Well, you may have heard of both generators and inverter generators, right? And, you may be thinking that this article is about them. Well, it is not! Did you know that inverters are something else? We are not talking about inverter generators, we are talking about only inverters. First, let us briefly tell you why would you even need the inverters and generators? And, then a lot of details are coming in the next sections. Just keep on reading.
In simple terms, both inverters and generators provide you with power. Now, what did we mean by power? We meant that they will provide you with electricity. This electricity can be extracted from them at any time and anywhere in the world. When you will not have the grid’s electricity, they will be your perfect alternative sources of constant electricity.
Just imagine for a second, what will happen if the electricity suddenly goes away? What if you were in the middle of submitting your online assignment? Or you were straightening your hair to go to a party? Or maybe you were watching your favorite tv show on the TV? Or what if you were ironing your clothes? First of all, you would pray for the light to come back, and then if it doesn’t, you can well imagine what will happen.
These are just a few examples to let you realize how important it is to have a backup source of power. If the power shutdown is for long hours: your food stacked in the refrigerator can go rotten, your cell phone, laptop or tablet batteries will eventually go down, communication links will get disrupted, and so on. The electrical security systems will also be no longer available and your property will be more prone to outside attacks. Robbers and intruders are often more allured by darkness.
Sudden power breakdowns also cause great losses to industrialists and business owners. Sometimes, machines costing millions of dollars can get damaged because of sudden electricity cut down. So, it is always best to have an alternative source of power. Both inverters and generators will provide power to fulfill your need for home backup power, recreational activities, and office work . Presently, you may be thinking about how do they exactly operate and which one of them is better. We have explained everything in the rest of the article.
It is worth mentioning here that it is also very crucial that you buy the right size of the inverters or the generators. This is all for your own benefit. If you buy their large size, there is a chance that your electrical appliances will get damaged and may no longer work. And, you are simply wasting money on the extra power that you don’t really need. On the other hand, if you buy their small size, there is a chance that you may not be able to turn on all of your electrical appliances.
Table of Content
What inverters and generators are?
An inverter is a device which transforms DC voltage to an AC voltage. Mostly, the DC voltage at its input is lower than the output AC voltage that it produces. The output AC has the same voltage as that of the main electricity grid i.e. 240 volts or 120 volts, depending upon the country you are living in.
It can be arranged in a standalone configuration to be used in applications like backup power source from batteries or solar power. Further, it can also be connected as a part of a large circuit like a UPS or power supply unit. Here, the inverter can take its input DC voltage from the rectified AC voltage present in the UPS when the main grid’s electricity power is present. And, when there is power breakdown, it takes the input DC from the batteries.
How do they operate?
An inverter is usually made up of a control circuit, an oscillator, drive circuit for power appliances, a transformer, and switching equipment. Figure 1 shows a basic circuit of an inverter. It simply consists of a battery, which is a dc source; transistors, which are switching devices; and a transformer.
Figure 1. An inverter circuit
So, they basically convert DC voltage of battery into AC voltage by the switching action of transistors. The transistors are constantly switched on and off to produce AC voltage using the energy stored in the battery. This produced voltage is then stepped up using the transformer. In the end, the 120 volts or 240 volts AC voltage is ready to power your electrical appliances.
The voltage of the battery used is usually 12 volts and there are also some inverter configurations which do not use transformers, but they are not really used.
Does Inverter produce a pure AC sine wave?
You may have heard that inverters produce clean and stable power with no voltage fluctuations. However, the produced power does not always take the form of a pure sine wave. Let us look into the shapes of the output voltage that an inverter produces.
The most popular types of inverters are modified sine wave , the pure sine wave , and the square wave . So, these three are basically the names of the shapes of the output AC voltages that an inverter produces.
The square wave is the cheapest and simplest type of an inverter. But it provides low power quality when compared with the other types. After it, the modified square wave has better quality and is appropriate for many electrical appliances. This type of output wave takes the shape of rectangular pulses with dead spots between the negative and positive half cycle.
Finally, the pure sine wave inverters are the best and are at the same time a bit expensive. Their shape is very close to the shape of a real sine wave that you get from the AC grid. They will be perfect for your home, office or play use. Figure 2 and 3 shows the modified sine wave, the pure sine wave, and the square wave.
