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Types Of Solar Inverters: What’s The Difference?

There’s quite a few types of inverters you have to choose from as a solar citizen. it’s an important decision.

In most cases, you’ll need a String Inverter. If you’ve got an often shaded roof, a microinverter array is what you need. If you want to use a battery pack, then you’ll want a hybrid inverter.

Why Do I Need A Solar Inverter?

If your PV panels are the muscle of your solar system, your Solar Inverter is the brain. Without a brain, your muscles can’t do any work. Without a solar inverter to turn the power coming from your solar PV system into safe, usable electricity, there’s nothing you can do with your panels.

It’s why making the decision about which solar inverter to get is so important. You should know what all of the types are, and if they’re right for your situation.

A) String Inverters – The Toyota Of Inverters

Most Popular Type Of Inverter

This is the most common type of inverter for grid-tied residential solar installations. On a home solar system, you’ll likely need one for your entire installation.

They call this type of inverter a “string inverter” because you connect your solar panels to it in “string”. “String” connections create a very high voltage, but low amperage power supply. This is highly efficient when you are planning to sell your excess power back to the grid.

One of the big advantages is that these things are cheap because nearly every install uses them. This mass production has let us see a steep drop in price for string inverters since 2012.

In my article on “Solar Panel Inverters: How long do they last?“, we found that these inverters will last you about 10 years, 15 if you’re lucky. A lot of that depends on the quality of the string inverter you go with and how well it’s maintained. Because of that, you’re looking at warranties of 5-10 years.

These are also the least efficient type of solar inverter. How much of a hit are you going to take? it largely depends on how much shade your solar panels will receive. If you get full sun all the time, then you’ll only get 5% more electricity by upgrading.

If you get a decent amount of shade, then another type of solar inverter yield as much as 20% more power from your panels. What you go with should depend on your return on investment & your future plans.
If you plan to expand your solar power system, then a string inverter might not be right for you. A string inverter will restrict what panels you’ll be able to use in the future.

Speaking of the future, let’s talk solar batteries for a moment. One thing to know is that a basic string inverter does not play well in combination with a solar battery. The battery will need it’s own inverter to safely store electricity, or a hybrid inverter. I’ll talk about that in a bit.

Key Takeaways: Solar String Inverters

Most common type of solar inverter
Super cheap (you know, by solar inverter standards)
Least efficient, but possibly better ROI
Might restrict any solar expansions & upgrades you have planned.

B) Central Solar Inverters – The Ford F-950

Either You’re A Professional, Or You’ve Got A Tiny @*$%

If anyone tries to sell you a central inverter for your home, laugh at them.

Back in the day, I remember my aunt and late uncle arguing over what seemed like the stupidest thing: A generator. My late uncle bought a generator from a buddy’s company that was upgrading theirs. It was… a beast. The thing was the size of a large shed, and could probably power his entire neighborhood if the power ever went out. He’s never want for power if the lights ever went out. It made him feel safer. But it was incredibly costly to maintain, and sucked fuel like a frat kid sucks beer.

I guess what I’m saying is you need the right tool for the job, or you might end up screwed.

Central solar inverters are usually used for large-scale commercial or utility-scale solar farms. We’re talking big, wardrobe / shed sized boxes that can handle up to 500kWs of power. Residential inverters rarely go above 8kWs. Unless you plan to cover a warehouse roof with solar panels, you shouldn’t have to worry about this type of solar inverter.

Key Takeaways: Central Solar Inverters

Unless you’ve got one of those mega mansions or a commercial installation, don’t worry about it.

C) Microinverters – The BMW

A Bit Expensive But Has Some Cool Ass Tech, And Might Just Be Worth It


Forgive my language, but microinverters are kind-of badass (almost as badass as an intelligent hybrid inverter, but we’ll get to that later).
They’re longest lasting solar inverter, require less maintenance, and improve the performance of your panels. These tiny boxes are about the size of a soft-cover book. The main downside: you’ll only need one for each solar panel, and that’s going to cost you.

The main advantage with microinverters is they deliver more energy, even in shade. Each inverter gets the most electricity it can from the panel it’s attached to. And because each panel had it’s own inverter, shade on one panel won’t impact the performance of others. This can lead to a 5-25% improvement in performance.

