DIY solar panels: pros, cons and installation guide
To save money, it’s no surprise that many homeowners are considering “do it yourself”, or DIY, solar. You can install solar panels yourself, but there are some advantages and disadvantages to doing it alone. In this article, we’ll break down the top pros and cons that you need to know about do-it-yourself solar panel systems before making a decision.
Can you install solar panels yourself?
A solar panel system is complicated, which is why so many companies across the U.S. specialize in providing professional solar installation services. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t build your own solar panel system – you can install your own panels, a DIY solar panel setup can be a viable option for some solar shoppers wanting to tap into renewable energy.
According to data from the EnergySage Marketplace, the average cost of going solar for homeowners (after accounting for the federal tax credit) is about 20,650 in 2023. Of that amount, design and installation labor costs contribute about 10% of the total bill; this 10% is what a DIY solar installation will save you since you’ll still have to buy the equipment and components yourself. Regardless, it’s still tempting to look into building your own solar panel installation to save money and be in full control of your home renewable energy project.
Your solar energy system should continue to generate electricity for 25 to 35 years, so you must consider both the upfront costs and the relative financial benefits for all of your solar options. If you buy a home solar kit like the ones for sale at Costco or Home Depot, it may be less expensive per watt, but you aren’t getting the same quality equipment that solar installers can offer you. For the most part, solar installers buy from equipment distributors that don’t sell to the general public – and they’re often getting lower because they’re able to buy in bulk and have access to the best solar panel brands. Going for the more expensive option now may end up saving you money in the long run because you’ll likely have a system built to last a few decades, offsetting your monthly electric bills.
Pros and cons of DIY solar panels and solar panel kits
DIY panels can be a great option for going off the grid and some small home applications. For powering your entire home, however, it may be in your best interest to go with a professional installer.
DIY solar pros and cons
|Provides more energy independence for homeowners by not being tied to the electricity grid.||Require much more maintenance that would otherwise be covered by an installer warranty.|
|Effective in powering smaller items like RVs, boats and other appliances||For an entire home, installation may be difficult for an individual without the knowledge and experience of a professional installer.|
|Allows homeowners to save roughly 10% on the overall cost of installation that would otherwise go towards labor.||DIY installation may be illegal where you live according to local zoning laws.|
Most home DIY all-in-one solar panel solar kits (including items like solar batteries, and inverters) are designed for off-grid use, which means you can’t use them and remain connected to your utility. If you’re an average homeowner, going off-grid is probably not in your best interest – being able to access utility-generated electricity is important if your solar array doesn’t produce enough electricity to meet your needs at all times of the day throughout the year.
However, home solar kits can be a good solution if you’re not trying to power your entire home. RVs, boats, and the increasingly popular tiny houses are all opportunities to explore do-it-yourself solar because they are already off-grid and mobile. Storage kits are also a good option for backup to help in the case of a blackout and can contain battery banks and battery systems.
If you want to install a DIY solar project, compare several options beforehand. Grape Solar is a major manufacturer (among others) and offers a few different DIY products and components for both grid-tied and off-grid systems, which you can find more information on below.
DIY solar options
|Grape Solar 400 watt PV solar panel kit||400||588||1.47||Home Depot|
|Grape Solar 600 watt PV solar panel kit||600||857||1.42||Home Depot|
|Renogy solar 12-volt/24-volt premium kit||800||1,350||1.69||Renogy|
|ECO-WORTHY off-grid solar panel kit||800||1,090||1.36||Amazon|
When you decide on DIY solar panels, remember that you get what you pay for. A home solar kit may be less expensive, but solar installers offer tremendous value for a relatively little additional cost (remember that 10% figure?). When it comes to installing an expensive electrical system on your property, finding someone who knows what they’re doing can save you both time and money in the long run.
Some of the best solar installers have been in the business for decades – an experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Every state requires that installers are licensed and qualified to install solar, and independent certifications like the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Solar PV Installation Professional Certification ensure that the company you choose to work with has an intimate understanding of the process. Because of this, they can provide experienced insight and help you assess what equipment is the best fit for your property and whether a battery system is right for you.
Your solar installer will also help you complete and file the permits and applications that you need to submit to get your solar power system up and running. This is particularly important because your utility won’t let you connect your system to the grid without a sign-off from a certified electrician.
Because of your solar installer’s experience, they’ll also have a strong understanding of the financial incentives for solar available in your area, and might even be able to help you save more money by finding any rebates and tax incentives that you may have missed. Lastly, it is important to note that many equipment manufacturers will only honor their warranties if a qualified installer installed their equipment. Many installers will also offer an additional warranty to back up their work, too.
The 6-step guide to DIY solar panels: how to install solar panels
The DIY solar panel installation process can be simplified into six major steps:
Purchase your solar equipment and components (solar panels, batteries, inverters, racking, etc.)
Equipment and components including panels can be purchased with help from the EnergySage Buyer’s Guide. You can compare panel, battery, and inverter models based on specs like efficiency, warranties, and more.
Install the racking or mounts for the panels on a roof or the ground
Once you have the necessary equipment, designs, and permits in order, it is time to install your equipment. For roof mount systems, this begins with installing your racking and mounting equipment. To start, mark where your system will be installed, drill where lag bolts will be put in place, caulk the holes, put in lag bolts, and lock rails onto them. For ground mount systems, the steps are similar, only the panels will be installed at the ground level on some type of racking system.
