Deregulation of energy has seen major changes in the market requirements for power generation industry. Today’s generator designs must be cost effective, highly reliable, and very efficient. There are two technologies available today in generators: conventional generators and inverter generators. As a first-time-generator-buyer, understanding the differences between the two technologies before making any purchase can help you choose wisely.

What Is a Conventional Portable Generator?

Conventional generators have been around the longest and are the most widely used today. These generators run on gasoline, diesel, or propane. The way it works is very simple: the engine of the generator turns an electric alternator, which converts mechanical energy into electrical power. The fluctuation of the motor’s speed affects the cycles per second or Hertz of the output. This means that, if possible, it should maintain the rpm constant throughout the generation of power to avoid variation in the power output.

This type of generators are typically noisy, but they provide great reliability and can be used as temporary power sources in emergency situations or when your home’s major supply goes out.

In old-fashioned generators, you can also find silenced generators that are enclosed in an acoustic cabinet to reduce the level of noise. However, the noise level is still higher than inverter generators by far.

What is an inverter generator?

An inverter generator is a new type of power source that has become very popular in recent years because it generates clean, stable AC electricity with no sound-dampening enclosures. It can set this model up to produce either 120 V or 240 V and, as you might imagine, they’re much quieter than conventional generators.

How does an inverter generator work?

So what happens inside of the inverter generator is that the electrical generator part of the generator produces alternating current. Then this alternating current is being crushed back into a simple DC power source or a simple direct current and then this direct current is then turned through the inverter back into alternating current again. So this seems weird, right? You’ve got AC, you turn it back into DC and then back into AC again.

Why? Well, this is because the AC created in the first step can be irregular. So if you take this irregular AC power from the first step and then mush it back into, crush it back into direct current, which is pretty easy to manage, and then you build it back up to an AC source, then your final AC wave is very stable and very controlled.

And this is the reason manufacturers and suppliers of inverter generators will claim that the output of their inverter generator is much more stable, is much cleaner and is much more controlled compared to the output of a conventional regular generator, which in most cases is absolutely true.

How does an inverter generator work

So now that you know what happens inside of an inverter generator, let’s look at the pros. What are the benefits of an inverted generator?

What are the advantages of an inverter generator?

So the first clear advantage is that inverter generators, on average, produce really high quality stable power output.

And the second clear advantage of inverter generators is that since the third step, so the generation of AC power by the inverter is decoupled from the first step whereby the electrical generator creates the first AC power, you are now able to actually run the engine at a much lower engine speed, but still providing the correct frequency and power output that’s being created by the inverter.

And this is a significant benefit, because you’re not able to do that with a conventional generator. A normal conventional generator needs to run at the same engine speed all the time in order to maintain that frequency that we discussed before. So if in your situation, you sometimes might require less power and, as a result, the generator will just reduce its engine speed while maintaining the proper frequency.

Now, a result of this is that you’ll have substantially less noise output from the generator. Now, this is a significant benefit of inverter generators, but just realize that if you are running your inverter generator at its maximum capacity, the engine speed is also maximum. So you might very well be producing the same amount of noise level with an inverter generator that is running at a hundred percent capacity compared to a conventional normal generator.

The real advantage of an inverter generator kicks in when you’re running it at lower capacity, whereby the engine speed reduces, your fuel efficiency remains somewhat the same, but your noise levels just drop drastically.

Summary:

  • Reduce noise
  • High-quality power
  • longer run time per gallon of gas (typically 40% less)
  • More compact size
  • Fuel consumption reduced by about 30%
  • Low engine speed

Now these are the advantages of inverter generators, but of course you can also point out disadvantages.

What are the disadvantages of an inverter generator?

So the first one is quite obvious. Inverter generators are substantially more expensive compared to the traditional conventional generators.

And perhaps since there are more components inside of the inverter generator, because now it’s not only a generator, but there’s also an inverter built into one unit, you could say that with more components, you increase the chance of components to break down. So perhaps the reliability might be lower or that it’s more difficult to repair it once it breaks down.

Another disadvantage of inverter generators is the lower power output. Inverter generators are smaller and generate less power than conventional generators. With power outputs ranging in the 800 to 4500 watts, a standard inverter generator can run your small appliances and equipment, but if you want to run larger appliances, a conventional generator might be more powerful. The saving grace for this class of generator is running in "parallel mode" with a duplicate generator, but that’s only predicated on you having a second generator to add to the system.

Summary:

  • Higher price;
  • The likelihood of breakdown because of more types of equipment;
  • The maximum power of most models does not exceed 3000W.

Inverter Generators VS Conventional Generators–What’s the Difference?

Your choice may boil down to what you are powering. There are many other important considerations that you should look at, including your budget. Conventional generators significantly differ from inverter generators in terms of size and weight, quality of energy, run time, noise level, power, and price. Let’s look at these dissimilarities:

Overview

Here is a quick outline of the differences between conventional generators and I-generators:

#1 Size and weight

Inverter generators are small. They are pretty portable and stow away. You can easily transport an inverter generator in your car.

Conventional generators are quite bulky. To move them, you will need a big metal frame and wheels. While it can technically move them, conventional generators lack convenience factor that you find in inverter generators.

Among the three, a silenced generator is probably the bulkiest to handle because of the acoustic cabinet that encloses it.

