String inverters have dominated the solar industry since its inception. The introduction of micro inverters marks one of the biggest technology shifts in the PV industry to date.
Manufacturers are touting 515% increase in power output, which in the long run can bring in a lot in savings for many system owners
In Short: Micro inverters outperform string inverters at almost every level, except price.
What is a Micro Inverter and why is it different?
Although micro inverters have been available since 1993, Enphase Energy is regarded as the company that first built a commercially successful micro inverter. More than one million units of the Enphase M215 have been sold since its release in 2008. Several other companies in the solar industry have followed suit and launched their own micro inverters, validating their potential.
Since your solar panels generate DC (direct current), we need some kind of device to convert DC into AC (alternating current), in order to power your electrical appliances (without burning down your house!). This is where the solar inverter comes in.
Inverters also enable us to switch off all electrical current in the case of a blackout or if repair is needed. This is of course also useful for maintenance, troubleshooting and system upgrade as well.
One String inverter would normally cover an entire residential solar system (assuming that the String inverter is strong enough for your entire array). Micro inverters, on the other hand, sit on the back of each and every solar panel.
Micro-inverters bring several significant benefits to the table. Do these benefits outweigh the extra costs?
Micro inverters optimises for each solar panel alone, not for your entire solar system, as String inverts do. This enables every solar panel to perform at their maximum potential. In other words, one solar panel alone cannot drag down the performance of entire solar array, as opposed to String inverters that optimise for the weakest link.
Shading of as little as 9% of a solar system connected to a String inverter, can lead to a systemwide decline in power output with as much as 54%.
If one solar panel in a string had abnormally high resistance due to a manufacturing defect, the performance of every solar panel connected to that same String inverter would suffer. Likewise, coverage issues such as shading, dirt, snow and even slight orientation mismatch on one of the solar panels would not bring the entire solar system down.
Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT)
One of the tricky things about solar cells is that voltage needs to be adjusted to light level for maximum output of power. In other words, the performance of a solar panel is dependent on the voltage load that is applied from the inverter.
MPPT is a technique used to find the right voltage – the maximum power point. When MPPT is applied to each individual panel, as opposed to the solar system as a whole, performance will naturally increase.
Since micro inverters are not exposed to as high power and heat loads as String inverter, they also tend to last significantly longer. Micro inverters typically come with a warranty of 10 years.
Expanding your solar system with more solar panels later on is easier with micro inverters. You don’t have to worry about restringing or getting a second String inverter installed.
String inverters come in limited sizes – you might end up having to pay for one that is much bigger than what you actually need.
Web-based monitoring on a panel-by-panel basis is usually available both for system owners and installers. Continuously analysing the health of the solar system can pave the way for additional tweaks and performance improvements.
There are even mobile applications that enable you to monitor your PV system when on the road.
No Single Point of Failure
Unlike String inverters, if there is something wrong with either one of the solar panels or the micro inverter that sits on the back of it, the rest of the solar system is unaffected and still up and running.
Solar panels are connected in series before they are fed into a String inverter, typically with an effective nominal rating of 3001000 VDC (volts of direct current). This current is potentially life threatening. Micro inverters eliminate the need for high voltage DC wiring, which improve the safety for both solar installers and system owners.
Since micro inverters dissipate significantly less heat than String inverters do, there is no need for active cooling, which enables them to operate without noise.
How Much Micro-Inverters Cost
Micro inverters are flat down more expensive than String inverters. Numbers from 2010 reveal that String inverters averaged at $0.40/Wp (wattpeak), while the price of micro inverters significantly higher at $0.55/Wp.
Higher initial cost per wattpeak does not necessarily mean micro inverters are ultimately going to cost more. Several other factors have to be taken into account.
Solar installations with micro inverters are simpler and less time consuming, which typically cut 15% of the installation costs. Better durability and longer lifespan should also be considered.
Cost Analysis is Necessary
We evaluate the usefulness of micro inverters by looking at two numbers:
- Lifetime costs ($)
- Lifetime energy production (kWh)
This is essentially what it all comes down – divide costs by energy production and you`re left with how much money you have to pay for every kWh your solar system produce.
Every situation is different – there are a lot of variables to take into account in order to find those two numbers, please don't hesitate to contact us if you want to talk micros!