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The Solar Buyer's Guide Series - What to Expect With Your Inverter Type

Evaluating Equipment: Inverter

In past articles, you’ve learned how to evaluate quotes from a financial return perspective. All else being equal, you can make a savvy choice when it comes to picking the best dollar investment when looking at different solar proposals. However, in reality not all else is equal - differences in component quality, workmanship, and differences in what is or is not included as part of a contract can make or break your solar experience.

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Inverter

The inverter is the heart of the system - it converts the DC electricity coming from the array into usable AC electricity for your home. It has the greatest impact on whether your system operates smoothly or has myriad problems. There are three inverter types for solar arrays.

1. Traditional String Array

It is possible to have a very high quality string inverter, but even the best face certain limitations. You lose significant power if your array becomes shaded or dirty (even if the shade is only affecting a single panel). You have to be careful to keep all panels wired together facing the same direction at the same angle. You also need to install specialized rapid-shutdown equipment to meet safety provisions in the electrical and fire codes.

2. Microinverter

These solve the greatest problems with the string array - you have more freedom on the layout of the panels. Shade and dirt no longer are as detrimental to the production of the array. However, there are some drawbacks. Chiefly, you have many more inverters. The inverter is the point most likely to fail and need replacement, so the inclusion of many of these means you could expect more down time or maintenance costs on the array. This is also the most expensive architecture, as it includes one inverter per panel.


3. Inverter/Optimizer

This setup has a single, central unit that does all the conversion from DC to AC like the string setup, and includes optimizers behind each panel that maximize production one panel to the next. This allows the inverter/optimizer setup to have the benefits of a microinverter (resilience to shade and dirt, flexibility in design, code compliance for rapid shutdown, and panel level production tracking), while keeping the number of probable fail points down. The optimizers themselves are electrical components, but are far simpler and less likely to break when compared with a microinverter. Additionally they are priced at or less than a micro inverter setup. This architecture is what makes most homes viable candidates for a rooftop solar installation

Check out our previous post here to know what to look for in a solar panel!

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