The inverter vs generator question is common among those looking for a convenient way to power a building or electronic device. They perform related functions but are entirely different pieces of technology that have unique benefits and disadvantages.
Generators are necessary for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes you can’t trust or don’t have access to the main power grid and need an alternative energy supply.
Whether you’re going camping, preparing for a major weather event, or simply stocking up in case of an unexpected catastrophe, conventional generators and inverter generators can come in handy. But before you make a purchase, it’s important to understand the difference and which makes the most sense for your situation.
Here is a closer look at the benefits of an inverter vs generator, so you can make the right choice when making a purchase.
Table of Contents
- What is a Generator?
- What is an Inverter Generator?
- Generator vs Inverter: What’s the Main Difference?
- What’s the Difference Between Inverter and Conventional Portable Generators?
- Benefits of Inverter Generators
- Which Should I Choose: Inverter or Conventional?
- So Which is Better: Inverter vs Generator?
What is a Generator?
A generator can produce electricity by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. This energy can then be stored in a battery or used to power anything that requires electricity, including lights, heaters, appliances, medical devices, and so on.
This mechanical energy is created using any one of many different mechanisms, including steam turbines, gas turbines, water turbines, wind turbines, internal combustion engines, and even occasionally, hand cranks.
Generators are responsible for supplying energy to the plants used to power electrical grids. But you can also purchase a portable generator to power your home, office, or storefront.
A portable generator can be an essential source of power when there is an outage or when there is an electrical problem in the building. They can also come in handy if you are going off the grid (either on vacation or as a lifestyle choice) and need a reliable source of power to bring with you.
What is an Inverter Generator?
An inverter generator is a type of generator that works a little differently from conventional generators. An inverter is an electronic device that can convert DC power into AC power. An inverter generator is a device that generates AC current, converts it into DC current, and then converts that back into AC current of the type that comes out of your wall outlets at home.
This “cleans up” the energy, making it safer and more efficient for your appliances. This is especially true of electronic devices, which may be sensitive to the voltage fluctuations commonly seen in conventional portable generators. To better understand how an inverter generator works, let’s take a closer look at the difference between DC and AC power.
Tip: Check out our How Does An Inverter Generator Work for more info about inverter generators.
What is the Difference Between AC and DC current?
DC power means that the energy flows all in one direction. AC power means that the flow of energy periodically changes. AC power is the standard electrical energy that comes from wall outlets. It features a greater capacity for traveling long distances, which is needed when moving from a powerplant into a home. DC is more typically found in energy supplies that are kept at close range, such as a battery or solar panel.
Generator vs Inverter: What’s the Main Difference?
So you may still be wondering: what is the primary difference between an inverter vs generator?
A generator converts mechanical power into AC power. They feature an engine that must be powered by some form of fuel, typically either propane or gasoline.
An inverter just converts electricity from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), so it needs an external power source. Click on the following link to learn more about the difference between a generator and an inverter.
What is an Inverter Generator? An inverter generator is a combination of these two things: it produces AC power in the same way as a conventional generator, but converts it into DC using a rectifier and then back again to AC using an inverter. That process smooths out the spikes and fluctuations that occur during power generation, mostly as a result of the engine speed not being perfectly constant.
Both devices are used to convert energy into a form that is usable by common household devices. But they do so in slightly different ways, so one is more suitable than the other for different situations.
What’s the Difference Between Inverter and Conventional Portable Generators?
A portable generator is simply a generator that is small and compact enough to be transported easily. Typically, it will feature wheels or a handle that makes it easy to move around.
Generators run the gamut from small compact devices to huge industrial machines.
While inverter generators tend to be more portable than the conventional generator, the defining feature is their ability to provide clean power, not their size. So, not all portable generators are inverter generators.
Benefits of Inverter Generators
While standard generators are more common, inverter generators have a variety of advantages. They may not make the most sense for every situation, but they do come in handy in many scenarios. Here is a closer look at the benefits of an inverter generator.
Inverter Generators Have Higher Quality Power Output
An inverter generator is better for supplying clean portable ac power to devices that may be negatively impacted by the “dirty” power of conventional generators.
The AC power that most of us get in our homes from the electrical grid has already been regulated and refined to produce a stable sine wave, which is the gold standard for use in appliances and other devices. But the power produced by a conventional generator isn’t quite as high quality. So an inverter generator is often needed to clean up that energy so it’s safe for more sensitive items. Some devices won’t run at all if the power supplied is not clean enough.
Many smaller electronic devices such as cellphones, laptops, or small televisions may be vulnerable to these swings in power, which could result in malfunctions. Inverter generators will control these fluctuations, preventing any potential damage to the device.
Electrical motors such as refrigerator compressors also benefit from clean power, because they run more efficiently than they otherwise would. Running on unstable, dirty current can even shorten their working lifespans.
So inverter generators provide higher quality electricity that may make your appliances run more efficiently and is less likely to harm them than the electricity from conventional generators.
