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Choosing the right inverter for your solar power system

Francisco CastroApril 23, 20192310

In any solar power system you will find a few basic components: the solar panels which turn sunlight into energy, the cable sending that direct current (DC) electricity to the home, and most importantly, an inverter that turns the DC energy into alternating current (AC) electricity, the type that comes out of the sockets in your home.

The inverter is what actually allows you to use the energy being manufactured by the solar panels. Without it, that’s simply not achievable.

As the “brains” of any photovoltaic (PV) system, inverters also offer a window into your system’s performance, allowing you and the installer to monitor and/or fix problems that may arise in terms of efficiency.

There are different types of inverters and when you start talking to your solar installer, inevitably the question will come up, which inverter should I choose?

The answer will depend on your individual taste and solar power system needs

Fortune Energy carries a large selection to choose from, from the smallest to the biggest size to tackle your energy usage requirements.

Types of inverters

Microinverters. As their name implies, these tend to be small devices also known as module-level power electronics (MLPEs) that are installed directly into each solar panel, often on the back. They have the capability to convert DC power to AC right at the panel, providing better performance of the solar array.

As such, they offer a number of advantages, such as allowing the panels of a system to work at their maximum even under less than perfect conditions such as when panels are affected by shading or those facing different directions in an array. If your neighbor’s chimneys, tree branches and/or even his home will cast a shadow over your solar panels, microinverters may give you the optimum performance you need as you try to stay away from these shading.

They also allow you to monitor individual panel performance, giving you a more direct view of efficiency and also allowing for more specific fixes if something goes wrong with a particular module.

They carry long warranties of 25 years and withstand harsh environments. 

Just make sure the microinverter capacity matches that of the solar panel.

String inverters. These have been around for a long time and are most commonly used for home projects. As such, they are easy to install, easy to operate and wallet-friendly.

They are used for grouping solar modules installed in rows connected by strings. Each string transfers DC power to the inverter, where it’s converted into AC electricity. 

These are the lowest-cost option for a home solar energy system with optimal conditions for energy production. Unlike microinverters, they don’t measure individual panel efficiency, but the entire string’s. If a solar panel is not functioning normally, it would have repercussions on the entire string. 

The number of string inverters in a solar array can be infinite, depending on the size of the system. For instance, if you have 20 panels on your roof, you may have four rows of five modules each, with four individual strings feeding into one inverter. Or each string may be connected to a single inverter.

String inverters are usually placed inside a garage with good ventilation so they don’t overheat and protected from the elements. Also, they must be easily accesible, in an area with at least 1/2 foot of free space on all side of it and away from any source of moisture. There are also some designed for exterior use.

Power optimizers. Another type of MLPEs, these small devices can be paired with string inverters to form a “hybrid” and are installed on each individual panel, allowing for more accurate performance monitoring. But unlike microinverters, they don’t convert power from DC to AC directly. Instead, they feed the DC electricity into the string inverters, which does this job.

Because they tend to be lower-cost than microinverters, power optimizers are gaining popularity in residential solar projects.

Central inverters. Similar to string inverters, these are not suitable for home porject, and are mostly used for large solar farms generating outputs of 5MW or above. Unlike string inverters, in these projects, the strings are connected together in a common combiner box that runs the DC power to the central inverter where it is converted into AC electricity.

Regardless of the type of inverter you choose, it must be able to handle the maximum output of power your solar system can generate. For example, if you require a 6kW solar power system, you get panels that equate that amount of power and a 6kW inverter to go with it.

Most solar inverters have a display board and lights indicating the amount of energy you produce on a daily basis, the amount of electricity produced since the unit was installed, how much power you’re producing at any moment and the number of hours the device has been producing power. 

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