Install your equipment
The first items to install are the solar inverters, which convert the electricity generated by your solar panels into usable electricity. After these are installed using provided bolts, you will need to connect a grounding wire. This is a piece of copper wire across the rails that serves as a safety precaution against lightning strikes and other faults. After this, you can attach your solar panels to your racking equipment.
Connect to your main electrical board
After you have fully installed your panel and system, be sure to schedule an inspection with the local construction authority closest to you. This will ensure that your system complies with local ordinances. Once you pass this inspection, you can apply to connect to the grid. The local utility company will give you a meter to record your power exports.
Get in touch with your utility company and request permission to turn on (PTO) if necessary in your area
From there, turn on your system after you have the proper approval and check how the system is functioning with a solar monitoring app.
Maintenance of DIY solar panel systems
One of the benefits of working with a certified solar installer is the warranty that comes with their service. Solar panel manufacturers provide a range of warranties that guarantee you will have support and coverage in the unlikely event of an issue caused by unusual circumstances, such as large hail or falling tree branches. Power output warranties guarantee that panel performance won’t fall below a specified level over the term of the warranty (usually 25 years). For instance, a manufacturer might provide a warranty to guarantee that peak power output won’t fall below 85% for 25 years.
Frequently asked questions about DIY solar panels
If you’re considering a DIY solar panel kit, but still have concerns about the best options, process, and general cost, check out a few of the most common questions we encounter when talking to solar shoppers:
DIY solar panels may be tempting to install, but their long-term worth may be up for debate due to quality alone. Typically, a solar panel system should continue to generate electricity for 25 to 35 years, so it’s important to invest in quality equipment and a reputable installer. If you purchase a home solar panel kit from a retailer, you may be paying less per watt, but you’re not going to get the same efficiency or quality that professional installers usually offer with their products.
You’ll also likely forgo any warranties that come with your solar panel system, as warranties often only apply when the system is installed by a certified installer. It’s also important to mention that if you still need to rely on some utility power and remain connected to the grid, DIY solar panels are typically not worth it. They are best used for small off-grid applications, like RVs, where a solar generator or solar battery bank can provide you power when you otherwise may not have access.
As a DIYer, you don’t need to be an electrician to install solar panels. It’s certainly not illegal to go the DIY route if you choose to. However, when it comes to installing a costly electrical system on your property, we recommend relying on professionals with technical know-how —their experience is invaluable and it can make a huge difference in the overall quality and performance of your system. Plus, solar installers will help you fill out permits and file important paperwork that you might not otherwise know is required.
You can find reliable DIY solar panels at retailers like Home Depot or from manufacturers like Grape Solar, for between 6,000 to 11,000, depending on your system size needs. For lower cost options, some manufacturers sell DIY solar panels on Amazon for anywhere between 1,600 to 2,500. You may be looking at additional costs if you want to install a solar battery and charge controller system as part of your DIY project.
Should you install solar yourself or hire an installer?
If you’re wavering between a DIY solar system and hiring a solar installer, getting a ballpark estimate for an installation may help you in your decision process. With our Solar Calculator, you can see upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type to determine if a solar installation is the best choice for you. If you’re looking to get quotes from local contractors today, be sure to check out the quote comparison platform in the EnergySage Marketplace.
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How to Connect Solar Panels to an Inverter and Batteries
In this article I will show you how to connect solar panel to inverter. If you have solar panels and you want to build a photovoltaic solar system to generate your own electricity, you have to know How to Connect Solar Panels to an Inverter and Batteries. The connection must be well made so that the system works correctly and generates the desired electricity for your home
Solar energy hHow to Connect Solar Panels to an Inverter and Batteries
as been gaining popularity in recent years as an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective alternative to traditional energy sources. One of the key components of a solar energy system is the battery and inverter. In this article, we will explore the benefits of connecting your solar panel to a battery and inverter, and how to optimize your solar energy system for maximum efficiency.
Why connect your solar panel to a battery and inverter?
Connecting your solar panel to a battery and inverter can provide several benefits. First and foremost, it allows you to store excess energy generated by your solar panel during the day, and use it during periods of low sunlight or at night. This can significantly reduce your reliance on traditional energy sources and lower your electricity bills.
Secondly, connecting your solar panel to a battery and inverter can provide backup power in the event of a power outage. This can be particularly useful for households and businesses that rely heavily on electricity, as it ensures that essential appliances and equipment remain operational even during an outage.
Finally, connecting your solar panel to a battery and inverter can help to reduce your carbon footprint by reducing your reliance on fossil fuels. Solar energy is a renewable and sustainable energy source, and by harnessing it, you can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.
How to optimize your solar energy system for maximum efficiency
Optimizing your solar energy system involves several key factors, including the size and type of battery and inverter, the capacity of your solar panel, and the location and orientation of your solar panel. Here are some tips for optimizing your solar energy system for maximum efficiency:
- Choose the right size and type of battery and inverter: The size and type of battery and inverter you choose will depend on your energy needs and budget. It is important to choose a battery and inverter that can store and convert enough energy to meet your daily energy requirements.
