A

solar energy system comprises several components, each playing a crucial role in harnessing the sun's power and converting it into usable electricity. One of the essential components of a solar energy system is the inverter. An inverter is responsible for converting the direct current (DC) power generated by the photovoltaic (PV) panels into alternating current (AC) power that can be used to power homes and businesses. In this article, we will explore the importance of inverters, how they work, and highlight some of the top solar inverters manufacturers in the industry. Whether you are considering installing a solar system or are simply interested in learning more about this technology, this guide will provide valuable insights into the world of solar inverters.

What makes a solar inverter a vital component in solar energy production?

Think of a solar inverter as an orchestra conductor, bringing together different elements to create a harmonious and powerful output of energy. Its primary function is to convert the electricity generated by PV panels into electricity that can be used by household appliances and the national grid.

Naturally, you may wonder why the panels alone cannot power our appliances without the aid of an inverter. The reason is that the photovoltaic cells in solar panels generate a constant flow of electrons in one direction, resulting in DC (direct current) electricity. However, most of our electrical devices and appliances operate on AC (alternating current) electricity, which changes direction frequently. The primary advantage of AC electricity is that it can be transmitted over longer distances with lower energy loss. To utilize solar energy to power our homes and devices, we require an inverter that converts the DC electricity produced by the panels into AC electricity. Even though this conversion process results in some energy loss, it is an essential step in harnessing the sun's energy.

In addition to converting DC to AC, inverters also play a critical role in optimizing the power output of the solar array. They constantly monitor its voltage to ensure that the panels operate at their highest power level, even in the face of external factors such as shading. This optimization not only increases the system's energy generation but also extends the lifespan of the panels by preventing them from overworking.

Additionally, as the gatekeeper to the national grid, inverters facilitate two-way communication and support grid functions. Smart inverters can handle specific tasks like frequency, voltage, and control and can quickly evaluate and shut down the system if necessary to ensure safety and avoid risks to people or property.

The inverter has evolved into more than just a DC-to-AC conversion device. It now includes advanced features such as power production reports that allow homeowners to monitor their system's electricity output and diagnose potential issues. With Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet capabilities, homeowners can easily access the information they need from their smartphone or computer, making solar systems more accessible and user-friendly.

Exploring the various types of solar inverters

The market offers various types of inverters, each with unique advantages and limitations. In this section, we will explore them in more detail and look at how they function and what benefits they provide.

The most commonly used are string inverters, while micro inverters and power optimizers have become increasingly popular due to their efficiency and installation flexibility. We will also discuss hybrid inverters, which combine solar power with energy storage, allowing homeowners to store excess energy for later use or during a power outage.

String

String inverters are the most widely used because of their affordability and long-term reliability. They have been a staple in the industry for many years and are still a popular option for both residential and commercial solar projects. These inverters are known for their simplicity and ease of installation.

Typically about the size of a wall-mounted water heater, string inverters weigh roughly 50 pounds and measure 30 inches in height, 20 inches in width, and 8 inches in depth. For the sake of convenience, maintenance, and monitoring, these inverters are commonly installed in a central location near the side of a ground mount or on the side of a house - often adjacent to the utility meter.

Pros:

  • Cost-effective: String inverters are more affordable compared to micro inverters, making them an excellent choice for budget-conscious homeowners.
  • Easy to install and troubleshoot: Unlike micro inverters, string inverters are installed with a single device that converts the DC electricity from the panels into usable AC electricity. This makes installation simple and troubleshooting straightforward.
  • Reliable: String inverters have been around for decades, and their technology has been continuously refined and improved. As a result, these models have become very reliable, with proven track records of long-term performance.

Cons:

  • Shading issues: The performance of an entire photovoltaic system using string inverters can be affected by the least productive panel. If one panel is shaded, it reduces the output of all the other panels connected on the same string, resulting in decreased overall efficiency.
  • Frequent replacements: String inverters typically have a lifespan of only 10 to 15 years, which means that they may need to be replaced several times over the life of your solar system. This can add to the overall cost of ownership, making it a less attractive option for some consumers.
  • Lack of individual panel monitoring: String inverters monitor the generation of the entire solar power system, which can make it challenging to identify individual panel issues. This can result in less precise fault detection and potentially decrease energy output over time.
  • Difficulties in expansion: String inverters work best when they are operating at their peak capacity, making it challenging to expand your solar system without purchasing a higher-power inverter. This can be costly and limit the ability to add additional panels to the system.
  • Minimal system capacity demands: String inverters have minimum system size requirements, so they may not be suitable for low-capacity solar systems. This can limit the options available to consumers looking to install a smaller system for their home or business.

