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What is an Inverter Generator? How does it work?

A Portable Generator is a very important device nowadays. Whether you face severe power outages or need an alternative source of power in worksites or camping, a portable generator is an ideal device for the job. Are you planning to buy a new portable generator for your home needs? Then, you might have seen or heard of different brands and types of generators with different power ratings, fuel types, sizes, etc. But there is a new player in the town known as the Inverter Generator. The generator salesperson might be pushing you towards this type saying it is much better than other portable generators. He/she is right in a way. But what is an Inverter Generator? How does it work? What are its advantages and disadvantages?

Before investing in the generator, it is ideal to understand a little bit about it. So, in this guide, let us know about inverter generators from a beginner’s perspective. To understand the basics and working of an Inverter Generator, we will be constantly comparing its operation with a traditional portable generator.

What is an Inverter Generator?

An Inverter Generator, as the name suggests, uses “Inverter” Technology to generate electricity, thanks to the high-amperage solid-state devices. Inverter Generators are usually small and compact portable generators that produce clean and stable power.

While you can get portable generators with very high power outputs (10,000 Watts, 12,000 Watts, or even higher), the power output of inverter generators is usually up to a couple of thousands of watts (3,000 to 4,000 Watts).

In a traditional portable generator, the main components that generate electricity are an internal combustion engine and an alternator. Things are slightly different in an Inverter Generator.

Even Inverter Generators have an engine and an alternator. But unlike traditional portable generators, they are not two separate entities but rather a single compact unit (helping in the overall compact design of the generator).

In traditional generators, the output of the alternator is AC which is available through the ports. You can plug your appliances directly into these receptacles or use a generator-grade extension cord and power devices.

Coming to Inverter Generators, the AC output of the alternator isn’t directly supplied through its ports. First, this AC electricity is converted to DC electricity. Then, the DC electricity is “Inverted” back to AC. This AC supply is available as the output of the generator. But why all this conversion and inversion?

How is it Different from Traditional Generators?

The AC electricity produced by the alternator of the traditional portable generator isn’t, technically speaking, clean (when we compare it with the utility’s supply).

On a macro level, the output waveform of the generator’s electricity is still a sinusoid. But when you dig a little bit deeper and look at things at a micro level, the sinusoid doesn’t look very clean with several spikes and distortions.

An inverter generator doesn’t provide the output of the alternator directly. It first rectifies the AC signal into DC Signal. The DC Signal is then inverted back to AC Signal.

Hence, the inverter generator takes the “dirty” power from the alternator and converts it to clean power.

How an Inverter Generator Works?

Here’s a simple explanation of how an inverter generator works. The main source of power in the case of an inverter generator is a fuel-burning internal combustion engine. Speaking of fuel, gasoline is the popular choice but propane is also quite common.

Regardless of the type of fuel, the internal combustion engine burns it and converts the energy into rotational energy (by rotating a shaft).

At the other end of the rotary shaft, we have the alternator, which converts this rotational energy into electrical energy (electricity). There is a lot of electromagnetic theory involved in the working of an alternator and we made a separate article on this topic.

The output of the alternator is, well, an alternating current or AC. A rectifier circuit takes this AC and converts it into DC (Direct Current).

Next, the DC Signal passes through an Inverter Circuit, which “Inverts” the DC Power back to AC Power.

If you are familiar with computer UPS and Home Inverters, this is exactly what happens there. There, the DC Power of the battery is “inverted” to AC. Here, instead of the battery as a source of DC, the inverter generator converts the AC from the alternator to DC using rectification.

As the inverter circuit implements an intelligent microprocessor system, it keeps track of the frequency and voltage of the output AC Power. If it finds any variations or deviations, it immediately makes corrections to produce clean and stable AC Power.

This AC Power is available through the outlet ports (receptacles) on the front panel of the generator. You can plug all your devices and appliances here and run them.

Control Unit in Inverter Generator

An important part of the inverter generator is a special circuit known as the Control Unit. The job of this control unit is to monitor the power demand and automatically adjust the speed of the engine so that the generator produces the right amount of power for the load. This helps to improve fuel efficiency and reduce noise.

