Solar Panels with Micro Inverters

A solar panel installation is a fantastic way to generate clean energy for your home for years to come, but there’s no doubt that their installation can be quite complex.

If you are considering a solar panel installation, one such consideration is the type of inverter you use with your system.

In this guide, we’ll be discussing micro inverters, their benefits, costs and other frequently asked questions.

Let’s begin…

What is a Microinverter?

A microinverter is a type of inverter used in photovoltaic (PV) solar systems to convert direct current (DC) electricity generated by individual solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity that can then be utilised by your properties appliances.

In contrast to a traditional central inverter, also sometimes called a standard string inverter that is typically used to convert the combined DC output of multiple panels, a microinverter is attached to each panel, allowing for the independent conversion of each panel’s output.

This useful feature means that it can improve system performance, reduce the risk of shading-related power loss, and simplify maintenance and monitoring.

Benefits of Microinverters

One major research aspect that has been on the minds of companies since the very earliest days is how to get the maximum amount of solar energy from a device.

The most frequent approach to finding out this information is to apply a test known as MPPT, or maximum power point tracking.

Even though the name suggests something connected with making a slideshow in front of work colleagues, the reality is that MPPT is an efficient and simple method of tracking solar energy production, and seems to lead to results that are easy to measure and apply.

Alongside the aforementioned, there are a range of other positive aspects to thinking about getting a microinverter installed.

One of these is that there is the capacity to shut down more quickly than other types of inverters.

This is partly because each module is separate, and also has to do with the fact that this technology is newer than some others.

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Consequently, it was designed to meet the needs of modern code compliance, and this is so that firefighters or other emergency services can respond more quickly and easily to a potentially critical situation.

This capacity is built into each module apart so that each module acts independently of all the others in this respect too.

Additionally, at least in theory, there is a greater possibility of gaining a higher amount of solar electricity using this method.

Fundamentally, this is due to the fact that there are minor variations in currents between each solar panel.

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Disadvantages of Microinverters

Naturally, it goes without saying that there are some downsides to this type of technology, otherwise, there would be only one good option for all consumers.

For one thing, the initial upfront cost of getting a microinverter installed is high.

It is also important to bear in mind that service and replacement of the component that is playing up is also tougher than it sounds.

For one thing, the solar technician who installed the original microinverter would have to come back, get back up on the rook, and work with the racking system put into place already, which might well take a lot of time and effort.

After that, each of the solar modules would need to be unbolted, and then the microinverter was successfully replaced, in order to make sure that the AC conversion ability was established once more.

The time, energy and financial cost of all this could run into the hundreds or even thousands of pounds, depending on the complexity of the issue.

Another element that many solar purchasers often do not take into full consideration is the other equipment that may already be on the roof at the time of solar panel installation.

For example, those with satellite or other commercial television services had a dish or electrical pylon installed on or by the roof, where the solar panels tend to be placed.

A side effect of microinverters is that they can also act as a kind of lightning rod that actually attract lightning and storm energy to an area, so if an individual is living in an area where storms are more frequent than others, this ought to be factored into the overall equation.

This is especially true for those individuals who are contemplating setting up panels on an historical edifice, or a wooden building such as a barn.

Microinverters vs String Inverters

Put simply, a micro inverter is very similar to a traditional string converter, with the major difference being that these are actually installed on the underside of each solar panel on the roof.

As the name suggests, these are actually rather small and of a similar size to an internet router found in most modern-day homes.

While there are many similarities between microinverters and the more common string inverters, one big difference is that the number of microinverters is usually the same as the number of solar panels.

For instance, in a home that has 2 solar panels, there should probably also be 2 microinverters, though there are occasional exceptions to this rule.

Thus, on a string-type set up, the current is equivalent to that from the lowest performing panel in the string.

On a microinverter set-up, by contrast, each panel performs on its own merits, and contributes to the whole independently of the others.

On top of that, yet another positive is the ability to deal with typically challenging building set up situations.

For example, if a building is set up to face multiple geographic directions, such as both east and west, then microinverters enable maximal efficiency in this regard.

Alternatively, there might be local shading concerns, like surrounding trees or even a large chimney, and again having each panel separate enables a greater amount of leeway on gaining solar power.

In these and other more complicated scenarios, the amount of solar power gained will vary throughout the day, for the very obvious reason that the sun moves at different rates and places at certain points.

This is one of the major differences between standard string inverters and microinverters.

The string inverters are likely to place a kind of cap on the total amount produced via the panel on the roof that produces the lowest amount of solar energy.

By contrast, the fact that microinverters exist on a parallel circuit bypasses this issue completely, and enables customers to be able to make the most of their solar panel production, regardless of disparities between panel production.

Thus, each individual panel when connected to a microinverter performs on its own merits, and contributes in isolation to the overall grid performance.

Therefore, isolating each panel so that it can perform better at specific moments, as opposed to being held by the weakest link in the chain, is definitely a positive aspect worth taking into account.

What is more, with a standard warranty of twenty five years, rather than the usual eight to twelve years with a standard inverter, the lifespan of a microinverter is meant to be much longer.

Although there were some reliability issues at the outset with this technology, many of these teething problems have been eradicated successfully to the extent that the warranties set forth by manufacturers are able to withstand the test of time.

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Microinverter Costs

For instance, a standard microinverter installation is likely to be hundreds of pounds higher than a conventional inverter set up, and this is just for a usual 5kW residential solar situation.

For more complex builds, bigger houses, or commercial ventures, the eventual price is prone to be thousands of pounds more than other such options.

Another factor to think about is the overall cost of maintenance aspects, which can also become more complex than a conventional inverter product.

This is because it can take time to actually diagnose which microinverter is causing failure or disruption to the overall system, but that is not the only challenge.

Microinverter conclusion/summary

In conclusion, are microinverters better than the more traditional string inverters or not?

This all depends in many cases on who you consult, which is why we always advise those interested in solar to requests quotes from multiple different companies before coming to a final decision.

Partly, a major consideration for any user is the likelihood that the inverter being installed will fail for any reason, as this is what is more likely to make the difference in the long run between the two options.

For a customer who is more confident that the inverter will have a low likelihood of failure, then the microinverter ought to be their best bet.

On the other hand, once the failure rate goes past a specific tipping point, then a string inverter comes back into the equation.

This is due to the lower cost and complexity of repair and maintenance, as well as the greater amount of options currently available in the marketplace for this kind of equipment.

In the end, though, the end user is the one who should have the final say in their own solar purchasing decision.