Understanding and Choosing the Right Solar Inverter

Last Updated:
August 12, 2023
Kay Nicole

solar inverter

Solar inverters are the most crucial component of your home solar system. They are responsible for converting DC energy into AC power. Inverters achieve their nameplate power ratings by rapidly switching the voltage back and forth. It creates a clean, repeating waveform that can power devices like your household appliances.

What is a Solar Inverter?

Solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity. Still, your home is wired for alternating current power from the grid, so you need an inverter to convert your DC energy into utility-grade AC power. Modern inverters are sophisticated and intelligent. They can monitor and report your system performance online or through an app. Inverters can also support functions like managing battery storage and enabling solar-plus-storage systems. A solar inverter is the heart of a photovoltaic solar power system, converting the variable DC output of solar panels into a stable utility frequency AC power. It can also manage a battery, allowing you to store solar energy for backup or use during outages and peak demand periods.

Several inverters exist, including traditional string inverters, microinverters and power optimizers. Conventional string inverters connect a string of panels and send the entire line to one central inverter to convert to AC. This setup can be cost-effective but is vulnerable to shading or panel damage, and it limits the amount of power that can be exported to the grid. Microinverters and power optimizers convert at the panel level, maximizing every panel's performance.

How Does a Solar Inverter Work?

When the sun shines, electrons inside your solar panels' photovoltaic (PV) cells begin to move, generating direct current electricity. The solar inverter converts this DC electricity into alternating current (AC) power that your home's electrical appliances can use. The inverter is a key part of the renewable energy system because your entire PV panel array won't generate electricity if it doesn't work. Most modern solar inverters do much more than change the voltage of the energy that flows through them. They are also the brains of your solar energy system and can provide you with various monitoring capabilities. It includes letting you know how much power your panels produce at any given moment, their historical performance, and how much energy you've consumed from the grid.

Additionally, advanced solar inverters can disconnect your solar system from the utility power line during a grid outage to protect any workers on the power lines. They can also feed excess energy back into the utility grid if you have a battery backup system or live in a state with net metering to generate extra power bill credits for your home. The sizing of your solar inverter is also an important consideration. If it's too small, it won't be able to handle your PV panel's output and will negatively impact its performance and efficiency.

How to Choose the Right Solar Inverter?

Choosing the right solar inverter is one of the most important steps in a successful solar power system. The inverter serves as a converter, turning solar panel power into electricity that can be used in your home or by equipment like electric chargers. Start by determining the total power consumption of your home. You can do this by adding the wattage of all home appliances, devices, and lights. It will give you an idea of how much power your solar system needs to produce. Next, you'll want to choose an inverter with enough capacity to meet or exceed the power rating you calculated above. Inverter manufacturers often list sizing guidelines for the array capacities their inverters can be paired with on their product spec sheets. If you select an inverter that falls outside of these sizing guidelines, the manufacturer may void their warranty offering. If you're looking for a more efficient solution, consider using microinverters or power optimizers in your solar system. Both are electronic devices installed on each solar panel, enabling them to track panel-level maximum power points, allowing for greater energy yield. However, they tend to be more expensive than a standard string inverter.

What Does a Solar Inverter Do?

Your solar panels provide direct current (DC) electricity, which a solar inverter converts into alternating current (AC), which power appliances in homes and businesses. With the inverter, the energy from your solar panel array is useful. Solar inverters can also connect your system to the grid if you live in an area where net metering is available. And some hybrid inverters are compatible with home battery backup systems, so you can use your solar power at night or charge electric vehicles. Typical residential solar power systems are built with string inverters, which wire the panels together in a DC series circuit and then convert that combined energy into AC electricity at the bottom end of the system. They're the most cost-effective option for homeowners, but they suffer from the disadvantage that if one panel goes down (due to shade or damage), it can lower the performance of the entire array. Microinverters are fitted to each solar panel and then directly convert DC into AC, eliminating the need for a central inverter. Because of this, they can offer more flexibility if your roof has complex geometry or shading issues. Some microinverters are also paired with power optimizers, which can improve the performance of each panel by regulating its voltage and current levels.

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