When you think of a company or home that is powered by solar energy, it's quite likely that you immediately think of solar panels. These highly visible, integral pieces of equipment usually get all the credit. But there are a number of other devices within a solar energy system—such as the solar inverter—that are key to its functionality.
This post was inspired by the Solar Inverter Dev Kit I stumbled across.
Image Credit: Solar Inverter Dev Kit
Solar inverters bridge a critical communication gap between your home's components and the solar panels installed on the roof. Because the wiring, electrical systems, appliances and utility grid in traditional homes carry alternating current (AC), they're unable to communicate with the solar panels, which carry direct current (DC). Therefore, the solar inverter performs the essential task of inverting energy from DC to AC so that you can turn on the lights, keep the refrigerator cold, and send surplus energy to the grid. Solar inverters are also responsible for emergency shutdowns if they detect a hazardous electrical arc within the system.
In addition, solar inverters—essentially simple computers—perform another important communications function in that they connect solar energy systems to the Internet. Then from a desktop or mobile device, facilities managers and homeowners can monitor the performance of the system.
As the technology behind solar energy systems continues to evolve, consumers have more choices in the right solar inverter for their needs. Professional installers consider factors such as the position and structure of the roof or mounting area, trees or other vegetation in the vicinity, climate (i.e., amount of peak sunlight), current and future needs of the customer, local regulations, and legislative requirements.
Currently, customers have four types of solar inverters from which to choose:
- Straight String Inverter
- Standard option on the market
- Low cost of equipment
- Limited maintenance over the long term, due to simplicity of components
- Ideal for south-facing roof or mounting areas with few or no trees nearby
- One malfunctioning solar panel can impact the performance of the other panels
- Optimized String Inverter
- Similar concept to above counterpart
- Power optimizers under each solar panel convert them into smart panels that report individualized info back to the user
- Typically outperforms the straight string inverter
- A microinverter under every solar panel eliminates the need for one larger inverter for the entire system
- Greater design flexibility; the system can grow with the user over time
- Converts DC to AC at the panel level, rather than through an inverter
- Hybrid Inverter
- Combines a photovoltaic inverter and a battery inverter
- Offered in a straight string and optimized string versions
- Offers an energy backup option (now or in the future)
- Option to wire an electric vehicle charger to the inverter (now or in the future)
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