Solar power is a key player in the fight against climate change as it offers clean energy from the sun. Solar panels are increasingly common, but a vital part of the system often goes unnoticed: the solar inverter. Solar inverters are considered the system’s brains; the system won’t function without one. To use your system safely and to its full potential, it’s essential to know how these inverters work.
This article will explore what a solar inverter is, how it differs from a normal power inverter, and the types you can get. Moreover, explained below is the step-by-step process of how it works so you can fully grasp its importance to your solar energy system.
Solar Inverter vs. Power Inverter
Many people confuse solar and power inverters with each other. Although they’re both electrical inverters, they have their differences. A power inverter converts DC power from a battery, the grid, or other DC power sources to AC power. It normally involves a three-step conversion process.
On the other hand, a solar inverter converts DC collected by the solar panels into AC power that can be used for household appliances and other devices. It works in sync with the solar panels and the other components to ensure enough generated electricity to operate. It can store power in a battery bank or feed the excess into the grid.
In general, a solar panel inverter offers the following benefits:
- Maximize your energy production
- Monitor your solar energy system’s output
- Communicate with your utility grid
- Detect any fault that can damage your system
Types of Solar Inverters
There are now six different types of solar inverters you can use for your solar energy system:
These are also called stand-alone inverters or solar battery inverters. They’re designed to work alone, disconnected from the power grid. The inverter and the entire solar system are directly connected to the residence instead, sometimes to a battery bank as well.
Unlike off-grid inverters, these grid-tied or on-grid inverters are connected to a power grid. It doesn’t need a battery bank, which can help users save money. You can use These types of inverters for net metering — a way to build your credit and sell your excess electricity to utility companies.
Additionally, they usually have a safety feature since they’re directly connected to the grid. This allows you to shut down the power supply from the solar panel system when needed.
These are considered the most reliable type of solar inverter and are the most commonly used for residential and commercial properties. These are specifically designed for an array of solar panels that are connected into a string in rows. Each string carries the DC power from the panel to the string inverter to be converted into usable AC power.
You can use these together with power optimizers. The power optimizers are connected to each solar panel but don’t convert the current. The optimizers condition the DC electricity from the panels before passing it to the string inverters. This combination helps increase the system’s efficiency, even with existing shading issues.
These are also called multi-mode inverters and combine the on-grid and off-grid features. They can:
- Charge solar batteries
- Supply power to your house
- Feed excess power to the grid
They can convert electricity in both directions: from the solar panels to your home and the grid to your home or battery. They’re ideal if you want a solar system that you can use as a backup power source as well.
Microinverters are small inverters installed next to each solar panel in the system. Unlike with string inverters, the power from each panel flows into different inverters, converting DC to AC right at that point. These are ideal for solar panel systems installed with complicated or consistent shading.
These are similar to string inverters, except they’re larger and look like large metal cabinets. Central inverters are huge and are used for industrial applications that require huge amounts of power, like farms. They can handle around 500kW of power, making them unsuitable for residential use.
How Does a Solar Inverter Work?
A solar inverter, like most inverters, converts DC into AC. For a more detailed understanding, here’s how it works:
1. Energy Collection
The solar panels are installed to collect sunlight. The photovoltaic cells on them collect the energy, and the semiconductors in each cell produce electrical current using that collected energy. This DC power will flow through the other components of the solar panel system.
Direct current can’t be used in common household appliances and electronic devices. This is where the conversion takes place. The DC power generated in the panels is sent directly to an inverter.
In the solar inverter, the current runs through a transformer. This lowers its voltage and transforms it into AC. The inverter runs the DC power via two or more transistors that rapidly turn on and off to feed the transformer's two sides. Once finished, there will now be an AC output.
3. Usage or Storage
Depending on the inverter you’re using and your system type, you can directly use the generated AC output. You can connect it to your electrical panel so you can use it to power your appliances and devices.
But, if you have a battery bank, the inverter can send the generated AC power to the battery so you can use it later. This is ideal if you want a backup power source in case of power outages. Also, if you’re connected to your local power grid and have surplus energy, you can send it back to the grid and earn money.
Solar energy systems work best with all the right components, especially the solar inverter. Solar inverters serve many system functions besides converting DC to AC power. They can help maximize your energy production and ensure safe operations all the time. However, ensure you’re getting the right type for your needs and preferences.
If you want to look at some inverter options, you can check out our solar inverter collection. We offer different types of inverters for power and system needs!