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How to Make a Generator Safe for Electronics


Is it possible for a generator to damage electronics? If your generator produces harmonic distortions (minor power drops and surges), it can most certainly harm your electronic devices. Inverter generators, on the other hand, provide a continuous, steady voltage of electricity that is free of harmonic distortion.

The only thing you need to make sure of is that your inverter-generator produces sine wave output (and NOT a modified sine wave or even a square wave). There is a big price difference depending on the output, so be careful and read labels.

Due to the shifting angle of the magnetic flux as the rotor rotates, AC generators naturally produce a typical sine wave output. Even though these generators produce a sine wave output, it is NOT a good idea to power sensitive electronics with them. This is due to the voltage and frequency regulation.

Normal (not inverter-based) generators struggle to maintain a constant 60 Hz & 120 volts. This is especially true for loads with high inrush current (like motors that are powered by start capacitors or air compressors).

On the other hand, a well-designed inverter generator has a computer-controlled frequency and can automatically regulate its voltage with crazy-good precision. Also, while a very reliable voltage is vital for servers, it isn’t as important for your laptop, because it comes with its own switching power supply.

Inverter generators generate electricity without spikes that can damage electronics. They also have the advantage of being more efficient because they can only generate as much energy as is needed at any given time.

The power quality of generators varies, and many are NOT suitable for use with critical electronics such as televisions and computers. This is especially true when the generator runs out of gas and starts stuttering while producing uneven output and voltage spikes that can fry sensitive electronic equipment.

Over-voltage failures can occur anywhere, at any moment, regardless of what you’re connected to. Undervoltage is also a big problem, especially for motors like refrigerators, etc.

How to clean up generator power for electronics?

Following are the most popular solutions that I came across. Feel free to save this page or share it for future reference.

1. Get an Inverter Generator instead!

Inverter generators produce “cleaner electricity”, but along with that, their prices are higher too. It is very important to have this type of power for your electronics due to new technology and its implementation. You don’t want to be left out! Most modern appliances, particularly sensitive electronics that use micro and nanochips (smart technology), are highly susceptible to harm if the electricity that they are getting is not conditioned well enough.

Also, make sure that you are getting a sine wave output(modified and square wave output can damage your electronics as well). Here is a good inverter-generator from Predator (paid link), that produces a pure sine wave and is not that expensive at all! Best part? Amazon will conveniently ship it to your doorstep 😉

2. Invest in a Pure Sine Wave inverter-charger and some batteries.

Getting a pure sine wave inverter-charger is another choice for getting the right power supply for your electronics. This is a kind of inverter (a device that converts DC to AC) that makes electricity finer and smoother, making it safer for sensitive electronic equipment. These useful devices use sophisticated technologies to smooth out the rough power and turn it into a pure sine wave without harmonic distortion.

The inverter part of the setup will be using the battery power for your electronic devices, while the charger (or converter) will use generator power to put electricity back into the batteries. Here is a Victron model (paid link), which is considered to be one of the best! Once again, Amazon rules 👍!

3. Use an online, double-conversion UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) system.

When the main power source dies, an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS, retains electricity and produces a constant flow of energy for a limited period. These devices allow you to safely shut down or reconnect your electronics to avoid harm from an erratic electrical current, as well as provide a few minutes of power to start your generator.

Double conversion UPS performs the same function as an inverter generator – it transforms AC power to DC and then back to AC (resulting in reliable, safe, continuous energy that does not harm devices). Before buying one, make sure that your UPS has a generator function and a generator, that could be used with UPS.

Also, your UPS model should be large enough to power your load. Here is a nice 800-watt UPS system (paid link) sold on Amazon, that produces pure sine wave and is generator compatible.

4. Get a power line conditioner.

A power line conditioner is a special device that adds an extra layer of security to your delicate electronics. During brownouts and overvoltage, their main job is to keep your electronics secure. Modern power conditioners have automated voltage control, which keeps the voltage fed to your devices consistent.

A line conditioner guarantees that any voltage spikes or line noises have no adverse effect on the operation of your appliances. Surge protection is now built into the architecture of most line conditioners. As a result, they are much more stable now and can withstand large voltage surges.

Here is one from Tripp Lite (paid link) sold on Amazon.

5. Use AVR (Automatic Voltage Regulator).

Electronic voltage regulators were invented several years ago and are still used in a variety of applications, including vehicles, to ensure a constant and clean voltage. They will detect the generator’s output voltage and alter the field current accordingly to maintain a steady output during load adjustments.

To help your generator, make sure to purchase a voltage regulator with sufficient power. Here is a 3000-watt model from Norstar (paid link) sold on Amazon. It can also be combined with a surge suppressor.

6. Install a whole-house Surge Protector (or surge suppressor).

This device protects critical equipment such as cellphones, notebook computers, televisions, and smart appliances from voltage surges triggered by lightning strikes, collapsed power lines, and normal service switching operations. It can be used inside a distribution panel or along with a transfer switch.

Siemens (paid link) is a UL-listed unit that you can purchase on Amazon.

7. Get a surge protector for your RV.

This standby surge protector can be connected to the generator outlet and an extension cord. Extreme electricity surges will be interrupted and will not reach your electronic equipment. Generators operate on an “open ground” system, which means they often won’t work with a surge/voltage protector control system.  

You can use this plug (paid link) to get your RV surge protector working. These protectors come in two versions:

  1. 30-amp service (paid link) 
  2. 50-amp service (paid link) 

All conveniently sold on Amazon, so no worry about shopping and traffic…

In Russia, where I come from, they have a good saying:

“You need to have a spoon (or fork) when you start eating and not later! When you are not eating, the spoon is no longer useful…”

This basically means that you should not wait to get something you need “later” when you really need it NOW! Reminds me of this picture 😊:

8. Get a regular surge protector.

Surge protector strips are a low-cost but high-value item that will help shield your critical equipment from power surges. A surge protector strip resembles a basic power strip, but with protection from unwanted power fluctuations (surges).

As the 2020 NEC code now mandates that all new generator installations should have a surge protector. Here are the details. Some generators come with surge protection within their architecture.

Here is a good five-star surge protector from APC (paid link). Did I mention it is sold on Amazon 🤔?

9. Install a GFCI outlet for your generator.

At least the overvoltage will not get through, since GFCI’s primary purpose to trip and turn off the power to prevent electric shock, electrocution, burns, and explosions. This is NOT the best solution (by all means), but you should have one dedicated GFCI outlet for your generator anyway.

Hopefully, you will use it together with any of the above solutions. Here is the UL-listed outlet (paid link) on Amazon and the GFCI extension cord (paid link).

Video tutorials

This is how you connect your generator to UPS:

How to connect a generator to a UPS (load) with a changeover switch

This person was testing the “cleanliness” of the wave all the way through his setup:

Here are the videos (part I, part II, and part III):

Cleaning up the "dirty" sine wave from a non inverter generator. This is part 1, proof of concept.

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