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Portable Generator vs Inverter Generator: What to Choose?

Portable Generator vs Inverter Generator
Written by Jamie Masterson

If you’re wondering whether a portable or an inverter generator will serve you better, we’re here to make up your mind.

Here we weighed in the pros and cons of both types and see which is better for what type of user.

Portable Generators – A Quick Look

A conventional portable generator produces electricity by an eternal combustion engine. The main job of this engine is to transform the chemical energy inside the fuel into electrical energy. They usually run on gasoline, diesel, or LPG (Propane).

Portable generators

The engine powers a motor that in turn, produces AC power. A mechanical alternator is attached to the motor and the motor needs to run at a constant speed (3600 RPM) to generate electricity. Usually, these generators are cheaper, bulky, heavy, and noisy.

The quality of the electricity produced by this type of generator limits its application. They are not capable enough to handle sensitive electrical equipment.

Inverter Generators – A Quick Look

The basic principle of converting chemical energy into electrical energy is the same here. The key difference between an inverter generator and a conventional portable generator is the process and quality of power generated. They are more expensive and for good reasons.

Unlike using two separate chambers for the engine and the motor, an inverter generator fuses them into one chamber and produces DC current. The DC power then gets inverted back into AC power through a digital inverter. That’s why they are smaller, lighter, and less noisy.

Inverter generators

Inverter generators are fuel-efficient by design. They produce a cleaner, smoother, and consistent power supply that can take good care of your sensitive eclectic equipment.

Portable Generator vs Inverter Generator: How They Differ

1. Size and weight

Portable

Conventional generators have two separate chambers for the IC engine and the motor that produces power. That’s why they can generate power for a long period of time. Portable generators can produce higher output compared to inverter generators.

Usually, a standard unit capable of powering a home is around 100lbs in weight.

Size and weight of portable generator vs inverter generator

Inverter

As I’ve mentioned earlier, an inverter generator uses one single chamber for its engine and motor. That way, the weight, and size of the unit can be reduced significantly. Inverter generators are almost half in size and weight compared to conventional portable generators.

Usually, a medium-sized unit of inverter generator weighs around 40-60lbs.

2. Current

Portable

A portable generator produces decent quality AC output. This AC output power also comes with voltage fluctuation, meaning the quality of the power isn’t consistent. The output quality also depends on the load. They work most efficiently when they are used to their full capacity.

Inverter

Inverter generators generate electricity in three phases. First, the machine produces AC power output through the engine and the motor.  The power is then converted into DC power, and inverted back into AC power again via a digital alternator.

how-does-an-inverter-generator-work

This produces a cleaner energy output with a harmonic distortion of less than 5%. This higher-quality power is perfect for your sensitive electrical utilities like laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

3. Power/Fuel Efficiency

Portable

The Internal combustion engine inside a traditional portable generator needs to run at a constant RPM to produce electricity. That’s why they are loud and work the best at full capacity. Portable generators can produce a much higher amount of power.

Their big fuel tanks also allow them to produce power for a long time. However, conventional portable generators aren’t fuel-efficient. Usually, they produce 500-50,000 watts of power.

Portable generator Fuel Efficiency

Inverter

Inverter generators, on the other hand, produce a significantly lower amount of power compared to the traditional portable generator units. With their small tanks, they can’t provide support for your extended uses for a long time. However, they’re more energy-efficient.

With higher-end electrical equipment, inverter generators can control the speed of the motor depending on the load, which allows them to run at a lower RPM than the traditional portable generator, producing a much quieter noise.  They usually generate around 1200-4000 watts.

4. Portability

Portable

Due to their bulky nature, traditional portable generators are less portable. To improve their portability, manufacturers equip them with inflatable wheel kits and handles.

Places that need higher energy output and are okay with less portability are perfect for setting up a portable generator. Most of them weigh over 100lbs.

Portability

Inverter

Inverter generators are, on the other hand, much more portable than their conventional counterparts. They have a smaller engine compartment and fuel tank, which significantly reduces their size and weight.

You can easily carry a portable unit in your hand. That’s why it can be the perfect travel companion. It’s just like carrying a slightly heavy box.

5. Noise

Portable

Conventional portable generators need to maintain a constant speed in their motor to generate electricity. They need at least 3600 RPM speed to produce power and are bound to work at the same level throughout the process. That’s why they’re notorious for the loud noise they produce.

Noise

Inverter

In comparison, the motor speed of an inverter generator can be changed depending on the load, which allows the engine to run at a much quieter level. They also are equipped with special built-in mufflers and sound dampening technology that reduce the noise.

As a result, they’re the perfect equipment for noise-sensitive environments.

6. Price

Portable

Even though a conventional generator produces much more power and can support your energy needs for a long time, the disadvantage they bring also plays a significant role in their price.

