What is an Inverter? A Beginner’s Guide

By Neil Vorster

In a world where electricity powers virtually everything we use, devices like inverters play a crucial role in ensuring a consistent and efficient power supply. You might have heard the term "inverter" before, but what exactly is it? In this article, we'll dive into the world of inverters, exploring their purpose, how they work at home, their different types, and some commonly asked questions.

Understanding the Purpose of an Inverter

An inverter, simply put, is an electronic device that converts direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC). This transformation is vital because many of our home appliances and electronics run on AC power, while sources like batteries provide DC power. In essence, an inverter acts as a bridge, allowing us to use DC power from sources like batteries to run AC-powered devices, such as laptops, refrigerators, and televisions.

How Does an Inverter Work at Home?

For the technical enthusiasts, here's a closer look at how inverters work. Inverters use a combination of electronic components to convert DC to AC. They utilize switches, such as metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) or insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), to rapidly switch the DC input on and off. This switching creates a waveform that resembles AC power. However, the quality of this waveform varies depending on the type of inverter.

The Merits of Pure Sine Wave Inverters

For the technical aficionados, let's delve into the benefits of pure sine wave inverters. These inverters produce a clean and smooth sine wave output that replicates the quality of utility grid power. This matters because many sensitive electronics, like laptops and medical equipment, require a stable and clean power supply to function optimally. Pure sine wave inverters eliminate the risk of damaging equipment due to irregular power output, making them an excellent choice for both residential and commercial use.

In contrast, modified sine wave inverters produce a stepped waveform that might not be compatible with certain electronics. This type of inverter is suitable for basic appliances, but it can cause issues with more delicate devices. Therefore, if you're looking for a versatile and reliable power source, investing in a pure sine wave inverter is a wise choice.

What is an Inverter in Simple Words?

In simpler terms, an inverter is like a translator for electricity. Imagine you have a friend who only speaks one language, while you understand another. An inverter steps in and translates your language into your friend's language so you can communicate effectively. Similarly, it takes the energy from sources like batteries (which speak the language of direct current, DC) and translates it into a form that household appliances can understand (alternating current, AC).

Does an Inverter Need a Battery?

This brings us to a common question: does an inverter need a battery to function? The answer depends on the type of inverter and its purpose. Standalone inverters, which are commonly used for backup power during outages, require a battery to store the converted energy. When the grid power goes out, the inverter draws energy from the battery and converts it to AC power for your devices.

On the other hand, grid-tied inverters used in solar power systems don't necessarily need batteries. These inverters convert the DC power generated by solar panels into AC power that can be used in your home or fed back into the grid. Batteries can be added to these systems for energy storage, but they aren't a requirement for basic grid-tied functionality.


Inverters are the unsung heroes of our modern power-hungry Load shedding world. They enable us to use various devices and appliances seamlessly by converting DC power into the AC power that our homes and businesses rely on. Whether it's the convenience of running electronics during a blackout or the efficiency of solar power systems, inverters play a vital role in keeping our lives powered.

For those interested in exploring further, products like the Home Inverter and seeking guidance from South Africa's inverter and solar energy experts can offer valuable insights. Additionally, understanding South Africa's solar tax breaks and the impact of increasing load shedding is essential in navigating the energy landscape.


Why would you use an inverter?

Inverters find their place in various scenarios where different types of power sources and devices need to work harmoniously. One common use is during power outages. By connecting an inverter to a battery, you can ensure a backup power supply to keep essential devices running when the main power grid fails. Inverters are also crucial in renewable energy systems, like solar panels. They convert the DC power generated by solar panels into AC power that can be used in your home or fed back into the grid. Furthermore, if you're on the move, inverters come in handy to power your devices from a vehicle's battery, making road trips and camping experiences much more comfortable.

How does an inverter work at home?

For home use, an inverter is like a diligent translator between different power languages. It takes the direct current (DC) energy stored in batteries or generated by solar panels and transforms it into the alternating current (AC) that our household appliances require. Using electronic components like switches, it rapidly turns the DC input on and off, producing a waveform that mimics the AC power supplied by the grid. This clever translation enables us to charge our phones, watch TV, and keep the lights on, all powered by different sources.

Does an inverter charge a battery?

Yes, some types of inverters have the capability to charge batteries. In a setup like this, the inverter acts as a two-way street. When the grid power is available or a renewable energy source like solar panels is active, the inverter converts excess energy to charge the connected batteries. Then, when the power goes out or the solar panels aren't generating enough electricity, the inverter taps into the stored energy from the batteries and converts it to AC power to keep your devices running smoothly.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et nam dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco nam laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in adec voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur.

What are the disadvantages of an inverter?

While inverters are incredibly useful, they do come with a few downsides. One of the primary disadvantages is efficiency loss. The process of converting DC to AC isn't 100% efficient, meaning some energy is lost as heat during the conversion. Additionally, cheaper or modified sine wave inverters can produce a less smooth waveform, which might cause issues or inefficiencies with sensitive electronic devices. Moreover, inverters that rely on batteries for backup power require maintenance and replacement over time, adding to the overall cost. Lastly, inverters that feed excess energy back into the grid might require special equipment and monitoring to ensure compatibility and safety.

About the author

Property Investment Coach
Off The Grid Power consultant
BSc Eng - (Wits) 1985

Neil Vorster

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