What is an inverter? What are the different types of inverters? Which inverter is good for my van? Which one can I use in my off-grid cabin? These and many more are the questions I attempt to answer in this article.
An inverter is an electronic device that converts direct current (DC) from batteries or solar panels to alternating current (AC) similar to what your electric company supplies.
What you may need to know also is that there are 3 main categories of off-grid inverters. And for each category, they could come in 4 main input voltages and 2 main output voltages. Don’t worry, if you don’t know all this, I will explain them later. So there are at least 24 different types of inverters in the market today.
This page is about off-grid inverters. There are grid-tied inverters that convert DC from solar panels to AC connected directly to your electricity supply grid.
Here is a list of the different types of inverters (off-grid inverter categories).
- Input Voltage – 12V, 24V, 36V, 48V
- Output Voltage – 110/120V or 220/240V
- Waveform – Pure Sine Wave or Modified Sine Wave
- Design – Low-Frequency Pure sinewave or High-Frequency Pure sinewave
- Functionality – Inverter or Inverter Charger.
If you already know about inverters and you just want to compare the top inverters in the market then go ahead and pick from our list below.
- Best 1000 watt inverter
- Best 1500 watt inverter
- Best 2000 watt inverter
- Best 3000 watt inverter
- Best 4000 watt inverter
- Best 5000 watt inverter
Different Types of Inverters by Output Waveforms
The output waveform refers to how close the “quality” of the electric current is to the one supplied by the grid or the generator.
What is a Modified Sine Wave Inverter?
What is a Pure Sine Wave Inverter?
The pure sine wave inverters are better and more expensive. The current they produce is very similar to the current supplied by the electric grid. On the other hand, the modified sine wave inverters are cheap and are suitable for most applications except the sensitive equipment.
There are two types of pure sine wave inverters – low-frequency (LF) pure sine wave inverters and high-frequency (HF) pure sine wave inverters.
What is a Low Frequency Pure Sine Wave Inverter?
The Low Frequency (LF) inverters use a big copper transformer – bigger, heavier, and more expensive. They are also better with equipment that requires high starting power, such as compressors and air-conditioners, especially if you regularly use this equipment and for long periods.
What is a High-Frequency Pure Sine Wave Inverter?
The HF inverters use smaller transformers and electronic components. They are lighter in weight and are less expensive. These are good for the occasional user. There is no need to spend so much money on an inverter if you will only use it for a few hours a week. These inverters are also perfect for electronic equipment and smaller devices, even when using them for several hours daily.
As you choose your pure sine wave inverter today, make sure you choose the one most suitable for your needs. The more expensive ones are the LF inverters, and the less expensive ones are the HF inverters.
Types of Inverters categorized by Input Voltage.
The most popular types of an inverter with regards to input voltage are the 12V inverters. This is so because most car batteries and other batteries are 12 volts batteries.
If you want to convert the current from your car battery to an alternating current to charge your laptop, you need a 12V inverter.
However, it is usually better for off-grid solar systems to set up a 24V, 36V, or 48V system to reduce the amount of power lost due to the heating of the battery cables.
For an off-grid solar system with a 24V, 36V, or 48V deep cycle battery bank, you would need a 24V, 36V, or 48V inverter.
Here is our list of inverters by input voltage
Types of Inverters categorized by Output Voltage
There are 2 major alternating output currents used all over the world. In North America, we use 110/120 Volts for most appliances and devices and 220/240 for a few appliances like a stove, dryers, etc.
When you think of buying an inverter in the USA or Canada, we usually think of an inverter that outputs AC at 110/120 Volts. However, in the UK, Europe, and most parts of Africa, they think of inverters that output AC at 220/240 volts.
There are a few inverters sold in the USA and Canada that output AC at 240V. I am yet to review those.
All the inverters that I have reviewed or listed on this site are 110/120 Volts output.
Types of Inverters by Functionality
When it comes to the functionality of inverters, there are 2 main types. The 2 main types include those below.
- Inverters (Simple inverters)
- Inverter-Chargers (Both an inverter and a battery charger)
Criteria for choosing an Inverter
Picking the right inverter is a very critical choice. To make the process as easy as possible for you, we have put together a list of key points to consider.
It is important to determine the wattage required to operate the electronic appliances that are normally used. You should confirm the exact power output of all your electronics, appliances, and accessories. You may find it convenient to purchase an inverter large enough to meet your power needs. This decision’s drawback will be the added cost of the inverter, labor, and a more expensive battery bank. Do not underestimate normal usage; doing so will only lead to disappointment and more expenses.
The image below should give you an idea.
Depending on how you plan on using your inverter, you would need to decide if you want an inverter with a display or not. Some higher-quality inverters do not have displays.
I prefer one with a display. If you would be connecting to a solar charge controller, you can see most of the same information on the charger controller.
Some of the information you can read from the display include.
- Amount of Load in watts
- Battery Voltage
- Warning Indicators
The number of power outlets
Power inverters are available with single outlets to power one device and multiple outlets to simultaneously power multiple devices. You need to decide the number of power outlets you would require.
Take note some inverters that have two or more power outlets share the power between these outlets. That means if you have a 2000 Watt inverter with 2 power outlets, the maximum power you can draw from one outlet is 1000Watts. Many people do not notice this because they usually do not buy a 2000 watt inverter to power just one appliance with a 1500 watt continuous power requirement.
If you plan on connecting your inverter to your distribution box, then all you need to find out if the inverter has a hardwired port.
The number of USB Ports
Some power inverters come with Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports. These ports allow you to charge your cell phones, laptops, game consoles, power tools, and other electronics. They come in conjunction with the power outlets.
The safety features that come with inverters these days are:
- Overload shutdown
- Overvoltage shutdown
- Under-voltage shutdown
- High-Temperature shutdown
- Short-circuit shutdown
- Reverse polarity protection
Check to see if the inverter has all these features. Not all of them have reverse polarity protection features. It may not be worth the price difference to insist on one that has reverse polarity protection.
Measure the space where you would like to place the inverter. Get the length, width, and height. If the height is not at issue, then get the length and the width. When choosing the right inverter, compare your space with that of the inverter. Remember to leave some space around the inverter to connect your battery cables and for ventilation. Inverters need good airflow.
If you plan to use your inverter at night, find out how noisy the cooling fan is. If you choose one that has a noisy fan, it can get very annoying very quickly.
I suggest you buy an inverter that is tested and meets the safety standards in North America or Internationally. Check if it is certified according to UL468 or CSA C22.2. This means that the inverters have been tested and certified that the inverter would not heat up and set your home on fire or electrocute you.