- Consider the capacity of your solar panel: The capacity of your solar panel will also affect the efficiency of your solar energy system. Make sure to choose a solar panel with a capacity that is appropriate for your energy needs.
- Location and orientation of your solar panel: The location and orientation of your solar panel can also affect its efficiency. Make sure to install your solar panel in a location that receives plenty of sunlight throughout the day, and orient it in a direction that maximizes exposure to the sun.
- Regular maintenance: Regular maintenance of your solar panel, battery, and inverter is important to ensure maximum efficiency and longevity. This includes cleaning the solar panel regularly, checking the battery and inverter for signs of wear and tear, and replacing any damaged components as needed.
In conclusion, connecting your solar panel to a battery and inverter can provide significant benefits, including reduced reliance on traditional energy sources, backup power during outages, and a reduced carbon footprint. By optimizing your solar energy system for maximum efficiency, you can enjoy these benefits while also saving money on your electricity bills and contributing to a more sustainable future.
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Honestly, solar panels and inverters for home use have become a necessity rather than a luxury with frequent power outages. People now want to operate all household appliances, including air conditioners, televisions, and refrigerators for their convenience.
The solar panels and investors have played a key role for those who want a power supply 24 hours of the day and, at some point, even have been called as the ” alternative energy source of the 21st century ” This Day Live. Due to its quiet and pollution-free ability, an inverter is something that every home should have.
Step 1 : Connect the solar panels to the inver ter.
Step 2 : Connect the batteries to the inver ter.
Step 3 : Connect the inver ter to the batteries.
Step 4 : Connect the inver ter to the solar panels.
Step 5 : Connect the batteries to the solar panels.
How to install solar panels and inverter: Guide
Installing solar panels and an inverter can be a complex process that typically requires professional expertise to ensure proper installation and safety. However, I can provide you with a general overview of the steps involved. Keep in mind that local regulations, specific equipment, and other factors may vary, so it’s crucial to consult with a qualified solar installer or electrician before attempting any installation. Here’s a simplified guide:
- Assess your energy needs: Determine your energy requirements and evaluate if solar panels are a suitable solution for your home or property. Consider factors such as available roof space, shading, and local weather conditions.
- Obtain necessary permits and approvals: Check with your local authorities or homeowner’s association to obtain any necessary permits and ensure compliance with regulations.
- Design the system: Work with a solar professional to design a solar system that meets your energy needs. This includes determining the number and type of solar panels, as well as the size and capacity of the inverter.
- Gather the equipment and materials: Purchase the solar panels, inverter, mounting hardware, wiring, and other necessary components based on the design of your solar system. Ensure that you have all the required tools for installation.
- Prepare the installation site: Clear the area where the solar panels will be installed. If needed, reinforce the roof structure to support the added weight.
- Install the solar panels: Mount the solar panels on the roof or in a suitable location based on the design. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines for proper installation. Ensure that the panels are securely attached and correctly oriented for optimal sunlight exposure.
- Install the inverter: Position the inverter in a well-ventilated area near the main electrical panel. Connect it to the solar panels using appropriate wiring and conduit. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully during the installation process.
- Connect the electrical components: Connect the solar panels to the inverter, and then connect the inverter to the main electrical panel of your property. This step involves working with electrical wiring, which should be done by a qualified electrician to ensure safety and code compliance.
- Test the system: Once the installation is complete, conduct a thorough test to ensure that the solar panels and inverter are functioning correctly. Verify the production of electricity and monitor the system’s performance.
- Finalize the installation: Arrange for a final inspection by the relevant authorities to ensure compliance with local regulations. Complete any necessary paperwork and documentation required for grid connection, net metering, or other incentives.
Remember, it’s highly recommended to hire a professional solar installer or electrician with experience in solar panel installations. They can provide expert guidance, ensure proper installation, and handle any specific challenges that may arise during the process.
How to install solar panels and inverters yourself
First. connect the positive lead of the solar panel to the positive terminal of the inver ter. Then. connect the negative lead of the solar panel to the negative terminal of the inver ter.
We have categorized the installation process into four different steps:
Solar panel installation:
Here you may need a level of help from a professional to allow the solar panel to be firmly nailed or bolted to your roof.
To get the maximum collection of sunlight from the sun, place it where it can have direct sunlight. When the solar panel is exposed to direct sunlight, it should provide you with at least 26 volts if you use your multimeter or voltmeter to measure its voltage. Try to fix the panels away from shady areas, this affects the efficiency of the solar panels.
2. Connecting your charge controller:
The current we get from the solar panels will not stay constant throughout the day, therefore you should not connect photovoltaic solar modules directly to charge your battery as it will damage it over time.
So you need a device called a Solar Charge Controller to control the current we receive from solar panels. The charge controller has a built-in PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) charger to charge the lead-acid battery in three stages, ensuring long battery life.
The charge controller has three connection points for solar panels, battery, and direct current (DC). If you look at the back of the solar panel (the one we assembled in the first step). you will see two wires, which are positive and negative (-). Connect them where the solar panel indicated on the charge controller. connect positive to positive, negative to negative.
3. Connect the battery to the inverter:
On the back of your inverter you will see where the 12V DC input is indicated, connect the positive terminal of the battery to the positive terminal of the inverter and the negative (-) terminal of the battery to the negative (.) inverter terminal.
