I would argue that solar inverters are more important than solar panels.
After all, they turn the energy from your solar panels (DC), into usable energy for your appliances (AC).
Choosing what suits you best can be challenging, though. So, to streamline your search, here’s a list of the main types of solar inverters.
I included brief descriptions of each type as well as their pros and cons.
I recommend reading the entire thing but, if you want to skip sections, simply tap on the bullets below.
- String inverters
- Micro inverters
- Power optimizers
- Hybrid inverters
- Which is best for your home or business?
1. String inverters
String inverters are the most used inverters in Australian homes. These are also the types that you can see attached to walls.
Systems that use this type of solar inverter wire rows of solar panels in series (i.e. strings). Hence, their name.
Each “string” carries DC power from many solar panels. The inverter takes this and converts it to the AC power that we use to run our appliances.
Technology in solar inverters is tried and true – and has been for quite a while now. They are the oldest type of inverter used in solar systems. So, installers and repairmen already know how they work like it was the back of their hand.
They’re also the most affordable and have the most variety when it comes to brands and models.
Most of this inverter’s disadvantages also stem from its “strings”.
The connected rows of solar panels count as one power source. So, one solar panel that isn’t functioning properly affects the whole array’s power output.
This also means that monitoring the energy you produce is on a systemic level rather than panel by panel. This makes it harder to find faults with individual panels.
Furthermore, you’d need an installer that doesn’t cut corners. Remember that there’s high voltage DC electricity coursing through these cables. Lazy installation can bring about potential safety hazards.
Want 3 Quotes By Trusted Solar Installers In Your Area?
2. Micro inverters
Unlike string inverters, micro inverters aren’t attached to walls. Rather, they are smaller and tucked behind each solar panel.
Also, the DC power from rows of solar panels doesn’t have to run through a single cable to become AC electricity. Instead, the conversion happens on the spot on every panel.
The small size of micro inverters make it possible to hide them behind solar panels. This makes for a cleaner looking system.
Furthermore, the panel-level conversion makes micro inverters more efficient than string inverters. If one solar panel isn’t functioning optimally, the rest of the array isn’t affected. This also makes them safer because there is no massive DC power coursing over your roof.
Panel-level conversion (and monitoring) makes it easier to troubleshoot faulty solar panels, too. This makes them quicker to fix.
Plus, a micro inverter is much more durable than its string counterpart. In general, micro lasts 20-25 years whereas string only lasts about 8-12 years.
Installing a single inverter for every panel takes more time and effort. This raises the upfront cost of your system. Repairs are more expensive as well.
These solar inverters are also more prone to overheating because they’re on the roof. This is especially true for black roofs during the summer.
3. Power optimizers
Like micro inverters, you can find power optimizers at the back of every solar panel. The difference is that this system also has a string inverter. Think of it as a hybrid of both types.
Power optimizers regulate the DC electricity of each solar panel. They then send that power to the string inverter where the DC to AC conversion happens.
A solar power system that uses power optimizers is more efficient and stable than a system that solely relies on a string inverter. This is because of the DC conditioning that happens before AC conversion.
This panel-level conditioning also means that if one panel isn’t functioning properly, the rest of your system doesn’t have to suffer.
Moreover, power optimizers allow for panel-level monitoring like micro inverters. So, it’s easier to spot faulty solar panels. And, best of all, it’s not as expensive as a micro inverter setup.
The warranty for power optimizers (~25 years) typically isn’t the same for string inverters (~8-12 years). So, it can be a bit more troublesome when something breaks.
Optimizers also cost extra compared to a system that solely runs on a string inverter.
4. Hybrid inverters
The previous inverters can only handle electricity that flows in one direction. For example, let’s say your solar system’s design is to power your home while the excess energy gets sent to the grid. That flow is going to look like this:
- Solar panels ➡ inverter ➡ home appliances ➡ grid
In contrast, hybrid inverters can handle electricity that flows in many directions. This is particularly important if you plan on adding a battery to your system. Here’s what that’s going to look like:
- Solar panels ➡ inverter ➡ home appliances ➡ battery
- Battery ➡ inverter ➡ home appliances
If you plan on adding a battery system to your panels, it will be cheaper to go with hybrid inverters now. Doing so will save you from the cost of buying another solar inverter in the future.
Solar panels with a hybrid inverter and a battery form a highly efficient system. You won’t be as reliant on power companies because you will be able to use all the energy you produce.
Many hybrid systems also come with monitoring tools. This lets you see how much power you’re producing, using, storing, and exporting to the grid. So, if anything goes awry, you would know that something needs fixing.
The upfront cost of installation is going to increase.
You will also have fewer brands and models to choose from. Plus, not all are compatible with power optimizers and certain types of batteries.
Want 3 Quotes By Trusted Solar Installers In Your Area?
Which solar inverter is best for my home?
That depends on what you need and what you want out of your solar system. You should talk with an installer you trust. But here are my thoughts and recommendations anyway:
- If you’re on a budget, string inverters should be right up your alley. They’re the cheapest and easiest to install of the types of solar inverters that I listed. They’re also the most reliable.
- If you have a bit more money to spend, look into adding power optimizers to your system. Or, change up your plans and go for hybrid inverters. Both routes don’t cost much more but are more efficient and easy to monitor.
- If money is of no concern, micro inverters are the way to go. They look the cleanest and are also more efficient than string inverters.
Speaking of installers you can trust, we have a network of pre-vetted professionals all around Australia. We trust them with our own systems because we know they’re honest and skilled pros. So, if you’re ready to take the next step, we can get you 3 FREE quotes from them right away.
How many solar inverters do I need?
That depends on what inverter you want to installed. For string and hybrid inverters, you might only need 1 or 2 depending on the size of your system. For micro inverters, you would need one inverter for every solar panel you have.
Can I run a solar inverter without a battery?
Yes, you can run your solar inverter without a battery. All the types I listed above should be capable of that.
Recommended: How do solar panels work?
Conclusion: The best type of solar inverter is the one that suits your needs
Solar inverters are a vital part of your system. So, investing in the best one that’s available to you now can save you more money in the long-term.
Having said that, you don’t always have to get the most expensive option.
String inverters are affordable, reliable, and will do the job if your roof isn’t shaded. Add power optimizers to that and enjoy panel-level monitoring and better efficiency.
If you want to forego string inverters and have a bit more money to spend, choose micro inverters. And, if you plan on adding batteries, hybrid is the way to go.