If you are considering installing solar panels, or want to upgrade your solar system equipment, solar inverters are definitely something to look into.
Solar power inverters are just as important as solar panels, as they convert the electricity created by solar panels into electricity that can power your appliances and lighting, as well as all the other electronics you use in your home.
But are there any more benefits to solar inverters, and what type of solar inverter is best for you? We’ll answer all these questions below.
What Does A Solar Inverter Do?
When your solar photovoltaic system (PV) system comes into contact with the sun, electrons inside the solar cells begin to move around. This produces direct current, or DC, energy.
The circuits inside those cells collect energy which you can then use in your home… enter your solar inverter.
Many homes use alternating current, or AC energy rather than DC energy. This means that the energy created by your solar panels isn’t useful by itself.
The sunlight collected by your solar panels is turned into energy and then gets sent to your inverter, which converts DC energy into AC energy. It’s then your solar electricity can power your home, and return the excess energy you don’t use to the grid.
The Difference Between DC & AC Electricity
Direct Current (DC) electricity is concerned with the flow of electricity that only goes in one direction. Meanwhile, Alternating Current (AC) electricity can change direction.
The US electric grid uses 60 hertz AC, meaning the electricity changes direction an astounding 60 times every second.
As we’ve mentioned above, a solar inverter takes DC electricity and turns it into AC electricity that you can use in your home. But during this conversion, energy gets lost and turns into heat.
High quality solar inverters are incredibly efficient, converting more electricity and reducing as many losses as possible as the energy is converted.
Of course, this efficiency will differ by brand, but most high-quality inverters are about 97%-98% efficient, meaning you lose little energy.
However, shading as well as other factors can affect the efficiency of the energy system. But your PV inverter can help to minimize these losses.
The Benefits of Solar Inverters
Your solar inverter doesn’t just collect usable currents from the rays your panels absorb, they also improve your energy production, manage the output of your system, are connected to the electricity grid, and pick up on faults that may harm your solar system. Let’s take a closer look at these benefits.
Improving energy production
Solar inverters monitor the voltage of your solar array to maximize the operating power of your panels, generating totally clean energy.
Solar inverters that are grid-tied also produce a pure sine wave (this is a measure of how smoothly the current changes direction), compared to cheaper inverters that create a modified sine wave. This makes sure your sensitive, temperamental appliances can always run smoothly and efficiently.
Read More: Pure Sine Wave Inverter vs Modified
Managing your system’s output
We all love sunny days, but they can put an even bigger smile on your face when you have a solar power system. Think of how many watts you can generate! It’s natural that you’d want to know just how hard your system is working on a bright, sunny day.
This is possible with solar panel inverters, as many are equipped with tools that help you see how much energy your panels are producing. Some inverters let you track your system’s performance via mobile app or website.
You can also check if something isn’t right with some home inverters that monitor the performance of your system automatically, and let you know if there are any issues. You can also use this tracking tool to check in on the performance of different components, to ensure your system is producing the right amount of electricity.
Keeping in touch with the electricity grid
If your power goes out temporarily, solar inverters make sure that your electricity is not transferred to external power lines. This ensures that line workers inspecting or repairing the grid will not get hurt.
Plus, if you have a full solar battery bank, or you don’t need all the electricity your panels have created, the inverter can return it to the grid to help you gain net energy credits.
Detecting faults: Your electric wiring may degrade over time, and this can cause dangerous electrical faults such as ground faults or arcs. If this happens, your solar inverter will discover the issue and shut off, protecting your system and letting you know a service is needed before additional damage happens.
Comparing The Different Types of Solar Inverters
All solar inverters do the same thing. They convert DC solar energy into AC energy that can be used in your home. But there are three different types of solar inverter system that you can choose to add to your solar panel system, and these three types have slight differences in how they work.
Sometimes known as central inverters, smaller scale solar energy systems tend to use string inverters. In a solar PV system with string inverters, every panel is wired into a string, and usually up to three strings can be connected to the main inverter.
The energy your panels produce then gets sent to a single inverter, which you can usually find in your basement, garage, or on the side of your home. The inverter then converts all the electricity generated by your solar panels into AC electricity that you can use in your home.
The advantages of string inverters is that they are the most budget-friendly option, and they are extremely durable. They’re also very easy to maintain, as they are usually placed in locations that are easy to access in or around your home.
The disadvantages of string inverters is that if your solar panel is affected by something like shading, then it will affect the output of every panel on an individual string.
Multiple strings are able to accommodate multiple roof planes on the same inverter. But sting inverters are not the best for more complex systems or roofs that are regularly shaded.
We would recommend string inverters for properties for panels with simple designs, and roofs that have regular access to the sun throughout the day. We also recommend string inverters for those on a budget.
Whereas string inverters are often considered to be ‘central’ inverters, microinverters are thought of as more ‘distributed’ inverters. If you have a solar PV system with microinverters, it means that a group of small inverters will be installed with each individual solar panel.
So instead of sending energy from each panel to a single inverter, microinverter systems convert DC solar energy to AC energy from the roof.
