What are Solar Inverters?

Up close view of a solar inverter with different size blue and orange circles in the background and geometric shapes and lines

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), inverters for solar panels are one of the most important pieces of equipment in a solar energy system. They are considered the heart of the solar operating system.


As a critical component of your home solar system, let’s explore how solar inverters work, their benefits, the types of inverters available and necessary for residential solar panels, their typical lifespan, how much they cost, and if they are covered by warranties to ensure you understand your solar panel system.


To clarify what an inverter does, a quick review of how a solar system works and the basics of electricity is helpful:


Direct current (DC) electricity is a type of electric current which flows in one direction. It is what batteries and solar cells generate, providing a constant and precise voltage. Alternating current (AC) electricity is another type of electric current. It changes direction periodically creating a wave-like pattern and is the type of electricity used to power nearly all electrical devices in the typical home—from your lights and heating and cooling system to your refrigerator, toaster, and charging devices. 


For a more detailed description of the differences between DC and AC power, along with the history of the development of both, see MIT’s website. A basic understanding of both DC and AC is an important foundation for any discussion about inverters.

Up close view of a solar inverter with different size blue and orange circles in the background

How do Inverters for Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels produce DC power from the sun’s energy. To use that power inside your home or feed it into the electrical grid, it needs to first pass through an inverter to be converted to AC power. The solar inverter, typically an electronic device shaped like a small box, rapidly switches the direction of the DC current flowing in from your solar panels back and forth to change the frequency of the current to the repeating wave pattern of an AC electrical flow. This allows the electricity to flow safely into the power grid, which your home then pulls power from, without damaging any electrical equipment.

In a solar panel system including a battery backup—often an off-grid scenario—inverters for solar power remain an important part of the system. They monitor and transform the DC power stored in your batteries to AC power and instead of feeding the electricity into the utility grid, the inverter will be connected directly to your home’s electrical panel, allowing you to use the power for your own immediate consumption.

What are the Benefits of the Inverter within a Solar System?

Besides managing the conversion of electric currents, the U.S. DOE also reports solar panel inverters often perform additional functions, including:


  • Maximizing energy production by adjusting the voltage and current to optimize the power output of the solar panels.


  • Monitoring system status by providing data on the performance, efficiency, and health of the solar system. Some inverters can also send alerts or notifications if there are any issues or faults.


  • Providing reliable energy in remote areas where grid access is limited or unreliable. Some inverters can also work with home storage solutions like batteries or generators to provide backup power in case of grid outages or at night.


  • Communicating with the utility grid by synchronizing their frequency and voltage to match the grid standards. Some inverters can participate in smart grid functions, such as voltage regulation or frequency control.


  • Saving money by reducing or eliminating electricity bills, depending on the net metering policies in your area. Some inverters can also qualify for tax credits, rebates, or incentives which lower the upfront cost of the solar panel system.
Different types of inverters with various sizes of blue and orange rectangle shapes in the background

What Types of Inverters are Available for Home Solar Systems?

There are different types of inverters available for solar rooftop systems, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The type of inverter your system needs depends on several factors, such as roof design, shading conditions, energy needs, and grid connection options. Our Blue Raven Solar experts can help you determine the best inverter for your home.

Here are four of the most common solar inverters:


  • String inverters: These are the simplest and most affordable type of inverter. They connect a series of solar panels into a single circuit and convert the DC power from the whole string into AC power. They are usually installed near the power meter or on a wall of your home. A primary drawback of string inverters is they can reduce the overall performance of the system if one panel is shaded or damaged, as it affects the whole string. They also do not allow individual monitoring of each panel.


  • Microinverters: These are small inverters attached to each solar panel which independently convert the DC power from each panel into AC power. They are more complex and expensive than simple string inverters, but they offer more benefits. They can optimize the power output of each panel, regardless of shading or orientation. They enable panel-level monitoring and also offer troubleshooting to make it easier to expand the system in the future.


  • DC power optimizers: These devices work with string inverters but add some of the features of microinverters. They are installed on each panel and perform DC-to-DC conversion (adjusting the voltage level of the current) to optimize the power output of each panel. They then send the DC power to a central string inverter, which converts it to AC power. Power optimizers combine the advantages of both string and microinverters, offering a lower cost, higher efficiency option along with panel-level monitoring.


  • Hybrid inverters: These are advanced inverters which can integrate battery storage and energy management capabilities into your solar panel system. They can store excess solar power in batteries for later use or send it back to the grid at optimal times. They can also operate independently from the grid in case of emergencies causing outages, providing backup power to your home. Hybrid inverters are more expensive and complex than other types of inverters, but they offer enhanced energy efficiency, cost savings, and flexibility.
"10-25" in bold text with geometric shapes behind in different shades of blue and orange

What is the Lifespan of a Solar Inverter?

As an active, integral component of a solar power system, inverters do a lot of work—often under harsh weather conditions. According to Solar Reviews, the lifespan of inverters for solar depends on the type, quality, brand, model, installation, maintenance, and environmental conditions. 


Rough lifespan estimates are:


  • String inverters: 10-15 years
  • Microinverters: 15-25 years
  • DC power optimizers: 20-25 years


Solar inverters generally have a shorter lifespan than the overall system, due to their constant work and exposure to heat and weathering. 


The warranties for inverters mirror their lifespan ranges and typically fall between 5 to 25 years, depending on the manufacturer and model. When you’re considering a home solar system, it’s recommended your inverter(s) be covered as long as your panels

What Does Blue Raven Solar Recommend?

Custom solar panel systems installed by Blue Raven Solar generally use Enphase microinverters. Enphase microinverters allow for easier monitoring and troubleshooting of the system and include a 25-year warranty with a low failure rate, making them a reliable, high-efficiency choice.


Solar inverters are a critical component of your solar system, as they make the electricity generated by your solar panels usable for your home or to be sent back to the grid. 


Choosing the right inverter for your system can make a big difference in the performance, efficiency, and savings of your solar investment. Whether you want to reduce your carbon emissions, lower your electricity bills, or increase your home value, we’re here to help you achieve your solar goals. Contact our solar experts today for a free consultation.

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