Microinverters

Micro inverters and their string counterparts share the fundamental role of transforming direct current energy generated by solar panels into usable alternating current. However, the primary distinction between them is that micro inverters are placed beneath each individual panel on a roof, while string inverters use a single system for all panels, typically installed separately.

Micro inverters are compact, roughly the size of an internet router, and operate at the source of power generation, converting DC to AC on a per-panel basis. Each micro inverter works autonomously, so if one panel's output is affected by shading, it will not impact the other panels. Although micro inverters are somewhat more expensive, they are an essential component of optimizing energy generation for systems with unique requirements.

Pros:

  • Enhanced safety: Micro inverters comply with the rapid shutdown requirements of new electrical codes, making them a safer option for first responders and firefighters working on rooftops or servicing power lines.
  • Increased electricity production: Micro inverters help yield more electricity as there are slight differences in currents between the panels in a string. The current is reduced to the least-producing panel in the string, but micro inverters ensure that all energy is harvested.
  • No single point of failure: If one micro inverter or panel fails, it doesn't affect the performance of the rest of the system. This means that the system can continue to operate at a high efficiency level even if there are some faulty panels or micro inverters.
  • Longer warranty: Micro inverters often come with a more extended warranty than string options. For example, many micro inverters have a warranty of up to 25 years, while string inverters typically have a 10-15 years warranty. This longer warranty provides greater peace of mind for homeowners and can save money in the long run.
  • Panel-level monitoring: Micro inverters enable you to monitor, optimize and diagnose the performance of each panel at the individual level, thereby maximizing your energy production.
  • Customizable panel layout with room for expansion: Each panel is connected to its own micro inverter, allowing the panels to be arranged in various orientations and angles without affecting the system's overall efficiency. Additionally, it's easy to expand the system by simply adding more panels and micro inverters.

Cons:

  • Higher cost: Micro inverters usually come with a higher price tag compared to string inverters, with a price range that is typically 10% to 20% more.
  • Maintenance challenges: If one of the micro inverters fails, detecting which one is the culprit can be challenging. Even once identified, replacing the component is not as straightforward as it is with a string inverter. The solar installer would need to climb up on the roof, work with the racking system, and unbolt the solar modules to replace the micro inverter, which can be time-consuming and costly.
  • Extra hardware on the roof: these inverters increase the amount of hardware on your roof since each panel has its own micro inverter attached to it. This can be unsightly and add to the expense of the installation.

Hybrid

A hybrid inverter is a device that combines a solar inverter and a battery inverter (responsible for converting DC power from the batteries to AC) into a single unit.

Traditionally, if you add a battery system to your existing panel setup, you would need a separate battery inverter to convert the electricity between AC and DC. However, a hybrid inverter eliminates the need for a second inverter, as it can perform both functions - converting electricity from the panels and storing/discharging energy in batteries.

One of the most appealing aspects of hybrid inverters is their versatility. They can be installed even if you don't currently have a battery system, making it a smart investment for those who plan to add batteries to their setup later.

Hybrid inverters need an external energy meter to gauge electricity consumption and software that can be customized to optimize the utilization of your solar energy, allowing the system to discern the right time for battery charging or discharging.

Pros:

  • Uninterrupted power supply: Unlike traditional grid-tie inverters, a hybrid inverter combined with a battery storage system ensures continuous access to electricity even during a blackout.
  • Streamlined energy monitoring: Monitoring your solar system becomes simplified with a hybrid inverter as it allows you to monitor vital data such as performance and energy production on a single panel or connected device.
  • Adding battery storage: Installing a full photovoltaic system with battery storage can be costly. However, hybrid inverters can be integrated with batteries at any time, allowing you to add a battery bank later on without having to incur the full costs upfront.

Cons:

  • Retrofitting hassles: If your solar system is already up and running, installing a hybrid inverter will require additional rewiring and labor, which can increase the overall cost of your solar system. Opting for an AC-coupled battery with its own inverter can be an easier and less expensive solution.
  • Upfront costs: Adding a hybrid inverter and batteries to your setup can be more expensive upfront compared to a traditional grid-tied solution. This investment could be worthwhile if you face frequent power outages. However, if your utility provider offers appealing net metering incentives and your power grid is dependable, a grid-tied system with a standard inverter might be a more economical choice.
  • Limited compatibility: Not all hybrid inverters are compatible with every type of battery, and some energy storage systems already have a built-in inverter. Installing a hybrid inverter now may limit your options for future battery technologies or other energy storage solutions, so it's essential to consider your future needs before making a decision.