Please, the inverter must stay off on the point.
4. Connecting the battery to charge the controller:
As indicated in the third step (above), the charge controller has positive and negative (-) terminals for the battery. Connect the positive of the charge controller to the positive for the battery and the negative (-) of the charge controller to the negative of the battery
5. Giving energy to your home:
CAUTION: Have an electrician separate the load intended for the inverter, so that the inverter is not damaged or damaged when the house is powered.
me. Power the inverter, use your voltmeter to check the inverter output voltage, which should be 230V.
1- Turn the inverter OFF.
2- Turn OFF all your devices
3- Connect the inverter output to your home’s electrical grid.
4- Turn ON your inverter.
5- Power your appliances, starting with the one that consumes the least voltage.
How to connect solar panels to inverter
Connecting solar panels to an inverter involves a few simple steps:
- Determine the voltage and current rating of your solar panels. This information can usually be found in the documentation that came with the panels or on the manufacturer’s website.
- Choose an inverter that is compatible with the voltage and current rating of your solar panels. The inverter should also have a rating that matches or exceeds the maximum output of your solar panels.
- Connect the solar panels to a combiner box, which is a junction box that combines the outputs of multiple solar panels into a single cable. Make sure that the positive and negative wires from each panel are connected correctly.
- Connect the cable from the combiner box to the DC input terminals on the inverter. Again, make sure that the positive and negative wires are connected correctly.
- Connect the AC output terminals of the inverter to a circuit breaker or disconnect switch, which should then be connected to your home’s electrical system.
- Turn on the inverter and monitor the system to ensure that it is working correctly. You may need to consult the inverter’s manual for information on how to monitor its performance.
It’s important to note that solar panels and inverters generate high voltages and currents, so it’s important to follow all safety precautions and consult with a licensed electrician or solar installer if you’re unsure about any aspect of the installation process.
Solar Inverter Guide: Types, Benefits, Costs, and How Solar Inverters Work
If solar panels are the brawn of your solar energy system, the inverter is its brain, and they work together to ensure you get the maximum amount of electricity. Most people are familiar with solar panels because they’re the most visible part of a solar power system, but the solar inverter is an equally important component to consider, as it allows electricity from the sun’s rays to be converted into useful electricity for your household.
In this guide, we’ll look at what a solar inverter does, how solar inverters work, why you need solar inverters, and how much a solar inverter costs.
How A Solar Inverter Works
Solar panels generate Direct Current (DC) electricity, but your home runs off of Alternating Current (AC) electricity, so you have a problem: Your household needs some help to use the energy from the sun. That’s where a solar inverter steps in.
So what is an inverter? A solar panel inverter’s primary purpose is to transform the DC electricity from solar panels into usable AC electricity for your home. Because of this, you can also think of the solar inverter as a solar converter.
Since most appliances use AC power, your solar power system has to convert this DC energy to useful electricity before it can be used to power those appliances. The brain behind this conversion is your inverter, which allows your solar power system to provide energy to your electronic devices.
For a more thorough explanation of this process, check out How Does Solar Energy Work?
Also, when a solar-powered home is connected to the grid, the inverter for home energy acts as the middleman between your home and the electric grid. This is called a grid-tie inverter. A grid-tie inverter allows your home to have uninterrupted power, no matter how much energy your solar panels are generating.
In a situation where your solar power system is producing more electricity than your home is consuming, the photovoltaic inverter can feed that extra power back into the grid. Or you might be in a situation where your panels are producing some power, but not enough to run your entire home, so the inverter mixes the solar power with grid power.
At night, when solar panels aren’t producing electricity, your home may need 100% of its energy from the grid, or the inverter might be able to mix some grid power with some energy stored in solar batteries.
Either way, it’s the grid-tie inverter’s responsibility to make sure your home has all the power it needs in any of these scenarios, and you don’t notice a change as it switches between them.
DC vs AC Electricity
The best way to answer, “What does an inverter do?” is to understand the difference between DC and AC electricity.
Direct Current (DC) electricity involves the flow of electric charge only in a single direction. On the contrary, Alternating Current (AC) electricity is where the current’s flow changes direction (or alternates direction).
In the US, the electric grid uses 60 hertz AC, which means the electricity switches direction 60 times per second.
When the sun’s rays hit your photovoltaic (PV) panels, they trigger the movement of electrons in the solar cells. This movement is in one direction, which leads to the generation of DC electricity. The circuits inside your solar panels collect this current and feed it to the solar PV inverter, which turns the DC electric current into AC electricity.
Benefits of a Solar Inverter
While your solar PV inverter allows you to get usable current from the sun’s rays, that’s not all it’s capable of. A solar panel inverter can help maximize your energy production, monitor your system’s output, communicate with the utility grid, and detect faults that might otherwise damage your solar power system.
Maximizing Energy Production
Solar inverters track your solar array’s voltage to maximize the power that the solar panels operate at, so you can generate the most and cleanest electricity possible.
Grid-tied home solar inverters also output a more pure sine wave (a measure of how smoothly the direction of current changes) compared to low-cost inverters that generate a modified sine wave, which ensures the smooth and efficient functioning of your sensitive appliances.