Figure 2. The output voltage of Square wave and Modified Sine Wave Inverters
Figure 3. The output voltage of a Pure sine-wave inverter
A generator is an electromechanical device which is capable of generating power or energy. It can convert any kind of energy ( e.g. mechanical, heat, chemical) into electrical energy. This produced electrical energy then powers your electrical appliances.
Nowadays, we know that there are many energy failures and sudden power breakdowns, as our electrical systems are error-prone. So, generators are your knight in shining armor, they take you out of such situations. With them, you will always get a constant supply of electricity whenever you may need. H
How do generators work?
Electromagnetic induction is the basic phenomenon on which a generator operates. Through this process, the generator is able to convert its direct current into electricity. A Dynamo generator is a type of energy generator that transforms the present mechanical energy into a shaft. Thus, the shaft starts to rotate. Further, this results in oscillating magnetic field strength which induces voltage at the generator terminals. Hence, when any load is connected to this type of generator electricity starts to flow.
In the market, you will find many different types of power generators. And, further, in those types, you will have many models with different power ratings. Thus, you can simply buy any generator which will fulfill your need. For the conversion of mechanical energy into electrical energy, you can decide which type of generator do you need. For example, the following three types will serve your purpose:
- Synchronous Generator
- Asynchronous (or Inductive) Generators
- Continuous Current Generators
What is the difference?
- If there is a power shutdown and you turn on your inverter, you will instantly get electricity. There will be literally no time gap. However, starting the generator takes slightly more time than an inverter.
- Standard generators are known to produce a lot of noise when they operate. After them, inverter generators came in, and they did produce lower noise. But, when compared with only inverters, they are totally soundless.
- You would already know that in order to operate a generator you need fuel. This fuel acts as a power source, it can be diesel, gasoline, petroleum, kerosene, wind etc. However, an inverter doesn’t need any kind of fuel, it itself charges the integrated battery and, later, uses that stored energy in the battery to produce power.
- Once the main grid electricity goes away, generators require manual start if they are traditional. But, if you have modern inverter generators, they can get started automatically. On the other hand, an inverter will always turn on on its own.
- Inverters are more environment-friendly as they do not produce any poisonous exhaust gases. Generators produce carbon monoxide which is a lethal gas.
- Inverters come with low power capacities, but, you can get high power capacities with a generator.
- Generators can be used instantly, meaning that they can start powering your devices right out of the box. But, inverters do require proper wiring and installation.
- If you live in places where electricity goes down for a short time period, inverters will prove to be better. On the other hand, if you live in the areas where electricity goes down for long periods of time, generators will prove to be more beneficial.
Which is better?
Size and Portability
Generators come in two types i.e. portable and standalone. Portable generators are small in size and can be easily carried around. They offer easy transportability. They are best for camping, hiking, tailgating, and other fun activities. They are so small and compact that they can even be put in your cupboard. On the other hand, standalone generators are home standby generators. They are supposed to power the whole house so they are generally large in size. Whereas, the inverters are usually of small size and they are not simple plug and play like generators. Inverters require proper installation.
Inverters are completely noiseless. You will not hear a sound when they will be operating. But, generators, especially traditional generators produce a lot of noise. You will not be able to hold a talk in front of them. And, you will not only be disturbing yourself but also your neighbors. However, we will agree that inverter generators integrated with inverter technology are surely an improvement over traditional generators. Inverter generators usually produce a sound of around 50-60 dB when heard from 23 feet away. Hence, you can hold a conversation in front of them.
Generators come with large power ratings when compared with inverters. So, if you need power for large applications like for industrial work, you should go for generators. On the other hand, if you need power for smaller applications, you should choose to go with inverters. And another point, If you live in places where electricity goes down for a short time period, inverters will prove to be better. And, if you live in the areas where electricity goes down for long periods of time, generators will prove to be more beneficial.
The inverter doesn’t need any kind of fuel, it itself charges the integrated battery and, later on, uses that stored energy in the battery to produce power. So, talking about electricity production efficiency, they are 100% efficient. However, you would already know that generators do require fuel for operation. This fuel acts as a power source, it can be diesel, gasoline, petroleum, kerosene, wind, solar etc. So, some types of generators are more efficient than others. For instance, diesel generators are known to provide high-efficiency engines. Some generators come with Economy mode which also makes them more fuel efficient.