This kind of system is absent in traditional portable generators. Hence, the engine in those generators runs at a constant speed regardless of the power requirements of the load.

Key Points about Inverter Generator

Now that we have seen what is an Inverter Generator and how it works, let us understand a bit more about Inverter Generators.

Clean and Stable Power

From the above discussion, it is clear that the output of an Inverter Generator is very clean and stable. But where is this useful?

All modern electronics with Switching Power Supplies such as computers, laptops, TVs, power adapters for smartphones, tablets, and other sensitive devices need clean power without any spikes or surges.

If you plug these devices into the output ports of traditional portable generators, then there is a chance that the “dirty” power from the generator can kill the power supplies in those electronic devices.

But the output of inverter generators is very clean. The voltage and frequency are also stable. Hence, you can plug in all your sensitive electronics without fear of damaging or destroying them.

Varying Engine Speed

Another important feature of the Inverter Generator is its ability to vary the speed of the engine depending on the size of the load. If you have a 2,000-Watt Inverter Generator, you may not necessarily use all the 2,000 Watts from it all the time.

Depending on your requirements, you will plug and unplug the devices and appliances from the generator. What we are trying to say here is that the amount of load is not constant but varies from time to time.

If the load is not constant, why should be the output power of the generator? This is where the variable engine speed on Inverter Generators come into play.

In traditional portable generators, the engine speed is usually fixed regardless of the amount of load connected to the generator. But in Inverter Generators, a special module in the generator monitors the load, and depending on the demand (or lack thereof), it adjusts the speed of the engine.

This greatly improves the overall efficiency of the generator. The fuel consumption of the inverter generator reduces due to varying engine speeds. With low fuel consumption, the runtime of the generator improves greatly.

You can run the inverter generator on a single tank (or one tank of propane) for a really long time depending on the load you connected to it.

Another key advantage of variable engine speed of inverter generators is low noise levels. At low engine speeds, the noise of the generator will be very low. So, you don’t have to worry about disturbing others and use the generator even during the night times.

Small and Compact

Similar to other portable generators, inverter generators are also small devices. Due to the internal construction and usage of a lot of solid-state electronics, the size of inverter generators is even more compact.

Most inverter generators in the market come with a carry handle and/or wheels. You can easily carry or move them from one location to other or transport them in RVs or campers.

If you compare the size-to-power ratio of a traditional portable generator and an inverter generator, the former wins by a decent margin.

Parallel Operation

You bought a tiny inverter generating assuming that it is sufficient for your power requirements. Now you are running the generator at full capacity but still couldn’t fulfill the power needs.

Many inverter generator owners find themselves in a similar situation. This is where the “Parallel Operation” of the Inverter Generators comes in handy.

Most inverter generators in the market support parallel operation i.e., connect two generators in parallel and extract the combined output from them. If both the inverter generators are identical, then theoretically you can get double the power from them.

This is a very useful feature as you don’t have to purchase a new, large, and obviously expensive generator. Just buy a small inverter generator that is the same or similar to the one you already own and connect them in parallel.

You might need to purchase a Generator Parallel Kit, but the overall cost of doubling the output power is significantly less than what you would spend on a single large generator.

Other Features

Most modern portable generators are very safe devices with many safety features. Even Inverter Generators incorporate several safety measures so that there is no harm or danger to the operator, appliances or devices, or the generator itself.

One very useful safety feature is Auto Shutoff. Inverter Generators have several temperature sensors that constantly monitor the temperature of the generator unit.

If it detects an abnormally high temperature i.e., the generator starts to overheat, then the system intervenes and shuts down the generator. If the engine oil level is low, even then the generator automatically shuts down.

These safety features are on the inside. Coming to the external safety features, the output is driven through a circuit breaker so that the load cannot draw more than the rated current.

Inverter generators are available in a variety of sizes and power outputs. If you are looking for a portable generator for camping trips or tailgating, then a small inverter generator (with a power rating of 2,000 Watts) will serve you well.