Monitoring System Output
It’s exciting to see your solar power system generate thousands of watts on a sunny day, so naturally, most homeowners want a way to monitor the performance of their investment.
Most solar panel inverters come with some way of viewing how much energy they are currently producing, and some even allow you to track your solar system’s performance through a mobile app or website.
If things aren’t working as they should, some home inverters check the performance of your solar power system automatically and alert you if it detects an issue with any component. You can also use the home inverter’s performance tracking to periodically check how your system’s components are working yourself, and make sure it’s generating the correct amount of electricity.
Communicating With the Utility Grid
In case of a temporary power outage, solar inverters ensure electricity is not transmitted from your panels to the external power lines. That way, any line worker who may be checking or repairing the grid will be protected from injury.
If you have a full solar battery bank, or your household doesn’t require all of the solar electricity being generated, the inverter can also feed the surplus electricity into the grid to help you generate net energy credits.
Aging and degradation of your electrical wiring and solar equipment can have the potential for hazardous electrical faults, like ground faults or arcs, if not properly maintained. If such an event occurs, the solar power inverter will quickly detect the issue and shut down, thereby protecting the rest of the system, and alerting you about a service need before any additional damage occurs.
Comparing Different Types of Solar Inverters
The solar power inverters your solar company will use depends on the complexity of your roof, the extent and frequency of shade on your roof, the purpose of your solar power usage, your residential area’s utility guidelines, the manufacturers they have contracted with, and other factors.
The four main types of solar power inverters are string inverters, microinverters, power optimizers, and hybrid inverters, and each has advantages and disadvantages.
Also called a ‘central’ inverter, a string inverter is suitable for more simplistic solar power system designs. An array (group) of solar panels is connected into a ‘string,’ and you can connect several strings to one central inverter. The electrical energy flows from the panels into the central inverter, which then converts the DC electricity into AC electricity before making it available to power your home.
A string inverter is the easiest to maintain since it’s usually located in the basement, garage, or other easy-to-access location. It’s also the cheapest, as you only need one inverter to accommodate several strings of panels across several roof planes. Lastly, a string inverter is usually more durable, since it’s a simpler setup that performs a more basic function.
The downside of a string inverter is that underperformance in one panel can affect the other panels in that string. Since a string inverter can’t optimize for the performance of each panel, it’s not a good match for roofs that have regular shading. Additionally, a string inverter doesn’t work well in complex system designs where panels aren’t easily matched together into strings.
A string inverter is usually the best option if you want a lower-cost solution, and your property’s roof is a basic layout and receives consistent sunrays.
Unlike string inverters (which are central) microinverters are distributed, and a small inverter is installed next to each solar panel. Instead of power flowing from all panels to a single inverter before being converted, this system transforms DC to AC electricity right at the panel.
Microinverters are a good choice for homes where the solar array’s design is complicated or the roof has consistent shading. They maximize each panel’s performance at the site to mitigate the effects of shading, and you can monitor your system’s output at every panel.
Another benefit of microinverters is that they can make it easier to expand your system size in the future, since each new panel comes with its own inverter. With a string inverter, the inverter is usually sized for the number of panels that will be installed initially, so it’s not designed to handle additional electricity generation.
The downside of microinverters is that they’re more expensive than string inverters. Additionally, because they are located on the roof, maintenance can be more challenging if they need to be serviced.
Microinverters are best for maximum energy output on a complicated roof, where panels face various directions, or areas that have issues with shade.
Power optimizers are a compromise between string inverters and microinverters. Like a string inverter, the energy from your panels goes to a central inverter. However, power optimizers are located next to individual panels, just like microinverters.
Power optimizers work by optimizing the electricity voltage (thereby conditioning the DC electricity) before sending power to the string inverter. By maximizing each panel’s output, they can mitigate the effects of shading on any individual panel.
If your home has a complicated roof (think roofs with chimneys, gables, and other obstructions) then power optimizers can help optimize your system for those challenges as well.
The main downside to power optimizers is the increased cost over a basic string inverter, although they do typically cost less than microinverters. And like microinverters, power optimizers can make maintenance more complicated.
Power optimizers are the best option if your roof is more complicated, and you’re looking for improved performance without having to invest in microinverters.
Hybrid inverters are the newest addition to the world of solar energy inverters. The hybrid inverter is a combination of a PV inverter and battery inverter, and you can get it in a straight string and optimized string configuation.
The main advantage of a hybrid inverter is that it can convert electricity in both directions, so it can convert DC electricity from solar panels to AC for the home, and it can also convert AC electricity from the grid to DC power to do things like charge a solar battery or an electric vehicle.
Homeowners looking at energy backup options are embracing this technology since you can install it just like a traditional inverter, and then you don’t incur a lot of additional cost when it comes time to add a battery to your system.
Once you have that battery, you can pull energy from the grid to charge it up, so you can store energy when it’s more affordable, and then use it when rates are higher and solar power isn’t providing 100% of your energy demands.
With the increasing use of Electric Vehicles (EV), some hybrid inverters also come with the added benefit of being able to help charge EVs. Since you can connect an EV charger directly to the hybrid inverter, you don’t have to pay more money for main panel upgrades.
Again, the main downside here is cost, and hybrid inverters are also similar to string inverters, so they don’t adapt as well to more complicated roof designs or shading.
