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Are Cheaper Inverters the Right Choice?

When making the switch to residential solar energy, homeowners face a choice in the form of different inverters that are necessary to the system itself. Designed to convert electricity into a form that is usable throughout the home, inverters are an essential part of any residential solar setup. They come in a variety of designs and forms, each bearing its own unique pros and cons, including price.

Is a cheaper inverter worth your investment? Let’s evaluate some of your options.

The inverters that you choose for your residential solar panels can have a major impact on the cost, accessibility, and life of your solar panel system.

What Is an Inverter?

In any photovoltaic (PV) system of solar panels, it is in fact the inverters that do a lot of the heavy lifting. Solar panels are able to generate electricity from direct sunlight, but this energy is produced in the form of direct current (DC) electricity. Before it can be used in your home, this electricity must be converted into alternating current (or AC) electricity so that it can be used safely and efficiently. DC electricity cannot be easily transformed to higher or lower voltage forms for differing appliances and has other innate disadvantages such as being incompatible with traditional circuity, and rough on home insulation.

This is where inverters become vital. Inverters take the DC electricity produced by solar panels and convert it to AC electricity for use in the home itself. This allows for residential energy that is safe, easily applied to high or low-voltage appliances, and ultimately inexpensive.

Microinverters vs String Inverters

When considering inverters for residential PV systems, your choices essentially boil down to choosing either a string inverter system, or a series of microinverters

String inverters are single electrical boxes installed near the home’s main service panel. In a residential PV system, there is typically only one inverter in a string inverter system (though an additional string inverter may be utilized in larger systems). The string inverter function as a series circuit for a number of solar panels hooked up to it, converting the electricity for all associated panels.

In a string inverter system, each panel is connected as part of a single series. This offers a lower-cost inverter option, but also places the entire PV system at the mercy of any single under-producing panel.

Microinverters, by comparison, are inverters attached to each individual solar panel. In other words, a system that makes use of microinverters typically has the same number of inverters as solar panels. Each panel’s microinverter converts DC to AC electricity, independent of the conversion performed by the other microinverters.

In a microinverter PV system, each panel is connected to its OWN inverter. As a result, the total energy produced by each panel is collected by the home, and not limited by any single underperforming panel.

Pros and Cons of Microinverters and String Inverters

Both microinverters and string inverters come with inherent ups and downs. These range from price, to efficiency, and even system monitoring. 

For instance, string inverters are generally a lower-cost option than microinverters. In part, this is because a single string inverter can typically be used for a number of solar panels, creating a cheaper option than the purchase of multiple microinverters. String inverters are also relatively easy to troubleshoot and wire to solar panels. 

But string inverters also come with some major drawbacks. For one, they typically have a shorter lifespan and offer no system monitoring for homeowners. More significantly, a  single string inverter is wired in series to all connected solar panels, and because of this any underperforming solar panel connected to the string inverter reduces the efficiency of the entire system. This means that if a single panel is shaded or obstructed and performing at only 50% efficiency, the entire string inverter system itself will only run at 50% of its capable output. Anything from a single tree that offers too much shade, to damage done to a panel can and will harm the entire system’s efficiency.

If a single panel is shaded or obstructed and performing at only 50% efficiency, the entire string inverter system itself will only run at 50% of its capable output.

By comparison, the price tag of microinverters is typically higher than string inverters, because a greater number of microinverters are required. Yet despite being more expensive, microinverters tend to have a longer lifespan than string inverters and available system monitoring, factors that can benefit savings over time. More importantly, microinverters allow each panel to produce different levels of energy. Therefore, an obstructed panel that is producing only 50% output won’t hinder a neighboring panel from functioning at full capacity. Essentially, microinverters allow your solar system to gather all available energy.

In summary, the advantages and disadvantages of different types of inverters include:

  • String inverters typically have a lower lifetime (8 to 12 years) than microinverters (around 25 years)
  • Microinverters can be easily monitored by homeowners to track individual panel production
  • String inverters are available at a lower total cost than a series of microinverters
  • Microinverters allow the PV system to gather and harness all available energy production from each solar panel, rather than being limited to the production level of the lowest functioning solar panel

ION Solar and Enphase IQ8 Inverters

Because microinverters offer greater energy efficiency, system monitoring, and extended lifespan, they are the install choice of the professionals at ION Solar. ION uses top-quality Enphase IQ8 microinverters designed to maximize residential solar efficiency. These reliable microinverters allow a PV system to produce electricity even at sunrise or sunset, and have been proven safe through more than one million hours of testing. Thanks to their all AC electricity design, Enphase IQ8 microinverters also eliminate dangerous DC roof wiring, and protect against energy spikes by offering rapid shut-down features. 

Let ION Solar’s Team of Professionals Help

ION Solar is the top-rated residential solar in customer reviews, thanks to a commitment to high-quality panels and inverters (like the Enphase IQ8 series).  We’ve been offering solar solutions to homeowners since 2013, because we know what it takes to create high-quality PV systems that last. Let ION’s team of professionals guide you in your solar journey, and see the difference that high-quality products can make.

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