OTTO Technology Solutions

Power Inverters / Inverters

A power inverter, or inverter, is an electronic device or circuitry that changes direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). The input voltage, output voltage and frequency, and overall power handling depend on the design of the specific device or circuitry. The inverter does not produce any power; the power is provided by the DC source. A power inverter can be entirely electronic or may be a combination of mechanical effects (such as a rotary apparatus) and electronic circuitry. Static inverters do not use moving parts in the conversion process.


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Capabilities and Uses

We have a comprehensive range of Inverters and inverter related products to cover a wide range of uses including:

  • Camping
  • Solar systems
  • AC back-up systems
  • Mobile laboratories
  • Portable test centres
  • Military installations
  • ETC...

Inverter Technologies:

A typical power inverter device or circuit requires a relatively stable DC power source capable of supplying enough current for the intended power demands of the system. The input voltage depends on the design and purpose of the inverter.

Examples include:

  • 12 VDC, for smaller consumer and commercial inverters that typically run from a rechargeable 12V lead acid battery.
  • 24 and 48 VDC, which are common standards for home energy systems.
  • 200 to 400 VDC, when power is from photovoltaic solar panels.
  • 300 to 450 VDC, when power is from electric vehicle battery packs in vehicle-to-grid systems.
  • Hundreds of thousands of volts, where the inverter is part of a High voltage direct current power transmission system.

Output waveform:

An inverter can produce a square wave, modified sine wave, pulsed sine wave, or sine wave depending on circuit design. The two dominant commercialized waveform types of inverters as of 2007 are modified sine wave and sine wave.

There are two basic designs for producing household plug-in voltage from a lower-voltage DC source, the first of which uses a switching boost converter to produce a higher-voltage DC and then converts to AC. The second method converts DC to AC at battery level and uses a line-frequency transformer to create the output voltage.

Square wave:

This is one of the simplest waveforms an inverter design can produce and is useful for some applications.

Sine wave:

A power inverter device which produces a multiple step sinusoidal AC waveform is referred to as a sine wave inverter. To more clearly distinguish the inverters with outputs of much less distortion than the "modified sine wave" (three step) inverter designs, the manufacturers often use the phrase pure sine wave inverter. Almost all consumer grade inverters that are sold as a "pure sine wave inverter" do not produce a smooth sine wave output at all, just a less choppy output than the square wave (one step) and modified sine wave (three step) inverters. In this sense, the phrases "Pure sine wave" or "sine wave inverter" are misleading to the consumer. However, this is not critical for most electronics as they deal with the output quite well.

Where power inverter devices substitute for standard line power, a sine wave output is desirable because many electrical products are engineered to work best with a sine wave AC power source. The standard electric utility power attempts to provide a power source that is a good approximation of a sine wave.

Sine wave inverters with more than three steps in the wave output are more complex and have significantly higher cost than a modified sine wave, with only three steps, or square wave, (one step), types of the same power handling. Switch-mode power supply (SMPS) devices, such as personal computers or DVD players, function on quality modified sine wave power. AC motors directly operated on non-sinusoidal power may produce extra heat, may have different speed-torque characteristics, or may produce more audible noise than when running on sinusoidal power.

Modified sine wave:

A "modified sine wave" inverter has a non-square waveform that is a useful rough approximation of a sine wave for power translation purposes.

The waveform in commercially available modified-sine-wave inverters is a square wave with a pause before the polarity reversal, which only needs to cycle back and forth through a three-position switch that outputs forward, off, and reverse output at the pre-determined frequency. Switching states are developed for positive, negative and zero voltages. The peak voltage to RMS voltage do not maintain the same relationship as for a sine wave. The DC bus voltage may be actively regulated or the "on" and "off" times can be modified to maintain the same RMS value output up to the DC bus voltage to compensate for DC bus voltage variation.

The ratio of on to off time can be adjusted to vary the RMS voltage while maintaining a constant frequency with a technique called PWM. The generated gate pulses are given to each switch in accordance with the developed pattern and thus the output is obtained. Harmonic spectrum in the output depends on the width of the pulses and the modulation frequency. When operating induction motors, voltage harmonics are not of great concern; however, harmonic distortion in the current waveform introduces additional heating and can produce pulsating torques.

Numerous types of electric equipment will operate quite well on modified sine wave power inverter devices, especially any load that is resistive in nature such as a traditional incandescent light bulb. Most AC motors will run on MSW inverters with an efficiency reduction of about 20% due to the harmonic content. However, they may be quite noisy. A series LC filter tuned to the fundamental frequency may help.

Output Frequency:

The AC output frequency of a power inverter device is usually the same as standard power line frequency, 50 or 60 hertz. If the output of the device or circuit is to be further conditioned (for example stepped up) then the frequency may be much higher for good transformer efficiency.

Output Voltage:

The AC output voltage of a power inverter device is often the same as the standard power line voltage, such as household 120VAC or 240VAC. This allows the inverter to power numerous types of equipment designed to operate off the standard line power.

The designed-for output voltage is often provided as a regulated output. That is, changes in the load the inverter is driving will not result in an output voltage change from the inverter.

In a sophisticated inverter, the output voltage may be selectable or even continuously variable.

Output Power:

A power inverter will often have an overall power rating expressed in watts or kilowatts. This describes the power that will be available to the device the inverter is driving and, indirectly, the power that will be needed from the DC source. Smaller popular consumer and commercial devices designed to mimic line power typically range from 150 to 3000 watts.

