In one simple inverter circuit, DC power is connected to a transformer through the centre tap of the primary winding. A switch is rapidly switched back and forth to allow current to flow back to the DC source following two alternate paths through one end of the primary winding and then the other. The alternation of the direction of current in the primary winding of the transformer produces alternating current (AC) in the secondary circuit.
The electromechanical version of the switching device includes two stationary contacts and a spring supported moving contact. The spring holds the movable contact against one of the stationary contacts and an electromagnet pulls the movable contact to the opposite stationary contact. The current in the electromagnet is interrupted by the action of the switch so that the switch continually switches rapidly back and forth. This type of electromechanical inverter switch, called a vibrator or buzzer, was once used in vacuum tube automobile radios. A similar mechanism has been used in door bells, buzzers and tattoo guns.
As they became available with adequate power ratings, transistors and various other types of semiconductor switches have been incorporated into inverter circuit designs.
The switch in the simple inverter described above, when not coupled to an output transformer, produces a square voltage waveform due to its simple off and on nature as opposed to the sinusoidal waveform that is the usual waveform of an AC power supply. Using Fourier analysis, periodic waveforms are represented as the sum of an infinite series of sine waves. The sine wave that has the same frequency as the original waveform is called the fundamental component. The other sine waves, called harmonics, that are included in the series have frequencies that are integral multiples of the fundamental frequency.
The quality of the inverter output waveform can be expressed by using the Fourier analysis data to calculate the total harmonic distortion (THD). The total harmonic distortion (THD) is the square root of the sum of the squares of the harmonic voltages divided by the fundamental voltage:
The quality of output waveform that is needed from an inverter depends on the characteristics of the connected load. Some loads need a nearly perfect sine wave voltage supply in order to work properly. Other loads may work quite well with a square wave voltage.
 Advanced designs
There are many different power circuit topologies and control strategies used in inverter designs. Different design approaches address various issues that may be more or less important depending on the way that the inverter is intended to be used.
The issue of waveform quality can be addressed in many ways. Capacitors and inductors can be used to filter the waveform. If the design includes a transformer, filtering can be applied to the primary or the secondary side of the transformer or to both sides. Low-pass filters are applied to allow the fundamental component of the waveform to pass to the output while limiting the passage of the harmonic components. If the inverter is designed to provide power at a fixed frequency, a resonant filter can be used. For an adjustable frequency inverter, the filter must be tuned to a frequency that is above the maximum fundamental frequency.
Since most loads contain inductance, feedback rectifiers or antiparallel diodes are often connected across each semiconductor switch to provide a path for the peak inductive load current when the switch is turned off. The antiparallel diodes are somewhat similar to the freewheeling diodes used in AC/DC converter circuits.An inverter is an electrical device that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC); the converted AC can be at any required voltage and frequency with the use of appropriate transformers, switching, and control circuits.
Solid-state inverters have no moving parts and are used in a wide range of applications, from small switching power supplies in computers, to large electric utility high-voltage direct current applications that transport bulk power. Inverters are commonly used to supply AC power from DC sources such as solar panels or batteries.
There are two main types of inverter. The output of a modified sine wave inverter is similar to a square wave output except that the output goes to zero volts for a time before switching positive or negative. It is simple and low cost (~$0.10USD/Watt) and is compatible with most electronic devices, except for sensitive or specialized equipment, for example certain laser printers. A pure sine wave inverter produces a nearly perfect sine wave output (<3% total harmonic distortion) that is essentially the same as utility-supplied grid power. Thus it is compatible with all AC electronic devices. This is the type used in grid-tie inverters. Its design is more complex, and costs 5 or 10 times more per unit power (~$0.50 to $1.00USD/Watt). The electrical inverter is a high-power electronic oscillator. It is so named because early mechanical AC to DC converters were made to work in reverse, and thus were "inverted", to convert DC to AC.
The inverter performs the opposite function of a rectifier.
DC power source utilization
An inverter converts the DC electricity from sources such as batteries, solar panels, or fuel cells to AC electricity. The electricity can be at any required voltage; in particular it can operate AC equipment designed for mains operation, or rectified to produce DC at any desired voltage.
Grid tie inverters can feed energy back into the distribution network because they produce alternating current with the same wave shape and frequency as supplied by the distribution system. They can also switch off automatically in the event of a blackout.
Micro-inverters convert direct current from individual solar panels into alternating current for the electric grid. They are grid tie designs by default.
An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) uses batteries and an inverter to supply AC power when main power is not available. When main power is restored, a rectifier supplies DC power to recharge the batteries.
Inverters convert low frequency main AC power to higher frequency for use in induction heating. To do this, AC power is first rectified to provide DC power. The inverter then changes the DC power to high frequency AC power.
With HVDC power transmission, AC power is rectified and high voltage DC power is transmitted to another location. At the receiving location, an inverter in a static inverter plant converts the power back to AC.
A variable-frequency drive controls the operating speed of an AC motor by controlling the frequency and voltage of the power supplied to the motor. An inverter provides the controlled power. In most cases, the variable-frequency drive includes a rectifier so that DC power for the inverter can be provided from main AC power. Since an inverter is the key component, variable-frequency drives are sometimes called inverter drives or just inverters.
Adjustable speed motor control inverters are currently used to power the traction motors in some electric and diesel-electric rail vehicles as well as some battery electric vehicles and hybrid electric highway vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and Fisker Karma. Various improvements in inverter technology are being developed specifically for electric vehicle applications. In vehicles with regenerative braking, the inverter also takes power from the motor (now acting as a generator) and stores it in the batteries.
An air conditioner bearing the inverter tag uses a variable-frequency drive to control the speed of the motor and thus the compressor.A transformer allows AC power to be converted to any desired voltage, but at the same frequency. Inverters, plus rectifiers for DC, can be designed to convert from any voltage, AC or DC, to any other voltage, also AC or DC, at any desired frequency. The output power can never exceed the input power, but efficiencies can be high, with a small proportion of the power dissipated as waste heat.