Put as simply as possible, a power inverter converts power from a DC source to an AC supply for use with standard household appliances and electronics. Without getting into electrical theory and circuit design, DC stands for ‘direct current’ and is the output of such power supplies as batteries and some generators. AC stands for ‘alternating current’ and is the output of power outlets in the common household.
So why are there two different standards for electricity? Well, because DC was invented first and widely popularized. Upon the advent of AC, society was too attached to their portable batteries to make DC obsolete. Power inverters have turned out to be a ‘fix’ for this problem. With the correct type, you can take your large screen television and PC/Laptop with you on a road trip, camping trip, or boating adventure.
As complicated as the choice for your purchase may seem, it is actually fairly simple. Find all of the electronics and appliances that you’ll want to run simultaneously and add up their running wattages. Once you have this number (barring some minor details below), all you have to do is purchase one with a wattage rating higher than that number.
Here come the minor details. Very high end appliances as well as oxygen concentrators, fax machines, laser printers, high voltage cordless tool chargers, variable speed motors, electric razors, and garage door openers will most likely need what is called a ‘true sine wave’ power inverter. These will run significantly higher in price than ‘modified sine wave’ inverters, or square wave power inverters, but have added flexibility and will allow most appliances to run more efficiently.
Advice for choosing your power inverter: decide how much you are willing to spend and buy the best power inverter that you can for that price. Why? Well…just because your 45″ 1080p flat screen television will run on a 500 Watt ‘modified sine wave’ power inverter does not mean that the picture would not look better on a ‘true sine wave’ power inverter. Plus, if you want to charge your digital camera battery while watching the beautiful TV you may have wished you purchased that 600+ Watt power inverter. Please make your own decision here, but realize that once you’ve purchased it you will be limited in your usage by the capability of the unit that you decided on.
Solar panels are a great technology that let you gather up energy from the sun and turn it into usable electricity. More and more people have turned to these panels to supplement the energy in their home because of the cost savings and benefit to the environment. There are several ways to use the energy that is collected, but unfortunately it rarely translates directly into usable electricity without additional components. One of those components is a solar power inverter.
You have to use solar power inverters in order to make use of the energy because it is naturally drawn in a DC, or direct current, format. Common electronics use AC, or alternating current, electricity which is also what is used in your home. A power inverter changes the DC signal to an AC signal so that electronics can be plugged in and make use of the energy source.
It will also be a good idea to look into grid tie inverters before you commit to any solar power inverter purchase. A grid tie inverter allows you to convert the electricity and run it into the electrical system of your home and potentially out onto the grid. This would allow you to use your alternate source of energy from within your home in combination with the regular electricity that you draw from your utility company. The best part is that once you have the system hooked up, you won’t really have to give it another thought; you can continue your normal electricity usage, which will just be supplemented from your alternate source.
A regular solar power inverter (non grid tying) will allow you to use the power generated from the solar panels but only when it is available at that exact moment. It is possible to set up a bank of batteries that are always getting depleted and recharged, but this is a serious undertaking that requires a significant amount of knowledge and experience.
No matter what your choice, the necessary power inverter will cost a fair bit of money. A small solar inverter for immediate power use should cost a couple hundred dollars or less, depending on the level of power output it can deliver. It will have outlets right on it so you can plug in your electronic devices.
Grid tie inverters, on the other hand, can cost several thousand dollars, but provide immense benefits. You not only reduce your utility bills but can actually ‘sell’ power back to the grid if you produce more than you use.
Some of the most helpful, yet fairly unknown tools are power inverters for cars. These inverters convert the power signal from the electrical system of the vehicle into a form that is usable by standard household electronics. This means that you can use all of your electronics inside your car or use the power inverter to provide electricity when you are doing an outdoor activity like camping when a standard power supply is not available.
These inverters for cars are designed to take advantage of the 12 volt outlet that is available in almost all vehicles, although sometimes it is labeled as a cigarette lighter in older cars. The power comes from the battery of the car, which provides a DC signal. The inverter changes the signal to a more usable AC signal so that more devices can take advantage of it.
Once you have the inverter plugged in and ready to go, you can use just about any electronic device that has a plug. For the most part, you can treat the power inverter as if it is an outlet on the wall of your home. However, there are some limitations to the type of things that can be used with it. The biggest limit that the inverter has is its watt output rating. This is the maximum power that it can deliver to devices that are plugged into it. If the device you are using needs more power than can be provided, then it simply won’t work.
The easy way to circumvent this issue is to purchase an inverter with the largest power rating possible. Usually the more power the device can provide, the higher the cost. However, with that higher cost comes a lot more possibilities and a lot less restrictions on use.
Although these aren’t the cheapest item you can buy, owning one does save you the trouble and cost of purchasing separate and unique car chargers for every small electronic device you own. You will be able to use your regular wall charger in conjunction with a car power inverter and achieve the exact same result.
Usually cheap power inverters for cars will run just over twenty dollars. These will have the most basic functionality, but will appease the average consumer. You can get significantly more features and capabilities for just thirty to fifty dollars though.