A solar inverter is a crucial component in every solar panel system. This device converts the direct current power (DC) generated by your solar panels into useable alternating current (AC) power. AC is then used to power household appliances and lighting or can be fed back into the grid for feed-in-tariff.
Recent developments in solar technology mean micro inverter solar systems with AC solar panels may take the industry by storm. First, though, it’s important to find out more about the two types of solar inverters. They are:
- String inverters, traditional inverters that connect strings of panels in one central location.
- Micro inverters, miniaturised inverters, sized to suit individual solar panels.
This article will cover all you need to know about micro inverter solar systems. That includes their benefits and their downsides, whether they are a good fit for your solar system, and how they work well with AC solar panels.
What is a micro inverter?
A micro inverter has exactly the same function as a string inverter. It converts DC electricity into AC electricity. However, instead of one inverter servicing the entire solar panel system, a micro inverter it works at the panel level. With a series of micro inverters, you’ll get a system that produces energy consistently and operates individually at each panel.
Here’s how a micro inverter looks compared to a string inverter:
What is an AC solar panel?
In a nutshell, AC solar panels are solar panels that have been fitted with micro inverters. Instead of direct current (DC), it generates alternating current (AC), straight to your home. The inbuilt inverters are ensuring that this DC to AC conversion is still occurring, directly within the panel system itself. Micro inverters are generally safer than traditional string inverters since they produce a relatively stable 240V AC, less than the common 600V DC.
What are the pros of AC panels and micro inverters solar systems?
Micro inverters gained popularity rapidly thanks to their significant advantages over string inverters. Here are some of the positives that come with micro inverters:
With a micro inverter’s panel-level design, if one part of a panel or the inverter fails, the rest of your system won’t be affected. As a result, it gives you some advantages. For instance, Troubleshooting is essential when you have any issues with your system.
When a panel malfunctions and stops working, the entire system could be affected to the point where the inverter stops producing power. With micro inverters, only the malfunctioning panel is affected, leaving the rest of the system to keep generating power. You will not experience system shutdown while getting the panel replaced.
That, however, is not going to happen with micro inverters. Since each panel is isolated individually, one panel may have a drop in performance, but the rest will remain unaffected and continue to produce energy in their optimal performance without system errors.
Longer Lifespan and Warranty
Micro inverters offer longer warranty periods with an industry standard of 25 years – basically matching the lifespan of most modern solar panels. This is longer than string inverters, which come with an average warranty period of five to twelve years. Micro inverters make an excellent option for those who prefer long-term value and peace of mind.
Micro inverters are plug-and-play and use standard alternating current (AC) wiring, similar to your usual home appliance wiring. They are also the preferred choice from the installer’s perspective since they are easy to connect and easy to carry as well. This is quite the opposite of string inverters, which can be large, bulky, and time-consuming to install.
String inverters operate within a specific input voltage range, called the operating range. This means that if your panels don’t supply enough voltage, the inverter will not have enough power to turn on. If your solar array produces too much power, your inverter can be damaged, and even void its warranty in the process.
Let’s say you want to start small and install a 3kW string inverter. In the coming years, should you add another 1kW of panels, you probably have to ditch your old inverter and upgrade to a bigger one. In contrast, micro inverters will allow you to maintain and upgrade a system to be as small or as big as you want. Adding more panels is not a problem, because none of the existing equipment needs to be moved or re-wired to facilitate the addition of additional panels.
What are the cons of AC panels and micro inverters in solar systems?
Micro inverters still have some downsides you need to consider. It’s important to get the full picture, before taking the plunge and opting for micro inverters.
Higher upfront price
The added benefits and rich features make micro inverters more expensive than traditional string inverters. Prepare for an additional cost of 15-20% per panel to install these inverters in your solar system.
They may suffer more from extreme weather
Micro inverters may suffer more from weather extremes, including heat, cold, and moisture. This is because they are installed on your roof, with the panels themselves. This constant exposure to the elements may gradually reduce the efficiency of your inverters and shorten their effectiveness. To extend the lifespan of micro inverters in your system, ensure they are correctly installed. Moreover, take into account the IP rating of the micro inverters you choose to use. The higher the rating, the more durable they will be.
Should I use micro inverters in my solar system?
Whether you should use micro inverters or not ultimately depends on your solar system design and personal preferences. They may be slightly more expensive in terms of total upfront cost, but micro inverters can be a worthwhile choice if:
- You want to start small and intend to grow your system gradually, as these inverters allow you to add as many panels as you want to your existing solar power system.
- You want to build a system under less-than-ideal conditions, e.g. panels receive partial shade throughout the day, since the system will continue to generate power optimally even in the harshest conditions.
The best way to find out whether you need micro inverters for your solar system is to consult with a reliable and reputable solar installer, like Sungain Solar.
Expert solar supply and installation
At Sungain Solar, we’re an Australian-based company specialising in everything solar. That includes everything from initial consultation to design, supply, and installation of your solar system. Our team of specialists is dedicated to guiding you through the entire process, creating the best solar experience possible.