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What is the difference between a generator and an inverter? The generator generates electric power from another source of energy (e.g., fuel which is chemical energy to electricity), but the inverter only converts the electric power from one form of current to another (e.g., 12v DC to 120v AC). The source energy of the generator is not only electric, but also solar, wind, hydel, heat, or steam, but the source energy for an inverter is DC power.

Here’s my guide to best 2000 watt inverter based on use cases. And here’s the guide to best 3000 watt inverters.

EfficiencyAbove 90%Between 25-40%
Efficiency at low load Below 90% at load below 10%Below 30%
Maximum Efficiency Peak Value at 30% loadMaximum load
Cost Dependence DC to AC power conversion capability in wattsPower generation capability in watts
Cost$150 to $2000$1000 to $7000
Cost per watt $0.27 average$0.24 average
Installation Cost LowHigh
Operating Cost Very LowHigh
MaintenanceVery LowRegular periodic maintenance needed
Noise NoYes
Pollution NoYes
Portability Easy to carryPortable generators are easy to carry, others are not
InstallationRequires skillVirtually plug n play
Harmonics EffectsExcess heating and affect its normal lifeExcess heating and more noise
Harmonic Distortion Sustenance (%)Up to 5%Not more than 3% of total voltage

Read why do solar cells need an inverter here.

inverter vs generator

An inverter is an electric appliance having a circuit that functions to convert 12/24/48v DC supply input to 240/120v AC supply output. The inverter itself is not a source, and it requires a DC electrical power source to function. It does not convert 12/24/48v DC (direct current) directly into 240/120v AC electricity (Alternating Current), but first, it converts it into 12v AC and then uses a step-up transformer to raise the voltage to 240/120v as designed.

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Power inverter is an electronic machine of a very compact design having micro-controllers that has auto and manual control of various options, many transistors like BJTs and MOSFETs connected through H-bridge, filters to remove unwanted frequencies and transformer to step-up or step-down the voltages in case of multi-directional inverters. Read my complete guide on power inverter here.

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Inverters offer three basic advantages:

  • It makes conversion of 12/24/48v DC supply into 120/240v at 60/50Hz AC supply easier, without any noise or pollution, and that with above 90% efficiency.
  • The second advantage it offers is, we can use it for consuming backup power stored in batteries during power cut.
  • Inverters have made solar panel systems easier to install. Otherwise, you will have to change all appliances into DC-consuming appliances as solar produces DC power and an inverter converts that into AC.

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  • The primary disadvantage is its high initial cost.
  • An extra electric appliance that consumes electric energy and adds to your load.

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A generator is a power harnessing machine, that converts mechanical energy to electricity. There are various sources can be used to drive its mechanical mechanism, which is coupled with an alternator.

There are two fundamental components of power generators. First, it’s running energy source, which can be a diesel engine for diesel generator or a turbine rotated through any source like, solar, hydel energy, wind energy, or steam. Then there’s the alternator.

Alternator itself is made up of two components, the conductor coil, which is rotated in the second one is a magnetic field created between poles to generate voltage.

The generation voltage of conventional generator or portable generator is either 120v/240v, and some of them come with the multi-option, but the voltage at power generation plant is between 11kv and 25kv.

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If you have your own generator at your office, home, industry or off grid living setup that offers various advantages.

  • You will not be dependent on any external source for power supply.
  • Even a conventional portable generator offers the unmatched freedom of mobility to carry wherever you go and to the places where you will not have access to the utility grid supply.
  • In case of power cut from the grid or any other emergency, you will have your own standby generator unit that could run on solar, diesel, natural gas, propane or gasoline.

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  • Generators have high running costs as prices of diesel, propane and gasoline rise, the operating costs rise too.
  • Requires regular maintenance and oil check for optimum performance.
  • Generators are very noisy and can give you a headache if placed nearby.
  • Not a cleaner power source. It adds to pollution as a lot of fuel cell energy is converted into CO2 and Heat.

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The efficiency relies on the useful output in ratio to the given input. So, the efficiency of the inverter and generator can be compared on the following basis.

