What is a Power Inverter?

Many household appliances need AC power to run. The wall sockets at your home or office supply single phase AC (Alternating Current) power (voltage level depends on your geographic location) which can be used to plug in desired appliances.

However, a battery cannot supply AC power. It can only supply DC (Direct Current) that is not usable for running common appliances like a refrigerator or a television. A power inverter, in short, is simply a device that converts DC power to AC power. Hence, in the absence of a reliable AC supply, the inverter can be connected to a battery and used to operate devices that would not be usable otherwise.

From a technical perspective, a power inverter converts the DC waveform from a battery into a sinusoidal AC supply that can power home appliances. It is usually connected to a 12V battery (or multiple 12V batteries connected in parallel to increase the power rating) from which it draws power.

The 12 V DC supply is converted to 120 V AC supply. Inverters can also be supplied from 6 V, 24 V and 48 V batteries.  You can plug in any device like a microwave, television, blender, coffee-maker and even power tools to the inverter now and get to work. As the battery is basically just a storage device, it needs to be recharged periodically after the inverter has drawn its juice.

Where can you use a Power Inverter?

In terms of usage, a power inverter is an extremely flexible device and can be used to power a variety of appliances, right from laser printers, entertainment units, laboratory equipment and the stuff in your kitchen to heavy duty machines like washers and dryers.

The inverter enables access to portable power, where you need it, when you need it. Due to its versatility, it may be used in many different ways- it can be used as emergency backup power in your home, it can be used in camping trips and also on mobile vehicles like RVs, food trucks and boats. Let us explore the many different ways in which you can use a power inverter further in this article.

Using a Power Inverter as Emergency Backup at home

Inverters are a great way to restore power at home in case of emergencies. During power outages (especially in the winter when you cannot afford to have the heating system break down), the inverter can be used to run essential devices like the refrigerator and heating or air-conditioning systems.

Most people prefer to hook up the inverters to their car batteries, placing the inverter close to the car and away from weather elements. A 1750 Watt inverter is best suited for such applications. It is advisable to use ring terminals for connecting the inverter to the battery instead of jumper cables to avoid loose wires.

Some commercially available inverters are also capable of being connected to the car battery through the cigarette lighter port on your dashboard.

Although the inverter will work even if the car is not running, it is advised to keep the car running while the inverter is in use. This will ensure that the battery is not discharged during periods of prolonged use. Homes without vehicles can buy rechargeable 12V batteries for use during outages.

The most reliable solution would be having a battery bank in place for emergency backup, but such a solution would be pretty expensive. When using batteries, it is essential to charge at regular intervals. Otherwise the battery will go into deep discharge mode, which will deter battery life.

An inverter is rated in Watts. The manufacturer specifies two different ratings for the inverter- the continuous Wattage rating determines the power it can handle over a long period of time and the surge rating determines the amount of overload the inverter can withstand for a split second. A 1500-1750 W inverter is suitable for keeping home appliances like refrigerators and microwaves running for three-four hours, as long as the battery lasts. (The inverter rating has to be matched to the total load that you want to operate.

However, the inverter itself does not produce any power, it simply converts the power from the battery into a form suitable for AC appliances. Hence, if the batteries feeding it run out, the inverter will not be able to operate any machine.

Using a Power Inverter for Camping

Perhaps you want to enjoy a quiet weekend off the grid but would like to have access to power to charge your phone, laptop, camera and coffee maker.

An inverter can help you have such a portable power source. Since the power needs during a camping trip is not very high (unless you are planning to carry a refrigerator, air conditioning and washing machine with you into the woods), you can make do with a relatively inexpensive inverter.

Electronic loads like laptop and  cellphone chargers usually have very light power requirements. A modified sine wave inverter rated at about 1000 Watts would serve your purpose. It is best to carry a couple of batteries with you to supply the inverter, although you could use your car batteries (this might not be the best option if your camping trip is going to be relatively wrong and you run the risk of running out of gas).

VRLA (Valve Regulated Lead Acid) or Lithium ion batteries are the safest options to use. These batteries can be recharged as well.

Using a Power Inverter inside a Mobile Vehicle

You might want to hit the road on a RV, go on a sailing trip on your yacht or maybe you operate your business out of a food truck. In all of these cases, a power inverter can be used to power up necessary appliances like refrigerators, lights, coffee makers and microwaves.

Using a power inverter along with a battery bank is more environmentally friendly than having a diesel generator mounted on your vehicle. Moreover, especially if you run a food truck, placement of diesel generators within the truck is in violation of health regulations. This is because many regulatory bodies consider exhaust from a generator hazardous.

A 1750 Watt inverter seems well-suited for use within a mobile vehicle. However, the inverter rating must be decided based on the wattage of the appliances that need to be run. If you want a light duty inverter, you may opt for a modified sine wave inverter over a pure sine wave inverter. An inverter along with a battery bank is a robust and reliable power supply solution.

There are many reasons to use a power inverter. It is versatile, portable and can be easily carried to remote locations. The inverter generates less noise than a diesel generator (no complaining neighbors!), is environment-friendly and makes life really easy.

It is a mature technology and is available in a variety of configurations and ratings. The wide range of options makes finding something tailor-made for your intended operation really easy.  However, one needs to remember that the inverter wattage rating needs to match the load that you wish to run.

A reliable battery set up is required to feed the inverter when traditional AC supply is not available. If the batteries run out, the inverter will not be able to power up loads on its own.