All solar inverters perform the same basic function of converting DC power from solar panels into AC electricity for consumers.
However, there are different types of inverters to consider depending on your solar system components, budget and needs.
String inverters are a popular choice among owners of residential and small commercial solar power systems.
A string inverter converts the combined DC output from a series or “string” of solar panels into AC power. One reason the string inverter is popular is that it’s cost-effective. A single inverter is all you need to convert an entire solar array’s DC output into AC.
But there is a major drawback to using a string inverter: the performance of the entire string is contingent on every panel operating optimally. A single poorly performing panel negatively impacts the whole string’s efficiency.
Reasons for subpar performance may include the presence of shade or debris, which prevents sunlight from reaching the panel.
Best suited for:
- Homeowners with tight budgets who are seeking reliable solar energy systems
- Homes with lots of unshaded roof space where all the panels face the same direction
- Solar systems where you can easily access and maintain your panels
- A string inverter might not be the best fit for homeowners with shade falling unevenly on their roofs or with future plans to expand their solar power systems
- A single malfunctioning panel could shorten the entire solar system’s lifespan
Microinverters are installed beneath individual solar panels. There is a separate microinverter for each panel. Each microinverter turns just one panel’s DC into AC.
This setup ensures that problems with one panel don’t affect the energy output of others. For example, if shadows fall on a panel and lower its power output, the rest of the array continues operating at peak efficiency.
Microinverters are more expensive than string inverters and aren’t always necessary for simple or compact solar arrays.
Best suited for:
- Homeowners who plan to start small and expand their solar energy systems later
- Homes whose roofs have multiple sections where panels face different directions
- Solar arrays with some panels that get intermittent shade from nearby trees or chimneys
- Installing microinverters requires an initial investment that can be significantly greater than the initial outlay for a string inverter
- Microinverters’ high efficiency and low maintenance costs can make up for their hefty upfront costs over a solar energy system’s lifetime
Like other types of solar panel inverters, hybrid inverters convert DC from solar panels into AC.
Hybrid inverters also connect to battery systems that store DC electricity and convert it to AC as needed. The batteries preserve surplus energy that the solar panels produce during peak sunlight hours.
Hybrid inverters moderate the flow of electricity between solar panels, batteries, appliances and the power grid.
You don’t need a hybrid inverter unless you wish to store excess solar energy in batteries for later use.
Best suited for:
- Homeowners who want to store excess electricity produced during the daytime for night-time use
- Homeowners who see solar energy as a long-term investment and are willing to pay a premium for battery storage systems
- Homes in areas that are prone to power outages or that have unreliable power grid connections
- Homeowners must buy battery storage systems that are compatible with their hybrid inverters, which increases the total cost of their solar energy systems
- A hybrid inverter’s initial setup and integration are complex and might require specialised installers