Do I Need A Surge Protector With An Inverter Generator?

Power surges and spikes can damage sensitive electronics. It is usually recommended that a surge protector be used with standard grid supply and standard generators to prevent and reduce this risk.

Inverter generators convert AC to DC and then back to AC for a smooth current without harmonic distortions like surges and spikes. Because they provide only the power needed by the load at any given time, you would not actually need a surge protector with an inverter generator.

We will look at the following in this discussion so you have a better understanding of the mechanics involved and why you might or might not need a surge protector:

  • The difference between a surge and a spike
  • Do generators cause surges in electrical supply?
  • How do surge protectors work?

Knowing how surge protectors work and why and how surges can occur will guide you to make the right decision to keep your electronics safe.

Power strip with surge protector on cables

What Is A Power Surge Vs. A Power Spike?

A power spike in the supply is a sudden increase in voltage or current through the grid, while a surge is caused when an appliance draws too much current, and then as it turns off, that excess current flows through the grid, causing damage.

When discussing surge protection, it’s important to understand the difference between a surge and a spike. A power surge occurs when an appliance draws too much power from the supply, and when that appliance switches off, the extra current is transmitted through the power system.

When you have sensitive electronics connected, this surge can cause them to blow or damage the components, and this is why many people use surge protection in their homes when they have computers, high-end audio, DSLR cameras, and other similar devices.

An external source like lightning causes a power spike when it strikes a line or power station, and this causes a current or voltage ‘spike’ to travel through the transmission network.

Even though the event only lasts a fraction of a second, a power spike can deliver currents well above the threshold for safety and cause devices to burn, catch fire or even explode depending on the severity of the surge.

If the spike is high enough, it can destroy surge protection strips in a second, especially if it’s a lightning strike. Very few surge or spike protection systems will work against that kind of power.

Can A Generator Cause A Power Surge?

Most generators have specialized electrical circuits designed to prevent power surges from moving through the generator and into the appliances and connected devices, but small fluctuations with standard generators can cause surges.

In most cases, both inverter and standard generators do not cause surges as they have systems installed to prevent this from happening, but you should know that standard generators do have current and voltage fluctuations due to the way they work.

See also: What Is A Solar Inverter? (Explained With Examples)

Standard Generators Can Cause A Surge

A non-inverter generator will run at a constant speed of 3600rpm and outputs a steady voltage and amperage.

However, it still experiences slight drops and surges in current output, and while these minimal variations won’t generally do any damage, if you are using a non-inverter generator, it would be better to have surge protection.

Not only that, but you need to consider the type of generator you are using and whether it is a pure sine wave generator or a modified sine wave system. The difference is the quality of the electrical current they generate.

Pure Sine Wave Vs. Modified Sine Wave Quality

A pure sine wave generator will produce a ‘clean’ current, similar to that supplied from the grid, while a modified sine wave generator’s current is ‘dirty’ and contains harmonic distortions that can negatively affect sensitive electronics.

A modified sine wave generator is fine for robust appliances, but if you want to use laptops, WIFI routers, and audio gear on your generator, the pure sine wave is a better option.

Inverter generators are not well known for causing surges as they work differently. The inverter only generates the current needed by the connected appliances and has more advanced circuitry to deliver a pure sine wave current.

How Do Surge Protectors Work?

Surge protectors contain Metal Oxide Varistors or MOVs designed to channel any surge to the ground wire. This prevents the surge from moving through the connected appliances and devices and causing damage.

Through the internal design and materials, the surge protector can manage to deflect surges safely, but even these devices have limits, and very powerful surges can destroy them in seconds, but at least your equipment will be saved.

Surge protection systems designed to prevent high-voltage damage will often ‘sacrifice’ themselves to do it, and you will end up replacing it in the event of a big hit.

One aspect to note is that the surge protector weakens with every subsequent surge, and so if you live in a particular location that is prone to surges, you would want to get a good quality one and look at replacing it every two or three years.

Plus, if you have had a surge, you have no way of knowing whether the existing protection will be sufficient to stave off another one, so you may have to keep a spare or two on hand.

Should You Get A Surge Protector With An Inverter Generator?

It would be best to always opt for surge protection whether you have a generator or not and whether you have an inverter generator or a standard one.

These units are generally quite affordable and play a vital role in defending your valuable electronics from being damaged; plus, you may even save yourself some money on your insurance premiums if you have good surge protection systems in place.

Before buying your inverter generator, chat with the consultant about surge protection, as you may find that your unit may have more than sufficient protection and may even have a warranty for it.

While you don’t need surge protection with an inverter generator, it is a good rule to utilize surge protection with all your electronics, as it’s always better to be safe than sorry.


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Elliot has 20+ years of experience in renewable technology, from conservation to efficient living. His passion is to help others achieve independent off-grid living.

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