Your transition to solar power is generally a seamless process completely administered by an experienced solar installer and includes permitting, and monitoring of your solar panel system. While you’ll barely have to lift a finger, there’s one key decision you’ll need to make in regards to your installation. Solar inverters are an important component of any solar PV installation and choosing the right type hinges on your situation and size of your system.
Solar inverters are the brains of your solar array
Solar inverters are electronic devices that convert DC (direct current) produced by solar panels to usable AC (alternating current) which powers household appliances or systems. Not only that, inverters also provide a window to your system’s performance which allows installers to monitor and/or fix system issues.
Major leaps in inverter technology now carry total efficiencies of more than 98%.
This article classifies solar inverters into three main types to help you in your decision-making process for your residential or commercial installation.
Although they tend to be expensive because they carry more components, the use of micro-inverters is expanding, particularly among home solar installations, causing prices to fall. A micro-inverter, however, is still considered a premium product and can pose an issue for large-scale projects. Micro-inverters are most often installed directly into each solar panel.
- Monitors individual panel performance
- Better suited for panels affected by shading or are facing different directions
- Longer warranties, typically 25 years
- A single micro-inverter failure affects only the solar panel it’s attached to and won’t provoke a full system failure
- Withstands harsh environments
- Having multiple points of potential failure, however, increases potential service calls
Often confused for central inverters which cover larger installations, string inverters are installed in rows connected by “strings” or groups of solar panels. Each string transfers DC power to the inverter where it’s converted into AC electricity. Each inverter handles multiple strings, and depending on string sizing and other design considerations, there could be multiple inverters. While they do not monitor individual panels, they do monitor each string, so any irregularities in a string can be diagnosed and if for instance a solar panel has been damaged by flying debris in a storm, that string would indicate a malfunction and the problem can be diagnosed quickly. Available warranties for inverters are typically 5-10 years and have a lifespan of about 15 years before they need to be replaced.
- The most affordable option in the US
- Ideal for both residential and commercial properties without shading issues
- “Tried and true” inverter technology
- Can be paired with power optimizers (coming up next!)
A power optimizer is a combination between micro and string inverters, offering higher system efficiency than string inverters and is typically more affordable than micro-inverters. Also, like micro-inverters, power optimizers reduce the impact of shading on system performance and allow monitoring of individual panels. These have become a very popular choice for residential systems.
Find your best match
If your roof is shade-free and uncomplicated, string inverters might offer a better value. It’s always best to chat with a solar expert to help you compare equipment options along with their cost and savings. Going solar means reaping all of its bountiful benefits, but that’s not to say that you can’t get an even greater return on investment or shorter payback period – get in touch!