What is a solar inverter and why is it important?
Deciding on solar power for your home or business – as attractive an option as it is – naturally raises a few questions for people wanting to know more about the big picture of putting solar on their roof.
In addition to the financial side of going solar – incentives and rebates – you may be holding on to some questions about the system itself. While you may have a basic idea of how solar works, you can still be looking for some illumination on certain specific aspects of your solar PV system. Many home and business owners don’t care much about how the system works, as long as it works. But others want to know what exactly it is they’re putting on their roof.
To that end, one word you may hear fairly often as you do your research or talk to a sales representative is “inverter.” Installers and sales reps will likely talk to you about the panels and inverters in tandem. While most people have a good idea about what the panels do, they may be in the dark when it comes to the purpose of the inverters.
What is an inverter?
Whether you have a 2 kW residential PV system or a massive 5 MW utility grade system, the inverter is the crucial ingredient to help you go from power generation to actually getting to use the electricity.
As Solar Power World explains, the inverter converts the direct current (DC) output of the solar panels to the alternating current (AC) on which a majority of residential and commercial appliances run. In essence, the inverter is the gateway between the panels and the building’s electrical infrastructure. Without it, the power generated by the system has nowhere to go.
There are a few different kinds of inverters. A stand-alone inverter is a single inverter that collects DC power from batteries that are charged by the panels when they are exposed to sunlight. Micro-inverters are connected to each panel and convert the DC to AC for every panel individually, which can make each one more efficient. Ask your installer which kind of inverter is right for your home.
What else can it do?
As if solar inverters weren’t impressive enough already (they are the whole reason that solar works!), they do even more for your system and home. SolarPro noted that many inverters today come with monitoring systems. This means that if your inverter detects a problem with your system – down to an individual panel – your installer will know about it and can send someone over for maintenance.
Inverters also improve the efficiency of the whole system. Energy gets lost when it is transferred from the panels to the home so an inverter that can minimize those losses delivers more power to your home and saves you more money. SolarPro stated that as inverters become more efficient, installers will need to install fewer panels – saving you money upfront and making solar even more attractive than it already is.