Price for both the inverter and generators totally depends upon their brands and models. The following two tables separately compare the inverters and generators.
In the case of inverters, Magnum Energy inverters are quite expensive but the Outback Flexman inverters are cheap. But even if the Magnum Energy inverters are expensive, they are also offering you high quality.
In the case of generators, Briggs & Stratton inverters are quite expensive but both the Champion and WEN are offering cheap generators with the same power capacity. This model of Champion is also offering high quality along with being cheap. So, the price totally depends upon the brands and models.
However, in general terms, we can say that inverters are bit expensive than generators.
Where are you gonna use them?
In this section, we will mention the applications where you could use both the inverters and generators. However, the rule is simple: use them whenever and wherever you need electricity.
An inverter can be used for providing electricity to electrical and electronics appliances which have the rated AC mains voltage. Furthermore, they are already being utilized in the inverting stages of switched mode power supplies. Manufacturers categorize their inverters based upon the waveform, the switching technology and switch type, the output waveform, and the frequency.
The square wave inverters are the cheapest and simplest type of an inverter. But, it provides low power quality and is not really suitable for electrical appliances. Do not use them with sensitive electrical equipment.
Modified square wave inverters have better quality and are appropriate for many electrical appliances. They are a bit expensive than square wave inverters but still, they offer reasonable prices.
Pure sine wave inverters are amazing as they provide voltage similar to the real AC grid voltage. So, they are also expensive. We can say that the quality does come with a price. They are being widely used in stereos, laser printers, medical equipment, and other applications which require sine wave. Even the utility uses them in grid connected equipment and grid tied inverters .
Moreover, inverters are also being utilized for many different applications varying from a tiny car adapter to the office and home uses, and ever large power systems. So, you can use them anywhere you need an uninterruptible source of power. They can also operate as standalone inverters. And even solar power systems utilize the inverters.
Generators can also be used in each an every application where an inverter can be used to provide electricity. Commonly, you will see generators being used in :
- Large Industries / Companies
We will recommend that if you live in places where electricity goes down for a short time period, inverters will prove to be better. On the other hand, if you live in the areas where electricity goes down for long periods of time, generators will prove to be more beneficial.
So what will you buy? An inverter or a generator?
In this article, we have described in detail what an inverter or a generator is. How do they operate? What are the main differences? Which one of them is better with respect to noise, size and portability, power, fuel efficiency and price. We have even separately compared two inverter models and three generator models. We are hopeful that now you will be easily able to decide what you should buy this season. You don’t need to visit other sites. We have researched for hours and have included everything.
In the end, we will say that both of them have their own certain advantages and disadvantages. Inverters are no doubt noise free, environment friendly and small but still, they can be a bit expensive when compared with their generator alternates. On the other hand, a generator can also be portable, of high quality and cheap but can be producing a little noise. So, it is all on you, what qualities you would like your power source to have. Whether you want a quiet power source? Or cheap? Or maybe both? Tell us in the comments below what will you be buying and share with us your real life experiences. If you still have any questions, you can simply ask us. We will be more than happy to answer your queries.
 Lowe’s. (2018). Why Own a Generator? Retrieved from: https://www.lowes.com/projects/repair-and-maintain/why-own-a-generator/project
 Hahn, J. H. (2006). Modified sine-wave inverter enhanced. Power Electronics Technology, 32(8), 20.
 Chowdhury, A. S. K., Shehab, M. S., Awal, M. A., & Razzak, M. A. (2013, May). Design and implementation of a highly efficient pure sine-wave inverter for photovoltaic applications. In Informatics, Electronics & Vision (ICIEV), 2013 International Conference on (pp. 1-6). IEEE.
 Muljadi, E. (1997). PV water pumping with a peak-power tracker using a simple six-step square-wave inverter. IEEE Transactions on industry applications, 33(3), 714-721.
 Kjaer, S. B., Pedersen, J. K., & Blaabjerg, F. (2005). A review of single-phase grid-connected inverters for photovoltaic modules. IEEE transactions on industry applications, 41(5), 1292-1306.