Let me guess. You’re almost at the point where you’re ready to invest in a solar panel system but, with so many inverter options available to you, you find yourself stuck and wondering: “Microinverters vs optimizers. What’s better for my home?”
That’s a valid question. The inverter you choose weighs on the performance of your whole solar system after all, especially if you have a complex roof and/or shading issues.
I’m here to help clear up your confusion. Listed below are the topics I’m covering. Feel free to tap on any of the bullets to skip sections but I recommend reading this from the top. Let’s start!
- Overview of the different types of inverters
- What are micro inverters?
- What are power optimizers?
- Their similarities and differences
- Solar power optimizer VS microinverter (pros and cons)
A crash course on the types of inverters
We have a more in-depth article on the different types of inverters but, in a nutshell, there are 3 types of inverters commonly used here in Australia.
- String inverters
- Power optimizers
String inverters, also called central inverters, are the most commonly used, the most affordable, and the option with the most variety. This is the most ideal option if your roof has no shading issues because, here, one underperforming panel affects the entire system’s performance.
Microinverters and power optimizers, on the other hand, are solutions to the weak points of string inverters. They’re both installed on each panel, so shade on one module doesn’t affect the rest of the system.
Now, let’s dive deeper into the microinverter vs optimizer debate.
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What are micro inverters?
As I said, micro inverters are small inverters attached to each of your solar panels. This comes with many advantages, including:
- The DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) electricity conversion process happens right at the source. Meaning, there’s no need for a centralized inverter.
- Each of your solar panels operates independently. Meaning, that shade on one panel won’t affect the performance of the rest of your system.
- It’s easier to expand your system since each module has its own inverter.
- It’s easier because the voltage isn’t channeled into a single cable, thereby reducing the risk of electrical fires.
- You can monitor individual solar panels. This panel-level performance monitoring makes it easier to troubleshoot faults.
The downside is that they’re more expensive to install and maintain than any string inverter. They potentially have shorter lifespans, too.
Recommended: How do solar panels work?
What are power optimizers?
Power optimizers, like microinverters, are installed at each panel. There are a couple of key differences though.
First, power optimizers still require a string inverter. Second, they don’t convert DC power to AC electricity at the panel level. They instead “condition” the voltage and current before sending it to the central inverter. This conditioning process is why they’re called power optimizers.
Naturally, they have their advantages, too.
- Power optimizers are typically less expensive than power optimizers
- Underperforming solar panels won’t affect the performance of the rest of your solar power system
- Because they’re installed at the panel site, they also allow for individual solar panel monitoring for easier troubleshooting
- They’re an upgrade to traditional central inverter systems
The catch? They’re more complex to install than standard string inverter systems which drives up the installation labor cost. Also, because they still rely on a central inverter, that’s more potential points of failure.
They sound so similar. What makes them different?
Good question. Both solar power optimizers and microinverters optimize your individual solar modules, thus improving the performance of your solar panel system as a whole. They grant you access to panel-level monitoring as well.
But there are 3 main differences between them:
- Functionality, and
Power optimizers are more expensive because they do the job of the string inverter and power optimizers. Meaning, they condition the generated solar energy while also converting DC electricity to AC energy.
Solar microinverters, on the other hand, are the cheaper option because they only condition the generated DC energy. This means they still need a separate string inverter to convert DC to usable alternating current.
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A summary of their pros and cons
- Better system efficiency and power output than the traditional string inverter
- Optimization of individual panels for maximum power output
- Easier to expand solar system size in the future
- Easier to troubleshoot
- Reduced risk of electrical fires
- Pricier than both the string inverter and power optimizer systems
- They might have shorter lifespans than other options
- Conditions voltage and current before sending them to the central inverter, resulting in higher system efficiency
- Module-level power electronics means an underperforming solar panel won’t affect the others
- Easier troubleshooting
- More affordable than the micro inverter
- String inverter failure is still a possibility because it’s still part of the solar energy system
- More expansive than traditionally used solar inverters
Conclusion: Which one should you choose?
The choice between a microinverter vs power optimizer depends on your circumstances. Either way, both options are great if you’re having trouble with partial shading.
Having said that…
- Choose micro inverters if you plan on expanding your system in the future and have a higher budget.
- Choose power optimizers if you don’t mind having a string inverter on your wall, if you don’t have plans of expanding your solar panel system, and if you can’t justify the higher cost of microinverters.
Now, if you’ve already decided on what you want, we have a network of pre-vetted solar installers that are ready to give you 3 FREE quotes right away. If haven’t yet made a decision, well, they can help with that, tool.