What Is an Inverter Generator? 

With extreme weather events constantly on the rise and aging electrical grid infrastructure increasingly unable to meet demands, more and more people are searching for off-grid power sources to provide home backup and energy security.

Inverter generators are a viable option for home backup power and off-grid electricity, but they’re not the only ones — nor are traditional inverter generators typically the best choice.

Read on to find out more about inverter generators, how they work, and why a hybrid inverter generator may be the best choice for you.

So, What Are Inverter Generators?

Like traditional generators, inverter generators run on fossil fuels — typically gas, propane (LPG), or diesel.

However, inverter generators have significant advantages over old-school gas generators, including:

  • Reduced Fuel Costs and Consumption: Inverter generators throttle up and down depending on how much electricity you consume. Traditional generators only run at full speed. By only burning as much fuel as you need at any given moment, an inverter generator can cut down on fuel costs and consumption.
  • “Cleaner” AC Power: The AC output produced by traditional gas generators is often referred to as “dirty power.”

    “Dirty” electricity is a blanket term that describes a variety of undesirable artifacts produced by mechanical generators. These include voltage and frequency variations, dips and surges in power, shorter engine lifespans, and electrical interference like jagged sine waveforms and electromagnetic noise.

    Dirty power can easily damage sensitive electronics like computers, hard drives, and medical devices.

    Inverter generators smooth out sine waves and reduce electrical fluctuations by processing dirty power before output. An inverter typically produces “cleaner” electricity than traditional fossil fuel generators but may still be ill-suited for sensitive devices. 

    It’s essential to note: Traditional inverter generators produce carbon monoxide and other toxic emissions and must never be used indoors.
      
  • Less Noisy: Inverter generators tend to be quieter than traditional gas and diesel generators. – particularly when not operating at full throttle. Less operating noise makes them a better choice for outdoor applications — like camping and RV power — where traditional generator use may be restricted or banned.

What Is a Hybrid Inverter Generator?

Hybrid inverter generators — like EcoFlow’s DELTA Pro + Smart Generator (Dual Fuel) — provide the familiarity and convenience of gas and propane generators with multiple improvements and additional benefits.

EcoFlow’s DELTA Series portable power stations combine industry-leading LiFePO4 battery storage and rapid charging with Smart Generators that run on gas and propane, AC (household electricity), and solar panels.

EcoFlow’s Smart Generator (Dual Fuel) can be used as a traditional standalone inverter generator with outstanding performance.

But combining a high-efficiency gas and propane inverter generator with whole home backup or off-grid battery power offers numerous advantages.

  • Multiple Fuel and Charging Options: Inverter and traditional fossil fuel generators, solar panels, on-grid (AC) utility power, DC (car adapter), 800W alternator charger, EV charging stations, home EV piles, Smart Home Panel.          
  • Energy Security: Gasoline, propane, and diesel fuel are easily obtained — except during extreme weather events and other emergencies. If you’re caught in a wildfire, hurricane, or other disaster, even a trip to the gas station might be out of the question.

    Having multiple charging options—including clean, renewable solar power — makes it far less likely that you’ll go without backup power when you need it most.  
  • Uninterrupted Power In a Blackout: Many inverter generators must be switched on manually during a power outage. By integrating a standby generator like EcoFlow DELTA Pro Ultra with your home circuitry using an automatic transfer switch or Smart Home Panel 2, you’ll have uninterrupted power you can count on during an outage. No more fumbling for a flashlight and manual starting cables.   
  • Indoor Use: No generator that burns fossil fuels can be operated indoors. That includes traditional inverter generators like EcoFlow Smart Generator (Dual Fuel).

    Not only can you not operate large standby and whole-home generators that run on gas, propane, or diesel inside the house, but you must also install them a safe distance from your home. A 20-foot distance from your home is the typical recommendation, often required by law. A concrete pad may need to be built to stabilize the unit.

    As noted above, EcoFlow’s Smart Generators also can’t be operated indoors, but you can use them to recharge your DELTA Series portable power station. EcoFlow’s portable power stations and solar generators are entirely safe to operate anywhere in your home.     
  • Whisper Quiet Operation: Not only do EcoFlow’s portable power stations produce no harmful emissions, but they’re silent enough to run in the baby room.

    A recent 5-star customer review of the EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max called it “Ninja Quiet and Super Impressive!”

(Source: Hearing Health Foundation)

And no wonder, with operating noise levels as low as 30 decibels, you won’t even hear that it’s there.

How Does an Inverter Generator Work?

Like all fossil fuel-based generators that produce electricity, inverter generators use an engine (prime mover) to burn gasoline, diesel, natural gas, or propane and an alternator to convert it into alternating current (AC power).

The combination of an electrical generator and engine is sometimes referred to as a gen-set, but it’s more frequently just called a generator.

In a traditional generator, the engine burns fossil fuel like gas or propane to rotate a shaft. 

The engine shaft turns one of the two alternator components: the rotor. The rotor induces power in the other alternator part: the stator.

The alternating current (AV) produced by the engine and alternator is fed directly into a control panel for output.

Depending on the model, you can plug appliances directly into a traditional generator or use a transfer switch to integrate it with home circuitry.

Traditional fossil fuel generators and inverter generators share basic principles of electricity production and essential components.

However, inverter generators apply additional processing to the AC power produced by the engine and alternator before outputting it for consumption.   

Inverter generators use a rectifier to convert AC power to direct current (DC) power and back to AC for consumption.

