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What is a Solar Inverter and how does it work?

One of the key components in any solar panel system is the solar inverter. The solar inverter converts the direct current (DC) electricity that the solar panels produce into alternating current (AC) electricity that your home appliances and the National Grid use. AC electricity has a standard voltage level that varies by country, usually 120 volts or 240 volts. Without a solar inverter, you would not be able to use the solar energy from your solar panels safely and efficiently in your home or business.

The performance of your solar panel system depends on the quality of your solar inverter. A good solar inverter can optimize the amount of energy that your solar panels generate and reduce the losses due to conversion from DC to AC electricity. That’s why at NxtGen Energy we pay attention to the selection and installation of high quality solar inverters to ensure you get the best efficiency and cost savings from your solar panel system.

What does a Solar Inverter actually do?

Think of Solar inverters as the brains of a solar panel system. Their essential features include:

  • They convert DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) electricity.
  • They maximise the power output of your solar panel system.
  • They communicate with the National Grid for the export of power.
  • They give feedback about power production of the solar panel system.
  • They help ensure that your solar panel system is operating safely.

What are the different types of Solar Inverters?

In the UK there are four main types of solar inverters that you can choose from. The four types are string inverters, micro-inverters, hybrid inverters and power optimiser inverters. In this post we will explore the key characteristics of each kind of solar panel inverter. So that choosing the right solar inverter for your solar energy system couldn’t be simpler.

Solar Inverter Photo

String Inverters

When you have a solar panel installation and the Solar Panels are connected in series, they form a chain called a ‘string’. A string inverter is a device that converts the DC electricity from a string of solar panels into AC electricity for your home, business or the national grid. To make sure the string inverter works well, all the panels in a string should have the same angle and direction, this is called a ‘single string’. However, you can connect more than one string to a single inverter if it has multiple MPPTs (Maximum Power Point Tracking). MPPTs are features that help the inverter find the best voltage and current for each string. This way, you can have different strings of solar panels facing different directions, such as east and west, this is called a ‘dual string’, and you still get the most out of your solar energy generation.

A single string or dual strings normally don’t connect to a battery. To add a solar battery to a string inverter you would need to add an AC charger, so if you are looking at Solar Battery Storage for your solar panel system you would be better off going for a hybrid solar inverter that has the AC charger built in.

Some of the brands that offer string inverters are Alpha, GivEnergy, Growatt, Sofar, SolarEdge, Solax and Solis.

Pros and Cons of String Inverters

Pros

  • A reliable and trusted form of solar technology, which allows for multiple strings of panels.

Cons

  • Limited design flexibility which may not suit more complicated solar energy projects.
  • If one panel is damaged or shaded the performance of the entire solar system is affected.
  • You will have to add an AC charger if you want to use solar battery storage.
Micro-inverters on a solar panel photo

Micro Inverters

Micro inverters are a new and innovative technology that offer many benefits for home solar panel systems. Unlike string inverters, which can reduce the performance of the whole system if one solar panel is faulty or shaded, micro inverters work independently for each solar panel. This means that any problem with one panel will not affect the others. Micro inverters also allow you to install more panels on your roof, even in areas that are partially shaded or have different orientations. Although micro inverters are usually more expensive than string inverters, they can increase your solar energy generation and payback over time.

Pros and Cons of Micro Inverters

Pros

  • Micro inverters allow for individual solar panel monitoring, which is great for finding faults in specific panels and monitoring performance levels of your entire solar panel system.
  • Enphase micro inverters have a feature called ‘Burst Mode” which converts low power levels in solar panels with higher conversion efficiencies, which is a great bonus.

Cons

  • The main downside of micro inverters is that they have a higher initial cost, compared to a string inverter.
Hybrid inverter photo

Hybrid Solar Inverters

A hybrid solar inverter is a device that can help you make the most of your solar panel system with storage. It converts the DC (direct current) electricity from your solar panels into AC (alternating current) electricity that you can use in your home or business. It also manages the flow of DC electricity to and from your solar battery and the national grid. When your solar panels produce more electricity than you need, the hybrid inverter can store the excess electricity in your solar battery or sell it to the national grid. When your solar panels produce less electricity than you need, the hybrid inverter can draw power from your battery or the national grid. This way, you can optimize your energy consumption and your cost savings.

