The basic design of a portable generator has remained largely the same since they were first invented, but technology marches on, and one of the most recent advances in portable generator design has proven to be one of the most useful and popular. Inverter generators function in the same basic manner as any other generator -- petrol, diesel or gas goes in, electrical power comes out -- but the manner in which they produce this electrical power is distinctly different from the way conventional generators operate, and can be advantageous in a number of situations.
What are inverter generators, and how do they differ from conventional generators?
A conventional portable generator functions very simply; liquid or gaseous fuel is burned, activating an alternator which converts the energy released by the brning fuel into conventional energy. Inverter generators are different in that the electrical energy produces is converted from alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC), and then back to AC before the electricity is sent to whatever the generator is powering.
This process may seem redundant at first, but converting the electrical current to DC at an interim stage allows an inverted generator to control the power of the electricity it produces based on demand; when power demands are low, the rate at which fuel is burned is slowed, and vice versa. As such, an inverter generator powering a small hand drill will produce much less energy, and therefore burn much less fuel, than the same model powering a large band saw or air compressor.
Should I hire an inverter generator instead of a conventional generator?
The added functionality of inverter generators gives them a number of attractive advantages over conventional models; most importantly, they can be significantly cheaper to run. If you only intend to run low power appliances with your generator, such as portable electric stoves or handheld tools, even very small conventional generators can be considered overkill, burning far more fuel than is required to power your appliances. Inverter generators are therefore ideal for residential hire, and are particularly useful for powering low-power equipment (such as floodlights and fans) during power outages.
However, there are also other advantages to choosing an inverter generator. As a general rule, they tend to be smaller and lighter than conventional equivalents (although exceptions do exist), and produce significantly less noise, especially when running at modest power levels. Since they burn less fuel under most circumstances, they also produce less exhaust gases, making them more suitable for use in locations with limited ventilation.
Unfortunately, there is one disadvantages to hiring inverter generators; cost. They are more expensive to manufacture and maintain than traditional generators, and these added costs are passed on to the consumer. If you only intend to hire a generator for a short period of time, the savings you make in running costs can be cancelled out by increased hire prices, so inverter generators are usually better suited for long-term hire.