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Advice on Solar Inverters

By Diane Bacher , eHow Contributor

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Solar inverters are necessary to convert the DC electricity generated through your solar panel system to AC electricity that's used by the national grid. The distinction between DC and AC electricity is that DC has a current that runs in one direction along a circuit; AC has a current that can cycle both ways along a current (the current can run in reverse but alternates in a consistent pattern that looks like a wave when graphically depicted). There are two different types of inverters that address the wave patterns produced by alternating current. Related Searches:
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Grid Solar Inverter AC Power Inverter


Solar Power Inverters

Any inverter you choose for your solar panel system will have to be compatible with your battery bank and household electricity requirements. Voltage is the predetermining factor. Battery banks are either 12 or 24 volt. Your inverter must be compatible with that input voltage.

The difference between solar power inverters lies in the sine wave characteristics of the alternating current produced. A sine wave looks like a symmetrical coil lying horizontally.


True Sine-Wave Inverters

True sine-wave inverters are consistent with or better than the electricity produced by public utility companies: The sine wave produced is truly a consistent pattern. These types of converters are more expensive because they rely on more sophisticated technology to produce electricity with appropriate voltage for household use. The switches and transformers relay alternative current to step up (that is, convert) the direct current from your batteries to an alternating but consistent current at increased voltage.

Modified Sine-Wave Inverters (Square Wave)


A modified sine-wave inverter can be used for your solar power system but is not recommended to run any medical equipment and is really not consistently good for running an entire household's electrical loads. Modified sine waves lack steps in the switch transformer technology but will produce currents with a majority of symmetrical waves. However, there are dead spots within the wave cycles; these dead spots create distortion, which creates poor-quality electricity that can harm high-quality electronics. If you're going to rely on your solar power for as much electricity that can be generated, invest in a true sine-wave inverter.

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Inverter has become a necessity than a luxury with frequent power cuts. People now want to run all home appliances including air conditioners, televisions and refrigerators for their convenience. A power inverter converts 12V DC power to standard household 230V AC power, which allows


you to run AC electrical equipment in case of emergencies or simple convenience.

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Inverters normally have one or more standard outlets to power laptops, small-screen TVs, video game players or portable DVD players and other devices. A DC to AC power inverter is great for camping at parks that do not provide electricity. The toaster, blender, and boom box can all still be used.

Dynamic Prolite Videocon Usha Zentra Unitron Hykon APC Microtek True Power Unique Max

FEATURES OF INVERTERS Ground Fault Protection

Inverters that have built-in GFCI protection are advised for powering portable electrical devices specially if used outside the house. Ground faultprotection is a feature that instantly turns off the inverter if it gets damp or wet. The inverter then resets, senses the conditions and turns itself back on if the problems have been resolved. The GFCI feature protects the user from electrical shocks and the potential risk of a fire.

Transfer Switch
Some power inverters have a built-in transfer switch so you can switch from inverter power to utility power when available. The transfer switch allows external power to be transferred to appliances automatically. Typically this feature is found on more expensive high-end inverters.



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Solar Power Support

A power inverter is also an essential part of a solar power system. It converts the DC power generated by solar panels and stored in 12V batteries to 230V AC power suitable for household or industrial use. These systems can be costly, as they often involve additional electrical work and equipment to incorporate the system into a household's current electrical system.


Whether to use an inverter or a generator depends on the type of load and how often you will need emergency AC power. Generally, an inverter is more economical power alternative to run items under 1000W, suitable for small appliances, TVs, VCRs, DVD players and other low load devices. If you plan to operate a refrigerator, freezer, washer, dryer or well system, then a generator is a better choice. If your planned power consumption exceeds 2000W, you should choose a generator, as the draw in the battery will rapidly deplete its power.


The typical usage of power appliances which you can use for approximate calculations is as in the table below ( do check the actual appliances wattage for caculating wattage):

Appliance Fan Tubelight

Power (in Watts) Starting (in Watts) 100 50 200 100

TV Laptop Washing machine - with heater Washing machine - without heater Air Conditioner (1.5T) Air Cooler Refrigerator (150W)

120 75 1200 2000 2200 1000 150

240 100 2400 3200 4000 2000 300


Power inverters come in many sizes, measured in watts (W). The amount of wattage you will require depends on the total draw of the devices you'd like to use. Many appliances and power tools have their wattage rating indicated on the product itself. Wattage rating can also be calculated by using this formula: Volts x Amps = Watts To determine if several appliances can be operated at the same time, simply add up their wattage ratings to see if the total falls within the specifications of the power inverter. For example, if you have a two-outlet inverter and will be plugging in 2 devices at once, add up the total wattage of both devices, then add at least 50% more to account for peaks or spikes in the power draw. For example if your DVD player draws 100W and your laptop another 100W, a minimum 300W inverter ((100W + 100W) x 150% = 300W) is recommended. Make sure the power of the inverter is listed as "continuous". Some inverters are listed at a certain wattage, but can only draw that wattage for a short period of time (i.e.: 5 minutes) and then will shut off, reset themselves and resume functioning. These outages can be frustrating to you and harmful to the device you are powering. If the item is motor driven, it requires additional start-up (surge) wattage (typically 23 times the continuous wattage required) to start the device. For example, a saw

that runs at 700W might require 1400W to start up. If your inverter only supplies 1000W, you will not be able to start it up. In this case, you would want to select an inverter rated at least 1400W surge to handle start-up needs.