Some of the brands that offer hybrid solar inverters are Growatt, GivEnergy, Solis, Sofar, SolarEdge, Solax and Alpha.

Pros and Cons of Hybrid Solar Inverters

Pros

  • Hybrid inverters can be integrated directly into your solar battery storage, and therefore centralise the monitoring of the solar panel array performance.

Cons

  • If you already have a solar panel system installed and you are looking to add solar battery storage to your system, then financially it is better to install an AC charger over a new inverter.
  • Hybrid inverters are about 50% more expensive than string inverters. They also only integrate with DC solar batteries, this can sometimes limit your solar battery storage choice.
Power inverter photo

Power Optimiser Inverters

Power optimiser inverters are devices that can improve the efficiency and monitoring of your solar panels. They are also called DC power optimisers, because they optimize the DC electricity output of each panel. They are similar to micro-inverters, but they do not convert the DC electricity into AC electricity on the roof. Instead, they send the DC electricity to a string inverter, which is usually located near your battery storage system. Power inverters are often cheaper than micro-inverters, but they still offer the advantages of panel-level optimisation and performance monitoring.

One of the best brands for power inverters is SolarEdge. Their products can increase your solar energy generation, detect any issues and prevent any electrical faults. By choosing a SolarEdge PV System, you are choosing to generate more clean energy.

Pros and Cons of Power Inverters

Pros

  • Power inverters are a cheaper alternative to Micro-inverters.
  • Power inverters allow for maximum energy production, reducing the impact of shading and even mismatched modules.
  • A SolarEdge power Inverter offers a record-breaking 99% efficiency,

Cons

  • They are 50% more expensive than string inverters.

So, which Solar Inverter is right for your solar energy project?

Every residential home and business property requires different solar needs. It’s important to choose the right solar inverter for your solar energy project. Hence why our team here at NXTGEN Energy offer a free quote and free consultations to design you with a bespoke solar panel system. Looking for solar panel installers in London, Essex, Hampshire, Kent, Suffolk or Norfolk? We are MCS Certified Solar Panel Installers, when you choose NXTGEN Energy for your solar energy project you know you are in safe hands. Call us today on 01268 928 690 or click the ‘Enquire Now’ button to talk to a solar expert.

Frequently Asked Questions About Solar Inverters

What are the types of solar inverters?

What are the 4 types of inverters? In the UK there are four main types of solar inverters that you can choose from. The four types are string inverters, micro-inverters, hybrid inverters and power optimiser inverters.

What type of solar inverter is best for a solar panel system?

String inverters are the standard for most residential home systems. They work by connecting multiple solar panels into an array (single string on one part of your roof or dual string on multiple parts of your roof) and sending the power to a centralized solar inverter for DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) conversion that’s compatible with the national grid. String inverters are affordable and efficient.

What size solar inverter do I need for my home?

How do I know what size solar inverter to buy? Your inverter should be aligned with the DC rating of the solar panel system itself. So, if you have a 6 kilowatt (kW) system you will need a solar inverter that is around the 6000 W mark to match it.

Can you run a solar inverter without solar battery storage?

Can I use solar panels and solar inverters without solar battery storage? The answer is yes, if you are connected to the national grid, you can use solar panels and solar inverters without solar battery storage.

What is the life expectancy of a solar inverter?

When do you need to replace a solar inverter? While most solar power inverters come with a lifespan of approximately 5 to 10 years, they do require regular maintenance in order to ensure optimal solar inverter efficiency.

Do solar inverters need maintenance?

Do you have to maintain your solar inverter? A solar inverter requires very little maintenance. Once you make sure it’s properly installed, you simply need to keep it clean. Wipe it free of any accumulating dust, debris, and cobwebs on a regular basis.

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