#2 Fuel efficiency and run time

The run time of a generator is determined by the size of the fuel tank. Conventional designs are big and thus can accommodate a sizeable fuel tank. This means that they have relatively long run times. Inverter generators are compact and lightweight, meaning they can’t accommodate big fuel tank and thus have shorter run times.

Inverter generators use a technology that allows them to automatically adjust the engine speed to produce only the power needed. They make a better use of fuel, which can go up to 40 percent. Inverter generators are actually about 20 percent more efficient than conventional counterparts. High efficiency also means that inverters produce lower exhaust emissions. Conventional generators run at 3600rpm regardless of the load.

#3 Noise

Inverter generators are designed with quiet engines, in-built special mufflers, and sound-dampening technology that reduce noise to very low levels. The ability of inverter models to regulate the power produced using microprocessors makes it possible for the engine to throttle back when the need arises, saving fuel and significantly reducing noise. I-generators run as low as people conversing.

A conventional generator’s engine at a constant speed, which means the engine throttle up when the load is heavy, making it very noisy. Old-fashioned models can make noise as high as that a chainsaw. Silenced produce lower noise range or decibels because of the acoustic enclosure that dampens the sound.

#4 Maximum power output

You can get a conventional or silenced generator with a power rating ranging from 500 watts up to 50,000 watts and higher. They are the best option when an enormous amount of power is needed.

I-generators are less powerful, so their maximum output possibilities are more limited. The models available have a rating of 1000 to 4000 watt. So don’t count on an inverter generator to power your welder.

#5 Quality of power produced

An inverter generator is hooked up to an alternator. The alternator makes AC electricity. The rectifier picks the AC power and converts it to DC power. Capacitors smooth it out before it is inverted back into clean AC power. Inverter generators produce steady clean AC power regardless of the engine speed.

With conventional generators, the alternator’s output is directly connected to the load, without processing. This means that the quality of the power produced is pretty low compared to their I-counterparts.

Many electronic products today use some forms of microprocessors. Examples include phones, computers, printers, DVD players, kitchen appliances, TVs among others. The quality of power easily affected these microprocessors they use. This gives an inverter generator an upper hand for products that require clean power.

#6 Price

An inverter generator can be two to eight times more costly than a conventional unit. The high tech used in the 3-phase system and microprocessor controlled rectifiers and inverters make the price to be higher than that of their conventional counterpart. Conventional generators are not only cheaper but are also less costly to repair.

When to Choose a Conventional Portable Generator?

  1. If you need a portable generator for a long time;
  2. If you have many powerful devices;
  3. If you are on a tight budget.

When to Choose an Inverter Generator?

If you only need occasional or short-term power, like for a home disaster kit, RV camping or tailgating party, then an inverter generator may be preferable.

An inverter generator can use its peak efficiency at low loads, and might be more efficient than a regular generator because it doesn’t waste energy by turning itself off when not needed.

  1. If you need a generator for your RV;
  2. If you need an emergency power supply;
  3. If minimal noise is important to you;
  4. If you have a lot of sensitive electronics (gas boiler, multiple computers, alarm system, etc.)

What is the best inverter generator?

The best inverter generator is the one that can generate the highest wattage for your needs and budget. The cost of an inverter depends on many factors, such as its fuel efficiency, wattage, size, portability, and warranty.

Check out our full-length article answering common questions about inverter generators, including reviews of several products and detailed tips.

FAQ

Do i need an inverter generator for my RV

Inverter generators are a must-have for RV owners, as these devices cater to the vehicle’s energy needs and won’t leave you stranded with an empty battery. Software programs ensure inverters deliver clean power waves while preserving your batteries.

What is the most powerful portable inverter generator?

The most powerful portable generator is, of course, the DuroMax XP9000iH (9000 Watt). Comparable models would be the WEN GN875i RV (8750 Watt) and Champion Power Equipment 100520 (8750Watt).

Why are inverter generators so quiet?

Portable inverter generators have three features that reduce the noise they produce:

  1. Advanced engineered casing;
  2. Sound-attenuating materials and mufflers;
  3. Special sound dampener technology.;

Aside from this, inverters also have a unique power generation method which reduces the overall noise. It goes through three stages of conversion before producing AC power. Stage one converts DC into AC, stage two turns it back again to DC, then finally converting it to an AC current. This way, they produce 60Hz frequency with no interruptions and also keep their engine at a minimum so that less noise is produced.

Why are inverter generators so expensive?

Although inverter generators are very expensive, they come with a long-term cost advantage.

Inverter generators will usually last three times longer than conventional generators. This is primarily because inverter generators don’t continuously use their engine at maximum RPMs, so it uses less fuel and can last for a little over 50 hours before needing refueling per charge. Conversely, non-inverters will die after 20-30 hours.

How long do inverter generators last?

You can expect a lot of life out of an inverter generator by running it regularly and maintaining the factory maintenance schedule. An inverter generator will typically last for 2000-5000 hours before needing to be repaired.

Conclusions in one picture

diff between inverter and generator

Resources

This PDF provide a closer look at inverter generators.

This Honda web page provides rich information on the technology used in inverter generators.

This PDF by Tech Doctor provides information on inverter vs. generator.