In comparison to the inverter generator, a portable generator is cheaper, bulkier, and heavier. A conventional portable generator can cost you around $170-1200.

Price

Inverter

Despite being able to produce much less power than a traditional portable generator, Inverter generators are a bit more expensive, mainly because of the higher-end equipment used in the machine and the superior quality of power they generate.

You can find a medium-sized inverter generator for around $400-900. The price ranges from $200 all the way up to $4000.

7. Emissions

Portable

The basic working principle of a generator involves burning fuels and generating power. As a result, both the conventional and the inverter generators emit some level of pollutants in the environment. The amount is significantly more in a conventional portable generator.

Some models, despite being CARB and EPA certified, aren’t CARB compliant. That means they exceed the standard emission limitation and have a comparatively more negative impact on the environment.

Emissions

Inverter

Inverter generators are equipped with advanced technologies to minimize emissions. That is a big reason why the inverter generators are more expensive. Having a smaller fuel tank and being fuel-efficient also contribute to the minimal emission.

Conventional portable generators have restrictions to be used in nature reserves or parks due to their higher emission count. The more eco-friendly inverter generators can be used anywhere that has a medium level of power demand.

8. Connection

Portable

Portable and inverter generators also differ in the quality of power they produce. Traditional generators don’t come equipped with parallel connections, meaning you can’t connect two units together in case you need more power.

A traditional portable generator can generate power starting from 500 watts, all the way up to 50,000 watts. As a result, they don’t usually need a parallel connection.

Connection

Inverter

Inverter generators add a layer of convenience with the capability to add parallel connections. Standard inverter generators can produce around 1,000 to 4,000 watts.

If you want more power than that, you can connect multiple units in a parallel connection, essentially increasing the output by almost double. This gives the inverter generators a distinctive edge over the traditional inverter generators.

Portable Generator vs Inverter Generator: Pros and Cons

Portable generator

Pros

  • Produces much more power
  • Can produce power for a long time
  • More affordable
  • Perfect for places/events with a high power requirement

Portable generator

Cons

  • Produces loud noise (around 63dB)
  • Not eco-friendly
  • Bulky and heavy, so less portable
  • Not fuel-efficient
  • Not good for sensitive equipment

Inverter generator

Pros

  • More fuel-efficient (30%)
  • Produces cleaner energy
  • Compact and lighter in design, so more portable
  • Eco-friendly
  • Can be used in a parallel combination
  • Requires less maintenance
  • Produces less noise (around 55-59dB)
  • Perfect for powering sensitive electrical appliances

Inverter generator

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Can’t produce a high amount of energy
  • Can’t power your appliances for a long time

Portable Generator vs Inverter Generator: Which One to Choose?

This will greatly depend on how much power you need, for how long, and how clean energy you are looking for. If you need more power for an extensive period of time, investing in a conventional portable generator will work the best for you.

However, you may need to deal with issues like less clean energy, more environmental pollution (air and sound), and less portability. Places that require a heavy-duty and uninterrupted power supply (Ex: construction sites, shopping malls, and homes) need portable generators.

Traditional vs Inverter Generator

On the other hand, if your goal is to achieve better fuel economy and cleaner, quieter energy; an inverter generator will be your best bet. They are worth the extra money as they produce cleaner energy with much less noise than their conventional counterparts.

Not only do they produce cleaner energy, but they also provide better fuel efficiency while emitting much less noise and pollutants. If you don’t have any issues with paying the extra price, the inverter generators are clearly the better choice in general.

Places that require clean energy e.g. to run sensitive electrical appliances (smart TVs, laptops, smartphones, tablets) will be greatly benefited from an inverter unit.

FAQs

1. When should I use an inverter generator?

Ans: Any place that requires a steady and clean power supply can use an inverter generator. They are mainly used to power small businesses and sensitive electrical appliances. They are a perfect power source for your —

  • Camping trips
  • Outdoor adventures
  • Fishing/kayaking trips
  • Boat trips
  • RVs
  • Small parties

2. How much do inverter generators cost?

Ans: Around $200-4000. The price depends on the size and power output capacity of the machine. The more output you require, the more the price goes up. You can get a decent quality inverter generator for around $400-900.

3. Can an inverter generator run a refrigerator?

Ans: Yes, of course. An inverter generator produces high-quality, 60Hz -120volt AC power that can power all of your household appliances, including your refrigerator.

About the author

Jamie Masterson

With decade-long experience as a generator technician, Jamie has worked with USA’s top generator manufacturers and suppliers as an independent contractor.

The long years of service to the industry has taught Jamie the ins and outs of troubleshooting, repairing, and maintaining all kinds of generators in home, industrial and outdoor settings.

Jamie thinks this platform is a great opportunity to share his tips and tricks with you so you can make the most of such power equipment for better living.

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