Inverter Generators Are More Fuel Efficient
Inverter generators tend to require less fuel. They feature an electronic throttle that automatically adjusts to meet the current energy demand, rather than always running at high speed. This means they can run on less fuel, and so produce lower emissions in the bargain.
And the fact that cleaner electrical power can make appliances run more efficiently means the generator needs less fuel to run them.
Conventional generators run at 3600 RPM to produce 60 Hertz electricity. As a result, they tend to burn a lot more fuel, which is both expensive and bad for the planet. The fact that they always run at full speed also means more engine wear, shortening their life expectancy.
Quick Tip: electronic fuel injection makes the Honda EU7000iS generator run even more efficiently!
Inverter Generators Are Not as Noisy
Conventional generators can often be very noisy, which can get irritating and disruptive if they are being used in an area near people. While there are accessories available that can dampen the noise, they add to the cost of the generator and are often less effective than getting one that is designed from the start to run quietly.
Most inverter generators are designed to be much quieter and less disruptive. The same throttle used to control energy output can also control noise. Plus, inverter generators are usually fitted with a soundproof cabinet, reducing noise even further.
This can be a huge bonus if you’re planning on using it on a vacation or in an area that is shared with other people. So you can bring your inverter generator on a camping trip and not have to worry so much about disturbing the family next to you.
Inverter Generators Tend to be More Portable
Another impressive benefit of an inverter generator is its portability. Inverter generators tend to be the smallest and most lightweight of portable generators. This is partially due to the fact that they are more fuel-efficient and require smaller gas tanks.
While a conventional portable generator may also be an option, they are often bulkier.
A portable inverter generator is still capable of producing plenty of power when needed. But the energy can be curbed when full output is not necessary. And greater efficiency means less space is required to store fuel. This power and portability make them great for people who are going on a road trip or camping excursion.
Inverter Generators Have Better Parallel Compatibility
Inverter generators often offer compatibility with other inverter generators to increase output by pairing the generators together. So if you’re worried that one won’t supply the amount of power you need, you can buy a second inverter generator that is compatible with the first and pair them together for more juice.
This is a more flexible and efficient way to get access to more power than by using one big conventional generator. Conventional generators can also be paired, but it’s so much trickier that you practically have to be an electrical engineer to do it safely.
Just keep in mind that they must be compatible models, with the same voltage and frequency. If they are not, it could cause either one or both to malfunction.
Which Should I Choose: Inverter or Conventional?
Whether you start shopping for inverter generators or conventional generators largely depends on a few key factors. Before making your decision, you should ask yourself the following questions.
What Are You Looking to Power?
What are you looking to power with the generator? There are scenarios where one option works better than the other.
Conventional generators are best for large projects that require a lot of wattage where power quality is not much of an issue. If you’re looking to power a large house, office space, or other type of property, then conventional generators may be the only way to supply enough power. If you have sensitive electronics, you may have to get a power conditioner to supply electrical power to them.
But if you are looking for something more efficient and quieter that can power smaller items like electronics or mid-sized appliances, then an inverter generator may be a better option. Inverter generators offer a lot of benefits, but they aren’t available in the higher wattages that the larger conventional generators provide.
What Type of Activity are You Planning?
It’s also important to take stock of the activity you’re planning.
For instance, are you going camping or planning for a power outage? Also, think about how much space and storage you’re going to have. Conventional generators offer more power, but may also take up more space and be harder to move.
Inverter generators are typically better for recreation, whereas conventional generators are best for emergencies and survival.
If you’re just going on an RV trip and need to power things like your cell phone and a coffee maker, an inverter generator will do. On the other hand, if you’re going on some serious off-the-grid living and want to ensure you have an adequate power supply, you may want to go with a conventional generator. So, it all depends on how much power you need and how much space and quiet you’re willing to sacrifice for higher power output.
What Budget Are You Working With?
This can easily be the key factor, because of the significantly higher cost of inverter generators. They can be significantly more expensive, especially for the higher wattage generators. An inverter generator can cost anywhere from about four hundred to over two thousand dollars, depending on how much wattage you’re looking for.
So, before you decide on a particular generator, you should figure out how much you’re willing and able to spend.
So Which is Better: Inverter vs Generator?
Ultimately, neither device is necessarily better or worse than the other, they just make different tradeoffs. Inverter generators produce power that is cleaner and are more energy-efficient. But they are also more expensive and aren’t available in sizes large enough to power a large home or office (however they are available up to 7,000 watts continuous).
Conventional generators are cheaper and available at higher wattages. For instance the Duromax XP13000EH puts out 13000 watts while the DuroMax XP9000iH puts out 9000, but the XP9000iH costs almost twice as much. But a conventional generator can be more expensive over the long term because they require more fuel to power (under most conditions) and will wear out more quickly because they always run at high speed. Plus, they typically are bulkier and make more noise. Which device you ultimately choose depends on the circumstances they’ll be used in and your own priorities.
Now that you know what an inverter is, you may be interested to learn the role they play in solar systems. Check out our article “How Does A Solar Generator Work?”