As more homeowners around the world seek clean energy alternatives to powering their homes, solar has become of more interest to consumers. But an effective solar energy system requires more than just slapping panels on one’s roof. The type of solar inverter is an important piece of this puzzle. The job of a solar inverter is to translate the direct current (DC) that flows out of your photovoltaic array into alternating current (AC), which is the type that is preferred by almost all electrical appliances.

Without a solar inverter, there is no way you can grid-connect your solar system, which means your home cannot reap the benefits of net metering (or feed-in tariff schemes in some places).

Central (string) inverters have been king on the inverter market since the introduction of the first photovoltaic panel. In the last couple of years however, several manufacturers have put micro-inverters on the market. Chances are you`ve heard of companies like Enphase and Enecsys – two big manufacturers in the solar industry that solely focus on micro-inverters.

What are the benefits micro-inverters bring to the table? Micro-inverters optimize on a panel-by-panel basis. This means that a single solar panel won`t suffer because only one module is covered in shading, dirt or has other performance-related issues.

Shading of as little as 9% of a solar system connected to a central inverter, can lead to a system-wide decline in power output with as much as 54% (Renewable Energy Word).

Micro-inverters are also easier scalable, as opposed to central inverters that typically come in fixed sizes above 3 kilowatts, and safer because they operate at lower voltages.

These are all great benefits to add to your solar system, but micro-inverters are typically quite a bit more expensive.

On the other hand, homeowners who are susceptible to shading might actually find micro-inverters to be cheaper in the long run. For most of us, the good old-fashioned central string inverter is likely cheaper and just as viable as 10 or 20 years ago. It`ll be interesting to see how the inverter industry looks a couple of years down the line – will micro-inverters be successful in bringing down the costs of solar in the large scale?

Image credit: Enphase Energy

About The Author

Mathias Aarre Maehlum

Mathias is the founder EnergyInformative.org. He works as a freelance writer in his spare time, focusing on topics including solar panels, wind turbines and other forms of renewable energy systems.