Difference Between Conventional and Inverter Generators – Which One’s Best For You?

I am not a person who likes to touch hot stuff, so I had never actually tried an electric generator. However, I did hear some wonderful things about their types and decided to give them a try, so I did. They are pretty neat little things. I want to introduce you to two popular types of generators available on the market. The conventional generator and the inverter generator. So if you are investing in a generator & want to know about the difference between a generator and an inverter, this article is specifically for you.

Generators are a great investment as they are an extremely affordable way to generate electricity. Yet, having a generator on hand doesn’t come without its pitfalls. There is a considerable difference between the two types of generators I have mentioned, the main being how they work and what you get out of them. The inverter generator is often referred to as a portable generator. The conventional generators are known as residential generators. Due to the similarity in the usage of these generators, you may be confused about the differences. 

Let’s get to know more about both of them.

What Is a Conventional Generator?

The most common type of generators you’ll see lying around are the conventional generators. Noisy, emitting loud clanking noises, chucking out exhaust gases, and sometimes even shaking the ground with their frequency of vibrations are some of their standout characteristics. 

How Does It Work

A conventional generator produces electricity as output by converting the rotational kinetic energy obtained from an external source. That mechanical energy is obtained from an engine that rotates an alternator to produce an Alternating Current or AC. The engines typically run on gasoline, propane, or even diesel. 

What Are Its Main Characteristics

Conventional generators use a variety of fuels for their operations. Smaller generators with a low electrical output usually run on gasoline. Generators with more power output and large engines normally use diesel, natural gas, or propane (both liquid and gas) as fuel. The latest technologies have led to the incorporation of duel-fuel modes in certain latest models of conventional generators.

You may also be able to spot the bigger generators, outside corporate offices or banks, enclosed in acoustic cabinet/canopy to reduce the noise levels and keep them safe from the weather conditions.

The engine of the conventional generator runs at a constant speed of 3600 RPM to rotate the alternator to produce 120V/60 Hz AC which is then supplied to the electrical appliances. Any fluctuations in the engine speed will directly affect the generator output, so for constant power output, the variations in the engine speed are avoided.

The power output of these generators ranges from a few hundreds of watts up to more than 10-20 kW or even 50 kW. Such a wide range of options make it easy for you to choose the one best suited to your needs.

Pros of Using a Conventional Generator

Conventional generators have been in use for a very long time. Let’s see if their benefits outweigh their drawbacks.

1. Fuel Storage

Conventional generators are heavier and larger. They also have a bigger fuel capacity which means that you can continuously run them for extended periods without worrying about their refueling now and then.

2. Cost-Effectiveness

A conventional portable generator is significantly cheaper. It’s probably one of the major reasons that their use is so common. Depending on the power generation capacity, the prices can range from $250-300 (for used ones or new ones with lesser wattage) to a few thousand dollars.

3. High Power Output

If you have some power-hungry electrical appliances that you want to run, conventional generators are the ones to fulfill your needs. Due to their massive power output, they are used to run heavy machinery for a long time. With other kinds of generators, you won’t have this luxury. This is one of the major differences between the conventional and an inverter generator.

4. Easy Availability

Due to their common usage, conventional generators are easily and readily available. Additionally, maintaining and servicing them is pretty convenient. Even a lawnmower technician can service a traditional generator. 

You may come across the generator dealers and the maintenance and servicing shops now and then.

Cons of Using a Conventional Generator

They do have their advantages but are still not as beneficial as reflected by their widespread use. Let me shed some light on their common drawbacks. 

1. Low Efficiency

Conventional generators have a relatively lower efficiency. They operate at a constant RPM of 3600, so their voltage and power output level do not fluctuate much even when the full output power is not being utilized. Other generators, like the inverter generator, are much more efficient than the conventional ones. 

This lower efficiency translates into more usage of fuel for lesser power requirements.

2. High Maintenance Costs

High maintenance costs in the long run due to excessive wear and tear of the parts are a significant drawback of conventional generators. Some of its parts, like the carburetor, require regular checking and maintenance.

3. Low Output Quality

The output quality of the conventional generators is not exactly a pure sine wave AC. The power is directly given to the electrical appliances without any significant processing or rectification, so the power quality is lower than other types of generators that can produce AC without distortions. 

This drawback renders them useless for those electrical appliances that are very sensitive to fluctuations in current.

4. Harmful Exhaust Gases

Increased usage of fossil fuels in conventional generators leads to an increase in the levels of CO2 and other harmful gases that aren’t exactly environment-friendly. They have to be placed in well-ventilated areas to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Additionally, they produce a lot of heat which dissipates into the atmosphere. And if they are placed any closer to the living spaces, the heat generation is an additional issue.

