What’s the top solar inverter available?
After reviewing the details of many prevalent solar inverters in the market, the SolarEdge Home Wave Inverter emerged as our favorite. Among all the inverters we assessed, it proved to be the most efficient, enabling you to maximize the energy produced by your solar panels. Additionally, SolarEdge offers a robust warranty and an application that has been well-received by its users.
What exactly are solar inverters?
Imagine having solar panels but no means to utilize them for your home. This is where solar inverters come in. But what are they?
Simply put, a solar inverter’s primary function is to transform the direct current (DC) electricity that your solar panels produce into the alternating current (AC) that your household appliances require. Yet, not every solar inverter is identical. Picking the appropriate one for your home can be a challenge. Typically, the solar installer takes care of this decision. However, they often have multiple inverters to choose from. As you delve into solar energy, you might encounter several of these options.
Do solar panels help cut costs?
Each inverter we’ve mentioned underwent a rigorous evaluation and was rated accordingly. Our evaluation methodology involved scrutinizing numerous inverter specifications and consulting with professionals and experts in the industry to discern the critical factors in choosing an inverter.
Our focus was solely on single-phase, grid-connected, and hybrid inverters for U.S. households. We excluded DC power optimizers from the assessment and rating of the string inverters discussed. Nonetheless, DC power optimizers are favored add-ons that can accompany your string inverter. It’s essential to note that we did not conduct hands-on tests with any inverters mentioned.
Top Solar Inverters for 2023
SolarEdge Home Wave Inverter
The SolarEdge Home Wave Inverter stands out, achieving top scores in almost all categories.
It boasts the most impressive efficiency amongst residential inverters we’ve reviewed. Offered in multiple sizes and backed by a robust warranty, its accompanying app also has outstanding user reviews. A notable downside: the cost of SolarEdge inverters is on the higher side.
Tesla Solar Inverter
Tesla’s solar offerings, including their inverter, can be best described as ‘balanced.’ It garners decent efficiency and app reviews. A standout feature is its unparalleled limited inverter warranty duration. However, its sizing options are limited and Tesla’s customer service feedback leaves much to be desired.
Enphase IQ8 Microinverters
While there’s a limited selection of microinverters compared to string inverters, Enphase’s IQ8 takes the lead in the residential microinverter segment. Each unit offers good efficiency and is backed by a 25-year warranty. However, Enphase lags in customer service and sizing options. Price-wise, they’re on par with other market offerings.
SMA Sunny Boy
Sunny Boy inverters, part of SMA’s TL series, have been some of the best-selling solar inverters worldwide. For years, their German engineering made them the most reliable choice in an increasingly competitive market. This reliability was a major selling point, especially as the market became saturated with less reliable products.
Growatt Hybrid Inverters
Hybrid Top Performer
Growatt shines as the leading hybrid inverter we encountered. Available in multiple sizes, it offers a decent warranty and efficiency. Notably, it is priced more affordably than its counterparts, which is intriguing since hybrids usually come at a premium. A downside is the less intuitive and occasionally glitchy app.
Assessing the Premier Solar Inverters:
Choosing the ideal solar inverter is a tailored endeavor, varying based on specific needs and sites. Zeroing in on the ‘best’ without a personalized assessment would be a challenge. Our list primarily features single-phase, residential inverters listed under the California Energy Commission’s Solar Equipment Lists Program. We refrained from hands-on evaluations.
Our evaluation leaned on objective criteria to distinguish standout inverters. Here’s our approach:
Our initial step involved identifying evaluation categories. Each category was assigned a weightage, reflecting its significance to an average buyer. Our comprehensive research, coupled with insights from industry experts (who remained impartial), resulted in the following evaluation categories and their respective weightages:
California Energy Commission (CEC) efficiency: 25%
Peak efficiency: 10%
User interface/app: 15%
Inverter sizing variety: 10%
Brand reputation: 10%
We assessed ten leading inverter brands, collating data across each category. Every category, for each inverter, was ranked in a tiered system (1-5) to discern each inverter’s performance as above, average, or below the standard set by our list.
