Last updated on January 31st, 2020
What Is the Difference Between an Inverter Generator and a Conventional Generator?
Many types of generators are labeled portable generators but there are actually many differences in technical specifications, design and use between generator types. An inverter generator specifically is quite different from what many consider a conventional portable generator.
Despite their key differences, inverter generators are often seen on ‘top portable generators’ and ‘best portable generators’ lists. This is because most inverter generators are easier to carry than larger high power portable generators.
There are pros and cons for both types of generators. Which advantages outweigh which disadvantages depends on what the generator is going to be used for.
Read on to recognize the difference between an inverter generator and a conventional portable generator. This helps you decide which type of generator is the better fit for your needs.
What Is Considered a Conventional Portable Generator?
When talking about a portable generator, people usually mean the fossil fuel-powered generators that are mobile. These are the most commonly purchased generators.
A conventional portable generator is in its basic sense a fuel-powered engine with an alternator that has an electrical output. The three most common fuel types used for portable generators is gasoline, diesel and propane.
Some portable generators are hybrids. This means that the engine can run on more than one type of fuel – usually a combination of gasoline and propane.
The engine speed and the corresponding electrical output is the key characteristic of a conventional portable generator. A conventional fuel-powered portable generator is meant to run 3600 rpm to generate 120 volts and a frequency of 60 Hertz.
However, one of the main disadvantages of most fuel-powered portable generators is that the machine cannot maintain a steady 3600 rpm. This means, that the voltage and Hertz also fluctuates.
The fluctuations are referred to as harmonic distortion. The constant changes in electrical output or high harmonic distortion is why fuel-powered portable generators don’t provide what is called ‘clean electricity’.
Clean energy is preferred for electrical devices that are sensitive like laptops, DSLR cameras, mobile phones etc. Not being able to hold steady at 3600 rpm is also the reason why fuel-powered portable generators are so noisy.
With fuel-powered portable generators there is a correlation between its fuel tank, power and run time. In most cases, the bigger the fuel tank, the more power and the longer the run time.
Since some portable generators can produce upwards of 10,000 watts of power, you can imagine that these are quite large and heavy generators. Despite their size and weight, most models are still portable – most conventional portable generator models have wheels and a handle.[wpsm_button color=”btncolor” size=”big” link=”https://www.bestgenerator.org/portable-generators/” icon=”none” class=””]Check Out The Best Portable Generators on the Market[/su_button]
How Does an Inverter Generator Work?
The mechanics of inverter generators are slightly more complicated than conventional portable generators. There are more parts involved in delivering the final electrical output.
Many inverter generators also run on fossil fuels. In addition to the drawing power from the fuel tank, inverter generators also have a battery, alternator and inverter.
The power from the engine is a high frequency AC current which is then converted into DC current by the alternator. That DC current is then converter back into AC current by the inverter.
Like with conventional portable generators, inverter generators also have an output of 120 volts at 60 Hertz. However, because of the extra steps in the electricity production, the current of an inverter generator is much more stable.
In other words, there is less harmonic distortion which is why inverter generators are said to produce ‘clean electricity’. The quality of electricity produced by inverter generators is comparable to the quality of electricity that you receive from the mains electrical supplier.
The clean electricity is possible because of two factors. The first factor is that the initial AC current in an inverter generator is at a high frequency which gives more electrical energy.
The second factor is the inversion of the DC current back into AC current. The mechanics of an inverter generator has more control over the AC frequency which lets it provide a very stable sine wave.
The greater control over the electrical output makes inverter generators quite energy-efficient. It can adjust its voltage to what is exactly needed by the connected load while still maintaining an rpm of 3600.
The stable current is also one of the main reasons why inverter generators are quite silent compared to conventional portable generators.
What Are the Key Differences Between an Inverter Generator and Conventional Portable Generator?
Below is an overview of the main differences between conventional portable generators and inverter generators. Notice that there are mechanical differences and secondary differences that are a result of the mechanical differences.
In other words, the difference in how a conventional fuel-powered portable generators runs and how an inverter generator runs gives different possibilities in design and use. Scroll further down to find out how these differences pose advantages and disadvantages for specific tasks.
When to Choose an Inverter Generator
The advantages of inverter generators over conventional portable generators is that they are more quiet, are more compact and lightweight, more fuel efficient, are safe for sensitive electrical devices and are generally more environmentally friendly. The disadvantage of an inverter generator is that they usually are more expensive than a comparable conventional generator and don’t house as much power.
Given these advantages and disadvantages, an inverter generator is more suitable for occasional use and specifically for outdoor activities like camping. An inverter generator is a good choice for when you don’t need a lot of power but do need convenient clean electricity that is easy to carry with you.
When to Choose a Conventional Fuel-Powered Portable Generator
The main advantage of a regular portable generator over an inverter generator is that it produces much more power. The disadvantages of a portable generator is that it is bulkier, heavier, makes much more noise and produces more greenhouse gas emissions.
A regular portable generator is best used as a backup generator for the home in areas where there are frequent power outages or risks of natural events like blizzards that are likely to cut the mains electricity supply. The models with rough track wheels and a sturdy build are also more suitable on work sites.
Which is Better, an Inverter Generator or Conventional Portable Generator?
Whether an inverter generator or a conventional portable generator is better really depends on what the generator is to be used for. An inverter generator might be the better option for frequent campers or as a backup source of electricity during road trips while a conventional portable generator works better to power a home or a work site.
Think about where you need the electricity and how much power you actually need. This is the best way to decide between the options.