Solar Inverters: What They are and Why They’re so Important…

When the word solar comes to mind, we generally imagine a couple dozen panels neatly placed on the top of a home’s roof. Those panels generate electricity from photons in the sun’s light and transmit that electricity to appliances throughout the household. Although solar might appear to be a simple process, there is so much more than a couple panels and free electricity for the home. In fact, each system we install consists of panels, wiring, inverters, and metering systems. Each one of these plays a crucial role in having a solar system that supplies exactly enough electricity to a home and helps save money on power.

Today, we’ll take a look at what a solar inverter is and why it is an essential part of the solar system.

What is an Inverter and why do I need one?

The inverter, or the “brains” of your solar system, is actually just as important as the panels themselves. Without an inverter, your home wouldn’t be able to use the energy from the sun. When photons from sunlight hit the negative-charged top layer of solar panels, electrons get knocked loose and this creates a flow of Direct Current (DC) electricity. A power inverter gets wired in to convert the DC output into alternating current (AC), which is the electricity that your home uses for its appliances, lighting, and other electronics. After the DC energy has been converted into AC energy, the electricity from your panels can power your home or get fed back into the grid. Basically, an inverter makes the energy from the sun usable in your home by converting it into something that your appliances can use.

Inverters are also useful for a handful of other tasks regarding your solar panel system. They monitor data and energy production for your solar panels, which can tell you if you are over- or underproducing. Your inverter can also be helpful in knowing when your panels need maintenance or need to be replaced.

The solar industry is growing quickly, so every year there are advances to the technology that are meant to improve the efficiency of solar all while saving the consumer money. As solar prices have gone down in recent years, inverter manufacturers have made updates to inverters that make them more cost-effective to produce while still maintaining performance.

Types of Inverters:

There are a few different kinds of inverters that are used in solar panel installations: central inverters, microinverters, and power optimizers.

Central inverters, or “string” inverters, are the most common in residential solar installations. The panels are wired together and then wired to the central inverter. The power from the panels all gets sent to the inverter. This kind of inverter can usually be found on the side of a home, or maybe in a garage or basement. They are the lowest-cost option, durable, and easy to maintain. However, since all of the panels are “stringed” together, if one of them has a lower performance due to shading or another factor, the output of the connected panels can be impacted.

Microinverters are more expensive than central inverters, but they can also perform better. Each solar panel has a small inverter installed with it, and instead of all the panels sending their energy to a central inverter, each panel is able to convert its own DC energy into AC energy. This is better for systems that may be more complicated or receive less sunlight due to shading from trees. Microinverters ensure that each panel’s output is being optimized, independent of the other panels on the roof. However, they can be a lot more expensive and therefore not as cost effective for the average homeowner looking to switch to solar. Also, because they are on the roof by the panels, they are harder to keep up with any maintenance or repairs.

Power optimizers are somewhere in between string inverters and microinverters. Like microinverters, they are located at the site of each solar panel, but they also send the power from the panels to a centralized inverter. Basically, they “optimize” or fix the voltage of the electricity at the level of the panel, and then they send that down to the central inverter. This can improve the performance of your solar panels and is also helpful if you have shading on your roof or a complicated solar panel design. For this reason, power optimizers are considered to be somewhat of a compromise between central inverters and microinverters. They are more cost effective than microinverters, but more expensive than string inverters, and also more difficult to maintain or repair.

Do I need an Inverter if I have a Battery Backup?

Anyone who has looked into off-grid solar knows that a battery is necessary for your solar system to operate on its own, without a utility company. Solar battery technologies are being advanced every year, but they are still very expensive for the average homeowner. Most opt in to staying connected to the grid for a small monthly connection fee of about $5-15. When your panels don’t produce enough electricity, you get the electricity you need from the utility company. On the other hand, when your panels produce excess electricity, they send it back to the utility company and through net metering programs, you might even be able to get compensated for this excess energy. A solar battery stores energy from solar panels so that it can be used at night, during a power outage, or when energy demand increases.

Because an inverter is necessary in converting energy from the sun into usable electricity for your home, the inverter is an integral part of your solar system whether or not you have a battery. In fact, adding a battery to your system can be a more complex process if your solar system is not already “storage ready.” A storage ready system has an inverter that can easily integrate a battery into the system. Most solar systems, however, require additional equipment if you want to add battery storage, including a separate inverter for the energy from the battery. You can also switch out your inverter to one that makes your system “storage ready.”

Living off the grid in an area where the grid is accessible doesn’t make a ton of sense. For starters, staying connected to the grid only costs around $5-$15 per month (depending on the state you live in). So, going off the grid will only save you anywhere from $60-$180 per year. Those savings don’t come close to the cost of a solar battery, which means you’ll have to put down more money from the get-go if you want to be off the grid. At Blue Raven Solar, we recommend that homeowners stay connected to the grid and instead take advantage of local net metering programs, which can make having solar panels even more worth it from a savings standpoint. At Blue Raven Solar, we make sure that solar is affordable to many homeowners who have the desire to make the switch to solar. The inverter that we will install with your system will ensure that your solar panels produce the energy you need to save money.

Get a Quote for a Solar System Today

Our mission at Blue Raven Solar is “to make homeowners’ lives better by reducing their energy bills, by increasing their reliance on clean and abundant renewable energy, and by providing a world class customer experience through a reliable sales process and a speedy, high-quality installation.” We are here to serve the homeowner and to help them save money and reduce their carbon footprint by switching to solar! The equipment we install on a homeowner’s roof is top-tier and built to last. We also offer a 24-month production guarantee, a 10-year workmanship warranty (which protects our customers against any of the threats mentioned in this post), and a 25-year panel warranty. It is our objective to make going solar as simple and pain free of an experience as possible. So, get a free quote today, and we’ll get your panels installed to produce electricity and save you money year-round.  

Sources:

https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2013/04/how-do-solar-inverters-work/

https://news.energysage.com/solar-inverters-comparing-inverter-technologies/

https://www.energysage.com/solar/solar-energy-storage/add-battery-your-solar-energy-system/

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