Power inverters produce one of two different types of wave output:
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Modified Sine Wave True Sine Wave

Modified Sine Wave Inverter

Modified sine wave inverters deliver power that is consistent and efficient enough to run most devices adequately. These types of inverters are the most popular and affordable. They are also small and highly efficient. The Vector power inverter line is based on modified sine wave technology.

True Sine Wave Inverter

True sine wave inverters are the most expensive, but they also deliver the most consistent, highest quality wave output. Some sensitive equipment requires a true sine wave, like laptop computers, tool battery chargers, professional audio/video equipment, certain medical devices and variable speed tools. If you aren't sure if the device you want to use requires a true sine wave or not, call the manufacturer to ask. Any AC device will run on a true sine wave inverter, whether it requires it or not.

Modified and True Sinewave Inverter Output

Advantages of True Sine Wave Inverter

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Output voltage wave form is pure sine wave with very low harmonic distortion and clean power like utility-supplied electricity. Inductive loads like microwave ovens and motors run faster, quieter and cooler. Reduces audible and electrical noise in fans, fluorescent lights, audio amplifiers, TV, Game consoles, Fax, and answering machines. Prevents crashes in computers, weird print out, and glitches and noise in monitors. Reliably powers the following devices that will normally not work with modified sine wave inverters: o Laser printers, photocopiers, magneto-optical hard drives o Certain laptops and computers o Some fluorescent lights with electronic ballasts o Power tools employing "solid state" power or variable speed control o Some battery chargers for cordless tools o Some new furnaces and pellet stoves with microprocessor control o Digital clocks with radios o Sewing machines with speed/microprocessor control


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Always use a power inverter that is rated high enough for the device(s) you are running and avoid adapters that would allow more outlets than the unit is designed to accommodate.
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Place the inverter on a reasonably flat surface, either horizontally or vertically. The inverter should not be installed in the engine compartment, due to possible water/oil/acid contamination, and excessive heat under the hood, as well as potential danger from gasoline fumes and the spark that an inverter can occasionally produce. It's best to run battery cables to a dry, cool inverter mounting location. Keep the inverter dry. Do not expose it to rain or moisture. DO NOT operate the inverter if you, the inverter, the device being operated, or any other surfaces that may come in contact with any power source are wet. Water and many other liquids can conduct electricity which may lead to serious injury or death. Avoid placing the inverter on or near heating vents, radiators or other sources of heat. Do not place the inverter in direct sunlight. Ideal air temperature is between 50 and 80 F. In order to properly disperse heat generated while the inverter is in operation, keep it well ventilated. While in use, maintain several inches of clearance around the top and sides of the inverter. Do not use the inverter near flammable materials. Do not place the inverter in areas such as battery compartments where fumes or gases may accumulate. Inverters work best with a battery that is in good condition and fully charged. A weak battery will be drained easily if demands are too high. This could leave you stranded so be sure to check the battery's condition before using a power inverter in a stationary vehicle.

Make sure the inverter is properly ventilated. Even a small inverter generates heat. Check to see if there is an internal fan with any inverter over 100 Watts. Place the inverter in a well-ventilated area when in use. Check the owner's manual for the proper wire size for battery cables when connecting the inverter to the battery. Most manufacturers recommend 4 to 10 feet of cable length, depending on the inverter. Avoid aluminium wire because it has higher resistance to current flow than copper wire.


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What is a power inverter?

The basic function of a solar powered inverter is to convert the direct current to alternating current. Solar panels, and in fact almost all eco-friendly power sources such a wind turbines, generate direct current. But almost everything that makes up the fabric of civilization runs on alternating current. Current flows from a battery or solar cell in one direction, but an alternating current stream reverses direction 60 times each second. While this may seem wasteful, the detailed physics of the situation mean the alternating current can be sent over longer distances more efficiently that direct current. Dont worry if the advantages of AC current do not seem obvious - even Thomas Edison was uncomfortable with alternating current! Suffice it to say that almost all the devices in your home; motors, appliances, televisions, use alternating current.

What is a grid tie power inverter?

The main difference between a standard power inverter and a grid tie power inverter is that the latter also ensures that the power supplied will be in phase with grid power. This allows individuals with surplus power (wind, solar, etc) to sell the power back to the utility in the form of net metering or the arrangement your local utility offers. On the AC side a grid tie inverter must supply electricity in sinusoidal form, synchronized to the frequency of the grid and limit the feed in voltage to no higher than the grid voltage. A grid tie inverter also must disconnect from the grid if the utility grid goes down (blackout). In the event of a blackout, the grid tie inverter will shut down to prevent potentially harming the line workers who are sent to fix the power grid. See wikipedia article on grid tie inverters. On the DC side, the power output of a module varies as a function of the voltage in a way that power generation can be optimized by varying the system voltage to find the 'maximum power point'. Most inverters therefore incorporate 'maximum power point tracking' (MPPT).

