It’s always nice to have access to full 30 or 50-amp power hookups for your RV, boat, or other vehicles. After all, it’s often necessary to enjoy many of the comforts that make you feel at home, from air conditioners to microwaves to TVs. But unfortunately, these powerful hookups aren’t always available and you frequently find yourself with only 15 or 20 amps available. With a hybrid inverter, these issues can be a thing of the past and will make the most of your power system.

But what is a hybrid inverter, and how can it change your mobile lifestyle? Let’s take a closer look.

A Victron Hybrid Inverter installed in van-lifer Danny McGee's camper van with 4 Battle Born Batteries.
Danny McGee

What Does a Hybrid Inverter Do?

First, it’s important to be clear about what a regular inverter does. These devices take the DC power stored in your house batteries and transform it into the 120V (or 230V) AC power required for power-hungry appliances and many devices that plug into regular outlets. By doing this, they allow you to run these AC-only devices without the need for shore power or a generator. 

Hybrid inverters do all this and more. In addition to inverting power from the batteries, they can combine the power from the grid or a generator with your battery power to get the equivalent of full electrical hookups to your RV or boat. You can use the shore power you have available along with power from your batteries at the same time. They basically allow you to easily optimize your power streams and make the most of all the power available.

How Hybrid Inverters Work

Hybrid inverters may sound complicated, but they operate on a relatively simple principle at their core. They sync up multiple power sources, including your batteries, low amperage shore power, and solar, into one stream of electricity that replicates one major electrical source (i.e. full shore power hookups). This single stream goes to your vehicle or home’s systems and appliances, allowing you to operate as usual.

For example, say you plugged into a 20A shore circuit and are running an air conditioner. If you turned on a hairdryer or microwave you would pop the breaker. With a hybrid inverter, the 20A power is passed through the inverter first and you set the limit of how much power it should draw from shore. Once this limit is reached the inverter will not draw more from shore but will add power from the batteries. This will allow you to run the air conditioner and microwave at the same time on a 20A circuit.

Once the additional load of the microwave is removed the inverter will then use whatever power is available (from the 20A circuit) to charge the batteries back up.

how a hybrid inverter works

Benefits of a Hybrid Inverter System

Now that you know what a hybrid inverter is, you may still be wondering why you’d make the switch. Here are the top advantages you’ll enjoy with a hybrid inverter as part of your mobile electrical system. 

Use Batteries to Increase Shore or Generator Power Capacity 

This is the biggest and most significant benefit provided by a hybrid inverter. The ability to combine multiple sources into one powerful stream can unlock entirely new ways of living in your RV or boat. You may only have access to 15- or 20-amp hookups, a low power generator, or a limited solar power setup.

On their own, none of them may provide enough juice for your electrical needs. But combining two or more unlocks the full potential of your rig’s electrical system without blowing a breaker, overloading your generator, or running down your batteries. 

small generator
Want to run an AC off a small generator? A hybrid inverter can help!

Get Uninterrupted Power Supply

At best, your shore power unexpectedly going out is an annoyance and inconvenience, causing you to temporarily lose power as you switch over. At worst, it could be dangerous, especially for those who rely on medical devices that need power.

Hybrid inverters remove this problem altogether by allowing for an uninterrupted power supply. If something should happen to cause your shore power to drop, your electrical system will take over on its own, powering your rig via your batteries. 

Make the Most of Your Solar System 

Looking to be as eco-friendly as possible, even when connected to shore power that may not be so green? A hybrid inverter may be able to help. Some models can be programmed to first draw from your solar panels before using shore power, lowering your overall non-renewable energy consumption.

It’s a small change that can add up to significant energy savings over the long run. 

Off-grid electrical system installed in Let's Play Ride And Seek's van
An off-grid electrical system installed in Let’s Play Ride And Seek’s van

Types of Hybrid Inverters

Not all hybrid inverters are alike! There are three main types you should be aware of when considering adding one to your electrical system. 

Inverter/Charger Hybrid

The most common type of hybrid inverter used in off-grid power applications is an inverter/charger hybrid. This device combines all the functions of a typical inverter and battery charger with the benefits of hybrid inverters discussed above. 

An inverter like this will pass shore power through to the electrical system until the setpoint limit is reached. At this point, it will start adding battery power to the mix so as not to overload the shore supply. Once the extra load is reduced it will go back to charging the batteries with whatever power is available (still not exceeding the set limit)

victron energy multiplus rv battery inverter charger quattro
Victron Energy Quattro 24/5000 Hybrid Inverter

Inverter/Charger/Integrated Solar Charge

A less common hybrid inverter type is one that has MPPT solar chargers built into it. These units are good for those who are looking to save space as they offer all the same benefits of a standard hybrid unit but with integrated solar. The drawback with them is that if something goes wrong with one piece the entire system may go down.

Grid-Tie Hybrid

These devices perform all of the typical functions of a hybrid inverter, as we’ve discussed above. However, these can actually send power back into the grid, essentially selling power back to the power company. This can help eliminate some of the costs associated with drawing electricity from your home or another source. 

Grid-Tie systems are highly regulated and you will need approval from the local utility to operate one.

Is a Hybrid Inverter Good for Off-Grid Living?

Hybrid inverters are an excellent choice for those looking to live a partially or fully off-grid life. This is because of their ability to combine multiple power sources into a single usable stream.

Imagine combining the power of a generator or solar power system with the charge of your batteries to create a more powerful, capable electrical system. This makes living off-grid far more tolerable long term, as you’re able to enjoy many more of the comforts of a typical home. 

→ An inverter is one of the Major Components of an Off-Grid System.

Off-grid house installation using two Victron 24/3000/70 hybrid inverters
Battle Born_The Johnsons Stills_Jan2022

What Is the Cost of a Hybrid Inverter?

Hybrid inverters come in both budget varieties and higher-end models. On the low end, you should expect to spend at least $500 for basic models with relatively low wattage. Conversely, you can spend well over $2,000 on other types of hybrid inverters with extra features or high wattage capabilities.

We recommend the Victron line of Multiplus inverters that offer hybrid capabilities and you can see what products we carry on our inverters page.

Don’t forget the cost to install it as well. Unless you’re confident enough to work on your electrical system on your own, you’ll likely spend up to a few hundred more dollars on labor for a skilled technician. Still, it’s money well spent to ensure your new hybrid inverter works like a charm!

→ Find out what size inverter you need for your electrical system.

Hybrid Inverters Are Next-Level

Standard inverters are useful, important devices in most RVs, boats, off-grid dwellings, or other live-in vehicles. But hybrid inverters open up a whole new world of possibilities to those looking to keep the lights on while on the go.

By combining multiple power sources into one stream, you can enjoy the comforts of home in more places than ever, even if you’re lacking those “gold standard” full shore power hookups or grid-tie electricity.

Want To Learn More About Electrical Systems and Lithium Batteries?

We know that building or upgrading an electrical system can be overwhelming, so we’re here to help. Our Reno, Nevada-based sales and customer service team is standing by at (855) 292-2831 to take your questions!

Also, join us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to learn more about how lithium battery systems can power your lifestyle, see how others have built their systems, and gain the confidence to get out there and stay out there.

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