Additional Inverters Examined
Chilicon Power Microinverters: Chilicon Power offers an alternative in microinverters. However, when compared to Enphase’s IQ8 series, they fall short in efficiency and are pricier. Furthermore, they come in just two sizes and have not received favorable app reviews.
Delta Single Phase Transformerless Solar Inverter: Delta’s inverter is decent, but there are superior choices. The top-rated inverters on our list surpass Delta in warranties, efficiency, and user app feedback. Nevertheless, Delta seems to excel in customer support, overshadowing other brands we assessed.
Fronius Primo: The single-phase inverters by Fronius Primo have reduced efficiency and user app ratings compared to others on our list. Their warranties, spanning 5 or 7 years, are the briefest we encountered. However, they offer an impressive range of sizes, from 3.8 kW to 15 kW, deserving mention.
Sol-Ark: Their residential hybrid inverter is on the costly side. It doesn’t quite match the efficiency and warranty standards of other inverters on our roster. Additionally, the Sol-Ark app isn’t popular among users due to software issues.
Choosing the Right Solar Inverter Type
Selecting the right inverter configuration for your home’s solar system is crucial and possibly the most vital choice in your inverter selection process.
Every home is unique, especially when it comes to solar setups. For instance, your home might have a steeply pitched roof or be surrounded by trees that cast shadows during certain times. These factors can significantly influence the best inverter choice for your needs.
For residential solar projects, three primary inverter options are available: string inverters, string inverters coupled with DC power optimizers, and microinverters. Each of these configurations has its advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a brief overview.
String Inverters Explained
String inverters, as suggested by the name, link together multiple solar panels in a string to one inverter. This inverter is responsible for transforming the DC electricity produced by every solar panel in the string. However, a setback in any panel – whether it’s due to shading, obstructions, or maintenance concerns – can hamper the efficiency and output of the entire string. To combat this, many homeowners opt to incorporate DC power optimizers in their setup alongside the string inverter.
Each solar panel gets its DC power optimizer, allowing the performance of each panel in the string to be considered separately. Consequently, even if a single panel faces shading or malfunctions, the rest can function as usual. For roofs that receive inconsistent sunlight or are not perfectly angled, the installation of DC power optimizers is often advised.
Comparatively, with microinverters, every panel has its inverter. Thus, if several of them fail, the replacement becomes a daunting task since you’d potentially have as many microinverters as panels. On the other hand, the central string inverter is typically located off the roof, simplifying the process and making it safer to replace. These inverters tend to have a lifespan of about 10 to 15 years, requiring replacement roughly halfway through the panels’ life.
It’s worth noting that some manufacturers mandate the use of DC power optimizers when installing their string inverters. While string inverters generally have a lower price tag than microinverters, adding DC power optimizers introduces additional costs. It’s also common for warranties on string inverters and DC power optimizers to be provided separately.
String Inverters: Pros and Cons
- Installation of DC power optimizers enables individual performance tracking of panels without affecting the overall system.
- Typically wall-mounted, making them more accessible for maintenance or replacement.
- Often more cost-effective than microinverters.
- Without DC power optimizers, the entire solar setup is only as efficient as its least efficient panel.
- Expanding the solar system might necessitate a new inverter purchase.
For homeowners opting for microinverters, their solar configuration will be distinctly different. Rather than connecting multiple solar panels to a singular, larger inverter box, microinverters are smaller inverters attached to every individual panel in the setup. Because they function at the individual panel level, microinverters are particularly suitable for intricate solar setups, roofs with partial shading, or those not positioned at the best solar-receiving angle. Moreover, microinverters simplify the process of expanding the system.
If, for instance, initially, you can afford to install panels on only half your roof but plan to extend coverage later, microinverters make this addition more straightforward. In contrast, with a system that incorporates DC optimizers and a central string inverter, the inverter is usually tailored to the existing system size.
Being categorized as roof equipment, microinverters often come with longer warranties compared to string inverters, with a standard industry warranty duration of 25 years. But, their placement on the roof makes repairs and replacements more challenging.
One key drawback for homeowners is the location of each microinverter – behind every panel on the roof. If one malfunctions, accessing it requires navigating to the specific panel on the roof, amidst an array of other panels. This poses a significant concern for many.
