Interest in renewable energy sources is soaring across the United Kingdom. Each year, more Brits are looking to switch to solar power and harness the sun's power to reduce their energy costs - as well as their carbon footprint.
Most of us know that making a switch to solar power has a substantial environmental impact and is a great cost saver. But do you understand what a solar inverter is? Probably not! While the benefits of solar power are widely known and understood, the complexities of a solar panel system aren't common knowledge.
Few people know about the different components of a solar power system - until they decide to install one!
All solar panel systems consist of three core base components: solar panels (also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels), a solar inverter, and racking that keep everything in place. This article will look specifically at solar inverters, what they do, and how to choose the right inverter for your solar power system.
What is a solar inverter?
A solar inverter is one of several core parts of any solar power system. A solar inverter works by converting the energy created from your solar panels into usable electricity. Without a solar inverter, the energy produced by the solar panels can't be utilised in your home, camper, boat, or tiny house.
What does a solar inverter do?
Without a solar inverter it's impossible to utilise solar power, so it's an important component to understand, although it can get quite technical.
Simply put, an inverter converts the direct current (DC) energy created by solar panels and turns it into alternating current (AC) so you can easily use it. The current, or energy, needs to be converted to be used in common household appliances and electronics. Most devices in your home will run on AC power and simply won't work if you try to run them using DC energy.
How solar inverters work in a PV system
If you want to go a bit more technical, there is a scientific explanation of how panels and inverters actually work.
When sunshine hits your solar panels, it creates solar energy. The panels are made using semiconductor layers of either gallium arsenide or crystalline silicon. These semiconductor layers use a combination of both positive and negative layers connected by a junction.
When sunlight hits the panels, the semiconductor layers will absorb the rays and send the solar energy to the PV cell. This solar energy bumps electrons loose, which move between the positive and negative layers and produce an electric current - that electric current is DC.
Once the DC energy is produced, it can be either stored in a solar battery for later use or sent to the inverter and converted into AC energy, ready for practical use. The inverter works by taking the DC energy and running it through a transformer, which converts it to an AC output.
Types of inverters
There are five different types of inverters to choose from when you start to scope your solar power set up. Each type of solar inverter has a specific use case and comes with different benefits. The five types of inverters are:
- Battery Inverters
- Central Inverters
- Hybrid Inverters
- String inverters
Like other inverters, battery inverters can also convert AC power to DC power, so you can use solar power to charge your batteries. A battery inverter can be an excellent way to use the energy from your solar system.
Central inverters are the largest inverters available and usually service large commercial properties. The size makes them best suited to buildings with large energy needs. Central inverters collect power from every panel simultaneously, making them well suited to large facilities or large-scale solar farms. Generally, these will exceed the needs of an average residential home.
Hybrid inverters, also known as "multi-mode inverters," are designed to regulate the electrical inputs from solar panels and battery banks. Hybrid inverters can charge batteries from the electrical grid, a solar panel, or a combination of both options. Hybrid inverters can be an extremely efficient option when correctly programmed.
Microinverters are common in home solar systems. These inverters are installed on every single solar panel. Microinverters provide a steady supply of energy, but this option can quickly become expensive because they require multiple units. Microinverters are the best choice for complicated roof situations where your home has some shading during the day.
String inverters are one of the most popular choices for homes and other small-scale solar energy systems. Each panel will be wired together into a "string" with a string inverter, and the strings can be connected to your central inverter. As sunlight hits the panels and starts to produce energy, it all goes through to a single inverter. The inverter then converts all of the electricity from multiple solar panels from DC to AC electricity.
Choosing the best inverter option for your home
Now you know about the different types of inverters available, you can choose the right selection for your solar panel installation. When it comes to selecting an inverter, you will have to balance cost against end-use and anticipated results.
Consider the following factors when choosing the best solar inverter:
- Is it the right sized inverter?
- Can I expand my solar inverter at a later date?
- Is it covered by a warranty?
- Is the inverter suitable for my climate?
- What kind of display do I want?
- How much do I want to spend?
You should note that inverters are not included in Renogy solar panel kits and will need to be purchased separately. For an off-grid set up the Renogy 1000W Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter is one of our most popular options. This inverter acts as a DC to AC converter so you can easily power your household appliances. This pure sine wave 1000W inverter is capable of producing cleaner, reliable and smoother electricity to operate fans, tools, lights, and other electronics.
Switching to solar power is a great way to help the environment and save money on your electricity bills. If you're planning on a new solar panel installation, don't forget to include an inverter! A solar inverter is usually a vital part of your overall solar setup, whether you're switching to solar to supplement your grid electricity or planning to go completely off-grid. Choosing a high-quality inverter will ensure you have usable electricity when you need it most.