An inverter is 95% to 98% efficient, which means it converts 95% to 98% of given input 12v DC into 240v AC power.Generator fuel to mechanical conversion ranges from 30% to 40%, and then mechanical to electrical is between 93% to 99% in modern generators.
At load less than 10%, Inverter is very inefficient.At low loads, generators are inefficient too.
Inverters are more than 90% efficient at load above 10%.At low loads, generators are inefficient too.
The efficiency factor of the inverter depends upon the quality of sine wave technology used. For the high quality, it is above 90%, and for the low modified quality, it is 75-85%.The efficiency factor of the generator depends upon fuel quality, the surrounding temperature, humidity, altitude, and load consideration.
The peak efficiency of the inverter is near 30%, but even at full load, it is above 90%.The generator is most efficient at full load but is kept at 80% load, to be capable of facing any emergency.

From the above comparison, it shows that inverters are more of an efficient electric machine because it does not convert one form of energy to another but just changes the form of current from DC to AC of electric power. Whether a regular generator go through at least two stages of energy conversion. First, generators convert fuel cell energy into mechanical energy, and then the mechanical shaft is coupled with the alternator to produce electricity.

Read the Difference Between 12v And 24v Solar System here.

The cost is the most crucial factor to know before investing on anything. electrical power isn’t any different.

The cost of an inverter depends upon its power conversion capability. How much power it can convert from DC to AC, and how much load it can sustain before tripping. An inverter ranging from 1000W to 3000W power conversion capacity would cost between $150-1000.

The price of the inverter depends on the load and considering the load fact, prices can exceed $1500. The average inverter output cost is almost $0.27 per watt. Compare inverter prices here.

Standard generator cost is different for different types of generators. It depends upon the driving source of the generator because that affects its power generation cost. Diesel generator is the most expensive, and after that comes natural gas powered generator, propane generator and gasoline generator.

The price varies from $1000-7000, costing an average little above 4000$. The average generator costs almost $0.24 per watt generation. The generator is designed to replace the grid supply in time of emergency, so they are bulky, huge, and difficult to move. There are portable generators for RVs, off grid living and outdoor activities, which cost less as their capacity is small. Compare generator prices here.

Solar and inverter power generator are gaining popularity because of low electrical energy production cost.

In this global network era, the availability of everything is just a few keyboards touches away. The inverter of all ranges starting from 1000W to your required size are available at Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, and at many other E-Commerce sites. Inverters are designed to perform their job for a decade at least and taking simple care of them will make them last longer. Get it installed by correctly, keep it away from the contact of any kind of liquid, keep removing dust from it, and don’t do unnecessary button switching. In case of failure or any issue with an inverter, contact the manufacturing company it or call a local professional.

For generators, you can buy them from your local electric stores or online stores like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, or any other. These websites will make it easier for you to compare generators and choose according to your requirement. Standby generators or portable generators maintenance is due after every 200 hours of use. To those in remote areas, I suggest you to not buy bulky generators but portable or ones that can be carried for maintenance work.

Inverters come in various sizes according to their capacity. A 1000w inverter could be handy, but even for a larger capacity, it is not that huge and can be carried easily. See portable inverters here.

Portable generators are easy to carry, and especially new modern inverter generators, which are very small in size, but generators with high generation capacity, let say above 10,000w, generators are very bulky and take large space. See portable generators here.

Read How To Get 12 Volts From A 24 Volt System – The Correct Method Here.

Harmonics are the signal that disturbs the original frequency of the system. Harmonic distortion is the disturbance in the actual voltage due to harmonics.

For example: if an inverter gives 235volts instead of designed 240 voltage, it means harmonic distortion have resulted in the loss of 5v during the process. These can be very damaging if the distortion increases more than sustenance value of the machine.

Inverter like any other electric component having electronic circuits, can not sustain harmonics above 5% than its current conversion capacity. The first effect is, it heats up, and if distortion increases, transistors in its circuit can get completely damaged.

Generators are adversely affected by harmonic distortion. Generator harmonic distortion heats them and they become noisier. The harmonic distortions for a generator should not exceed 3% of its total generation. It increases iron losses and copper losses.

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Inverter VS. Generator In A Nutshell

The inverters are the electric appliance that converts an electric current form of the power from 12/24/48v DC to 120/240v at 60/50Hz AC supply, but a generator is an electric machine that drives the alternator and harness electricity from another form of energy by first converting that to mechanical and then electrical.

The inverter generator is a new modern technology generator that is being preferred over traditional generators because of their mobility, small size, light in weight, quieter, and well efficiency.

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