What Is A Power Inverter and How Is it Used?

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Go Socket Power Inverter

This is our backup inverter.
It is a 1500W Go-Socket.

If you’re just learning about alternative energy or maybe just toying with the idea of getting off the grid, you may not have heard about the nifty device called a power inverter.

There are so many different components of an off the grid home and I find them all fascinating. Hopefully you do too! Today, I’ll be introducing you to inverters and explaining why you’ll need one.

What Is an Inverter Anyway?

Okay let’s get right to it. An inverter is a device that takes low voltage DC (direct current) electricity and converts it into higher voltage AC (alternating current) electricity. If this all sounds Greek to you, let me break it down for you a bit more.

There are two kinds of electricity that you need to know about. The first is DC; this is the kind of power that is stored in your car battery. It’s also the kind of power that alternative energy generators such as solar panels and wind turbines produce. Nearly all modern vehicles in the US require 12 volts of DC power to run things like the lights, radios, windshield wipers, and heater blowers. Think of “volts” as how strong the power is. The higher the number, the stronger the power.

Most homes in the United States require power what is called AC electricity. Your lamps, vacuum cleaners, blenders, TV’s VCR’s and other devices won’t work unless they are plugged into a power outlet that supplies 120V AC power. Since most of us live in homes and not in our cars, it’s this AC power that we’ll ultimately require.

So, if solar panels produce low voltage DC power and our home appliances require high voltage AC power, we need some way to convert this lower voltage electricity into a form of power that we can use in our homes. This is the job of the power inverter. Alternative energy homes can be set up as 12, 24, 36, or 48 volt systems. This means that you must use a power inverter that is rated for the voltage of power that it will be supplied with from your battery bank.

Some Of The Different Types Of Power Inverters

The most common type of power inverter is the type that we use at our off the grid cabin. It’s sole function is to output 120V AC electricity. There are other types of inverters that serve multiple functions that are worth mentioning.

The first that comes to mind is what is known as an “inverter/charger”. This type of inverter can pull double duty and function as a battery charger. Let’s imagine that you have a few cloudy days where the sun isn’t producing enough electricity to meet the demands of your home. An inverter/charger can either be connected to a backup generator or the power grid and charge your batteries when your battery bank isn’t getting enough juice from your alternative energy power sources.

Another type is called a “grid tie inverter”. These devices are connected to both your battery bank and the electric company’s power grid. They draw power from your battery bank to meet the demands of your home but if the energy that is stored in your batteries isn’t sufficient, they switch over and allow power to flow into your home through the grid.

No matter what kind of an off the grid system you end up going with, you’ll need some form of a DC to AC power inverter. Some people try and make use of DC appliances in their off grid home when they can but it’s inevitable that you’ll have devices that require AC power that you’ll want to run. This is why all of us “green power nuts” own and love the 12v to 120v inverter.

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