A Guide to Solar Inverters: What Are They and How Do They Work?

By Josh Roberts
March 13, 2024

Harnessing the power of the sun has emerged as a cornerstone of renewable energy, with solar panel installations steadily increasing globally. In the United Kingdom, as more and more households make the eco-conscious leap to solar energy, there’s a growing need to understand the technology that makes it all possible. At the heart of any solar system lies the solar inverter – a pivotal component that often remains a mystery to the average homeowner. In this comprehensive guide tailored for UK houseowners, we’ll demystify solar inverters, explaining the nuanced categories and their functionalities.

Introduction to Solar Inverters

For solar newbies, solar inverters might sound like complex equipment, but they play a straightforward and vital role in the generation of solar power. As the sun’s energy is captured by photovoltaic cells in your solar panels, it is converted into direct current (DC) electricity. However, most homes and the national grid operate on alternating current (AC) electricity. Herein lies the task of the solar inverter: to convert the electricity generated by your panels from DC to AC – the type of electricity that powers your lights, appliances, and devices.

Though the process seems simple, it’s critical for homeowners to understand the nuances of inverters to optimize their solar energy systems. From different types of inverters available to how they can impact the efficiency and monitoring of your solar panels, the right inverter can make all the difference in your solar energy experience.

Types of Solar Inverters

Not all solar inverters are created equal, and the type you choose can greatly affect the performance of your solar panel system. Here are the main types:

String Inverters

String inverters – also known as central inverters – are the conventional choice for solar systems. They work by connecting multiple solar panels in series (or in strings) to a single inverter. String inverters are highly efficient and are a cost-effective option for systems with uniform panel orientation and minimal shading.

Microinverters

Microinverters are installed on each individual solar panel, providing an alternative to the string inverter system. This setup maximizes the performance of each panel, as shading or panel-specific issues do not affect the entire system. Microinverters are ideal for more complex roof designs and can offer improved monitoring and safety features.

Power Optimizers

Power optimizers, in contrast to microinverters, do not convert DC power to AC at the panel site. Instead, they optimize the performance of individual panels before transmitting the power to a string inverter. Essentially, they offer a compromise between the central and microinverter systems, providing benefits in terms of shading and panel-level monitoring.

Each of these inverter types has its own pros and cons, and the right choice depends on specific needs and system requirements.

How Solar Inverters Work

The primary function of a solar inverter is to convert the direct current (DC) electricity produced by panels into the alternating current (AC) used in households and the national grid. This inversion process allows you to power your home with the solar energy you’ve collected. In addition to this core function, modern inverters offer features that enhance the overall system performance.

Conversion of DC to AC

The inversion of DC to AC is achieved through complex circuitry within the inverter. The inverter adjusts the voltage and current to meet the requirements of the grid, ensuring that the power produced is useable and safe for the electrical system of the home. When choosing an inverter, pay attention to its conversion efficiency, which can range from 95% to 98%, affecting the overall energy yield of your system.

Monitoring and Efficiency

Most inverters come with monitoring tools that track the performance of the solar panels. This feature enables homeowners to keep tabs on the energy production and spot any issues that might arise, such as panel failure or shading. Additionally, some inverters can predict power output for the next day, week, or year, allowing for better management of energy usage.

Solar inverters are more than just black boxes converting energy type; they are the brains of your photovoltaic system, ensuring it operates optimally.

Benefits of Solar Inverters

Investing in a high-quality solar inverter can offer an array of benefits, beyond just converting DC to AC. Here are a few advantages that homeowners can expect:

Increased Energy Production

Advanced inverters can squeeze more energy out of each solar panel by ensuring the optimal operation of the entire system. Inverters with maximum power point tracking (MPPT) technology can dynamically adjust the voltage and current to extract the maximum power available from the panels at any given time, in any condition.

Monitoring Capabilities

Understanding how your solar system is performing is not just a luxury – it’s a necessity. Solar inverters with monitoring functionality provide real-time and historical data on your energy output, empowering you to make informed decisions. Some even offer remote monitoring so you can check your system from anywhere.

System Longevity

An inverter acts as a protective barrier between your solar panels and your home’s electrical system. By ensuring that your panels don’t overpower the grid and that the electricity they produce is in the right form, inverters can extend the life of your panels and system as a whole.

Choosing the Right Solar Inverter

With various options available, choosing the right solar inverter can be daunting. As a UK homeowner, there are specific aspects to consider:

Considerations for UK Houseowners

In the UK, solar energy systems operate under different climatic and regulatory conditions. Therefore, it’s essential to select an inverter that complies with local standards and can handle the typical weather patterns of the region. The inverter should also match the size and scale of the solar array to ensure optimal performance.

Factors Impacting Performance

The size and type of your solar panel system will impact the performance of your inverter. Ensure that the inverter’s capacity (given in kilowatts) aligns with the size of your system. Also, consider the warranty duration. A standard warranty for inverters ranges from 10 to 25 years, depending on the manufacturer.

Conclusion

In summary, solar inverters are the unsung heroes of the solar power movement. As the intermediary between the sun’s energy and the appliances that run in our homes, they deserve a closer look by any UK houseowner looking to make the switch to solar. By understanding the role they play, the types available, and how to select the best one for your needs, you can ensure your solar system operates efficiently and effectively for many years to come.

With this guide, you are now better equipped to have informed discussions when you sit down with solar installation professionals. Solar energy is a long-term investment, and the inverter is a critical piece of that puzzle. Make the right choice, and you’ll be enjoying the benefits of green energy even when the sun goes down.