What’s the difference between a generator and an inverter?

by | Nov 8, 2022

The most common question people ask when they are looking to purchase a generator is usually “what difference is there between a generator and an inverter?”.

This article will help you understand the main differences between these two types of appliances, which will make it easier to choose the right one to keep your home running when there is an Eskom-scheduled power outage.

Is there a difference between generators and inverters?

Electric generators and power inverters are two types of devices that can be used to convert one type of energy into another. Generators convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, while inverters convert direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC).

The main difference between generators and inverters is the type of energy they convert. 

  • Power inverters are more efficient than generators because they don’t have to create their own power source (mechanical energy).
  • Another difference is that electric generators can be used to power homes or businesses, while inverters are mainly used to keep portable electronics like laptops and cell phones running when there is a power outage.

In short, the main difference between generators and inverters is the type of energy they’re able to convert, and the way they are used. Electric generators can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, while power inverters can only convert DC into AC.

The benefits of generators

Electric generators provide a power alternative, but they run on petrol or diesel, so the ongoing running costs must be considered. There is also an environmental consideration, since fossil fuel is involved in powering an electric generator, which contributes to global warming. 

What are generators used for?

It is possible to buy a generator for almost any need. Some electrical generators are small, portable devices perfect for camping or outdoor hobbies to provide small amounts of power for a few devices. Others are permanent installations that can power an entire house. Industrial generators are even more powerful, capable of maintaining full power to manufacturing facilities, hospitals, and office complexes.

What types of generators are there? 

There are diesel generators, natural gas generators, propane generators, and bi-fuel generators.

Advantages and disadvantages of generators as backup power:

There are several benefits that come with using electric generators: 

  1. Can provide backup power during an outage. (Ah, load shedding)
  2. Can be used to power tools and other equipment where there is no grid power available. 
  3. Can be used to charge backup batteries.
  4. Can be used to power lights. 
  5. Can be used to run a fridge or freezer (prevent your food from spoiling during a power outage.)

Disadvantages of electric generators:

  1. The rising cost of fuel – as the petrol and diesel price continues to soar, it will get more expensive to run your generator. 
  2. They are noisy to run – which can be problematic at night or in suburban environments. 
  3. Personal hazards – Shocks and electrocution from improper use of power or accidentally energizing other electrical systems. 
  4. Noxious emissions – Carbon monoxide from a generator’s exhaust. 

Fire hazard – Fires can result from the improper refuelling or inappropriately storing the fuel for an electric generator.

The advantages and disadvantages of inverters

A power inverter for the purposes of home backup power draws energy from a car or truck battery, as well as deep-cycle batteries. Inverters are usually included as part of an off-grid solar power kit for people who experience regular power interruptions.

Inverters are devices that convert DC (direct current) power – usually from a battery –  to AC (alternating current) power. This process is known as “inversion.” Inverters are used in a variety of applications, including powering AC devices from DC sources such as batteries or solar panels.

There are many benefits to using inverters, including:

  1. Improved efficiency: Inverters are typically more efficient than generators, meaning less wasted energy and lower operating costs.
  2. Quieter operation: Inverters produce much less noise than generators, making them ideal for use in quiet environments such as hospitals or residential areas.

A greener way to go: Inverters generate clean AC power, free of the harmful emissions produced by generators.

What are the disadvantages of an inverter?

  1. Not portable: A power inverter is not a bulky, heavy device in itself, but it works only in conjunction with a set of connected batteries. These batteries can be bulky and not easy to shift around.
  2. It does not generate power, it only converts: When DC power is converted into AC electricity, the result is an unvarying electrical signal. It will require proper filtration to be the same as alternating current.
  3. It will raise your electricity bill: Inverters are usually transformer-based UPS inverters with built-in battery charging. As such they must be connected to the grid to recharge the battery to provide power during a power outage. This means that your inverter will use electricity to charge the backup batteries, increasing your household electricity consumption.
  4. Takes time to recharge the batteries: Although charging times will vary depending on the size and efficiency rating of the battery, the frequency and duration of scheduled power outages must be considered. The higher the load shedding stage, the more frequent the outages which means that the back up batteries might not have enough time to recharge fully between uses. This will affect the performance of the batteries and have a damaging effect on their lifespan.

Inverter vs generator: how to make the right decision

Making the right decision when it comes to purchasing a generator or an inverter can be tricky. There are many factors to consider, such as power needs, budget, and intended use. However, by taking the time to do your research and understand your options, you can make the best decision for your needs.

When deciding between a generator and an inverter, the first thing to consider is power needs. How much power do you need to generate? What will you be using it for? If you only need a small amount of power for occasional use, an inverter may be the better option. However, if you need a lot of power on a regular basis, a generator is likely the better choice.

Next, consider your budget. Generators can be quite expensive, so if cost is a major concern, an inverter may be the better option. However, keep in mind that inverters may not be able to handle large loads or run for extended periods of time without being damaged.

Finally, think about your intended use. If you only need backup power for occasional outages or emergencies, a generator may not be worth the investment. However, if you plan on using your backup power regularly or for long periods of time, a generator is likely a wise investment.

By considering these factors, you can make the best decision for your needs when it comes to choosing between a generator and an inverter.

Conclusion: understand your needs to make the right decision between a generator and an inverter

If you’re looking to invest in a backup power solution, it’s important to understand the difference between a generator and an inverter. Generators are typically more expensive (particularly to run) and require more maintenance, but they’re also more powerful and can run for longer periods of time. Inverters, on the other hand, are less expensive and easier to maintain, but they’re not as powerful and can only run for shorter periods of time. Ultimately, the best option for you will depend on your specific needs and budget.

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Article by

Vincent Gaemers
Vincent Gaemers is the Growth Lead at Home+. He breathes the Home+ brand and his mission is to deliver the Home+ knowledge to our customers.
Vincent Gaemers
Vincent Gaemers is the Growth Lead at Home+. He breathes the Home+ brand and his mission is to deliver the Home+ knowledge to our customers.

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