Hybrid inverters are a good option for people who are considering energy storage options or have plans to add an electric vehicle that they want to charge with the sun.
Solar Inverter Efficiency
During the inverter’s DC to AC electricity conversion, some energy gets lost in the form of heat. Higher quality solar power inverters are more efficient, so they convert more electricity and don’t have high losses during this conversion process.
Conversion efficiency varies by brand, but most quality inverters are around 97% to 99% efficient, so the energy loss is relatively minor. That said, shading and other factors can have an impact on energy system efficiency, and your photovoltaic inverter plays a role in minimizing those losses.
Solar Inverter Sizing
Inverter manufacturers usually specify the input energy that their products can handle, plus their maximum power output. For instance, a string inverter whose maximum input energy is 4,000 watts can handle up to 4,000 watts of energy from solar panels.
In the real world, you’ll rarely achieve your inverter’s nameplate power rating (achieved at Standard Test Conditions, or STC). In fact, your typical daily activities might end up as much as 20% below the name plate power rating.
To keep costs down, solar power inverters are often selected that have a maximum input power that is lower than your solar panel’s maximum output. This results in some clipping at maximum power production, where the system isn’t designed to handle the maximum amount of power that the panels can produce, since you’ll rarely see that power level on most days.
One crucial step when designing a solar power system is to make sure the photovoltaic inverter size is matched with the solar array size for optimum power conversion. You may be surprised to learn that it’s usually not an exact match, and just because you have 5kW of solar panels doesn’t mean you’ll pair them with a 5kW inverter.
Typically it’s more cost-effective to pick an inverter that is designed to handle less electricity than the maximum amount of power that the solar panels can generate. When the panels are generating extra electricity that the inverter can’t handle, it’s called clipping, since that extra electricity is lost to the system.
If you think of electricity production as a wave, where it ramps up during the day as the sun gets higher in the sky and provides more direct sunlight, inverter clipping just means the very top of the wave gets cut off.
That said, it makes sense to “throw away” this extra electricity because a solar panel array rarely produces its maximum output. It’s better to design the system to handle the normal amount of power that’s to be expected, even if it means losing a little bit of capacity on extremely productive days. If you design a system that can handle the maximum amount of power generation, most of that production capacity goes unutilized on typical days.
Local Solar Inverter Regulations
A good solar installer will know if your locality has specific rules governing the utilization of solar energy, and any rules and interconnection regulations concerning net metering. For instance, qualifying for net metering in many states requires your solar system to adhere to a stipulated maximum size or maximum amount of energy production as a percentage of your typical consumption.
The system’s size limit typically depends on your inverter’s (not your panel’s) maximum energy production, since that determines the total amount of power your installation can feed back to the grid.
How Much Does A Solar Inverter Cost?
Narrowing down the price of a solar PV inverter to a single number is tricky because every system design is different. Photovoltaic inverter requirements depend on the overall system design, and the size can be scaled up or down depending on your home’s energy demands.
In addition, installers typically buy in bulk and have direct relationships with suppliers, so their costs may be different than what you’d pay to buy direct.
String inverter typically range between 1,000 and 2,000 or more, which includes cost factors like the system’s size, the type of solar agreement, the seller, and any features specific to your locality.
Power optimizer typically range between 50 and 200 or more, but keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase one power optimizer per panel, and you also need an inverter to connect them into.
Microinverters are more expensive than string inverters, and can cost 1,000 or more above what a comparable string inverter would cost for the same size system. Keep in mind that string inverter sizing can be adjusted with a lower incremental cost, so a string inverter that’s twice as big isn’t necessarily twice as expensive. In contrast, microinverters need to be installed on every panel, so double the number of panels will likely cause your inverter cost to double as well.
How Long Does A Solar Inverter Last?
String inverters typically have an expected lifespan of 10 to 15 years, though if it’s mounted in a cool and well-ventilated location and maintained properly, it can last up to two decades.
Microinverters and power optimizers entered the industry more recently, so there’s less data around their expected lifespan. That said, most manufacturers are confident that their products can outlast the 20- to 25-year warranties that come with the products.
What Inverter Is Right for My Home?
If you’re looking to invest in a solar power system for your home and trying to decide what inverter option is right for you, an easy way to get started is with our free Solar Savings Estimator.
You’ll get an estimate of the money you would save with home solar, and it factors in typical installation requirements for your region, like the type of inverter that is normally recommended.
You’ll also get connected with a solar expert who can review the different solar options that make sense for your home, including inverter options, and help you select the one that’s right for your family’s needs.
Solar Inverters: Types, Pros and Cons
Solar energy doesn’t provide electricity in a format that your table lamp could be powered by. Inverters change the power produced by your solar panels into something you can actually use.
Think of it as a currency exchange for your power. You might have a fistful of yen, but until you stop and exchange it for USD, you can’t pay for lunch stateside.
Your home is wired to conduct alternating current (AC) power. The electricity produced by solar panels is initially a direct current (DC). Inverters change the raw DC power into AC power so your lamp can use it to light up the room.
Inverters are incredibly important pieces of equipment in a rooftop solar system. There are three options available: string inverters, microinverters, and power optimizers.
Team up with an Energy Advisor to see which inverter is best for your solar project
Solar Inverter Types, Pros and Cons
String inverters have one centralized inverter — or, keeping with the metaphor — one central currency exchange station.
