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Inverters are required to run AC appliances on solar power. From homes to RVs they are fixtures in PV systems. But is it safe to leave an inverter on all the time? Or should you turn it off every once in a while?
If you turn the inverter off, all the settings on your appliances will be lost. However, portable RV inverters may be turned off if not in use because it is a battery drain.
Reasons to Leave an Inverter On
There are many reasons to leave an inverter on. The following applies to those in residential homes and also RVs, vans and other motorhomes. These are especially useful advice for inverters 1500 watts and larger.
Power AC Appliances
An inverter is primarily used to convert DC to AC power and run appliances. You can run DC powered devices directly on solar power ,but not AC. Turn off the inverter if you do not use AC power.
Without an inverter you cannot use any device that runs on AC, which means most household appliances. If your home – on or off the grid- relies on an inverter, it is impractical to shut it off. The WZRELB 5000W pure sine wave inverter is built to run continuously for example.
Turning off the inverter means losing all your settings. Even if the system has an option to save these, it is a hassle to have to turn it on again.
Shutting off your 750W inverter for example, means having to reset the clock, refrigerator, AC, microwave etc. If you turn off the inverter every night and turn it on every morning, it can quickly turn into a chore.
The bottom line: if you bought a solar inverter for your grid or off the grid PV system, there is no need to shut it off.
No Shore Power Access
RV campgrounds give you access to shore energy to run appliances. But once you leave what happens? The power goes out and your appliances cease to run.
You can always turn the inverter back on but that can take time. And most appliances do not like being turned on and off. By leaving the inverter on, the system can automatically switch to it when shore power ceases.
if you plan to go boondocking for long stretches far from shore power, make sure the battery bank is fully charged The inverter will be your only power source, so plan things accordingly.
Continuous Power Source
As long as the inverter has access to power, anything connected to it will keep running. For many this is the most important benefit of leaving an inverter on.
If your home is off the grid, the inverter almost always has to be left on. There are really only two instances when it should be turned off: when you are replacing the batteries and leaving for vacation.
An inverter running on a fully charged battery bank is like having a UPS. Even if the power goes off your appliances will keep running. Whether on RVs or houses, uninterrupted power is always welcome.
Keep Food Fresh
RVs usually run the refrigerator on a generator, but if yours runs on an inverter battery system, you have to leave it on all the time. Shut it off and you risk spoiling the food inside the fridge.
You can store some food and beverages in a 12V DC freezer. But their capacity is smaller compared to a typical fridge. if you want to run a regular AC fridge, you must have the inverter or another power source always running.
Depending on your home setup, you may be able to turn off the inverter and switch to another power source. But moving to another power source is impractical given the inverter is already available.
An inverter converter charges batteries and also converts DC to AC. By leaving the system on, it can transform power and recharge the batteries at the same time. One of the best examples of this is the Renogy 2000W Pure Sine Wave Inverter which runs appliances and powers batteries efficiently.
This is only applicable for inverter chargers. Unless the product description specifically says so, do not assume the inverter also has charging properties.
When Should I Turn Off My Inverter?
While there are many reasons to keep an inverter open, there are times when turning it off is ideal. The following applies mostly to RV inverters unless otherwise specified.
Replace the Batteries
If your inverter runs solely on battery power, you will have to turn it off at some point. Specifically when the battery has to be replaced or recharged.
If you completely discharged the battery bank, the inverter cannot run. Turn off the inverter and recharge the battery. When it is full, turn the system on again.
This only applies if you have no other power source available. For example if you consume 250ah a day but have a 500ah or more battery bank, you can leave the inverter on and recharge the other batteries.
This is also applicable to off grid systems, not just RVs. With off grid homes the usual set up is battery bank + generator. If the battery is depleted and you switch to generator, you can turn off the inverter. Of course if the batteries are dead or damaged, you have to shut off the inverter before replacing them.
No Need For AC Power
If you don’t need any AC appliances, might as well turn off the inverter. If all you need is a laptop, lights and a 12V fridge / freezer, you don’t need an inverter as they run on DC.
Most of the time you will need AC power, but there will be times you may not. If you plan to go boondocking, list the appliances and devices you will be using. If they all use DC power, shut off the inverter.
Do this only if you are certain you will not use any AC power for prolonged periods. Keep the inverter open if you expect to run any AC powered device anytime soon.
Access to a Generator or Shore Power
RV campgrounds and parks provide access to shore power. If you spend most of your time there, you can save some battery life by switching off the inverter.
Anytime you have another power source available – direct AC, generator, shore power etc. – you have the option to turn off the inverter. The benefit of leaving it on however, is the system automatically switches to it when the other power source is no longer available.
In the end it is your call. If you are new to RVs, note how much time you spend in the campgrounds and how much AC power you consume when you depart.
Save Battery Power
Even when an inverter is “turned off” it still draws power. This is because most inverters go into a standby mode like a TV. The benefit of this ready mode is you can quickly turn the system back on.
The drawback is it draws power, albeit a small amount. But over time this can add up. The other thing is inverters draw a lot more battery power than what its load uses due to inefficiency.
Inverter efficiency ranges from 85% to 95%. This refers to the percentage that is lost during the power conversion.
Assuming you have a 3000W inverter and load it with 2500W of appliances. Because of its inefficiency, the system draws more than 2500 watts.
2500 / .85 = 2941
The inverter actually uses 2941 watts, almost the full capacity of the 3000W system.
So if you do not use a lot of AC power, it makes sense to turn the system off. The good news though is most inverters today are up to 95% efficient, reducing energy loss significantly.
Going on Vacation
Any time you go on vacation for long periods, you have to unplug the power from your home. This is as much for safety as it is to avoid leaving any appliance running and racking up a huge bill.
This should be the thought process when it comes to inverters. If you are leaving home for several days, shut off the inverter. Better yet, turn off your entire power system. Some solar systems have a switch box that can turn the system off with one button. But it will not hurt to manually shut off the inverter.
Inverters have different options for shutting down. Just follow the instructions given in your operating manual. Make sure the inverter is actually off and not just in standby mode, as that is still effectively on.
How Long Can You Leave an Inverter On?
High powered inverters are meant to run continuously. Think of the modem connected to your computer. You don’t turn it off when you sleep do you?
High powered inverters have been built to run 24/7. As long as you use the inverter correctly there should be no problems.
Portable inverters are a different story. With a capacity of under 500 watts, they are designed to run a limited number of appliances and may need shutting down. Refer to the manufacturer website for details.
Inverter technology has improved significantly and can run continuously without affecting performance. Of course you should always look in your owner’s manual for information and guidance.
I am an advocate of solar power. Through portablesolarexpert.com I want to share with all of you what I have learned and cotinue to learn about renewable energy.