What is your backup plan in case the lights go off? Because one thing is certain, at some point they will go off.
Power failures happen daily all over South Africa, whether or not load-shedding is in place.
Fortunately there are options, and with our country facing a very uncertain future in terms of electricity, you almost have no choice but to consider a Plan B.
What is an inverter?
An inverter also works well with a solar power system, as it’s able to convert the sun’s energy into electricity.
We can distinguish between two main types of inverters:
- Modified sinewave: This is the cheaper, but less powerful option. It could be suitable for you, depending on your needs as it works with most common electronics.
- Pure sinewave: This kind of inverter provides you with a powerful current and is likely to be compatible with anything that you want to plug in.
Inverters are available in a range of sizes, and you will determine the size you need based on your power needs, measured in watts.
Property24 gave the following breakdown of the costs you are looking at for investing in an inverter:
- A system that could run a laptop, television, internet router and one light for about three hours: R6 300.
- A system that could run a television, computer, gaming console, and internet router and one or two lights: R10 000.
- A system capable of powering most lights in the house, one or two entertainment systems and one or two smaller appliances: R40 000.
You would have to be aware of your wattage requirements before deciding on the size of your inverter. Check your appliances, many will have this information on a sticker or in the manual.
What is the difference between an inverter and a UPS?
The above description might lead you to think that inverters are similar to UPSes (uninterrupted power supplies), and you would almost be correct.
While both these devices provide backup in case of a power failure, there are a few notable differences between the two:
- A major difference is seen in the time it takes for power supply from the batteries to be available.
For a standard UPS it takes three to eight milliseconds after power supply has been lost to provide electricity. For an inverter this process takes 25 to 500 milliseconds.
This matters because certain appliances will shut down incorrectly in the longer time period it takes the inverter to jump into action.
This could cause damage, and explain why one would rather use a UPS for items such as computers.
- A UPS can provide protection against abnormal electricity flow, while an inverter isn’t capable of this.
Once again the UPS is more suitable for sensitive devices such as computers, as they protect against those untimely electric surges.
- You can only use a UPS only for short periods of time. They are meant to keep your devices safe while giving you a brief period of time to switch everything off correctly.
The opposite is true for inverters, which can be used for extended time periods.
- UPSes tend to be more expensive than inverters.
- UPSes are suitable for both industrial and domestic use, while inverters are most suitable for domestic use.
- A UPS connects directly to your appliances, while an inverter connects to the appliances as well as a battery.
- A UPS is actually made up of an inverter along with a charge controller.
Inverter batteries explained
While it is possible for inverters to run on solar power, you will likely have to buy batteries. They play an important role in the efficiency of your inverter so choose well.
We can distinguish between three kinds of batteries:
- Lead-acid batteries. These rechargeable batteries are the most common and tend to be cheaper than other kinds.
They come with the benefits of being lightweight and economical, and they are able to produce a large amount of current.
They do have high maintenance needs though. Regular water toppings and electrolyte checks are needed.
- Maintenance-free batteries. These are more expensive and have a shorter life, but they don’t need any maintenance.
They have the further benefits of charging faster and being safer.
- Tubular batteries. This kind of battery is expensive, but they are efficient and reliable. They work well for long and regular power cuts.
Another benefit is that they don’t require maintenance and they work well with heavy-duty applications.
Are Axpert inverters any good?
Chinese brand Axpert is a popular choice, mostly because it is one of the most affordable options on the market.
According to the product description this inverter is ideal for small to medium-sized households or a small office.
It’s said to be able to handle up to 5Kw continuously, and comes with a built-in charge controller that lets you connect to lead-acid, gel or lithium-ion batteries.
Other features of this inverter include:
- A user-friendly LCD screen to manage your settings.
- A maximum PV input of 4000W.
- Built-in overload and short-circuit protection which will cause the system to trip upon being overloaded to prevent damage from occurring.
Buyers of this product seem to be satisfied with their purchase. This is what one user on the MyBroadband forums had to say:
“…the Axpert is a FINE machine. Dead silent, sounds like an external HDD, extremely configurable, and great value for money. Standby power consumption is 47W, I cant get it lower than that, tried everything.
And yes, I’m the only person who is not currently experiencing loadshedding. This is right now being typed from stored energy in the batteries – my estate is dark and my life is going on without a hitch or missed beat. Pure bliss!”
Another user, who has an Axpert 3kVA installed, also expressed satisfaction with the product:
“Works like a dream and life is now mostly completely normal during load shedding.
You can’t make toast, boil a kettle or use the oven and you have to watch out for things like people plugging hair dryers, irons or electric heaters while Eskom does its thing.
The psychological difference of just having normal overhead lights instead of huddling around a candle is enormous.”
Check it out here:
Those who already make use of inverters probably have the strongest argument in favour of them.
And that is that nothing beats the feeling of being able to continue with your life when the power goes off.