5. Noise Pollution

The conventional generators run at a constant speed. When a load is connected to them, the engine starts throttling up and produces a lot of noise that can be as loud as a chainsaw. The latest models are being developed with mufflers or coming in the market enclosed in canopies or enclosures to dampen the sound.

6. Heavy & Bulky

Conventional generators are heavy and bulky, and relocating the bigger ones needs quite a bit of effort. Most generators come equipped with handles and wheels for easier transportation, but the older versions don’t have a metal frame or wheels.

What Is An Inverter Generator?

A more fancy type of generator with a stylish look and awesome design is the inverter generator. It’s one of the latest offerings our technology industry has to offer. For low power requirements, it’s getting quite common among the folks now who are in for a more reliable piece of technology in the power industry.

How Does It Work

An inverter generator has four main components;

  • Inverter
  • Engine
  • Rectifier
  • Alternator

The alternator produces a high-frequency 3-phase AC with the help of rotational kinetic energy. The AC is then rectified to a DC and then transferred to the inverter built in the inverter generator. This DC has to be rectified again to a full sine wave AC used in various electrical machines.

The engine speed mostly varies with the load requirements. A higher engine speed generates more current and vice versa.

What Are Its Main Characteristics

An inverter generator works as per the requirements of its load. When you plug in a few more appliances and more output is needed, the engine speeds up to produce more power while keeping the frequency of the AC same. Inverter generators are compatible with solar products as well.

Due to the mechanical difference in the production of electricity, inverter generators cannot produce as much power as bigger conventional generators. Inverter generators also don’t have bigger fuel tanks, but this drawback is compensated by the fact that they are much more fuel-efficient than traditional generators. Their smaller sizes also mean that they are not very bulky and heavy.

Inverter generators look more trendy and attractive in designs. They have low noise levels during the operations due to output variations. The engine is enclosed in a casing for sound insulation that further reduces the noise levels.

Pros of Using An Inverter Generator

There are numerous advantages of inverter generators that make them worthy of the price you buy them. I’ll enlist them below.

1. Fuel Efficiency

Inverter generators have smaller fuel tanks and cannot store much fuel for their operations. But the fact that they are very fuel-efficient makes up for this issue. The fuel efficiency is due to automatic adjustment of the engine speed depending on the output power requirements. The engine does not have to keep running at full speed at all times like the conventional generator. It will only work at full pace when its maximum rated output power is required.

2. Output Quality

The technology used in the inverter generators enables them to produce a perfect sine wave AC without any fluctuations or total harmonic distortion. The rectification in the inverter allows the output AC to be safely used for even those appliances that are prone to damages due to fluctuations in current. 

Hence, the production of cleaner power is a standout feature of inverter generators.

3. Low Noise

The small engines of the inverter generators run at a steady pace, producing much less noise pollution than the conventional generators. The mufflers and engine casing further reduce the sound production. You’ll have no issue sleeping at night, even when an inverter generator is running right outside your window.

4. Low Maintenance Costs

Inverter generators are easy to maintain and have low maintenance costs. The main part of their maintenance is related to battery inspection every four weeks or so. That marks a contrast difference from the conventional generators, whose maintenance costs can get pretty high after prolonged usage.

5. Efficient Portability

The smaller and lighter designs of the inverter generators allow them to be transported easily from one place to another. They are compact and portable. This feature makes them an ideal choice to use for outdoor activities, camping trips, etc.

6. Low Emissions

Due to less fuel consumption and usage of environment-friendly technology, inverter generators produce much fewer emissions than conventional generators. The heat production is also low, and due to variable engine speed, the release of CO2 is also kept at optimum levels.

Cons of Using an Inverter Generator

Well, the list of benefits of using an inverter generator is pretty long. But it not all. The usage of inverter generators does have some drawbacks as well. 

1. High Cost

The initial cost is a huge difference between a conventional and inverter generator. The cost of inverter generators is a major stumbling block in their popularity as it could be more than two to five times the price of conventional generators. Such hefty price tags put many people off from buying them. 

2. Low Output Power

The output power level is a major difference between the inverter generators and the conventional generators. A standard inverter generator has a maximum output of four to five thousand watts and can only run a few household appliances. You’ll have to run several generators in parallel to get an increase in the power output if you need it in a large amount. 

Difference Between A Conventional & Inverter Generator

I have mentioned the pros and cons of both a conventional and inverter generator both. I’ll now compare their features so that you may know which one is best suited to your needs and preference.