The inversion process provides several desirable outcomes: 

  • Total harmonic distortion (THD) can be reduced to 1% or lower, producing “cleaner” electricity. THD (noise) in “dirty” power from traditional generators is as high as 25%.
  • Pure-sine wave inverters produce electricity suitable for use with sensitive electronics like computers, hard drives, and servers.
  • Unlike traditional generators, inverters enable engine throttling based on consumption, resulting in higher fuel efficiency.
  • Quieter operation — especially with closed-frame inverter generators.  

What Are Inverter Generators Used For?

Inverter generators are typically used for portable off-grid applications but may also be used in residential standby and whole-home backup power systems.

Because of AC output limitations, inverter generators are rarely used in three-phase electrical, high-wattage, or industrial applications. 

Here is a summary of the most popular traditional inverter generator applications.

Portable Off-Grid Power

Inverter generators have numerous advantages over traditional gas generators for portable off-grid power, particularly if you’re often running at less than the maximum load.

Most portable off-grid generators offer around 2000W maximum AC output. 

If you frequently consume only 1000W of simultaneous power while operating devices and appliances, you’ll use about half the fuel with an inverter than with a conventional 2000W gas generator.  

Unlike inverters, traditional gas generators run only at full throttle. 

Any electricity produced that is not instantly consumed goes to waste.

Inverter generators may burn less fuel by throttling based on consumption, but hybrid inverter generators provide even better fuel efficiency.

Any electricity generated above your consumption is stored in a portable power station battery for later use.

Recreational Vehicles and Van Life

Before portable solar generators became widely available, fossil-fuel generators were the best choice for extended periods of boondocking in an RV.

Many essentials (and luxuries) of life on the road are unavailable without a generator or access to shore power.

Inverters are quieter and more fuel-efficient than conventional gas, propane, or diesel portable and tow-behind generators for RVs.

As long as your electricity consumption doesn’t exceed the inverter’s maximum AC output, you’ll waste less fuel and not have to deal with the thundering roar of a conventional gas generator.   

Your passengers — and other drivers — will appreciate the relative quiet.

However, even though inverter generators are less noisy than conventional models, they may not be quiet enough to escape restrictions on use in some campgrounds and parks. 

If you want to enjoy the silence in the great outdoors, a hybrid generator that offers solar and gas generator charging — like EcoFlow DELTA Pro — is a much better option.

With the new EcoFlow 800W Alternator Charger, you can also recharge your DELTA Series hybrid inverter generator on the go.  

Essential Home Backup

Inverter generators can be a viable option for essential home backup, provided you have a suitable space for outdoor installation.

However, portable inverter generators rarely output enough AC electricity to power more than a few appliances at once. 

For high-wattage applications that require 3kW or more running or starting watts, hybrid inverter generators that provide home backup battery storage + solar and gas generator charging are a much better choice.

For example, EcoFlow’s DELTA Pro Ultra provides up to 21.6kW of continuous AC output and is expandable to 90kWh of storage.

Unlike traditional fossil fuel and inverter generators, you get multiple charging options, so you never have to worry about running out of gas.

EcoFlow DELTA Pro Ultra Charging Inputs

Charging MethodMaximum Input (1 x Inverter) Maximum Input (2 x Inverter) Maximum Input (3 x Inverter) 
Solar Charging5600W11200W16800W
AC Input (Wall Socket)3000W6000W9000W
AC Input Smart Home Panel 2 (Wired)7200W14400W21600W
AC Input EV Pile (Wired)7200W14400W21600W
Fossil Fuel  Generator (Cable)7200W14400W21600W
EcoFlow Smart Generator (Dual Fuel)1800W3600W5400W
Multicharge8800W17600W26400W

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Inverter Generators Be Used Indoors?

Absolutely not. Using any generator that burns fossil fuels like gasoline, propane, oil, or diesel indoors or in an unventilated space can result in serious injury or death. Carbon monoxide poisoning from generators kills thousands of people each year. Inverters provide “cleaner” electricity than the “dirty” power from traditional generators. But “dirty” refers to electrical distortion, not toxic emissions from fuel.

Does an Inverter Generator Produce More Power?

No. Traditional inverter generators are designed to be portable and aren’t suited for high-wattage applications. Conventional generators, solar generators, or hybrid inverter + battery systems are more commonly used for whole-home backup. Inverters provide better fuel efficiency for low-wattage applications than traditional gas, diesel, or propane portable generators by throttling up or down based on consumption. However, the maximum AC output wattage per unit is limited compared to solar and conventional standby generators.

Final Thoughts

Inverters are a viable alternative to conventional gas, propane, and fossil-fuel-burning generators for off-grid power applications with light electrical loads.

Unfortunately, despite benefits like greater fuel efficiency, “cleaner” power, and quieter operation, traditional inverters share many of the shortcomings of all fossil fuel generators, including:

  • No indoor use
  • Fossil fuel dependence
  • Carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes
  • Significant greenhouse gas emissions and an increased carbon footprint  

Fortunately, there are better alternatives.

If you’re not interested in switching to solar or worry about energy security due to a lack of sunlight, EcoFlow’s hybrid inverter generators let you produce and store electricity using gas or propane, among many other recharging options.

No matter what your off-grid and whole home backup power needs, EcoFlow has a solution for you.

ECOFLOW
ECOFLOWhttps://www.ecoflow.com/
EcoFlow is a portable power and renewable energy solutions company. Since its founding in 2017, EcoFlow has provided peace-of-mind power to customers in over 85 markets through its DELTA and RIVER product lines of portable power stations and eco-friendly accessories.

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