Solar inverters are critical PV components. Here’s what is a solar inverter including other information such as function and use.
It’s regarded as the “heart” of a PV system, but what is a solar inverter? If you’re reading this, you likely have many questions about the photovoltaic system inverter, as solar inverters also called. Here, in this article, is a quick but detailed overview of the device: We’ll explain what these crucial inverters are, the role they play in solar PV systems, and how they compare with normal inverters.
What is a Solar Inverter?
The solar inverter definition to begin with: an inverter is a type of electrical gadget that takes in DC electricity on one side, converts it into AC electricity, and then releases it as a usable form of power, both in terms of current and voltage. Here’s why that should happen:
DC is the type of electricity that solar panels generate. On the other hand, AC is the type of electricity that most electrical appliances use. A solar system inverter, therefore, is the device in a PV installation that changes array current into a form that various loads such as home appliances and industrial equipment can use.
As you can see from the solar inverter images in this post, the device is a box that is commonly placed on a wall or raised platform (if you have a ground-mounted system) or on the roof (if you have a rooftop system). Depending on the specific system, the inverter may connect to a storage system, the grid, or both.
What Does a Solar Inverter Do?
Now that we know what a solar inverter is, what role does it serve in a PV installation? Let’s now take a closer look at the solar inverter function. Or, in other words, why your solar installation needs a special type of inverter called solar inverter.
Solar panels give out DC power using a process known as the photovoltaic (PV) effect. When sunlight hits the solar panel’s PV cells, it knocks electrons loose from the atoms, causing a flow of current. But this current only flows in one direction (DC current).
The solar inverter takes this DC electricity and uses it to produce AC power, or current that changes direction many times in a minute. Depending on the configuration, this can happen in a “grid only” system or “solar inverter and battery” system: Read on for more concerning these inverter systems.
Solar Inverter Systems
The inverter plays a crucial role in any PV system, being responsible for the conversion of current and voltage into a more usable form. Different inverters are also used in different PV systems. These include off grid, grid tie, and hybrid solar inverter systems. That’s because although the inverter’s purpose and function do not change, some aspects such as application do— as outlined below.
Grid Tie Solar Inverter
A grid-tie solar inverter is the type of inverter that you use with a grid-connected photovoltaic system. It converts DC electricity from the PV panels into AC electricity that can be fed into the public utility grid. The utility company then pays for the power.
The grid tied inverter must be able to synchronize its AC output with the grid frequency and match the phase. This is done to ensure that the electricity generated by the PV system can be fed smoothly into the grid. Most of the time, it’s a direct inverter without battery storage.
Off Grid Solar Inverter
An off-grid solar inverter is normally used in a photovoltaic system that is not connected to the utility grid. In other words, it’s a solar inverter with battery storage that you use with an array of panels, but mostly in places that are not connected to the grid.
Off grid solar inverters come designed with the ability to charge and store energy in batteries for uninterrupted power supply. They also need to have a charge controller incorporated. The controller serves to prevent the batteries from being overcharged.
Hybrid Solar Inverter
A hybrid solar inverter is a type of inverter that can be used in both grid-connected and off-grid photovoltaic systems. It has the ability to function as both a grid tie and off grid inverter, making it a versatile option for some PV systems. Here is how it functions:
When the grid is available, the hybrid inverter works like a grid tie inverter and sends AC electricity to the utility grid. When the grid is unavailable, it switches to off-grid mode and provides power to onsite equipment from the batteries. These inverters can even charge batteries from the grid when needed or necessary.
Other Solar Inverter Uses
As we just established, the main function of a solar inverter is to change a solar array’s DC into AC. But that’s not all. The solar inverter function goes beyond current conversion. Modern inverters are technology-packed devices that come with high-tech features such as MPPT and energy monitoring options. Other solar inverter uses, therefore, include those listed below.
Grid connection and Interaction
Solar system inverters have come a long way since their initial conception back in the early days of solar power development. Modern devices are feature-rich, with some models including Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity, as well as the ability to connect to and interact with the smart grid.
Most people who install solar panels on their homes are looking to do one of two things: either go completely off-grid or reduce their reliance on the grid. However, there is a third option, which is to use the grid as a backup while generating most of your power needs from the sun.
This is where a grid-tied solar inverter comes in handy. These devices are designed to connect your PV system to the utility grid, allowing you to sell any excess power generated back to the grid (net metering) while still being able to draw on grid power when needed.
Maximum Power Point Tracking
As we briefly mentioned before, MPPT is a function that allows the solar inverter to extract the maximum possible power from the PV array. This is one of the solar inverter advantages when it comes to getting the most out of your PV system.
Solar panels have a complex relationship between voltage, current, and resistance. This relationship results in what is known as the “power curve.” Essentially, the power curve is a graph that shows how much power your solar panels can generate at a specific voltage and current level.
The maximum power point is the point on the power curve where the panel is generating the most power. The goal of MPPT is to ensure that the PV system is always operating at or near the maximum power point, regardless of changes in conditions such as temperature and sunlight intensity.
PV solar inverters today also come with energy monitoring capabilities that allow you to keep track of how much power your PV system is generating. This information can be useful for a number of reasons, including:
- Tracking your solar production to see how well your system is performing
- Monitoring your energy usage to see where you can make adjustments
- Making sure that your system is generating the expected amount of power
Solar inverters with energy monitoring capabilities usually feature an LCD display that shows real-time data on power generation, as well as historical data that you can use to track your progress over time.
Some models also come with web-based portals that allow you to access this information remotely, which can be useful if you have a large PV system or multiple systems installed at different locations.
Solar Inverter VS Normal Inverter
As you can see, solar inverters are crucial devices when it comes to PV or solar installations. They help to ensure a usable form of voltage or current, among other functions such as power optimization. But what sets them apart from regular (non-solar) inverters?
The main difference between a solar inverter and a normal inverter is that solar inverters are designed specifically for use with PV systems. This means that they include features such as MPPT and energy monitoring that is specifically tailored for solar applications.
Solar inverters also tend to be more efficient than regular inverters, since they are normally built to solar industry standards and ratings, with some models boasting efficiency ratings of up to 98%. This is important because it means more power being available to power your home or business.
These are some of the features that distinguish PV inverters, whether it’s a wall mounted, roof mounted, or portable solar inverter. To add, solar inverters usually have a longer warranty than regular inverters. For example, many solar inverter manufacturers offer a 5-year warranty and higher, while most regular inverters carry 1 or 2-year warranties.
The PV inverter is an indispensable device in any solar energy installation. Without it, you cannot generate AC power, which is the type of electricity that most home gadgets and industrial equipment use. Today’s inverters also come already packed with features that allow you to get the most out of your PV system, whether you’re looking to go off-grid or simply reduce your dependence on the utility grid.