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Solar Inverters

As solar panels increase in efficiency and new technology drops the price and the way solar panels are installed there is going to be a huge amount of energy that has to be modulated. Solar inverters take care of this process, allowing solar panels to produce as much power as possible. In the past these inverters were very large, a household inverter was about the size of a refrigerator. Their main purpose is to convert the direct current (DC) power that is generated from the panels into grid-friendly alternating current (AC). New inverter designs have made the units much smaller, but having many micro solar inverters connected to each array is actually much more efficient than having one large unit.

There are a lot of factors that can affect a solar panel’s efficiency. Shade, dust, debris, and other obstructions greatly reduce its power output. With one inverter, all the power is run through each panel before it gets converted to usable electricity. This means that a solar array is only as powerful as its weakest panel. With multiple small inverters, panels that are exposed to direct sunlight do not have any of their charge weakened by panels that are obstructed or in the shade. This means that no energy is lost due to inefficient panels, each panel can produce as much electricity as possible and convert it AC power.

These micro solar inverters are used in conjunction with a maximum power point tracking algorithm, or MPPT at every module. It is a small computer that tracks how much power each panel is generating and determines how much power to take from each panel. If there was only one of these devices it would track the weakest panel and determine that as the desired power, even if other panels are producing much more on other parts of the array. This results in a huge loss of efficiency. These micro-inverters can increase electricity yields by 25% when compared to a single solar inverter. The information they collect can also be sent to a website or home computer for custom adjustments, although the inverters are very accurate without any manual setting.

Another advantage to having multiple inverters is that if one fails the system still functions. If only a single large inverter is being used a malfunction can lead to a complete loss of power. Single inverters are large, hot and noisy, while micro-inverters have completely eliminated those characteristics. Installations can easily be expanded over time, almost every type of panel is compatible with micro-inverters and with the addition of an MPPT can produce its maximum power all the time.

Since each panel can produce power at their maximum voltage it is possible for mismatched panels to be used together. With one inverter all the panels have to have the same rating, if one is lower every panel will only produce that amount of power. That has been a huge limiting factor for installing solar panels, each panel has to match perfectly with the next one for maximum efficiency which can drive the cost up and limit the size of the array from future development.


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