Electric power is a basic necessity that forms a foundation for most of civilization today. It goes without saying that you would never want to be without power. That would probably be the worst imaginable situation for most people alive today, and we would all consider even the briefest power outage as a serious emergency.
Inverter generators tend to be the most suitable power source in many conditions where alternative power sources are needed, because they are easy to use, portable, and they make such a reliable and stable source of power. They are also versatile, light, and noiseless machines.
If you have been wondering which inverter generator to choose, look no further. We will guide you in your quest to get an inverter generator that meets your needs. Our aim is simple: to arm you with enough information to make an educated decision of an inverter generator that will meet your specific needs. In doing this, we will majorly be juxtaposing the inverter generators with the well-known, conventional model. This guide will leave you with all you need to know about inverter generators, how they function, and how to select the most suitable one for you.
What Exactly Does An Inverter Do, and How Does It Work?
All modern electrical generators work quite the same way, in a basic sense; they work based on the principle of electromagnetic induction. Michael Faraday, reputed by many to be the “father of electricity”, discovered this principle of electromagnetic induction in 1831. He observed that when an electrical conductor (any material that can conduct electricity like a metal rod or wire) is moved around within a magnetic field, electrical pressure is created between the two ends of the conductor. If you connect an ammeter to the conductor, you’d observe a current flowing through the conductor.
Generators can be either of two types: AC or DC. AC refers to alternating current while DC stands for direct current. Inverters convert DC power into AC power. Simple, isn’t it? Well, maybe not as simple as it looks. There are a bunch of inverters that work in different ways. Some output AC current in square wave form while others output modified sinusoidal wave signals. The ones you need to concern yourself with are the inverters that output pure sinusoidal wave AC power. That’s where inverter generators have an edge. Inverters don’t simply modify the signal, they also make it cleaner.
Clean current? What’s that?
You see, the power company supplies power to your home in the form of pure sinusoidal AC waves. IF you’re familiar with sine waves, you know they’re curved lines that rise and fall on a time axis. Square waves on the other hand, are square shaped signals that rise and fall abruptly, sometimes damaging sensitive electronic circuits in the process, making them operate at higher temperatures than their specified operating range. Inverters ‘invert’ the input signal, and then superimpose the inverted signal on the original output by shifting the phase. Too technical for you? Don’t bother your head about it. Let’s move on.
An inverter generator basically consists of a simple AC generator, a rectifier, and an inverter circuit. The alternator gives out 3-phase AC power that the rectifier converts to DC. The resulting DC power is then passed through the inverter, where it is cleaned up and then converted to single phase AC at a specific output voltage. The final output is a stable, pure sinusoidal AC current you can use to power your regular home appliances – your TV, stereo, air conditioners, etc.
Any modern electronic appliance designed to run on sinusoidal AC will only display peak performance when it is supplied with stable, clean AC power. An inverter generator gives you electricity similar to the one you get from the power company. Inversely, the power output from a conventional generator is best described as low quality, consisting of square wave signals, which is dangerous for delicate electronic appliances. It’ll heat up your laptop, phone, home theatre, and other equipment and appliances, and cause damage to any microprocessor-based low-voltage system with prolonged use. This is usually most evident when you power speakers with your conventional generator – you’ll notice the degradation in sound quality output. It may be barely noticeable, but it will definitely be there.
Important Considerations When Choosing an Inverter Generator
Everyone’s needs differ. And that’s why as opposed to giving you a list of “best inverter generators”, we simply made an outline of several factors that would help guide you through your decision-making process in arriving at your unique choice of the best inverter generator for you in particular.
- Maximum Power Output
Power output of generator engines tends to vary across board with each specific model and price or range of prices. Nevertheless, conventional generators can deliver within a range of 3,000 to 20,000 watts of electric power. Inverter generators are much more limited in maximum power output due to the desire for less noise and greater portability as evidenced by their design. They generally give a maximum power output between 4000 and 5000 watts on average, which is quite sufficient for most domestic applications. 4000 watts is enough electric power to run an air conditioning unit in an RV while microwaving a meal with the TV on. You don’t really need more than 4,000 watts – not unless you plan to start a kind of local power company to supply your next-door neighbors.
