|What to Look for in an Inverter surge
Most inverters will deliver two to three times their continuous rated power
depending on the design. This surge capacity allows the inverter to deliver
enough power to start large electric motors such as pump motors and power
All inverters use some power even when no loads are turned on. This is the idle
current of the inverter. It is a fixed amount and is always present as a load
on your battery when your inverter is turned on. Some inverters have a search
mode which reduces idle current by turning the inverter on and off every second
to search for a load. If no load is present the inverter stays in search mode.
Many inverters feature built in battery chargers. This allows the battery to be
charged from an AC power source such as a generator or the utility. When an
inverter is used in a back up power system the battery charger is a key feature
of the inverter. If a significant amount of the power being delivered to your
battery is coming from a generator, battery charger size may be very important.
Having a charger that is too small will require running your generator for too
long under a low load to achieve a proper charge. It is most efficient to use
your generator to its maximum capacity so you can minimize the running time.
Modern inverters can achieve efficiencies as high as 95% and typically operate
above 85% at full power. Efficiency varies from model to model and according to
the relative load on the inverter. True sine wave inverters are usually less
efficient than modified sine wave inverters. Overall efficiency may be similar
due to the energy lost in the harmonics of a modified sine wave, especially
when running motor loads.
Generators and inverters are an ideal match. An inverter operates small loads
like lights and computers more efficiently than a generator. Large,
intermittent loads like pumps, power tools and microwaves are also perfect for
an inverter, but expensive to operate with a generator. Small jobs are tough on
a generator. Running diesel generators under low load causes excessive carbon
build-up on valves, shortening the generator's life. A generator drinks almost
as much fuel for light duty as it does for heavy duty.
Installing an inverter and battery bank allows the generator to operate as a
battery charger eliminating the need to run the generator all the time. When
the generator is off, loads are powered by the inverter (taking energy from the
batteries). Today's solid state inverters can start and run difficult motors
like washing machines, submersible pumps, table saws, air compressors, etc. A
small inverter can also be used to run a small load a long distance from the
batteries, such as a light down at the dock, saving the cost of heavy DC
Battery and Inverter Subsystem
The heart of most stand alone alternate energy systems is a battery and
inverter. If you are already using a gas or diesel generator you should
consider a battery and inverter subsystem. This allows you to achieve the
following benefits before making a decision about PV, wind or micro hydro.
AC power is available 24 hours a day with the flick of a switch.
The generator can be run at convenient times for direct AC power and
Generator operation is much more efficient.
Energy costs are lowered because generator run time is reduced.
Generator capacity is better utilized as a result of battery storage.
Chargers / Transfer Relay
Many inverters come with a built-in battery charger. This eliminates the
purchase of an additional component to charge your battery bank from grid power
or a generator. Most models with a charger have a built in transfer relay. This
allows a unit to operate AC loads directly from an external source (such as a
generator or grid power). All of the trace units are able to switch from
generator or grid power to inverter power fast enough to prevent computers or
electronics from crashing - allowing them to function as an uninterruptible
power supplies. Most of the electronic equipment (computers, network
components, phone system, web server) at Energy Alternatives is run through a
Trace inverter, providing us uninterrupted usage during power failures and
brownouts which happens several times a week. Our battery bank provides us
enough power to keep everything running for many hours during power outages.
Stacking two inverters together allows them to produce double their rated
capacity as well as 3-wire, 220 VAC power. This enables you to operate large
power tools, deep well pumps and any other load that requires 220 VAC power.