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How Solar Inverters Work

Jessica PirroOctober 16, 20192510

When investing in a solar-powered system you are going to want to know everything about how the solar-powered system works, not only the solar panels. As discussed in part one of this three-part series, a solar-powered system has three key components, solar panels, solar power inverter, and solar energy batteries.  

In part 2 we will discuss how solar power inverters work.

What is a Solar Power Inverter?

A solar power inverter is just as essential as solar panels when it comes to utility and residential solar-powered systems. The basic function of the solar power inverter is to change the direct current of the solar panels into alternating current. The various electrical and electronic components connected in the circuit to help in the conversion.

What Do Solar Power Inverters Do?

A solar power inverter uses solar energy that comes from the sun, the solar power inverter aids in changing the direct current solar electricity into the usable alternating current solar electricity. DC is the solar power that flows in one direction in the circuit and it helps providing current when there isn’t any electricity. The DC is used for smaller appliances like gadgets such as iPods, where the power is stored in the battery. But the AC is the power that supplies back and forth inside the circuit. But in general, the AC power is used for household appliances.

How do Solar Power Inverters Work?

When the sun hits the solar panels, electrons within the photovoltaic cells they will begin to move around, which will produce the DC solar electricity. The circuits within the photovoltaic cells will then collect the solar energy for you to use in your home.

Now, this is where solar power inverter comes in. The majority of homes use alternating current (AC), not the DC, which is the solar energy that is produced by the solar panels, deeming it un-useful. Put when the solar panels collect the sunlight and convert it into solar electricity, it gets then is sent to the solar power inverter, which takes the DC energy and converts it into AC energy. Once it is converted, solar electricity can power your appliance and electronics and if your solar-powered system can be fed back to the grid.

The Different Kinds of Solar Power Inverters

All solar power inverters perform the basic task of converting DC solar energy into AC solar energy for your home use. But you will have three different solar power inverter technologies that homeowners will have the option of choosing for their solar-powered system.

String Solar Power Inverters

Most of the small scale solar-powered systems are going to use a string solar power inverter, which is also known as a ‘centralized’ solar power inverter. A solar-powered system with a string solar power inverter, each of the solar panels is wired together into ‘strings’. When they produce solar energy, it’s all going to be sent to a single solar power inverter, which is going to be located on the side of your house, in a garage, or your basement. The solar power inverter is going to then convert all of the solar electricity from your solar panels into ac AC solar electricity for your property’s use.

Pros: string solar power inverters are the lowest-cost inverter option and a true solar power inverter technology. These will be the easiest solar power inverters to maintain, due to the fact they are the easy-to-access location.

Cons: If your solar-powered system uses a string solar power inverter, it’s only going to produce as much solar electricity as the solar panel that is the least productive. The solar electricity production for a solar-powered system with a string solar power inverter can be dramatically reduced if just one or two panels are in the shade or are not operating properly.

Best for: Properties that have uncomplicated roofs that get consistent sun throughout the day, and homeowners are looking for lower-cost solar-powered systems.

Power Optimizers

The solar power optimizers can be looked at like a compromise between string solar power inverters and microinverters. But like the microinverters, power optimizers are going to be located on the roof, next to individual solar panels. Most solar-powered systems with solar power optimizers are still going to send energy to the centralized solar power inverter.

The solar power optimizers don’t convert the DC solar electricity into AC solar electricity at the sight of the solar panels. But, they condition the DC solar electricity by fixing the voltage of the solar electricity, at the point that the electricity is then sent down to the string solar power inverter. A solar-powered system that pairs an optimizer with a string inverter is going to increase the efficiency of solar energy than it solely using a string solar power inverter.

Pros: Much like microinverters power optimizers can increase the efficiency of solar energy, and they tend to cost less than microinverters. They will also offer the benefit of monitoring the performance of the individual panels and the solar-powered systems with power optimizers that can still produce a significant amount of solar energy, even if a few solar panels are underperforming.

Cons: A solar-powered system that uses a power optimizer and a string inverter are going to cost more than a solar-powered system with a standard string solar power inverter option. As with microinverters, solar-powered systems that include power optimizers that can be more difficult to maintain.

Best for: Homeowners who are willing to pay more the increase in the efficiency of solar energy, but don’t want to spend the money on microinverters.

Microinverters

A string solar power inverter is considered a centralized solar power inverter, microinverters are distributed solar power inverters. Solar-powered systems that have microinverters have a small solar power inverter installed at the site of each of the solar panels. Instead of sending the solar energy from every solar panel down to a single solar power inverter, microinverter solar-powered systems convert the DC solar energy into AC solar energy on the roof.

Pros: They are located on the roof near the solar panels, microinverters can increase the efficiency of solar energy, in comparison with the string inverter. Solar-powered systems with microinverters are still going to produce energy, even if one or two of the solar panels are underperforming. Microinverters make it possible to monitor the performance of specific solar panels, making it easier to identify any production issues.

Cons: Microinverters are going to cost a lot more than a string solar power inverter, and can be more difficult to maintain or repair because they are on the roof.

Best for: Solar-powered systems that are going to face multiple directions, homeowners who wish to maximize the solar power production in a small space, and properties that have complicated roofs with gables, chimneys, or other objects causing shade.  

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