Even if the RV isn’t the intended destination for the inverter generator, but your home instead, maybe as a backup in the event of a blackout or a natural disaster, you wouldn’t need more than 4000 watts. You can power almost 10 LED lights, 4 fans, a microwave, a TV, water heater and a laptop – and there’ll still be some space to add some extra appliances in the mix like a blender or toaster.
Although conventional generators can generate more maximum power than inverter generators (going off sale prices only, not adjusting for efficiency or running expenses), you won’t need more power than the higher end inverters deliver, and you can as well buy something lower if it suits your needs (be sure to double-check your calculations).
- Fuel Efficiency and Run-Time
Inverter generators can gain up to 40% extra fuel efficiency compared to conventional generator models, even though they feature smaller fuel tanks. This is due to their extremely efficient engine design optimizations. These efficiency tweaks make inverter engines deliver more power for longer periods than conventional generators per the same amount of fuel.
For power to be delivered at the right frequency, a conventional generator has to keep the RPM (revolutions per minute, a unit of engine speed) constant, at about 3600 RPM. Fuel consumption increases as more power is demanded. But the least speed the engine can run at is 3600 RPM, even with minimal load and power demand.
Inverter generators also feature an intelligent load monitoring system that checks the load being put on the output, so that the microprocessor can tell the engine to either increase or reduce its speed to save fuel, similar to how power saving mode on your smartphone gets activated when it isn’t using much processing power for tasks. They can operate at much lower speeds than conventional generators, which in turn reduces vibration and noise.
Unlike the conventional generator, the decrease in engine speed does not result in lower frequency in the output power of the inverter generator, as inverter generators are designed to output power at a constant frequency regardless of the engine speed. Consequently, an inverter generator consumes less fuel when power demand is low, and can increase its engine speed to supply more power when needed.
Generator run-times tend vary based on differences in engine design. Standard generators have larger fuel tanks since they are designed to supply a specific minimum power output with less regard for portability. Inverter generators, designed from the get-go with portability as a major consideration, have smaller fuel tanks. Nonetheless, due to their superior fuel-efficient design, many inverter generators have run-times of up to 10 hours, as well as lower exhaust emissions.
- Power Quality
Conventional generators feature a very basic, functional design. Hook up an engine to an alternator, and the AC frequency is determined by the speed of the engine. This has nothing to do with the load. An increase in load while the generator is in use will lead to an increase in throttle, so that the engine speed (3600RPM) can remain constant.
The power output from the alternator goes straight to the attached equipment without being regulated or processed.
Inverter generators are also different in this regard. Instead of sending the electricity directly to the load unprocessed, inverters use a rectifier to convert AC to DC, and then make use of capacitors to smooth out any fluctuation in the resulting output.
Next, the DC is inverted back to clean AC power at the needed frequency and voltage. This makes for more consistency in power output that is constant and clean regardless of the engine speed.
This quality of power is what the electric utility company supplies you. It is very important when powering electronics like TV’s, gaming consoles, phones, laptops and other sensitive appliances that require high quality, clean power.
Noise level of the generator is a very important consideration, depending on what you plan to use it for. For domestic uses or generating power in areas that are sensitive to noise, the inverter generator is a no-brainer.
They are designed with engines that are much quieter than conventional generator models, coupled with specially designed mufflers to further reduce noise, and noise dampening technology. All these embedded features combine to keep the overall noise very minimal. Moreover, since inverter generators don’t need to maintain a minimum speed of 3600RPM to maintain a steady supply of clean power like a standard generator, the engine speed is also lower most of the time which means less noise.
Noise levels for inverter generators range from as low as little as 50 dB of noise (the general level of a normal conversation) at partial load, to 60 dB when running at full load. For some more context, an electric razor is rated at 68dB. A lot of conventional generators have noise ratings that go as high as 75 dB – that’s about as loud as a car traveling around 70 MPH. That’s too much noise to expect your neighbors to cope with, whether at home or out camping.
Portability is a relative concept; with a practical definition that gets updated very quickly as developments occur, especially in our fast-paced world. So, while a lot of conventional generators are referred to as ‘portable’, they are usually very heavy. After all, they basically consist of an engine and fuel tank connected to an alternator – how portable could they be? Their design gives more consideration to power output and run-time than to portability (unit weight and size). And rightly so, if you’re looking to run equipment that require heavy load like a plasma cutting tool or welding tool.
Many conventional generators are so heavy that they need metal bars to be lifted and are also fitted with wheels for movement.
