The US power grid is a feat of mechanical and technological engineering. It is a vast network of stations, cables and components that ensure America’s hundreds of millions receive near-unfettered access to the lifeblood of a new technological epoch: electricity.
The US’ Electrical Infrastructure
As reported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the US’ electrical infrastructure comprises over 7000 power plants, and almost 160,000 miles of high voltage power lines – to say nothing of the incalculable distance covered by the power lines taking electricity straight into our homes. The electricity at the outlet is 110 volts AC, the national standard to which all wall-powered devices are calibrated.
But the provision of 110 volts AC is not always guaranteed, for a variety of different reasons. In these instances, there is a piece of technology which is nothing short of essential for the powering of devices: the power inverter. But what is it, and when exactly should it be used?
What is a Power Inverter?
A power inverter is a device which transforms one form of electrical current to another. The most commonly utilized form of power inverter is a DC AC inverter, which takes a direct current and converts it into an alternating current.
A Note on Electricity
Direct currents are akin to the electricity derived from a battery; electrons – and hence charge – flow in one direction, creating a linear and unidirectional source of power. Batteries both dispense and receive DC, which is why our phones charge via DC (and why we have wall chargers that convert AC to DC).
Alternating currents involve the current’s direction changing at a regular rate. AC electricity is better for ‘sending’ electrical energy over long distances, on account of being more efficient; it can also be manipulated more easily in terms of voltage.
DC AC inverters enable devices that require an AC power supply to be supplied by a battery or battery array. They essentially work by taking the DC power and changing the direction it flows through a circuit at a pre-set rate – usually 60Hz, which is what US AC power is calibrated to.
When to Use a Power Inverter
Power inverters have a wide variety of potential applications and use cases – and are utilized in many household appliances and electrical items besides. For example, our refrigerators utilize inverters to provide variable AC power to compressor motors, enabling regulation of temperature.
The more common use of DC AC inverters, though, is to enable the powering of devices from DC supplies like car batteries or solar arrays. Inverters are an essential purchase for RV users, particularly where they spend extended periods of time on the road and would benefit from modern conveniences. Generally speaking, inverters are highly useful for supplying off-grid power – and could be vital to keeping core appliances running in the event of an electrical blackout.