Another big advantage is you can add new panels later without issue. Each microinverter takes care of it’s own panel, so different voltages don’t matter.

Now, here’s the kicker: Because each inverter is only handling 1 panel’s power, they last for 15-25 years.

Now for the downside. Sorry boss, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you’ve got a 10 panel system, you’ve got to pay for 10 inverters. And microinverter technology hasn’t hit the mass production stride that string inverters did. That means their price hasn’t changed since nearly 2012.

Another thing to think about is that each of those inverters has to be installed. And if you need them replaced, those inverters aren’t easily accessible. They’re typically located under or next to each solar panel. That means a team of guys running around your roof.

All told, the average cost of a micro inverter is about 20% of the total installation. Microinverters are a case where you’ve got to factor in the low maintenance & high cost into the ROI.

Key takeaways: Solar Microinverters

Longest lasting solar inverter

warranties, 15+ years

how long does a microinverter last? 15-25 years

Future plans, makes it easy to add to your solar installation

Good for shaded roofs

D) Hybrid Inverters – The Lexus

A String-Inverter With Some Added Options

There’s two types of hybrid inverters.

The typical hybrid inverter is a string inverter plus a battery inverter in one system. This will let your solar panel system be grid-tied and use a solar battery. This can charge your battery, and bring power in from, or sell it back to, the grid. If you plan to install a solar battery, or plan to get one in the future, you want at least a hybrid inverter.

Because it’s basically a string inverter with a battery add-on, you’ve got all the same limitations. They’re typically cheaper than microinverter (or the intelligent hybrid inverters). They’ve got the same 10-15 year lifespan. And of course, you’re looking at similar warranties.

Key Takeaways: Solar Hybrid Inverters

A string inverter that plays nice with your solar battery.

Cheap (not as cheap as a regular string inverter)

Least efficient, but possibly better ROI

Might restrict what types of solar panels you can add to your system in the future.

Let’s you use a battery

E) Intelligent Hybrid Inverters – The Tesla

It’s Basically a Solar-Heads Wet Dream

The second type of hybrid inverter is called an “Intelligent Hybrid Inverter”. It’s a mix between a hybrid inverter & a micro inverter system. They use “power optimizers” to get the most power out of each panel (like a mircoinverter would) and a smart-grid hybrid inverter. The smart-grid inverter has the brains to help give you the biggest bang for your solar powered buck.

The intelligent hybrid inverter also has a slightly longer shelf life than a stright string inverter. The power optimizers protect the hybrid inverter from converting too much power. You’re looking at a lifespan closer to 15 years.

The intelligent hybrid inverter is one of the most expensive inverter options. That being said, it definitely helps you get the most out of your solar PV system.

Key takeaways: Intelligent Hybrid Inverter

Best of both worlds if you’ve got the cash

Life span, 15 years

warranties, 5-10 years

most efficient

F) Battery Inverters – The Jeep

On-Grid, Off-Grid, Doesn’t Matter, but It Might Be Your 2nd Inverter

Let’s say you want to use a solar battery, and your solar to be off-grid. OR you want to install a solar battery after you installed your string or micro inverter system. A battery inverter will be your best friend.

Your solar battery inverter should last about as long as solar battery does: 10-15 years.

A battery inverter has just one job: make sure you can safely get electricity into, and out of your battery pack. Remember, any battery is volatile because it stores energy. Remember the explosive Galaxy 8 phones? That’s what happens if your power system isn’t set up right. Don’t let some ya-hoo rig a string inverter or micro-inverters directly up to a solar battery. Get a battery inverter, or a hybrid inverter for your solar battery. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to save your house instead of your electric bill.

Key Takeaways: Solar Battery Inverter

How long does a solar battery inverter last?, 10-15 years

nly used to convert DC power into AC power

ood for an off-grid or on-grid system.

Conclusions

The type of solar inverter you choose to install changes how you’ll live as a solar citizen. Hopefully with this bit of education you’re going to make the Awesome choice.

Keep in mind your Solar ROI and be sure to budget for maintenance, repairs and replacements. Affordable isn’t about how much it costs, it’s about how it improves your life.

This was originally published on AwesomeAffordableSolar.com titled: “Types Of Solar Inverters: What’s The Difference?”

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