Pros and Cons of Microinverters
- Extended warranty duration compared to string inverters.
- Facilitates easier system augmentation in the future.
- Ideal for roofs that are either shaded or not ideally angled.
- The rooftop installation of microinverters complicates their maintenance and replacement.
- Generally, they have a higher price point than string inverters.
Guide to Selecting the Ideal Solar Inverter for Your Residence
Finding the perfect inverter for your home might seem daunting, but usually, a professional installer guides you through this decision. Besides relying on a trustworthy installer, there are several other factors to consider when opting for an inverter.
Selecting the Appropriate Installer
The choice of solar equipment is crucial, but equally important is partnering with the right solar installer. Considering the significance of the solar investment, it’s imperative to ensure its accurate installation from the get-go.
The pivotal choice for any homeowner venturing into solar is determining the installer. It’s advisable to lean towards certified companies, having a solid local presence and known for their proficiency. You’d want an installer who not only sets up the system flawlessly but is also available for any future service or issues.
During your search, evaluate potential installers based on their experience and the number of solar installations they’ve completed. It’s beneficial to opt for one familiar with your specific roof type and desired installation style. For those considering solar batteries, ensure your installer possesses relevant experience.
A credible installer will carry out a preliminary roof assessment and an energy evaluation to deduce the optimal solar configuration for your residence. They should be adept at explaining the various available choices and address any of your queries, regardless of their complexity.
An installer’s experience speaks volumes. Novices are prone to errors, while seasoned installers bring reliability due to their prolonged tenure in the field.
Some installers even provide a performance assurance, ensuring the system’s continued efficient operation post-installation. It’s also worth checking if they can guide you on monitoring the solar panel’s performance. Being aware of potential significant energy production declines and knowing the remedial steps is crucial. If your installer is evasive or unclear about these aspects, consider it a warning sign.
To make an informed decision, solicit quotations from a diverse group of installers, both local and national. This approach ensures a comprehensive price spectrum for your consideration.
System Compatibility and Operation
It’s essential that the inverter you choose aligns well with the specifications of your entire solar panel setup. Different inverters are designed for various system configurations, be it off-grid, partially off-grid, or exclusively on-grid. Typically, solar inverters can be categorized into three primary types.
Grid-connected inverter: These are the most frequently encountered inverters. As the name indicates, they necessitate a grid connection to function, facilitating both power extraction from and supply to the grid. A significant drawback, though, is that they cease to function if there’s any grid disruption. This makes you susceptible to power interruptions, even if you possess solar panels. Installing a solar battery and other relevant components can be a remedy for this. On the financial front, grid-connected inverters are usually more affordable than their hybrid and off-grid counterparts.
Combined inverter: Essentially merging a solar inverter with a battery inverter, the combined inverter is crafted to provide both on-grid and off-grid energy solutions. Even in the absence of a battery, this inverter can be set up. Solar batteries necessitate a specific battery inverter to energize your house. There are solar batteries available with an in-built battery inverter. However, if your chosen solar battery lacks this feature, it becomes mandatory to incorporate a compatible external battery inverter. In such cases, opting for a combined inverter might be sensible. Do note, combined inverters generally come with a steeper price tag than standard grid-connected inverters.
Isolated inverter: Tailored for off-grid solar setups, isolated inverters source power from solar batteries, ensuring energy availability both day and night. They can’t be linked to the grid and should be your choice only if you envision a lifestyle completely independent of the power grid. To truly achieve this independence, having several batteries is often indispensable.
The size of your inverter plays a crucial role in its efficiency. Ensuring that your inverter aligns with your solar panel system’s size can help you sidestep potential performance dips and energy losses. The inverter’s top AC power yield should be on par with the solar panels’ peak energy generation (in DC). If the solar panel’s DC output surpasses the AC rating of your inverter, you might encounter inverter clipping, which hampers the energy relay to your household. This means you won’t benefit fully from the electricity your solar panels produce.
For optimal efficiency, the wattage of your inverter should correspond to your solar panel system’s wattage. For instance, for a 7,000-watt solar system, the inverter should also boast a 7,000-watt capacity. In the realm of solar products, kilowatts (kW) are the frequently used measurement units, but the principle remains consistent. A 7 kW solar system requires an inverter of at least 7 kW (equivalent to 7,000 watts). An excessively large inverter compared to your solar array might lead to operational inefficiencies.