1. Power Quality/Current

  • In conventional generators, the output is directly connected to load, so the current produced is not perfectly a pure sine wave AC. There’s more harmonic distortion, so the current quality is pretty low.
  • Inverter generators produce a perfect sine wave AC with the help of capacitors and an inverter. The process of rectification is pretty smooth, so the output current is of high quality.

2. Power Output

  • High power output capability is the benchmark of conventional generators. Their power output can range from a few hundred watts to 50 kW.
  • Inverter generators usually have a very low power output. Standard inverter generators have a maximum power output of 5 kW.

3. Fuel Efficiency and Run Time

  • Conventional generators have their engines running at a constant speed irrespective of the load requirements. Hence they are not fuel-efficient. But due to their large fuel tanks, they have a longer run time.
  • Inverter generators are very fuel-efficient as their engine speed varies with the output requirements. They have smaller fuel tanks, so their run time is comparatively lesser. They are usually 20 – 40% more fuel-efficient than conventional generators.

4. Features – The Option of Parallel Connections

  • There’s no need to combine the conventional generators to increase the output. You may easily get your hands on such a generator that can exactly match your power requirements. Generators of up to 50 kW are available to a wide range of generators makes choosing the perfect one hassle-free.
  • As the power output of the inverter generator is very low, you can combine as many as you need of the same model in parallel connections to add up their power for additional output.

5. Portability – Size and Weight

  • Conventional generators are large and bulky. Older models don’t even have the wheels and handle installed for moving them from one place to another. Although the newer models have a frame and wheels, moving them is still cumbersome due to their large designs and heavier parts.
  • Inverter generators are small and compact. Their portability is a major convenience. They do not have a lot of weight, so they can be moved around easily. 

6. Noise

  • One of the major differences in the functionalities of a conventional generator and an inverter generator is noise production. Conventional generators produce a lot of noise, especially when they are powering heavy loads.
  • Inverter generators are relatively much quieter. Their mufflers and enclosures dampen the sound production. You can even have a normal conversation around an inverter generator without being disturbed.

7. Emissions

  • Conventional generators emit a lot of harmful greenhouse gases because of increased fuel consumption. There is no control or check over their production.
  • Inverter generators produce much fewer emissions due to higher efficiency and lesser fuel usage.

8. Maintenance

  • The maintenance of the conventional generators is going to cost you a fortune in the long run. They need a good check-up after almost every 100 hours of usage. Plus, many expensive parts like the fuel lines, carburetor, etc., need to be replaced after prolonged use.
  • Inverter generators do not cost much in terms of maintenance. You have to look after the battery—no extra spending.

9. Price/Value

  • Conventional generators are not expensive. They do not have any fancy technology or standout features that require the use of costly parts.
  • Inverter generators are pretty expensive comparatively. Due to the use of advanced tech, it can cost as high as five to six times the cost of a conventional generator.

When to Use a Conventional Generator

If you have higher power requirements, like over 5 kW, I suggest that you go for a conventional generator. It’s best for running more and bigger household appliances or office machinery.

Due to the massive power output options, a conventional generator can provide, you can also use it on your worksites to run jackhammers, welding equipment, etc. They are sturdy and bulky and can weather harsh conditions more conveniently than other kinds of generators. 

When to Use an Inverter Generator

Inverter generators are compact and light, which helps them in their transportation and portability. If your power requirements are limited and you don’t take the high price into account, an inverter generator is the best choice for you. 

Getting an inverter generator will also reinforce your preference for fuel efficiency, cleaner energy, and safer and quality power for your sensitive electrical equipment. 

Are you thinking about going camping or powering up a small workplace? An inverter generator is the best choice for you.

Which Generator Is Better, Conventional Or Inverter?

Both the types vary a lot and are used for different applications. I cannot answer which one is better because it depends upon your usage, preferences, and requirements. Conventional generators produce a lot of power and are inexpensive but are noisy, bulky, and less fuel-efficient. On the other hand, inverter generators are compact, fuel-efficient, deliver quality power, and are much quieter. But their high price is a major drawback (consider buying second hand if cost is a major consideration).

Conclusion

You’ll only be able to decide freely and proficiently about which generator you should go for if you thoroughly know about the differences between the conventional and an inverter generator. I have tried to make your decision-making process easier by providing you all the necessary information here.

If you want to manage the power requirements of a large house or a workplace with heavy machinery, conventional generators are for you. They can power pretty much anything for you. 

If you are an avid camper or just want to power a small house or a few rooms occasionally, inverter generators are the best choice for you. You’d be able to safely use their output for your sensitive equipment like laptops, phones, TV, etc.

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