The advantages of microinverters are that each of your solar panels performs individually, which is excellent for more complex systems or if your roof experiences shading.
Microinverters also maximize the output of all your panels directly from the panel to reduce the effects of shading, and lets you monitor your system from individual panels.
The disadvantages of microinverters are that they are often more costly than string inverters, and if you encounter a problem with them, they can be difficult to repair or even maintain because they need to be located on the roof.
We recommend microinverters for systems that have panels facing in multiple directions, or if you have a small space and want to maximize your solar production.
We also recommend microinverters if you have complicated roof structures, or have things like chimneys or gables on your roof that can put your panels in the shade.
Power optimizers are a compromise between string inverters and microinverters. Power optimizers, like microinverters, are found on the roof next to your solar panels, or on a roof that is integrated with your panels. However, power optimizers will still send energy to a centralized inverter.
Instead of converting the DC electricity into AC electricity where the solar panel is placed, power optimizers ‘condition’ the DC electricity by correcting the voltage of the electricity before sending it to the string inverter.
When a power optimizer is paired with a string inverter, it can be more efficient than just a single string inverter, especially when shading is an issue.
The advantages of power optimizers is that they improve the efficiency of your system if you have a non-traditional roof where shading is an issue.
Optimizers also tend to cost less than microinverters, and the output of each panel is optimized to deal with the impact of any panel that is shaded. It also monitors the performance of other panels.
The disadvantages of power optimizers are that they become more expensive when paired with a string inverter. Just like microinverters, solar PV systems with power optimizers are often harder to maintain.
We recommend power optimizers for those with a complicated roof and would like to improve the performance of their solar panel system, without having to invest in microinverters.
How to Choose The Best Solar Inverter For Your Home
Now that we know just how important inverters can be to your solar power system, let’s take a look at why it’s so important to get the right one for your home.
There are many inverter manufacturers on the market, so let’s take a look at some things you need to keep in mind when shopping around.
Independent & Company Solar
Companies understand that sole requirements will differ by area and can choose an inverter that suits your individual needs.
They usually offer a free consultation and custom system design, and can talk to you about the optimal location for your inverter based on your home and your solar power needs.
However, you can also shop around independently, rather than going through a solar company that can make recommendations.
However, this requires a lot of research, and you will have to find out what inverter is the most compatible inverter for your system, and the regulations in your area which we will get into below.
As an inverter is a key component of an efficient solar power system, you’ll want to be sure you’re picking the right one for you.
When it comes to residential solar, different areas will have specific regulations. In Massachusetts, for example, there are regulations regarding the size of solar energy systems that qualify for net metering, and a cap has been set regarding this.
The cap is based on the maximum power output of the inverter rather than the panels, because it dictates how much energy your system can return to the grid.
This makes it possible to have your combined solar panel size under 10 kW, while still having a powerful inverter that would take you over 10 kW.
Again, if you decide to independently shop around for a solar power system, then it’s important that you understand the regulations in your area surrounding met metering and the incentive programs available.
The Cost of Solar Inverters
Much like rooftop solar panels, there is no ‘one size fits all’ category for inverters in regard to pricing. Since inverters are so important to solar energy systems, many companies will include the cost of the inverter into the overall cost of a solar power system.
This makes it hard to pin down the exact price of an inverter. Some standalone inverters can be found online, but the prices vary wildly. This is because of a few different factors.
Where the inverter was purchased
The cost of an inverter is likely to vary depending on where you bought it, and this is because of availability, shipping, taxes, and many other factors.
We’ve already mentioned that the cost of an inverter is often included in the total cost of your system, so buying an inverter independently means you are limited to third-party retailers who mainly supply solar equipment to companies who install solar power systems rather than individual customers.
The solar power system size
It may sound like common sense, but the bigger your solar system, the harder your solar inverter will need to work, and therefore, the more expensive it will be.
The main thing to remember is that you need to buy a durable inverter to get your money’s worth. It’s important to shop around and be wary of cost, but you don’t want to skimp on quality either.
The solar agreement you’ve chosen: A solar agreement is how you have chosen to pay for your solar power, based on what agreement options are available in your area. If you sign up with a solar company, the equipment costs are likely to be included with the cost of the system as a whole.
Or you can purchase an inverter through a third-party retailer.
Special features mandated by the area you live
Inverters may come with built-in special features. These might be revenue grade meters (these are often mandated by state incentive programs as they provide a more accurate reading of energy production), secure power supplies, or smart inverter settings/functionality.
We hope that now you have an idea of how solar inverters operate, you can now decide which inverter is best for your system. For example, not every system will get the most out of string inverters, and it may not make financial sense to pay more for microinverters or power optimizers.
There isn’t a superior inverter, as it all depends on your circumstances and needs.
The best way to discover which option is right for you is to get quotes from qualified local installers in your area, who can advise you on what inverter is best for your system.
The price of the inverter will most likely be included in the cost of your system, and you may be able to get a deal!
However, if you would rather buy your inverter independently from a third party, especially if you already have a system but would like an inverter to go with it, remember to do as much research as possible.