Know your power source. Inverters, inverter generators, and conventional generators
There are two ways to get AC power. One is with an inverter and one is with a generators that naturally creates the AC wave, as it turns. Inverters can be paired with solar systems, generators, or cars/boats etc. So, let’s start the discussion with them.
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Inverters take DC power and convert it to AC power. You can plug them into your 12v power socket in your car, they might be a part of your RV, and they are what solar energy is converted to AC power with. Some newer generators also use them as I will discuss below.
Depending on quality, an inverter can produce power that is harmful to sensitive appliances, like electronics, if used extensively. For example; a laptop transformer rectifier (TR) can wear out more quickly, with a low quality inverter.
You usually don’t hear the word rectifier used with transformer but that’s what all of these large plugs on your electronic devices are. They are made of of two separate components. The transformer changes the voltage to what you device needs and the rectifier turns the power into DC power your device needs.
AC power voltage follows a smooth sine wave pattern, from positive to negative voltage. Some inverters have block shaped waves or morel likely jagged waves that aren’t so smooth. This is where the excessive wear to your devices can come from. The power can also be noisy in headphones and speakers or audio recording.
What to look for in an inverter
What you want is an inverter that has a true sine wave output. Most inverters that have this feature will advertise it. Also, most of the popular inverter generators come with true sine wave inverters. Here is an example of a pure sine wave inverter I found on Amazon. It’s the Microsolar 12v 100w inverter.
An inverter generator has a more complex electronic component to it than a conventional generator. These generators start with 3-phase AC power, like a conventional generator. They convert that 3-phase power, into DC power, using a rectifier. Then they invert the power into a single phase of AC power, using inverters as discussed above.
An inverter allows for a number of things. First, it allows for a generator to me smaller and useful at the same time. If a generator is only 1600 watts and that is split between three phases, you could not run a refrigerator on it, or a microwave. The inverter fixes that problem with small generators. The inverter electronics also allow for the generator to throttle up and down, depending on load. This saves fuel and noise.
Part of the electronics in an inverter generator also produces less and less power over its life. I’m not sure how generator manufacturers deal with that reality. Maybe some oversize the electronics in anticipation of that and others don’t. If they did this over-sizing, you would never know the difference over years. This would be information that might be difficult to get in the market because most customers are wholly unaware of this issue.
A conventional generator is a simpler machine that has been around for many decades. It generates a constant voltage by maintaining a constant engine speed. There is usually an idle engine speed for not producing power and an operating speed, when you need power. That’s it. Because it doesn’t have complex electronics to do this, these generators cost significantly less to purchase per watt, than inverter generators. They also tend to produce more power.
Because the engine must maintain a constant speed, the generators are generally louder and use more fuel. If your goal is to use these only for emergencies, the fuel cost would likely be far less than the money you save buying the unit. On the other hand, if you want to use it regularly, for RVing, the cost of fuel might make the inverter more cost effective.
There are fewer components to malfunction, in a conventional generator. Inverters have a useful life and depending on quality, it may be more or less than the useful life of the engine.