Nigeria’s power sector has shown little or no sign of improvement since its privatization. This has led to the continuous dependence of Nigerians on alternative sources of power. In recent times, petrol and diesel generators were the most popular alternatives, however, due to recent technological advances, other alternative sources of power have been introduced.
With so many choices to pick from, a major problem now is picking the right alternative source of power. One has to pick an option which ensures basic power demands are met with minimal cost.
In times past, a small generator set was typically chosen as the reliable alternative to power. The noise and smoke it generated was a small price to pay. Nowadays, people mention inverters and these inverters have gained a lot of popularity.
What’s the difference?
An inverter is a device which draws power from a DC (Direct Current) source and converts the DC power to AC (Alternating Current) power. An inverter can be connected to multiple batteries to become an integrated system that stores electrical power when there is a power source feeding it. When the inverter isn’t being fed power (i.e. charged), it discharges its already stored power.
An inverter can be charged using the normal grid electricity (the mains) or using a solar panel or even a generator.
On the other hand, a generator is an AC power supply that uses fossil fuels (like petrol or diesel) as its main source of consumptive energy. Its engine spins a rotating shaft which uses magnets and electrical windings to create electrical AC current.
Why inverters are better than generators?
One may argue that choosing an inverter or a generator as an alternative source mainly depends on the load demand. Nevertheless, in a like for like comparison, an inverter comes on top on the following factors:
Owning & Running Cost
When the long-term cost implication of owning & running a generator of any size is compared to owning an inverter of an equal size, owners can save as much as 35 to 50% annually.
For instance, the cost of buying & running a fuel powered generator of 1.5 kVa would amount to an estimated ₦727,000 per annum (if run for 10 hours per day with pump fuel price at ₦145/L) while its counterpart inverter would cost ₦380,000 (which is usually on just the initial price). This translates to 47.7% in savings.
Inverters use technology which allows them to adjust their output power to suit the amount of power needed, this makes them very efficient as no energy is wasted. Generators run at a constant speed and consume the same amount of fuel no matter the load.
One of the biggest advantages inverters have over generators is that they don’t require costly or frequent maintenance. Inverter batteries are inspected and serviced once in 12 to 18 months. Asides that, there isn’t much to do. Generators, meanwhile, require periodic maintenance to ensure proper operation. The oil needs to be changed every 200 hours of use. Also, you will need to drain the fuel from the engine if it won’t be used for more than 30 days.
With an inverter, you don’t have to switch it on once the power from the mains is gone. It operates like a UPS and takes over as long as the batteries are charged. However, for a generator, one has to turn it on once a power outage occurs.
The same goes for when power has been restored; an inverter keeps working like nothing happened but a generator must be turned off and the power source changed.
Low Levels of Pollution
Generators are usually very noisy and run at a constant speed of 3600rpm to produce electricity. On the other hand, inverters can adjust the amount of power produced using microprocessors. This makes it run much quieter than generators.
Also, generators produce high levels of carbon emissions which is not good for individuals and the environment.
Size & Portability
Inverters are generally small and light. They are quite portable and can easily be transported. The same thing can’t be said about their generator counterparts. Generators are typically bulky and heavy. Relocating them requires more than a few hands or a big metal frame and wheels.
While they can technically be moved, generators lack the convenience factors found in inverters.
Peak Output Power
Peak output power is the ability of a power source to provide more than its rated power to start a load. Due to its inherent operating characteristics, a conventional generator has poor peak power capability.
Despite an inverter’s compact size, an inverter can outperform a generator because it has very high peak power capability. Pure sine wave inverters have peak output power ratings that are 3 to 4 times the number of its continuous rating.