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Power Inverter

Power Inverter

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Published by saydo
An inverter is an electrical or electro-mechanical device that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC); the resulting
An inverter is an electrical or electro-mechanical device that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC); the resulting

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Published by: saydo on Dec 20, 2008
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12/13/2012

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DC-AC inverters are electronic devices used to produce mains voltage AC powerfrom low voltage DC energy (from a battery or solar panel). This makes themvery suitable for when you need to use AC power tools or appliances but theusual AC mains power is not available. Examples include operating appliances incaravans and mobile homes, and also running audio, video and computingequipment in remote areas.Most inverters do their job by performing two main functions: first they convertthe incoming DC into AC, and then they step up the resulting AC to mains voltagelevel using a transformer. And the goal of the designer is to have the inverterperform these functions as
efficiently 
as possible  so that as much as possibleof the energy drawn from the battery or solar panel is converted into mainsvoltage AC, and as little as possible is wasted as heat.Modern inverters use a basic circuit scheme like that shown in Fig.1. As you cansee the DC from the battery is converted into AC very simply, by using a pair of power MOSFETs (Q1 and Q2) acting as very efficient electronic switches. Thepositive 13.8V DC from the battery is connected to the centre-tap of thetransformer primary, while each MOSFET is connected between one end of theprimary and earth (battery negative). So by switching on Q1, the battery currentcan be made to flow through the top half of the primary and to earth via Q1.Conversely by switching on Q2 instead, the current is made to flow the oppositeway through the lower half of the primary and to earth.Therefore by switching the two MOSFETs on alternately, the current is made toflow first in one half of the primary and then in the other, producing analternating magnetic flux in the transformers core. As a result a correspondingAC voltage is induced in the transformers secondary winding, and as thesecondary has about 24 times the number of turns in the primary, the inducedAC voltage is much higher: around 650V peak to peak.By the way if youre wondering why MOSFETs are used as the electronic switches,to convert the DC into AC, its because they make the most efficient high-currentswitches. When theyre off they are are virtually an open circuit, yet whentheyre on they are very close to a short circuit (only a few milliohms). So verylittle power is wasted as heat.(In DC-AC inverters designed to deliver high power, there are actually quite a fewMOSFETs connected to each side of the transformer primary, to share the heavycurrent. However because theyre essentially connected in parallel, you can stillthink of them as behaving very much like the single transistors shown in Fig.1.They just behave like very high-power MOSFETs, able to switch many tens of amps...)Note that because the switching MOSFETs are simply being turned on and off,this type of inverter does not produce AC of the same pure sinewave type as theAC power mains. The output waveform is essentially alternating rectangularpulses, as you can see from Fig.2. However the width of the pulses and thespacing between them is chosen so that the ratio between the RMS value of theoutput waveform and its peak-to-peak value is actually quite similar to that of apure sinewave. The resulting waveform is usually called a modified sinewave,and as the RMS voltage is close to 230V many AC tools and appliances are ableto operate from such a waveform without problems.Its true, though, that this kind of waveform is not close enough to a sinewavefor some appliances. Thats mainly because the rectangular pulses contain notjust the fundamental mains frequency, but quite a lot of its harmonics as well.So if the inverter is operating at the Australia/New Zealand mains frequency of 50Hz, the output will also contain components at 100Hz, 150Hz, 200Hz, 250Hz and so on. These harmonics can disturb the operation of some appliances.Its because of this shortcoming that manufacturers have come up with a morecomplex type of inverter, which
does 
deliver a pure sinewave output. More aboutthese later.
Output regulation
We take for granted the fact that our mains power is very well
regulated 
soyou can plug almost any appliance into a standard point outlet, and it willoperate correctly. Thats because the electricity supplier has enormous generatingplants, with automatic regulation systems to keep the mains voltage andfrequency very close to constant, despite load variations of many megawatts.Inevitably you cant get this kind of performance from a much smaller electronicinverter, connected to a modest battery or solar panel as the energy source.However most modern inverters can provide reasonably good regulation for loadsof up to their rated capacity (given in watts)  assuming of course that theyrerunning from a well-charged battery.In this type of inverter it isnt feasible to control the peak-to-peak output,because this is largely fixed by the battery voltage and the transformers step-upratio. So in most cases the regulation is achieved in a different way: by varyingthe width of the rectangular pulses, to control the form factor and hence theRMS value of the output voltage.This is calledpulse
width
modulation(PWM), and is usually done by having afeedback system which senses the inverters output voltage (or load current).When this feedback senses that the load on the inverters output has increased,the inverters control circuitry acts to increase the width of the pulses which turnon the MOSFETs. So the MOSFETs turn on for longer each half-cycle,automatically correcting the RMS value of the output to compensate for anydroop in peak-to-peak output.The resulting regulation is usually capable of keeping the RMS value close toconstant, for loads up to the inverters full rated output power. However this
 
 Jaycar Electronics Reference Data Sheet: INVERTER.PDF (1)
Fig.1: 
Th
basic 
circuit 
scheme 
used in 
many 
modern DC-AC 
inver 
 
ters.MOSFETS 
Q1
anQ2 
ar
used 
to 
convert 
 
he 
batter 
 
y
lo
volt 
 
ag
DC 
into 
AC,which 
is 
 
hestepped 
up 
to 
230V RM
by 
th
 
ransf 
 
ormer.
 
