The Don Rowe Blog

Mar 24

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Power Inverters and Power Converters—Alike, Yet Different

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It’s probably a good guess that most people would find the comparison between power inverters and power converters to be somewhat confusing.   To begin with, the similarities between inverters and converters lie in the fact that both pieces of equipment are electrical devices and both convert, or change, in their own ways, the form of voltage.  It’s the changing the form of voltage that quickly separates these two valuable pieces of equipment.  An inverter does not increase or decrease the voltage of the current but simply converts it from one form to another.  A converter, however, will alter the voltage of the current.  Technically, both devices are transformers, but they perform much different functions.  Since the type of voltage is what draws the line in the sand, power inverters and power converters will differ regarding function, application and limitation, as well.  After it’s all said and done, the electricity produced is either alternating current, AC, or direct current, DC.

The DC/AC Concept Is Simple:

DC electricity is available in familiar devices such as batteries and fuel cells.  The battery in your car, for example, runs on DC power.   Whenever you’ve plugged your cell phone or a child’s DVD player into the electrical outlet in your car, the hand-held, plug-in device you used to get your gadgets powered and running was a power inverter; you just may not have known it.  Once the inverter was plugged in, to charge your devices, the DC electricity from the car’s battery was literally changed from direct current electricity to alternating current electricity.

An inverter possesses many small transformers that continuously turn on and off, resulting in reshaping the DC into AC power.   Alternating current is a high-power voltage that has the ability to change direction; hence the term ‘alternating’.   AC reverses direction on a regular basis where its polarity continually changes  from positive to negative, anywhere from 50 to 60 times per second.   DC, on the other hand, is a low-power, single polarity voltage that is uni-directional and flows in only one direction.

As stated, a power converter changes AC into DC which means the incoming AC is modified into either a higher or lower electrical output.  The converter simply increases or decreases the voltage, depending on the need.    One example would be European countries that utilize 110 volts instead of the 220 volts we are familiar with in the United States.    American tourists in Europe would need to use a converter they could plug into an outlet in their Munich hotel, for instance, in order to change the 110 volts into the required 220 volts that American gadgets are designed for.    Another more sophisticated example would involve power stations that use converters known as step-up or step-down transformers.   These converters prepare the electricity to be lowered a number of times before reaching homes and businesses.  As far as the electric grid is concerned, micro-inverters convert DC power from solar panels to AC for the grid system.

An Electricity-Dependent Planet:

Regardless of size, when you think of all the equipment, gadgets, accessories, parts, appliances and  contraptions that require electricity to perform everyday tasks in this world, one begins to realize and appreciate the immense role inverters and converters play—they do, indeed, make our world go ‘round!

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