This is a standard inverter, and it works just fine if you don’t have any encroaching shade from nearby trees or a big chimney. It’s also great if you have all of your solar panels facing the same direction.
String inverters are standard in the industry, and they’re the least expensive.
String inverter cons:
- Overall production decreases if one panel is damaged or shaded
- No ability to monitor each panel individually
- Not optimal if your solar panels are facing different ways
- Increasing power needs are more difficult and may require second central inverter installation
Microinverters are small units built into each individual solar panel that convert power. Think of it as having mini currency exchange stations on every nearby street corner.
This gives each panel the ability to function at peak performance, independent from its neighbors. Even if the panel next to it has a tree branch shading it for most of the day, all the other panels can convert at full capacity. Any drop in efficiency only affects one panel.
Microinverters also enable you to monitor the performance of each individual panel. This is helpful for spotting any issues with a single panel so you can have it repaired before it slows down the whole system’s productivity.
This type of inverter can be more expensive than string inverters, but it can pay off over time by getting more power from your system overall.
Microinverters also make it easy to increase power usage if you want to. Say you buy an electric car and you’ll need more power to charge it every night. Adding more solar panels and inverters is easier and less expensive than adding an additional central inverter for a string inverter system.
- Shade from a nearby tree won’t reduce the whole solar panel system power output
- Individual panel monitoring available
- Increasing power needs are easier and less expensive than installing a second central inverter
- Good for rooftops where solar panels may face different directions
Power optimizers are somewhere in between string inverters and micro-inverters both in how they function and in price.
As with micro-inverters, power optimizers have a component (the “optimizer”) underneath and within each solar panel. But rather than change the DC to AC right there on site, these inverters optimize the current before sending it to one central inverter.
This is more efficient than a string inverter, as any sluggish production from one panel doesn’t slow the whole system, but more cost-efficient than a standard micro-inverter setup.
Imagine being able to cut to the front of the line at the currency exchange office. It’s not quite as quick or convenient as having your own exchange office a few steps from your home, but there’s no waiting around once you get to the central office.
Micro-inverters and power optimizers are gaining popularity and are dropping as the technology advances.
We have more details on power optimizers in this post.
Power optimizer pros:
- efficient than string inverters
- Less expensive than micro-inverters
- Individual panel monitoring available
Power optimizer cons:
Ultimately, best inverter for you depends on your roof shape and size, nearby trees, how much energy you need, and your budget.
What to Look for in a Solar Inverter
To recap, there are three kinds of inverters: string inverters, microinverters, and power optimizers.
They all transform the power your solar panels generate from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). This makes the energy usable for your home.
Here’s a few things to look for when shopping for inverters…
Solar Inverter Warranties
Most people feel more comfortable purchasing electronic devices with warranties. Solar inverters are no exception. Most inverters have warranties ranging from anywhere between 5 and 10 years, though some can be extended to 25 years.
When you’re looking at a company, make sure you know what’s included in the warranty and what’s not. For example, some power optimizers might not include the central inverter under the warranty.
Also make sure you understand the terms of a warranty. Is the device covered in case of an internal glitch as well as in the case of external damage? Will you be charged for labor or shipping if you have to send parts in? These are all important questions to ask.
Solar Inverter Operating Temperatures
As with most electronic equipment, inverters operate best when they’re running cool. Operating temperature is the safest temperature range an inverter maintains.
Inverters will naturally generate some heat themselves as they do their job. Since they’re typically in an uncontrollable environment outdoors, they’re exposed to a wide range of temperature fluctuations.
Obviously, conditions aren’t always ideal and some times an inverter will have to work harder than others. The higher the operating temperature (the more heat it can handle), the better.
Solar Inverter Efficiency
There are two numbers to look for in solar inverter efficiency: peak efficiency and weighted efficiency.
Peak efficiency will give you the efficiency of your inverter when it’s running optimally. It’s good to know what the best-case scenario is, but it’s also worth noting that it won’t always be hitting that level. Some days it might only reach peak efficiency for an hour or two, or maybe not at all.
Weighted efficiency figures in the variables like DC input levels. This gives a more accurate gauge as sunshine, temperature, and other environmental elements affect inverter efficiency throughout the day.
Solar Inverter Key Terms to Know
This is the term used to describe the energy output that is lost due to undersizing an inverter.
Any given inverter has a maximum power rating (at the residential level, measured in W or kW). When solar supplies DC power in excess of that inverter’s maximum power rating (what the inverter can handle), the resulting power is “clipped.” Think of it like a 14 foot tall truck trying to go under a 13 foot bridge — a little comes off the top.
It’s important to consider the solar panel arrays’ maximum power output and select an inverter with the correct size, model, and type in order to avoid excessive clipping.
It’s normal for the DC system size to be about 1.2x greater than the inverter system’s max AC power rating. For example, a 12 kW solar PV array paired with a 10 kW inverter is said to have a DC:AC ratio — or “Inverter Load Ratio” — of 1.2.
When you into account real-world, site-specific conditions that affect power output, it may make sense to size the solar array a bit larger than the inverter’s max power rating, as there may be very few “power-limiting days,” or instances of clipping for that system.