But if you need a generator as an emergency backup power solution for your home or small business, then a slightly larger inverter generator (with a power rating of 3,500 to 4,000 Watts) is a better option.

Advantages of Inverter Generators

Here is a list of the main advantages of inverter generators:

  • Inverter generators are small, compact, and generally lighter than traditional portable generators. You can easily move them around, carry them, or even transport them at the back of your RV.
  • The ability of Inverter generators to adjust the speed of the engine speed as per the demands of the load means they are much more fuel-efficient than traditional portable generators.
  • If you are worried about the noise from the generator then you don’t have to worry with Inverter generators as they produce very less noise than traditional portable generators. The low-noise operation is very useful for outdoor activities such as camping, tailgating, etc. You can use the inverter generator in a residential neighborhood without worrying about a noise complaint.
  • The main selling point of an Inverter Generator is how clean its output power is. So, if you plan to run a lot of sensitive electronics such as computers, stereo, audio, etc., then it is very safe for them.
  • Speaking of safety, inverter generators come with an auto shutoff feature, where the unit shuts itself down if it detects any overheating. We have circuit breakers on the output side to protect from overcurrent.
  • You can use the Inverter generator in a wide range of applications. Emergency power backup system for homes small businesses, camping, recreational activities, worksites, and many more.
  • Last but not least, unlike other types of portable generators, the majority of inverter generators support parallel operation. You can connect two compatible inverter generators in parallel and extract double the power from them.

Disadvantages of Inverter Generators

Here are some of the main disadvantages of inverter generators:

  • The first and main disadvantage of Inverter generators is cost. When you compare the price of traditional portable generators with similar power inverter generators, then the cost of inverter generators will be very high.
  • While we said the small and compact design of inverter generators is an advantage, there is a disadvantage hidden behind this. If you take a similar-sized inverter generator and a traditional portable generator, then the power rating of the inverter generator is very low.
  • Due to their low power output, inverter generators are generally not recommended to run power tools and power-hungry electrical appliances.
  • Inverter Generators contain both mechanical and electronic components. Their overall design is very complex when we compare it with traditional portable generators. This means it becomes very difficult for any repairs.
  • Even with better fuel efficiency, smaller inverter generators have short run times. So, you have to refuel (or replace the propane tank) very frequently if you use the generator for a continuous period.

Applications of Inverter Generators

Here are some of the main applications of inverter generators:

  • The main reason one buys a portable generator is to use them during emergencies. Inverter Generators are very useful devices during power outages. You can use them as backup power systems for homes, small offices and businesses, RVs, etc.
  • Inverter Generators come in handy in places where there is no access to utility power. Job sites and remote work locations can use inverter generators to power different tools. But keep in mind that the power rating of inverter generators is usually less than that of traditional portable generators. So, check the power rating before plugging in any power tools.
  • If you are planning a camping trip with your family, then a small inverter generator becomes essential. You can go hunting, fishing, or any other outdoor recreational activities without worrying about power.
  • You can also use inverter generators to provide power at outdoor events like concerts, festivals, and family gatherings.
  • While large medical facilities have automatic standby power supply, a tiny inverter generator can be useful to operate any medical devices or equipment in case of an emergency.

These are some of the main applications of inverter generators. Depending on your specific needs and requirements, an inverter generator may be an ideal solution for your portable power needs.


Inverter generators are an excellent choice for a variety of applications, from camping trips and tailgating to emergency backup power for homes and small businesses.

They are designed to produce clean and stable power, which is essential for protecting sensitive electronics, and are fuel-efficient and compact, making them easy to transport and set up.

Additionally, they are designed to be safe and equipped with a range of safety features to prevent electrical malfunctions and damage to sensitive electronics. With a wide range of sizes and power outputs available, it is easy to find an inverter generator that is right for your needs.

In this guide, we saw the basics of an inverter generator and answered the question “What is an inverter generator?”. Additionally, we also saw how an inverter generator works, its advantages, disadvantages, and applications.

We hope that this guide on Inverter Generators could help you understand the essentials of these portable generators. If you feel we missed something or want us to add anything, do let us know in the comments section. It will not only help us but even other readers.

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