UNDERSTANDING & USING DC-AC INVERTERS
 
approach does have limitations, mainly because itcan generally only increase the pulse width to acertain point. (In the extreme, the output becomes asquare wave.) This may not be sufficient to allow theinverter to deliver enough RMS output voltage inshort-term overload or surge conditions.When many types of appliance are first turned on, forexample, they draw a startup current which is manytimes greater than the current drawn when theyrerunning. This type of surge can overload the inverter,and its protection circuitry may shut it down toprevent damage to the transformer and MOSFETs.Some types of inverter incorporate special soft startcircuitry, to allow the inverter to cope with this typeof short load current surge. The output voltage andpower may drop, but at least the inverter keepsoperating and allows the appliance to start up.Even so, there are some appliances and tools that aresimply not compatible with inverters, because of theirtendency to draw an extremely high startup current.Examples are refrigerators, freezers, air conditionersor any other appliance where a motor is driving acompressor or pump. As the motor in these appliancesoften has a
very 
heavy load right at switch-on (withthe compressor near top dead centre), it can need todraw a huge current simply in order to start rotating.This type of appliance and tool should really bepowered using a suitably rated engine-drivenalternator, not a DC-AC inverter.
Voltage spikes
Another complication of the fairly high harmonic content in the output of modified sinewave inverters is that appliances and tools with a fairly inductiveload impedance can develop fairly high voltage
spikes 
due to inductive back EMF. These spikes can be transformed back into the primary of the inverterstransformer, where they have the potential to damage the MOSFETs and theirdriving circuitry.The risk of damage is fairly small during the actual power pulses of each cycle,because at these times one end of the primary is effectively earthed. Transformeraction thus prevents the other end from rising higher than about twice thebattery voltage. However as you can see from Fig.2, there are times during everycycle of operation when
neither 
of the switching MOSFETs is conducting: theflats between the rectangular pulses. Its at these times that the spikes canproduce excessive voltage across the MOSFETs, and potentially cause damage.Its for this reason that many inverters have a pair of high-power zener diodesconnected across the MOSFETs, as shown in Fig.1. The zeners conduct heavily assoon as the voltage rises excessively, protecting the MOSFETs from damage.Another approach is to have high-power standard diodes connected from eachend of the primary to a large electrolytic capacitor, which becomes charged up totwice the battery voltage. When the ends of the primary attempt to rise higherthan this voltage, the diodes conduct and allow the capacitor to absorb the spikeenergy.Thanks to this type of protection, most inverters are fairly tolerant of 
moderately 
inductive loads. However they may not be able to cope with heavy loads that arealso strongly inductive  like heavy duty tools and machinery, or more thanone or two fluorescent lights.Quite apart from the generation of voltage spikes, heavily inductive loads tendto demand current which is strongly shifted in phase relative to the invertersoutput voltage pulses. This makes it hard for the inverter to cope, because theonly energy available to the load between the pulses is that stored in thetransformer.
Capacitive loading
Actually theres a different kind of problem with many kinds of fluorescent lightassembly: not so much inductive loading, but
capacitive 
loading.Although a standard fluoro light assembly represents a very inductive load dueto its ballast choke, most are designed to be operated from standard AC mainspower. As a result theyre often provided with a shunt capacitor designed tocorrect their
power factor 
when theyre connected to the mains and driven with a50Hz sinewave.The problem is that when these lights are connected to a DC-AC inverter with itsmodified sinewave output, rich in harmonics, the shunt capacitor doesnt justcorrect the power factor, but drasticallyov
 
er
correct
 
s because its impedanceis much lower at the harmonic frequencies. As a result, the fluoro assemblydraws a heavily capacitive load current, and can easily overload the inverter.In cases where fluorescent lights must be run from an inverter, and the lights arenot going to be run from the mains again, usually the best solution is to eitherremove their power factor correction capacitors altogether or replace them with amuch smaller value.
Auto starting
Many inverters are provided with a power switch, and must be turned on beforethey supply AC power. However some models are provided with auto turn-on, sothey stop working when the AC load is removed, but turn on again automaticallywhen a load is connected. This allows the power switch of an appliance or tool tobe used to control the inverters operation as well, conserving battery energywhile still allowing the appliance to be operated in exactly the same way aswhen its connected to the mains.In most cases this auto turn-on system uses a sensing circuit connected into theinverters output loop, and designed to detect when the appliance switch isclosed  to complete the high voltage circuit. This allows a small DC sensingcurrent to flow, and this current is used to turn on the inverters MOSFET drivecircuitry.When no DC flows in the output loop, the drive circuitry is disabled and nopulses are fed to the gates of the MOSFETs. As a result they dont conduct, andthe inverter doesnt operate. Only a very small standby current is drawn fromthe battery.Note, however, that because this kind of auto turn-on circuit uses a small directcurrent to sense when the appliance has been turned on, it relies on theappliance providing a DC path when its mains switch is closed. If the appliance
doesnt 
provide such a path, the auto turn-on circuit wont work.So with some appliances, the inverter may still need to be turned on and off manually when its needed.
Frequency stability
Although most appliances and tools designed for mains power can tolerate asmall variation in supply frequency, they can malfunction, overheat or even be
 
 Jaycar Electronics Reference Data Sheet: INVERTER.PDF (2)
Fig.2: 
In 
most 
DC-AC 
inverters 
th
switching 
MOSFETs 
ar 
 
turned 
on 
al
 
er 
 
nately 
fo
short 
pulses,
as 
shown,
at 
 
he 
same 
 
epetition 
 
at
as 
 
he 
AC 
power 
mains.
As 
result 
th
transf 
 
ormer 
produces 
modified 
sinewave 
output 
(blue),
ra
 
he
than 
true 
sinewave 
(red).

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