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What is the difference between an inverter and a generator?

When it comes to choosing an emergency power device (or portable power options), two options often pop up: inverter and generator.

So, what’s precisely is the difference between inverter and generator?

Read on to get the answers and eliminate the confusion.

Inverter vs generator overview

Now, the standout difference between inverter and generator is in terms of how they work.

To begin with, a power inverter simply converts the DC (direct current) from the car battery (or a deep-cycle battery), solar panel, and such sources to AC (alternating current).

As you might be aware, the power distributed around your home/business by the power company is in the form of alternating current (it’s so called because it periodically reverses direction unlike DC which flows in one direction only).

The main purpose of ‘inverting’ the DC is to make it cleaner –comparable to the 120v energy you get from the wall outlets- so as to power sensitive appliances such as computers and microwaves from a DC source.

In contrast, a generator generates 120 Volts (or 240-volts) AC power from its gasoline, diesel, or propane engine.

The fuel powers a motor that’s typically attached to a built-in alternator to make electricity. 

Even though the energy may not be as pure (it sometimes wavers) as in inverters, generators can accommodate heavier load since they can achieve much bigger output (more in this shortly).

Difference between inverter and generator: an in-depth analysis

With their operation out of the way, let’s quickly go through the most notable differences between the two back-up power equipment.

Wattage capacity: inverter vs generator

As hinted above, a generator is the way to go if you have lots of devices to power up and face lengthy power outages.

And that’s because they can generate as much as 50000w while standard inverters mostly reach 5000w.

In fact, industrial diesel generators used can supply a great deal of energy, enough to run large plants for a long period of time.

Of course, you can build come up with an elaborate battery system (or battery bank) to run your inverter, but that can be quite expensive.

The issue of Noise: inverter vs generator

If you are looking at a noise-free operation, you’re better off with a power inverter.

Inverters comprise of sound dampening additions along with muffling attributes and generally run smoothly and quietly.

In contrast, traditional generators can be super loud and a potential annoyance to your neighbors besides posing health risks in the long run.

For example, a 50kW generator set could typically make around 85 dBA of noise –as loud as the city traffic.

Worse still, a 1500kW diesel engine be louder than a jet engine hovering 1000 feet above your head (they  range between 120 -140 decibels).

The question of portability

If you’re after an easily portable mobile energy source, inverters carry the day.

They’re in most cases smaller and lighter than standard generators (which come with larger, heavier engines in a space hogging case).

Additionally, the compact design makes inverters easier to store.

The maintenance factor

Another key factor we cannot overlook touches on maintenance.

You see, generators have engines meaning you have a whole host of maintenance issues to worry about.

These include checking fluid levels including the fuel, changing of lubricant oil, period installation of fuel and air filters, and more.

The other inconvenience you have to contend with here is the need to store fresh gasoline on-hand always since an outage can happen anytime.

Things are much easier with power inverters- they require very little to keep going thanks to their simple construction.

Pricing comparison

Because of the advanced circuitry and the deployment the more robust and reliable semiconductor technology to smooth out the output signal, modern-day inverters tend to be more expensive than generators (except for industrial level generators).

High-output power inverters can be particularly pricey.

Generator vs inverter which is best?

It comes down to two key questions: how much you’re willing to spend and obviously, your power needs.

Pick an inverter if:

  • You’ve a good budget.
  • You don’t require much power.
  • You want power that’s safe for sensitive electronics.

Select a generator, on the other hand, if:

  • You want mass power (and for many hours daily) at your job sites.

Inverter or generator, which is better for home use?

Again your wallet and energy requirements will have a huge say here.

And we have already explained the key considerations including the fact that inverters ‘manufacture’ ‘purer’ energy than that produced by commonplace generators making them ideal for gadgets – Plasma/LCD TVs, refrigerators, etc.- that need stable, cleaner power.

A word on Inverter Generators

If you want to enjoy the best of both worlds, consider an inverter generator.

It will generate more current and then use sophisticated power filtration technology to remove imperfections like spikes and surges meaning that your laptop, toaster, coffee maker and such devices will be receiving safe, unvarying electrical signal.

This unique ability has made portable inverter generators massively popular among the camping and tailgating community.

Another way of giving your electronics some protection is by buying an inverter attachment for generator and hooking it up to your conventional generator.

These are generally more affordable than portable inverter generators and work pretty well.

Difference between inverter and generator : summary table

Key point Inverter Generator
Quality of power Delivers cleaner energy. Has more harmonic distortion
Noise Silent operation Noisier and potentially problematic
Power capacity Lower power production Massive output capacity
Price Pricier More affordable (for equivalent output)
Maintenance Minimal maintenance More servicing procedures

The difference between inverters and generators is mainly in terms of how they operate (one generates while the other ‘inverts’ power) and quality of output (inverter power is cleaner).

Besides, you should note that generators have vast power output potential compared to inverters even though they’re in general louder. 

The final thing you can add is the fact that you have to be prepared to carry out more maintenance procedures in a generator than people who own inverters.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ic0ksZ3SSdU

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