Power optimizers

Another option is to use a combination of inverters and power optimizers. Power optimizer systems offer a flexible solution that falls somewhere between a standard string inverter and micro inverters. These devices are installed at each solar panel, and as the panels produce electricity, they adjust the voltage to refine the electricity before sending it to the central inverter for conversion. Note that power optimizers cannot function independently as inverters and thus require a centralized string inverter to handle the conversion process.

Pros:

  • Increased efficiency in partially shaded conditions: DC power optimizers can help you generate up to 25% more electricity when your panels are partially shaded or facing multiple angles.
  • Real-time data tracking: Power optimizers can collect and report real-time data on energy production from each solar module to the cloud. This allows you to stay on top of your system's performance and alert your installer if any issues arise.
  • Smaller inverter size: The use of power optimizers reduces the size of the inverter needed as voltage tracking occurs at the individual module level, freeing up space and resulting in a more aesthetically pleasing installation.

Cons:

  • Limited options: Currently, there are only a few manufacturers of power optimizers in the market, which means your selection will be limited.
  • Higher installation costs: As power optimizer equipment is installed on each panel, the installation costs for your system will be marginally higher compared to a conventional string inverter setup.
  • Mismatched warranty terms: Even though the standard warranty period for power optimizers is 25 years, the inverters linked with them come with a warranty duration varying from 8 to 12 years. This implies that you may end up replacing your inverter before the solar panels, which can be annoying.

Sizing your solar inverter: how to determine the correct capacity

Choosing the appropriate size of an inverter can be overwhelming for homeowners, especially if they are not well-versed in the technical aspects of photovoltaic equipment. When sizing an inverter for a home solar system, there are several factors to consider, such as the size of the solar panels, the expected energy usage, and the roof space available.

Ideally, the capacity of the inverter should match the combined capacity of the panels. For example, if you have ten panels, each rated at 300 watts, your total capacity would be 3 kilowatts (kW). Therefore, it is recommended to choose an inverter with a capacity of 3 kW or more, depending on your anticipated energy consumption.

Breaking down the costs of solar inverters

It's challenging to pinpoint an exact cost for an inverter since each system design varies. The requirements rely on the overall system design, and the size can be increased or decreased depending on the energy demands of your home.

The price of a string inverter generally falls between $1,000 to $2,000. Micro inverters are pricier, costing $1,000 or more than a comparable string inverter for the same-sized system. Power optimizer prices usually range from $50 to $200, but remember that you will need to buy one optimizer for each panel and an inverter to connect them.

In Massachusetts, solar installers like SunPower, Sunrun, and Vivint Solar offer professional services for residential and commercial solar installations.

Choosing the best inverter for your solar project: factors to consider

Solar system’s size and capacity

The size and capacity of your solar system are critical factors in determining the appropriate inverter for your setup. Inverter capacity is rated by its maximum output, which should match or exceed the maximum capacity of your panels. For larger systems, you may need either multiple inverters or a larger central inverter.

Efficiency

The efficiency of an inverter is the percentage of DC power that it can convert into AC power. The higher the efficiency, the more electricity your solar system can produce. A high-efficiency inverter can also help reduce the size of your system and lower your overall costs.

Durability and lifespan

Solar inverters are typically exposed to harsh weather conditions and may be subject to wear and tear over time. Therefore, it's important to select an inverter that can withstand these conditions and has a long lifespan to ensure the durability of your solar system.

Compatibility with solar panels and solar battery storage

It is crucial to ensure that your inverter is compatible with your solar panels and any battery storage systems you plan to install. Different inverters may have different voltage requirements or compatibility with specific panel types or battery chemistries.

Warranty and customer support

Finally, consider the warranty and customer support provided by the inverter manufacturer. Look for inverters with comprehensive warranties and responsive customer support, as this can provide added peace of mind and help to ensure that any issues with your system are quickly and effectively resolved.

Top companies in the solar inverter industry and their best products

With a growing number of solar inverters manufacturers in the market, it can be challenging to choose the right one. In this part, we will take a closer look at the best solar inverter companies and the products they offer, helping you make an informed decision when choosing the best product for your solar project.

Fronius

Fronius, a manufacturer that has been around for 75 years, was founded in Austria in 1945. Over the last 30 years, Fronius has become a well-known global brand that produces welding equipment, energy monitoring and controlling devices, inverters, and battery chargers. Fronius entered the solar inverter market in 1995 with its first grid-connected model, which helped establish its position as a leading manufacturer of solar inverters worldwide. Today, Fronius offers an extensive range of solar inverters suitable for various residential and commercial-scale projects.

The Fronius Primo, Symo, and ECO models are part of the latest snapINverter range, which has gained popularity in both residential and commercial installations. However, the high demand for the Fronius Primo inverters in residential settings has resulted in occasional supply shortages. Despite a few minor hitches, the feedback on the Fronius inverters has been overwhelmingly positive.

