Although solar panels get a lot of attention, inverters are also a critical system component. In fact, proper selection of an inverter is essential for optimum solar energy production.
For example, if a solar inverter is undersized, it will “clip power.” This means that some of the solar electricity is wasted and won’t lower your utility bills. Also, proper inverter selection is especially critical if a home has a complicated roofline or shading.
Although solar panels are designed to generate power for 25 years or more, many inverters don’t have such a long lifespan. This is problematic because the solar inverter may need to be replaced while the solar panels are still relatively young.
At Smart Solar Energy, we are dedicated to installing solar power systems that will generate clean energy for decades. As a result, we install some of the best solar inverters on the market. These inverters are known to be reliable and feature long product warranties that protect your investment.
What Does a Solar Inverter Do?
When sunshine hits your solar panels, it produces a current of electricity. However, this is direct current (DC), meaning the power travels in a single direction. By contrast, your household appliances and the power grid use alternative current (AC) power, which is better at transmitting electricity over long distances. With AC power, the electrons move in both directions, both forward and backward.
At Smart Solar Energy, when we select a solar inverter, we consider the following:
- Efficiency of the solar inverter: Like solar panels, not all inverters are created equal from an efficiency standpoint. However, higher-efficiency equipment ensures your home has more electricity from the solar panels. Most solar inverters are more than 95% efficient under typical conditions.
- Capacity of the inverter: Our goal is to provide your home with the most usable power without oversizing the equipment. If an inverter is undersized, it will waste energy your panels produce.
- Product warranties: It is critical to protect your solar investment. Long product warranties combined with our 25-year labor and service warranty ensure your solar panel system is protected from equipment failure.
- Unique characteristics of your property: The Smart Solar Energy team customizes each solar energy system for your project goals and the property. If your roof has shading or you want to install solar storage batteries, this might impact how we design your solar system. Solar batteries need an inverter also because they store DC power.
- Where the inverter is manufactured: Many Smart Solar Energy customers like purchasing equipment that is manufactured in the Pacific Northwest. Often, we use APsystems Microinverters, and the company is based in Seattle, Washington.
What types of solar inverters are available?
Solar companies have several different types of photovoltaic (PV) inverters at their disposal. Although some large solar installation companies take a cookie-cutter approach to installing solar systems, we customize each installation based on the project goals, budget, and property. As a result, we install all three types of inverters that are widely used in residential applications.
Installers mount PV inverters on the back side of solar panels and convert DC to AC power. Thus, each solar panel has its own unit. For example, if you have a 20-panel solar system, you would have 20 microinverters. Many systems we install feature microinverters because they have several advantages.
Advantage of Microinverters
They allow each solar panel to operate independently, so the impacts of shading on one panel won’t impact others. This means you can get more electricity from your solar system. Although this might not make a huge difference on a daily basis, it can make a huge impact over the life of the system. Also, microinverters enable panel-level monitoring, so we gather data on what every solar panel on your roof is doing and not just the solar system as a whole.
If a microinverter fails, it will impact just the output of one solar panel. By contrast, if you had a central inverter, the whole array would stop producing electricity if the inverter failed. For that reason, it is essential to repair or replace a central inverter right away.
Disadvantages of Microinverters
Compared to a central inverter, microinverters do have a higher equipment and labor cost because they require a bit more work to wire and install. Also, they are mounted on the back side of the solar panel and are difficult to access If one fails and needs to be replaced, our solar installers must go up on the roof to swap out the unit.
Popular Microinverter Manufacturers
At Smart Solar Energy, we really like the APsystems microinverters because they manufacture high-quality, durable equipment. Also, the company is based on the West Coast and manufactures its products in Washington State. APsystems microinverters feature ten and 25-year warranty options. Another excellent product is the Enphase microinverter, so we also sometimes use the new IQ8. This is an excellent microinverter that includes a 25-year warranty.
Also known as a string inverter, the name says it all. Multiple solar PV panels are connected to one central inverter unit. Each module is wired together in strings when installing the solar energy system.
Multiple strings can be wired together using the same inverter. Therefore, most residential solar systems with central inverters have just one or two units total. Also, because they are not mounted on the back of the solar panels, they are located in an easy location to access on ground level.
