Solar Inverters Explained

How Solar Inverters Work

Commercial building inverter

Most solar photovoltaic (PV) systems can’t function without an inverter, but what are inverters, really? Essentially, an inverter is a large component within the solar system that converts direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity. It also provides real-time net metering, sends information to the remote monitoring system and regulates whether a building’s energy is drawn from the solar panels or the local utility company.

How Inverters Work for Commercial Buildings

Most commercial solar panel installations are grid-tied, meaning the building remains connected to the local utility grid, with the inverter functioning as a shut-down mechanism during power outages. As the solar system produces electricity, the inverter makes sure it is consumed by the building’s systems, and when the amount of electricity exceeds needs, the inverter funnels the energy back into the grid. Likewise, when the solar electricity produced is not sufficient for building needs, the inverter will make sure the local utility fills in the energy gap.

While most inverters function around 95% efficiency, this can be negatively impacted when the number of panels (too few or too many) connected to the inverter is less than ideal. Qualified solar designers will be careful, therefore, to balance the number of panels with the capabilities of the inverter.

Inverter Costs, Repair, and Replacement

Most inverters require regular maintenance to ensure they’re functioning as efficiently as possible and sometimes require repair. It is also important to note that most inverters come with a life-expectancy of approximately 10 years, which is much shorter than the life of the panels themselves. Panels normally last 25 to 30 years.

As a result, most inverters need replacement after about 11 years of service. Replacing an inverter is usually the most expensive aspect of a solar system, with replacement costs ranging between $3,000 and $20,000 each time. However, a long term solar warranty can be purchased to cover this cost.

Solar inverter