Fronius Primo & Symo are known for their superior efficiency standards, ranking among the top in the industry with rates of 98% or higher. Additionally, Fronius has a strong reputation in the inverter market for producing quality products that stand the test of time.

On the other hand, it's important to note that Fronius inverters are considered premium products and can be more expensive than string options offered by other solar inverters manufacturers. Also, while Fronius offers a 5-year full warranty, some of their competitors offer a full 10-year warranty which may be more beneficial for some consumers.

Huawei

Huawei is a Chinese tech giant that has been providing top-of-the-line smart devices and communication technology globally since 1987. In addition to their impressive tech offerings, Huawei is also a major player in the solar industry and is known for being one of the largest solar inverters manufacturers in the world.

One thing that sets Huawei's inverters apart from the competition is their incorporation of optimization abilities. While other inverters require separate devices to optimize performance, Huawei's SUN200L range offers full panel optimization capability right out of the box. Another unique feature of Huawei's inverters is their intelligent design that relies on natural heat dissipation rather than cooling fans. This not only increases power generation but also results in a highly reliable and corrosion-resistant product that emits very little noise.

Huawei offers a diverse range of residential inverters to meet varying needs. The SUN2000L and SUN2000L1 are two popular inverter options, with capacities ranging from 2kW to 5kW and 2kW to 6kW, respectively, available in both single and three-phase configurations.

The SUN2000L1 inverter is an upgraded version of the SUN200L, equipped with more powerful optimizers and compatible with Huawei's LUNA2000 battery storage. Additionally, the SUN2000-L1 inverter boasts a 'dual MPPT' feature and an extensive operating voltage range of 120V to 600V. These inverters are known for their compact and lightweight design, making them easy to install and move around if necessary.

SMA

SMA Solar Technologies, a German manufacturer, has been producing inverters longer than nearly any other company. It was once considered a leader among solar inverter companies until the Fronius snap-in series overtook it in 2016. Nonetheless, the newly released Sunny Boy AV series has managed to recapture a significant portion of the market.

The SMA Sunny Boy is the top-selling product of the manufacturer. It is a simple yet efficient string inverter, requiring proper panel placement and minimal shading to perform optimally. Ideal for on-grid residential setups, SMA offers a range of models ranging from 3kW to 7.7kW in size. With a peak efficiency rating of 97.5%, it ranks among the most efficient inverters in the market. Although it comes with a 10-year warranty as standard, it requires minimal maintenance throughout its lifetime.

SMA offers a complimentary online monitoring bundle known as the Sunny portal, and the majority of SMA inverters currently include Wifi webconnect functionality as a default feature.

SolarEdge

Founded in 2006 and based in Israel, SolarEdge Technologies has earned a global reputation for being one of the leading solar inverters manufacturers. Its unique selling point is its innovative power optimizers, which have revolutionized the conventional string or micro inverter market and provided new opportunities for the use of solar energy.

SolarEdge inverters and power optimizers have proven to be superior to traditional residential inverters, boasting a remarkable maximum efficiency rate of 99.5%. This is because these products can prevent power loss caused by shading or malfunctioning of individual modules, a common issue with string inverters. Furthermore, SolarEdge products are more suitable for larger systems than micro inverters, as they are not limited by voltage regulations.

Their power optimizers have the ability to regulate their output when panels are shaded, keeping a consistent combined voltage of approximately 350 volts. This ensures that the performance of one panel does not negatively impact the overall efficiency of the entire system.

The warranty coverage for SolarEdge's inverter spans 12 years, while their optimizers offer an impressive 25-year warranty, exceeding the industry average. Moreover, SolarEdge provides users with the freedom to mix and match their optimizers with other inverter brands, thanks to the built-in independent operation technology.

Conclusion: why investing in a quality solar inverter pays off

To sum up, selecting the right manufacturer for your solar system's inverter is critical. A good quality inverter not only guarantees that your panels are performing at their best but also safeguards your system against power surges or grid failures. By investing in a high-quality solar inverter, you can improve the efficiency and longevity of your solar system, resulting in long-term savings and reduced carbon emissions.

With many solar inverters manufacturers in the market, it is essential to do proper research and choose a reputable brand that provides reliable products, excellent warranties, and customer support, giving you the assurance that your solar system is in safe hands. Conducting thorough research and investing in a top-notch inverter can prove to be beneficial in the long run, both economically and environmentally.

Posted 
May 29, 2023
 in 
Blog
 category

More from 

Blog

 category

View All

Get Accurate & Competitive Quotes in Minutes

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.