions could also be a concern here.

Generators use a lot of fuel to power their (usually huge) motor and that includes gasoline (or petrol), diesel, or propane. Some generators use mechanical sources as fuel (steam turbines, gas turbines, water turbines, and IC engines) to keep the prime mover rotating.

It is very common for conventional generators to be uses as a power backup source during blackouts. These machines can run several kW loads, depending upon the type of generator and the environment in which they are used.

For example, to carry the house load, typically 3-4 kW generator would be enough. Generators that are being used at the power generating stations can make approximately 10-25kw of power.

Generators are commonly used as a power backup source for homes, offices, malls, restaurants, industries, and other areas where power disruption is not tolerated.

Generators produce pure constant AC power of 120 V and 60 HZ of supply frequency and voltage. They can drive heavy loads and can be of a very high capacity.

During long blackouts, they will create the electricity needed to supply your home or business until the fuel runs out. The cons of the conventional generators are:

  • Size. Because of size generator requires sufficient space for work.
  • Noise and pollution. It cannot be placed inside due to loud noise and emitting fumes.
  • Maintenance. Generators need regular maintenance in form of an oil change and lubrication of parts.
  • No parallel connect. Generators do not support the paralleling function, which means that two generators cannot be linked together to increase the power capacity.

The pros of conventional generators include:

  • Cost. They are easily available at low prices (depending on the size of the generator).
  • Power. These generators can come in very large sizes.

Portable conventional generators

Even though portable conventional generators are much smaller than regular-sized ones, they can produce a whopping 10000 worth of watts. The biggest problem with them though is the unstable power output, which means voltage and Hertz are fluctuating.

This makes these generators not suitable for sensitive electronics and equipment that can be damaged easily from unstable electricity. Even though they are portable, they are usually larger than inverter-generators and come with a handle and wheels.

You will find conventional portable generators most commonly at construction sites. Camping, boating, smaller appliances are more common uses for the inverter-generator.

These generators are used to run small loads.

Inverter-Generators

In an inverter generator, the end result is a cleaner power (less harmonic distortion) that is more suitable for sensitive electronic devices. This type of device generates power similar to what is coming from utilities (which means, it is a quality electricity).

As far as efficiency is concerned, inverter-generators are very energy-efficient. Along with benefits, there are also drawbacks to inverter-generators and that is a COST.

But what can you do? Whatever is more technologically advanced, will cost more… Here is a table of key differences between a conventional generator and an inverter-generator:

Generator Inverter-Generator
Bigger size Smaller size
Bigger load Smaller load
More noise Less noise
More maintenance Less maintenance
Less efficient More efficient
Rough power Clean power
High harmonic distortion Low harmonic distortion
Needs fuel Can be solar
More expensive Less expensive
Pollutes more Pollutes less

Power inverter

There are two most popular inverters on the market now:

  1. Pure Sine Wave (PSW) inverter
  2. Modified Sine Wave (MSW) inverter

These inverters are classified in such a way because of their output wave. Pure Sine Wave inverters produce (as the name states) the sine wave output, which is similar to utility power. It looks like this:

Modified sine wave inverters have an output just like the picture:

Many inverters have auto-start functions, which means that they kick in automatically when the main power supply gets cut off. They suited the best for household appliances and a pure sine wave inverter will power your sensitive electronic equipment with no trouble.

Inverters come in a variety of sizes, all the way to 10000 watts for industrial needs. You can feed them either 12 VDC, 24V DC, or 48 VDC.

Inverters are environmentally friendly due to the fact that they do not burn fossil fuel, which makes them much quieter as well. They do need a battery bank or some kind of DC power source (like solar panels) to use for the conversion process.

The larger the inverter, the more expensive it gets (with sine wave inverters being a lot more expensive than modified wave inverters)! Inverters are more expensive because the technology they use is complex and expensive to produce. 

If you really need to use it for a large application (like a building), you may need to start looking for a conventional generator with the needed output. Even though inverters are great in many ways, sometimes they are just a way too big upfront investment…

Low harmonic distortion is another key feature of the inverter, which makes it ideal for home appliances and electronics (PSW). Unlike generators, inverters increase the longevity of the machinery by reducing the wear and tear of the parts.

When it comes down to maintenance, generators will require a lot more attention than inverters since they consist of simple circuits. Space-wise, inverters are more compact and can be used indoors.

Another great thing about inverters is that you can have several of them be wired together in order to increase the power capacity.

Conclusion

So what’s the bottom line? If you need more than 10000 watts of power, consider using a large generator. Inverter-generators will give you the best of both worlds, but their capacity is very similar to what inverter can offer.

Generators are cheap, noisy, drive heavy loads, carry more weight, need maintenance regularly, and have low fuel efficiency. On other hand, inverters are expensive, low-power devices, highly efficient, reliable, need low maintenance, carry less weight and size, produce clean energy enabling them to power sensitive electronics.

it is recommended that if you want to power your house for a long time you prefer a generator and for small-time you can go with the inverter.


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