What are the 5 main criteria for choosing an inverter?

 

If you look at a Ferrari and a Daihatsu next to each other you know that the Ferrari is better. The Daihatsu is still a car, but you would never expect it to perform at the same level as the Ferrari.

Inverters and Solar Panels are the same; not all of them are equal. This is fairly common knowledge with cars, but less so with PV equipment. This is compounded by the fact that most of them look pretty similar.

This guide gives a few key criteria to look for when shopping around for an inverter.

1. Quality/Value

While you may not be familiar with any particular brand of inverter it doesn’t take much research to at least get an appreciation for a brand’s quality. 10-15 minutes of internet research, particularly on the Whirlpool forums, are usually enough to get an impression of a brand.

What you should be looking out for, is if there is a lot of negative feedback on any of the inverters. For instance, if there have been a lot of complaints of a certain unit failing, then maybe it’s one to avoid. Conversely, a lack of discussion is usually indication that it’s new to the market and its qualities are not yet well know.

2. Match to panels/roof

Every inverter has a voltage window that it can operate a string of panels in and a maximum input current. If you have already chosen what panels you want to have installed,  make sure that the inverters you’re looking at will operate well with those panels.

The solar company you are dealing with should be able to tell you what configurations of panels you can have on your selected inverter.

If you want to get a 4 kW array, but the inverter you’re looking at can only handle 3.8 kW of that particular panel, then you may want to consider looking at a different inverter.

3. Warranty

When you purchase an inverter it should be clear what is required of you, should you need to use the warranty on your inverter. If you are going to be required to pay for everything but the actual replacement/repair of the inverter, then that manufacturer is one to avoid.

4. Presence in Australia

A good indication of a reliable brand is that they have an office or representative in Australia to deal with directly. Generally, this indicates that servicing and troubleshooting is available quite easily and more importantly, that the company will still be around if you have any issues a number of years down the track.

5. Monitoring (Optional)

Monitoring refers to the ability to review your systems historical production, as well as how you can view the information. For example, all inverters will have a LCD display of sorts that will allow visualisation of current output of your system. Others may show some historical graphs whilst yet other may allow remote connection via Bluetooth or internet connections,  allowing you to examine your solar systems performance remotely.

If you are interested in this feature,  then you should examine what capabilities the inverter has for monitoring, particularly if you are interested in doing it remotely, via your smartphone, tablet or PC.

 

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Understanding Batteries

Off-Grid Systems

For some households a battery system can be of great benefit and minimise a home’s reliance on the grid. However, it’s important to understand for a battery to be useful your solar system needs to be generating excess energy for the battery to store, which you can then use at night or when the sun is not out.

When selecting a battery, you’ll want to invest in a system that is most suited to your home and can drive the best return on investment (ROI). Despite a larger upfront cost, a higher quality battery may significantly increase your ROI.

    Battery systems start from $6,000 and costs can vary greatly based on the following factors:

  1. Cycle Life-Time

    The number of times a battery can fully charge and discharge.

  2. Battery Power (kW)

    How fast it can be charged or discharged.

  3. Storage Capacity (kWh)

    The maximum amount of energy a battery system can store.

  4. Battery Management System (BMS)

    An electronic ‘smart’ system that gathers data and manages the battery ensuring it does not overload or operate outside of its safe functioning zone..

  5. Inverter

    Battery systems require their own inverter if your solar system does not have a hybrid inverter.

  6. 'All-In-One Unit’

    A system which includes the battery, BMS and an inverter all in one unit.

  7. Warranty

    Length of time or cycles the battery system is under guarantee.

  8. Blackout Protection/Backup

    It’s important to note this is not a common feature of a battery system and could cost thousands of dollars to include. Blackout protection not only requires additional components but also a specialised installation and rewiring. For grid-connected homes, the cost for blackout protection can outweigh the benefit.

Additionally, if your purpose for adding battery is to go Off-Grid and become completely independent from the grid you will need to ensure your solar system can generate enough energy to power your home and your battery system is large enough to store this energy. For homes in metro areas going Off-grid is not cost effective and is only recommended for those in remote areas with limited access to the grid. Off-grid solar systems with battery start at approximately $30,000.