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What is a Power Inverter

What is a Power Inverter?

The discovery of a power inverter was a watershed moment when it came to powering devices and appliances from a DC source.

But what is a power inverter really? Read on to find the answers plus other details including how this handy device works.

What is a Power Inverter- Overview

An inverter is nothing else but a power electronic gadget/circuitry that changes the DC current to the AC current used in our regular electrical outlets.

This ‘inversion’ is vital because it enables you to power up things like electric lights, microwaves, laptops, kitchen appliances, radios, laser printers, laboratory equipment, and the like from a normal battery.

I’m saying a battery because a power inverter typically connects to a battery (or several batteries in a parallel connection to increase the inverter’s capacity).

Of course, the battery is merely an energy storage unit and maybe drawing its power from a generator, solar panels, automobile motors, and such DC sources.

How a power inverter works

We all know that the DC output coming from batteries is insufficient to power devices like televisions and desktop computers. And so a power inverter has two roles: 1. Raise the DC current and 2. Make it AC.

An inverter circuit actually relies on switches to elevate the DC voltage from the battery and then change it to AC before sending it out as power to the plugged-in devices.

Inverters have come a long way- the old ones would make some annoying noise as they ‘inverted’ the energy (they used a flipping mechanism to alternate the current, that’s why).

The modern ones are however ultra-quiet and won’t disturb your sleep.

Types of power inverters

Two types of inverters dominate:

  1. True (pure) sine wave inverters and
  2. Modified sine wave/ modified square wave inverters.

True Sine Wave power Inverters

These produce pure sine wave energy (a continuous wave describing a smooth repetitive waveform) just like a utility company. It’s the cleanest energy and can power pretty much everything.

These inverters cost more because they’re installed with filters, inductors, and even capacitors to help clean up the sine wave.

Modified Sine Wave power inverters

These don’t make a smooth-running waveform and will have pauses/steps in the output.

As a result, this energy is a bit rough and less stable. You cannot, therefore, trust it to drive high-energy consumers like air cons, washers, and dryers.

How is an inverter constructed?

Having looked at the inverter working principle, it’s good that we learn about the components that make up these accessories. Well, a power inverter may comprise purely electronic circuits or be a mixture of mechanical parts and electronic circuitry. 

Either way, the latest inverters have semiconductors or transistors inside. These undertake the all-important power ‘conversion’.

And now that we are here, I must mention that there are devices that complete the opposite function- that is change AC to DC.

We call them rectifiers.

Where is a power inverter used?

Now that you understand what a power inverter is plus its mode of operation, let’s look at its typical applications.

  • PV Solar systems: A solar inverter modifies the natural energy coming from the sun into AC so that you can use it to power stuff like portable humidifiers.
  • RVs: If you love taking a day out with your loved ones in your RV, you can use an inverter to create a useful energy source for your devices while camping in the middle of nowhere. The same applies to those who love Kayaking.
  • Home as an emergency power: You use an inverter to supply clean energy to your TV, Radio, coffee maker, run your refrigerator (yes, some are that powerful!), etc. during periods of blackouts at home.
  • UPS: Another application of inverter is in the uninterruptible power supply (UPS). With some simple modifications, you can convert your inverter to a reliable UPS to rescue the situation when the main power is not available.

Note that there’s much more you can do with your inverter especially if you’re the explorative type.

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What to look for when buying an inverter

Here are some useful guidelines to slip under your belt for the purposes of shopping for a power inverter:

Determine the correct size

Inverters exist in many different sizes – from 100w to over 5000w- and it’s important that you go for one with the capacity to serve your needs depending on the watts of what you’ll be running.

If you plug in several items simultaneously, you’ll need to consider the total wattage for the group of items. Be sure to add between 10 to 20 percent extra wattage once you get the sum wattage to be on the safe side.

To illustrate, let’s say you’ll be connecting a laptop (90 watts), laser printer (50 watts), Xbox One (112 watts), and a smart TV (250 watts) to the inverter.

To get the right output, you sum the requirements first: 90+50+112+250=502 watts. You then add a safety net of 20% x 502=100.4 watts Now, your inverter should have an output close to 602.4 watts (502+100.4).

Choose safety

To keep you and the inverter safe, look for easy-to-use safety additions like an overload protection, overvolt protection, and short circuit protection.

Go for beneficial extras

There are a couple of nice features to have in your power inverter for home including:

1. An LCD screen

An inverter with a big-enough digital display will conveniently keep you posted about voltage, charging time required, energy usage, and related information.

2. USB support

An inverter with a USB outlet will free you from the burden of bringing adaptors to charge personal devices such as DSLR cameras when embarking on long road trips.

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Why use a power inverter

A power inverter can make your life less frustrating, particularly if you often go off-grid or experience lengthy power outages.

You see, by transforming the DC power into a form compatible with electronics and other equipment that traditionally rely on AC power, you can enjoy a normal lifestyle- watch TV, run the toaster, use a kettle, and more.

It also enables you to enjoy peace of mind when out in the field for work. This is true for people who sometimes travel to remote workstations. A good example is medical professionals who need to use machines like oxygen concentrators when working up the country.

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So, what is a power inverter again?

In simple language, it’s just a device that converts DC to AC in order to power appliances that use AC like power tools, ceiling fans, and even medical equipment.

We have learned so much more including about the two main types of power inverters- pure sine wave inverters and the less tidy but inexpensive modified sine wave inverters.

Overall, we hope that this guide has clarified everything about inverters just in case you have been considering acquiring one.

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