How do inverters work with solar panels?
When the sun shines on solar cells on a panel, photons knock electrons loose from a semiconductor wafer. The wafer is usually made from silicon. The separated electrons form an electric current.
However, the current is DC electricity, and DC energy doesn’t work in home or business appliances. A solar power system needs inverters to transform the energy it generates into AC electricity.
Inverters can also serve as safety mechanisms for solar panel systems. When an inverter is tied to a utility company’s power grid (also known as grid-tied), it has an isolation switch that cuts the inverter off from the greater electricity grid if its power falls below acceptable levels.
The isolation switch stops the system from shooting electricity through power lines when crews are performing maintenance on them. Unfortunately, the isolation function will also stop your inverter from delivering electricity to your home during a blackout.
If you still want your panels to work during a blackout, you’ll have to use a solar battery backup system. A solar battery will store the energy that your system generates during the day. Energy systems that use solar batteries have specially designed inverters that allow them to still deliver electricity to the battery during power outages.
Off-grid systems (energy systems that work independently of a utility grid) also need solar batteries and specialized off-grid inverters to function. However, most homes use a grid tie inverter (an inverter that allows a solar energy system to connect to a power grid), so they can use power from the utility company on days when there might not be ample sunlight.
How many inverters does each solar panel need?
The number of inverters you’ll need for your system will depend on the type of inverter you use. There are a few main types of solar inverters that you can choose from.
- Single-phase inverters (also known as string inverters) are standalone boxes installed near the main service panel and electricity meter. A solar array (arrangement of panels) will likely only need one or two single-phase inverters depending on the size of the roof. Some single inverters also have power optimizers that prime DC electricity before it enters the inverter. This allows the inverter to work more efficiently.
- Microinverters do the same thing as single-phase inverters, but they’re much smaller. They’re roughly the size of an internet router. A solar system will generally have several microinverters, one attached to each individual panel.
- Central inverters are large inverters generally used for large commercial properties and businesses rather than homes. One central inverter can work with a huge number of solar panels.
- Battery inverters and hybrid inverters allow your solar panels to work with a battery. A battery inverter is a great option for an off-grid system. It sends energy directly to your switchboard instead of the power grid. A hybrid inverter (or a multi-mode inverter) has a DC charger that allows a battery to refuel using DC electricity.
How much do solar inverters cost?
There are a lot of factors that affect the price of an inverter, as well as the price of an entire solar energy system. The type of inverter (or inverters) you use, the amount of energy you want your system to generate, and the size of your home can all play a part in determining how much your inverter will cost.
When you reach out to Vivint, we’ll put you in touch with a solar installation specialist who can answer your questions about solar energy systems and give you a free quote for a system that will meet your energy needs. Your specialist can also educate you about financing plans that can help make your system more affordable.
How long do solar inverters last?
Inverters have electrical components that can wear out over time. While solar panels typically have a life span of around 25 to 30 years, solar inverters have a shorter, yet still lengthy, life span of around 10 to 15 years. You’ll likely have to replace your inverter at some point during the life of your solar panels to get optimal energy production from your system.