Like we earlier pointed out, inverter generators are built with portability as a major design consideration. This is why they typically offer lower power outputs (between 500w and 4000w) in a more compact and lighter unit package when compared to standard model generators. Inverter generators are small and light enough for one person to easily carry, and they can also easily be stored in the trunk of a car, RV or boat.
For all its benefits, if at all there is any downside to the inverter generator, then this has to be it. Try as hard as you can, you will never be able to find an inverter generator that is cheaper than or equal to a conventional generator that gives similar output. The reason for this is not farfetched: manufacturing inverter generators requires extensive research on the cutting edge of technological development in power generation resulting in custom parts built specially to reduce noise increase portability and be more environmentally friendly, and all that without a reduction in performance.
Inverter generators are still far more expensive, even though the prices have been reducing, and continue to reduce as time goes on. If you aren’t too keen on clean AC power and your appliance is capable of operating on square wave AC current then a standard generator might just be all you need.
Some other times a conventional generator will be a better choice than an inverter generator are times when:
- You need at least 14 hours of continuous power a day for an appliance that isn’t so sensitive to power quality.
- You’re on a budget and you need something inexpensive to power lights, heaters, fans, and other appliances that are not very sensitive to current quality.
- The generator is going to be some distance from your house or room, so the heat and noise won’t be a bother for you.
- Simplicity of Design & Repair
It’s quite obvious that the simplicity of design of the inverter generator gives it an upper hand over standard model generators. With fewer components, namely an engine connected to an alternator, there are fewer points where failure can occur, and troubleshooting is much easier. This can be an important criterion in making your decision to purchase an inverter generator.
That said, there is little evidence to suggest that inverter generators have a higher failure rate than conventional models. They can be more difficult to repair however, due to their more complicated electrical components and circuitry.
Of course, it’s all a matter of personal preference, but if you really need something that is very easy to fix, then it might be better to go for a conventional generator.
Important Additional Features to Look For When Buying Inverter Generator
Apart from the basic, general features of inverter generators, you may want to look out for some of the following additional features:
- Fuel Gauge
One very nice additional feature that not all inverter generators have is the fuel gauge, even though one would think a fuel gauge would be standard issue on all units by now. It’s not enough to be able to guess how much fuel you have left by examining the model specifications when there is a more effective way to tell.
Some generators have analog gauges while others have digital gauges, and yet some have multiple gauges. The ones with multiple gauges can tell you how many \
What Makes the Inverter Generator Special?
When would it be better to use an Inverter Generator instead of a Conventional Generator?
An inverter generator almost always trumps a conventional one when compared shoulder to shoulder. Unless you need a lot of power, an inverter generator would most likely be the way to go. It is quiet, stable and safe, and provides clean power in a highly efficient manner. Inverter generators are portable and easy to transport.
Here are some specific occasions and situations in which an inverter generator would obviously benefit you more than a conventional generator:
- Camping: An inverter generator can give you adequate power supply and not be too noisy for other campers around.
- RVing: Many camps have noise restrictions, especially at night, so you’ll need a quiet power source.
- If you’re in a cabin or a boat, you’ll possibly need to charge your phone or laptop. A noisy generator can be quite frustrating to listen to.
- An inverter generator is a quiet and stable source of energy that can be useful in emergency situations to power some basic devices and appliances.
Mistakes to Avoid When Buying an Inverter Generator
To round off this guide, beware of these mistakes people tend to make especially when buying something as important and useful as an inverter generator. These tips will serve you in making other purchasing decisions too.
- Don’t get distracted by industry terms that you might probably be unfamiliar with. Focus instead on the specifications of each machine you are presented with. The sales and marketing department exists dimply to make sure you buy what they are selling, so you have to do your own due diligence and ignore their praise for their product, which is sometimes undeserved.
- Buy a generator from a well-known manufacturer. If after making some research, you can’t find anyone who knows of a particular company, make sure you don’t buy from that manufacturer.
- Ensure you get a warranty – and make sure it’s a good one. If more than one generator fits your exact needs, then go for the one with the best warranty. A warranty is a vote of confidence by the company on their own product, and good insurance for you.
- Don’t just buy the first generator you feel meets your needs. Check around and make comparisons. Search online reviews and compare specifications, features and prices to ensure you get the best option possible. Buying online usually turns out to be a thrifty way to go.