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UPS vs Generator [What’s the Difference?]


A UPS and a generator are two power backup systems that serve a completely different purposes. The purpose of UPS is to give you the opportunity to seamlessly backup your precious data on the computer (for example) and a generator will take care of your household power needs in case of a blackout.
Power outages could equal a disaster if your production suddenly stops or the sensitive data on your computer never got a chance to be saved. For the longest time, a power backup solution was a generator that kept your business going in case of power going out.
The real question is: “How much power do you really need in case of a blackout and for how long?” If you could live with just saving your precious data and calling it a day, then UPS is a proper option.
On the other hand, if you need to run refrigerators and other heavy electricity-consuming equipment until the energy is restored, then just UPS alone cannot handle this task. But there is an option.
In conjunction with a generator (that will constantly recharge UPS batteries that give you uninterruptible power), this powerful duo will give you enough electricity to successfully survive any prolonged power outage!

UPS vs Generator

Both systems are designed to give us power in case of the grid going down and in order to figure out which one is right for you, please read the tables below:

Table #1. UPS

Purpose Safe shut down of your computers and saving data.
Needs Uninterruptible power to computers and electronics.
Seamless power supply Yes
Surge protection Yes
Time in use Limited by batteries.
Time lag Almost instant.
Emissions No emissions produce much cleaner energy.
Noise No
Smell No
Fuel requirements Batteries
Time Depends on battery size.
Cost For a similar size load, it costs a lot more. In the long run, fuel-saving costs will make up the cost gap between the two.
Size Usually more compact in size and could be placed indoors in the air-conditioned room.
Maintenance Low (larger UPS systems require more maintenance).

Table #2. Generator

Purpose Powering large, energy-intensive equipment and keeping up power for a long time.
Needs To power the whole building, shopping center, or factory.
Seamless power supply No
Surge protection No
Time in use As long as it works.
Time lag It needs time to start working.
Emissions Yes, it produces high levels of carbon monoxide.
Noise Yes, very noisy.
Smell Yes, similar to car exhaust pipe fumes.
Fuel requirements Diesel, propane, or natural gas (could be connected to the existing line).
Time Depends on generator
Cost $3K-$5K to power a small home or business. UPS could run twice as much. Adding up fuel and fuel delivery costs to the initial price makes UPS slightly more attractive in this area.
Size Very large and heavy. It usually needs to be placed outside for good ventilation. This arrangement also requires an outside security system.
Maintenance High (needs regular testing and refueling).

UPS advantages over the generator

If you decided to go with UPS, here are the advantages of using this system:

  • Works quietly. In comparison to the generator, UPS doesn’t make any noise, which means it could be placed in a room with workers nearby and it will not distract them.
  • It doesn’t require fuel. Unlike a generator, UPS runs out of regular wall sockets in standby mode and off batteries in a power generating mode.
  • No smell or exhaust fume. See above. No fuel, no smell. Which means it doesn’t require a special place with no people around.
  • No polluting emissions. Emissions are bad for the environment and the people around them. Even though the generator will probably not be big enough to do too much environmental harm, it does have to be placed away from people and in a well-ventilated area.
  • Instant power backup. With online UPS, you will not even notice a power failure (offline and line-interactive power reforestation counts in milliseconds). A standby generator requires some time to get going and it is long enough for your computers to lose data without saving.
  • It can generate lots of power! UPS systems can be quite large and be able to power buildings and factories. We are not talking about the cost here…

Generator advantages over the UPS

If you decided to go with a generator, here are some advantages of using it:

  • Lots of power. Generators can supply more power than a set of batteries can normally handle. Large facilities and machinery that require a lot of energy are your prime prospects for this solution.
  • Power for a long period of time. Since power is always being generated (as long as you have enough fuel) you don’t have to worry about when your batteries will run out.
  • Price. Less expensive in startup costs.

What is a generator?

A generator could be anything from a water turbine to a diesel engine. It converts mechanical energy into electrical one.

For our needs, it is usually a machine that requires fuel (propane or diesel, for example) to run like an engine and give us electricity.

The alternating current (AC), which is being produced by this machine is later adjusted in voltage to be suitable for your appliance or rectified to DC (direct current) in order to power your electronic devices, like computers.

What is UPS (or Uninterruptible Power Supply)?

UPS power system uses batteries to supply constant power to your devices. It takes AC power from the original source and recharges batteries with it.

UPS is made up of a rectifier (which converts AC power from the grid into DC power for your batteries), an inverter (which converts DC battery power into AC power for your appliance), a controller (power failure detection switch), and a battery itself or multiple batteries.

There are three types of UPS and depending on the one you pick, power restoration time could equal from few milliseconds to almost instant. Offline and Line-interactive units work in a standby mode and will start working as soon as they detect a power failure. Online UPS is never turned off and will switch to batteries immediately when the normal power supply goes down.

Here is a chart that you may want to save for future reference .

Which is better UPS or inverter?

UPS and inverters very often get confused with each other because they both can take DC power from batteries and convert them into AC power for your equipment. The inverter is a part of the UPS system and if you are planning to get one, you will also need a battery and ATS (Automatic Transfer Switch).

Click on the image to enlarge

Inverters are mainly used to convert DC (direct current) power into AC (alternating current) power. This is a system that takes power from DC plants, fuel cells, and batteries and converts it into AC, which is what most appliances and machinery use.

There is also a system called – Inverter Generator, which combines the best of both worlds. This is usually a lightweight, mobile solution that gives you energy in places where it is not easily available.

Inverter generators create AC electricity, convert it into DC and convert it again (by using an inverter) into AC with adjusted output voltage and frequency. These devices are considered to be of better quality and “cleaner” for the environment than regular generators.

Solar generator for industrial use

Solar-powered generators are becoming more and more popular these days. Why? Because people are more aware and concerned about the environment and health in general.

Why use solar power back up for industrial needs? Cost! Rooftop solar panel system doesn’t take extra space and the generated energy could be stored in form of batteries (when the sun is not available) or used in real-time to power your equipment (during the day) while skipping the bills that you pay for conventional electricity.

Use UPS to clean generator power

Did you know that you can use UPS to “clean” generator power? The generator, in general, produces “rough” power and cannot really be used directly to power your sensitive equipment (unless a possible burnout scenario doesn’t really bother you).

In conjunction with UPS, the generator will give you a clean pure sine wave that your electronic equipment requires. Please watch this video for more details:

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

Tesla Powerwall as a generator

If you are a small business owner or just need a good power backup solution for your new home, you might consider this brand new amazing battery! It has a modular design and could be used with 9 batteries to suit reasonably large power demands.

This is the Eco-friendly power system, that uses a lithium-ion battery and is usually paired with solar panels:

Tesla Powerwall Explained! - A Battery Powered Home.

As you can see, both systems could be used together and give you good, clean power when needed.

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