Not all inverter applications are primarily concerned with brute power delivery; in some cases the frequency and or waveform properties are used by the follow-on circuit or device.


The runtime of an inverter is dependent on the battery power and the number of plugs utilizing the inverter at a given time. As the amount of equipment utilizing the inverter increases, the runtime will decrease. In order to prolong the runtime of an inverter, additional batteries can be added to the inverter.

When attempting to add more batteries to an inverter, there are two basic options for installation: Series Configuration and Parallel Configuration.

Series configuration:

If the goal is to increase the overall voltage of the inverter, one can daisy chain batteries in a Series Configuration. In a Series Configuration, if a single battery dies, the other batteries will not be able to power the load.

Parallel configuration:

On the other hand, if the goal is to increase capacity and prolong the runtime of the inverter, one can connect batteries/cells in a Parallel Configuration. In a Parallel Configuration, if a single battery dies, the other batteries will be able to power the load.

DC Power Source Utilization:

Inverter designed to provide 115 VAC from the 12 VDC source provided in an automobile. The unit shown provides up to 1.2 amperes of alternating current, or enough to power two sixty watt light bulbs.

An inverter converts the DC electricity from sources such as batteries or fuel cells to AC electricity. The electricity can be at any required voltage; in particular it can operate AC equipment designed for mains operation, or rectified to produce DC at any desired voltage.

Electric Motor Speed Control:

Inverter circuits designed to produce a variable output voltage range are often used within motor speed controllers. The DC power for the inverter section can be derived from a normal AC wall outlet or some other source. Control and feedback circuitry is used to adjust the final output of the inverter section which will ultimately determine the speed of the motor operating under its mechanical load. Motor speed control needs are numerous and include things like: industrial motor driven equipment, electric vehicles, rail transport systems, and power tools. Switching states are developed for positive, negative and zero voltages. The generated gate pulses are given to each switch in accordance with the developed pattern and thus the output is obtained.

Power Grid:

Grid-tied inverters are designed to feed into the electric power distribution system. They transfer synchronously with the line and have as little harmonic content as possible. They also need a means of detecting the presence of utility power for safety reasons, so as not to continue to dangerously feed power to the grid during a power outage.

Solar Inverters:

A solar inverter is a balance of system (BOS) component of a photovoltaic system and can be used for both, grid-connected and off-grid systems. Solar inverters have special functions adapted for use with photovoltaic arrays, including maximum power point tracking and anti-islanding protection. Solar micro-inverters differ from conventional converters, as an individual micro-converter is attached to each solar panel. This can improve the overall efficiency of the system. The output from several micro-inverters is then combined and often fed to the electrical grid.

Induction Heating:

Inverters convert low frequency main AC power to higher frequency for use in induction heating. To do this, AC power is first rectified to provide DC power. The inverter then changes the DC power to high frequency AC power. Due to the reduction in the number of DC Sources employed, the structure becomes more reliable and the output voltage has higher resolution due to an increase in the number of steps so that the reference sinusoidal voltage can be better achieved. This configuration has recently become very popular in AC power supply and adjustable speed drive applications. This new inverter can avoid extra clamping diodes or voltage balancing capacitors. There are three kinds of level shifted modulation techniques, namely:

  • Phase Opposition Disposition (POD)
  • Alternative Phase Opposition Disposition (APOD)
  • Phase Disposition (PD)

Circuit description:

Basic Design:

In one simple inverter circuit, DC power is connected to a transformer through the centre tap of the primary winding. A switch is rapidly switched back and forth to allow current to flow back to the DC source following two alternate paths through one end of the primary winding and then the other. The alternation of the direction of current in the primary winding of the transformer produces alternating current (AC) in the secondary circuit.

The electromechanical version of the switching device includes two stationary contacts and a spring supported moving contact. The spring holds the movable contact against one of the stationary contacts and an electromagnet pulls the movable contact to the opposite stationary contact. The current in the electromagnet is interrupted by the action of the switch so that the switch continually switches rapidly back and forth. This type of electromechanical inverter switch, called a vibrator or buzzer, was once used in vacuum tube automobile radios. A similar mechanism has been used in door bells, buzzers and tattoo machines.

As they became available with adequate power ratings, transistors and various other types of semiconductor switches have been incorporated into inverter circuit designs. Certain ratings, especially for large systems (many kilowatts) use thyristors (SCR). SCRS provide large power handling capability in a semiconductor device, and can readily be controlled over a variable firing range.

The switch in the simple inverter described above, when not coupled to an output transformer, produces a square voltage waveform due to its simple off and on nature as opposed to the sinusoidal waveform that is the usual waveform of an AC power supply. Using Fourier analysis, periodic waveforms are represented as the sum of an infinite series of sine waves. The sine wave that has the same frequency as the original waveform is called the fundamental component. The other sine waves, called harmonics, that are included in the series have frequencies that are integral multiples of the fundamental frequency.

Fourier analysis can be used to calculate the total harmonic distortion (THD). The total harmonic distortion (THD) is the square root of the sum of the squares of the harmonic voltages divided by the fundamental voltage:

Below: Simple inverter circuit shown with an electromechanical switch and automatic equivalent auto-switching device implemented with two transistors and split winding auto-transformer in place of the mechanical switch.

Below: H bridge inverter circuit with transistor switches and antiparallel diodes

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