An expert installer will aptly size the inverter based on your solar array’s dimensions and your home’s daily sunlight exposure.
Like any significant investment, it’s crucial to understand the warranty that accompanies your inverter, including what’s covered and potential out-of-pocket expenses. The majority of solar inverters come with a standard limited warranty, typically spanning between five and 12 years, depending on the producer. Within this warranty, replacements for inverters or parts are commonly covered. However, installation labor and shipping fees often aren’t included. These costs might be addressed in an extended warranty, which comes at an extra price and can last from 15 up to 25 years.
It’s advisable to thoroughly scrutinize the warranty details to comprehend the coverage.
In the event that your inverter includes multiple parts, each might come with its own warranty. For instance, while DC power optimizers are frequently paired with string inverters, they’re distinct entities and usually have separate warranties. Roof-mounted components, such as DC power optimizers and microinverters, typically enjoy a longer warranty duration compared to wall-mounted counterparts. A 25-year warranty is the general norm for both microinverters and DC power optimizers.
Inverter Performance Metrics
The efficiency of an inverter demonstrates its ability to effectively transform the DC energy from your solar panels into AC energy to electrify your household. The more efficient the inverter, the less energy is wasted. No inverter operates at a full 100% efficiency due to inevitable energy losses, such as those due to heat or during the conversion process. Some energy may also be consumed when the inverter is in its standby mode.
Specialists highlight that while inverter efficiency is significant, what’s more crucial is selecting an apt inverter model, be it string inverters or microinverters, that suits your household needs.
Today’s inverters generally boast an efficiency of 95% or even higher, making efficiency less of a deal-breaker in most scenarios.
There are primarily two key efficiency ratings to consider for inverters: peak efficiency and California Energy Commission (CEC) efficiency, with the latter being particularly insightful.
Peak Efficiency: This efficiency metric, also termed as maximum efficiency, signifies how well the inverter turns solar energy (DC) into household energy (AC) when functioning at its peak capacity. Simply put, it gauges the inverter’s performance at its zenith.
CEC Efficiency: Often termed as CEC efficiency, this rating from the California Energy Commission offers a nuanced efficiency measurement, considering the varied performance of the inverter under different DC input levels. Given that an inverter doesn’t always function under ideal conditions – think of the instances of partial sunlight during a day – CEC efficiency accounts for distinct load levels at varying voltages. This provides a more realistic idea of the inverter’s efficacy on a typical sunny day.
The real-world efficiency of your inverter is determined by a mix of power inputs at various times and efficiencies corresponding to those inputs. The CEC rating aims to approximate this by evaluating the inverter across different power levels.
To ascertain its CEC efficiency, an external lab approved by the California Energy Commission assesses the inverter. For a detailed list of evaluated products, you can refer to the CEC Solar Equipment List Program.
Similarly, Europe uses the “European efficiency rating,” mirroring the CEC efficiency but incorporating distinct variables during its computation.
Software and User Interaction
Consider your inverter as the command center or the “nervous system” of your solar setup. Equipped with the right software, it can consistently track your home’s energy usage and the power generated by your solar panels. Most inverter makers offer an app to facilitate this monitoring. Sophisticated inverter software might have added functionalities, like managing power loads, navigating time of use charges, and archiving your energy stats to forecast your monthly expenses and highlight potential savings. In essence, the more you can engage with and manage your solar system, the more advantageous it is.
That said, these apps aren’t perfect. Certain solar tracking apps might have glitches or may not relay the panel data as intended. Checking out user feedback on app marketplaces can provide a glimpse into the real-world performance of a particular solar application.
Let 8MSolar Help You Decide
The ideal solar inverter for your home isn’t solely about the brand but hinges more on your home’s unique energy requirements. Factors like the size of your solar setup and the characteristics of your rooftop are pivotal in deciding the right inverter configuration. Professionals stress the importance of selecting a solar installer known for their expertise in the kind of installation you need.
The North Carolina solar installation professionals at 8MSolar are ready to help find the perfect inverter for your solar project.