Central inverters are also popular equipment on solar farms, like the community solar projects that are springing up across Oregon and Washington. For larger solar systems, central inverters make a lot of sense.
Advantages of Central Inverters
String inverters are located in places that are easy to access. If one fails, a solar installer will not need to climb up onto your roof. For our clients that want solar battery storage, we install a central inverter.
Disadvantages of Central Inverters
Unfortunately, if a string inverter fails, the entire system stops producing energy instead of just one panel. And, one underperforming solar panel can have a big impact on the production of the total solar array. Also, your solar monitoring system will not feature panel-level data (unless you have additional equipment installed called power optimizers). Panel-level data is helpful for really understanding how your solar system is functioning and is useful in troubleshooting issues.
Popular Central Inverter Manufacturers
Some of our customers like the simplicity of a string inverter and the lower cost. Therefore, we sometimes install SolarEdge central inverters because they are a trusted name in the solar energy industry.
Solar Inverters With Battery Storage
Some string inverters are specifically designed to work in conjunction with solar batteries, either in off-grid or grid-tied capacities. At Smart Solar Energy, we sometimes install solar systems with energy storage capabilities that work independently of the power grid during blackouts. These special solar inverters have the ability to send power to the battery bank, which uses DC current.
Advantages Of String Inverters with Battery Storage
Adding energy storage capabilities to your solar system enable your home to have power during outages. These string inverters serve two functions in one unit and work as both a battery inverter and a solar inverter.
Disadvantages Of String Inverters with Battery Storage
Adding energy storage capabilities to your solar system does significantly increase the total system cost. However, it also increases the value of the federal solar tax credit.
Popular String Inverters with Battery Storage Manufacturers
When we install solar batteries, we typically use Generac Power Systems batteries, which come with an inverter. These two devices are designed to work together for optimum performance.
What Happens if my Solar Inverter Fails?
Because solar energy systems have no moving parts, they can reliably produce renewable energy for decades. However, inverters can fail due to manufacturer defects and other issues.
At Smart Solar Energy, our solar systems come with a complete 25-year warranty on labor and parts. This means that if your inverter needs to be fixed or replaced, we have you covered. We stand behind our work and are dedicated to resolving any issues.
What is the lifespan of an inverter?
Typically, the lifespan of an inverter is similar to the length of the warranty period. For example, solar panels often have a 25-year warranty and they tend to last at least that amount of time. For this reason, we typically install equipment with a 25-year warranty.
However, some inverter products are only designed to last five or ten years. This means these systems may need a costly repair when they are still relatively young. Unfortunately, many solar installers offer just a two or five-year labor and service warranty, so the customer might need to pay for new equipment and the technician to install it.
At Smart Solar Energy, we want your entire solar system to be producing a lot of energy a decade or two from now and not just the solar panels. We understand that the equipment in a solar system works together and that one failed component can cease energy production. We also want our customers to have peace of mind.
For that reason, we offer a 25-year warranty on the entire solar system and not just certain equipment. Our warranty includes labor and service, so you won’t need to pay for a solar technician to swap out a failed component.
Does the federal tax credit apply to the solar inverter?
Yes, the solar tax credit can be applied to the entire system cost, including the equipment and labor. Therefore, the cost of your inverter is included in factoring in the solar tax credit.
The federal solar tax credit is a reduction in income taxes owed to the federal government. If you install your solar panels in 2022, the tax credit is 26% of the total system cost. So, a $15,000 solar system is eligible for a $3,900 tax credit. Speak with a tax expert to ensure you are able to take advantage of this excellent solar incentive.
Can I Leave My Solar Inverter On at Night?
Yes, solar systems are designed to turn on and off as needed. Solar inverters are very efficient and use little electricity to operate. Therefore, you don’t need to do anything to turn on or off your system. Even our solar systems with battery storage will know if the power grid is down and automatically start powering your essential household energy loads.
Finding the Right Inverter for Your Solar system
At Smart Solar Energy, we customize each solar energy project for Oregon and Washington homeowners and weigh multiple factors. We examine if your solar system will have batteries, if there is shading on the roof, and the preferences of our customers.
We have access to the best solar panels and inverters available on the market. Therefore, we commonly install APsystems or Enphase microinverters and SolarEdge or Generac Power Systems central inverters.