Inverter efficiency is a percentage that tells us how much DC power input to an inverter comes out as usable AC power.
No inverter is 100% efficient, although some come close in favorable conditions. In the conversion from DC to AC, power is lost in the form of heat.
While inverter efficiency is an important factor to consider in the selection process, there are other factors to consider that also affect a project’s economics, such as warranty, price, expected life, serviceability, and monitoring functions.
Maximum power is the highest amount of power allowed to feed into an inverter, which is a function of the inverter’s specifications or the maximum power a solar panel can produce. This will occur at the optimal trade-off between voltage and current along a given panel’s I-V (current and voltage) curve.
Maximum Power Point (MPP)
A solar system’s maximum power output will vary with conditions, such as how much sunlight it receives, temperature, and other factors. A fixed-tilt, stationary, roof or ground-mounted solar PV system might only produce its maximum rated power during a limited period of the day. Every specific solar cell has its own unique I-V curve, which relates its maximum power output to variations in current (I) and voltage (V).
Maximum Power Point Tracker (MPPT)
A device that periodically tracks characteristics of a given panel, string of panels, or system, and optimizes and varies voltage and amperage accordingly in order to produce maximum power.
A device that converts direct current (DC) produced by a single solar panel into alternating current (AC).
Micro-inverters are commonly connected to and installed at the site of, or behind, each individual solar panel in an array. Most micro-inverter makes are installed in the field, while some come panel-integrated by the manufacturer.
Popular brands of micro-inverters include: Enphase, Chilicon, APS, ABB, SMA, and SunPower.
A DC-DC converter, optimizer, or “panel optimizer,” is a module-level power electronic device that increases the solar system’s energy output by constantly measuring the MPPT of each individual panel.
The panel optimizers relay performance characteristics via a monitoring system to facilitate operations and any necessary maintenance. In essence, optimizers support flexible system designs and arrangements – with multiple panel orientations, tilts, azimuths, and module types in a given string.
Because optimizers are a DC-DC, or DC-coupled, systems using this technology will generally be compatible with DC-coupled energy storage or battery backup solutions, like the Tesla Powerwall.
Perhaps the most advantageous benefit of using a DC optimizer is panel-level MPPT, or max-power point tracking. The result is increased energy harvest from a panel system, especially when subject to periodic or sweeping shade.
Peak Power Point
Another term for Maximum Power Point (MPP).
The device that converts direct current (DC) electricity produced by groups of solar panels (called strings), into usable alternating current (AC) electricity.
String inverters are considered a “mature” solar technology that has proved effective, safe, and reliable. Residential, 240V AC string inverters usually carry manufacturer’s warranties of about 10 years.
When installed to a manufacturer’s specifications, code, and best practices, a string inverter may require service or ultimately replacement during a photovoltaic system’s lifespan.
Team up with a solar.com Energy Advisor to understand what is covered by your solar system’s workmanship warranty, as well as the inverter manufacturer’s warranty. Depending on what one’s goals, budget, and preferences are, string inverters can be a great option for your solar PV system.
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Tips for Solar Inverter Installation and Maintenance
Solar inverters are a central component of any solar-powered system. Whether your system is grid-tied, battery-powered, or a hybrid system, the solar inverter is what makes the power generated by your solar panels usable for your household. If you’re installing your own solar inverter or just need some tips on properly maintaining this part of your system, keep reading. We’ll give you some essential tips on both.
Installing a Solar Inverter
Before installing your solar inverter, make sure you’re choosing a type that is compatible with your system. Some inverters are designed for only grid-tied systems, while others are for use with battery storage. Still others, like microinverters, come pre-installed on each of your panels. Make sure you know what you need.
Assuming you don’t have microinverters, this means you’ll have either a string inverter or a central inverter. Whichever kind it is, you’ll need to install your solar inverter somewhere with good ventilation and no direct sunlight. It should also be sheltered from any type of moisture. Typically, people will install their solar inverter in a garage, basement, or mounted to the house’s exterior, protected by a box.
Maintaining Your Inverter
An 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.
Keep It Cool
Inverters frequently become hot during daily usage; this is normal, but it is important to make sure you do not have any heat-sensitive or flammable materials near the inverter. Additionally, if your inverter has a cooling fan to regulate its temperature, make sure that the fan is not blocked, and the airflow around the inverter is not restricted. This could disrupt the fans ability to cool and cause the inverter to overheat and reduce the inverter’s efficiency. You should leave a minimum of 12 inches of clearance around your inverter.
Clean Air Intake
If your inverter is installed somewhere that tends to get dusty, you may need to have a technician clean the air intake filter. This type of maintenance you should not attempt yourself. Make sure you have a professional handle it.
Watch for Error Codes
Though your solar inverter may not need a lot of maintenance, you should at least take a look at it from time to time to check for any error codes. If your inverter is showing an error code or displaying a different light than normal, it may need maintenance. Again, a technician is best equipped to read these error codes and provide the necessary services, so give us a call if you see an error code.
Maintaining a solar inverter is quite simple, but it is not something you can overlook without consequences. Make sure to keep your inverter clean and cool, and call a technician if there are any problems. If you need a new solar inverter, contact us. We carry inverters from many major brands, such as Schneider Electric, and can help you choose the right one and get it installed. Contact us today.