How Solar Powered Inverters and Alternating Current work

The alternating current we usually need to get from our solar powered inverter needs to match the alternating current from our electrical utility. This current alternates because it is produced by rotating electrical generators. Current flows when a coil of wire passes thru a magnetic field. Generators are designed to pass coils of wire thru a magnetic field as they spin, so the current actually leaves, and then returns, to the power plant. As it happens, by using alternating current, the system can be designed for higher voltage and lower current, allowing more power to move thru the grid with less loss to heat. Current is what causes energy to be wasted in power transmission thru wire. To reduce this line drop loss, the voltage applied at the power plant which drives this current can be rather high. Along the way to your house, the voltage is dropped in a series of transformers which can be thought of as big coils of wire, almost as a generator with no moving parts. A solar powered inverter, like any inverter, converts steady direct current from a solar cell or battery to a smooth oscillating sine wave by switching the DC power on and off, very quickly. As a rough cut, switching the DC power 60 times a second creates what is called a square wave. But if we subtract out power switched 180 times a second we can round the corners of the square a bit. And by further switching in power at 300 and out at 420 times a second an inverter can approach a smooth AC wave quite closely. Some electrical components (capacitors and inductors) used on the AC Side of the inverter can store and discharge a bit of power as the many square waves pass, further smoothing out the stack of square waves and approximate regular AC Power.

Why are solar inverters needed?

Solar panels generate DC electric power. Our home appliances and lighting bulbs need AC power for their normal operation. The utility grid carries AC power with precise characteristics into our homes (115V 60 Hz in the US). The solar inverter is an a smart electronic device that converts the DC power generated by the solar panels into standard AC power. Our appliances lighting bulbs and entertainment electronic devices cant tell the difference between the utility supplied power and the inverter supplied power. A piece of history; in the late years of the 19th century, there was a fierce battle between Edison who supported DC generators and Tesla who supported AC generators. In the Chicago 1893 exposition, Tesla proved the superiority of AC power generation and AC power distribution. In those days, electronic engineering was still in very early stage to provide the engineering solutions we have today

What are the types of solar inverters?

Different application areas call for different types of solar inverters. The three most important application area are:

Grid-tied inverters: solar inverters that are connected to the utility grid and to the home supply line. A grid tied inverter must have an automatic shut-down mechanism (anti-islanding protection) during power outages. Since 1999, the standard for anti-islanding protection in the United States has been UL 1741. Similar standardsexist in other regions of the world

Stand-alone (off-grid) inverters: off-grid solar inverters are not connected directly to the solar panels. They are connected to a bank of deep cycle batteries. The batteries are charged through a charge controller by the solar panels. The batteries can be charged also by a small wind turbine or by a micro-hydro (water stream) dam-less turbine. The higher power versions of these inverters are used for off-grid homes (homes not connected to the grid). Medium size and small size inverters are used to complement the RV solarpanel, and for small boat solar systems.

attery backup inverters: a less ubiquitous application in which theinverter is designed to pull charge from deep cycle batteries(controlled by a charge monitor) and supply the surplus electrical energy to critical loads. These inverters are the replacement of traditional diesel emergency back-up generators that provide power to selected loads (such as elevators and emergency lighting) during

utility power shutdown. These inverters are required to have anti-islanding protection per UL 1741

What is a pure sine wave inverter?

The utility supplies a well regulated AC power, 115V 60 Hz in the US. The voltage follows an almost perfect sinusoidal waveform. Electrical appliances, especially those that have electrical motors (refrigerators, washing machines, dish washers, etc.) require for their optimal performance that the supplied voltage will be a pure sine wave. The pure sine wave inverter is an electronic masterpiece that supply an almost perfect sine waveform electrical power at the right voltage (115V in the US) and right frequency (60 Hz in the US). There are other inverters on the market that are not pure sine inverters; a cheaper inverter provide a square waveform power, it is more efficient, however only a limited types of home electrical loads can be supplied from these inverters. There is also a type called modified sine wave inverter, the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) exceeds the 5% limit most appliances could stand, therefore I don't recommend to use the modified sine wave inverter to feed power to home appliances.

The important specifications of solar pure sine wave inverters

What are the main specifications for a pure sine wave inverter you want to look into?

DC voltage rating and the tolerance; you want a nominal 12V (9-17VDC) inverter for 12V operation

Rated maximum input current

Output AC Power: 120VAC, 60Hz (plus or minus 0.4%) for the US; for most other countries, 230V 50Hz

Power capability in Watts (AC side) to fit your home consumption

Power Surge capability in Watts to accommodate for source (batteries or solar panels) voltage changes and load current changes (when heavy load such as a washing machines starts, a transition to a higher current consumption causes a transient that the inverter must cope with)

Efficiency - What percentage of DC power is actually converted to useful AC power? Look for numbers around 92% or even exceeding 92%

Over-current protection, over-temperature protection and other protections

Heat removal method (usually a fan)

AC and DC circuit breakers, remote control (dry contacts) is a desired feature

A smart controller and remote monitoring

Compliance to UL 1741

For pure sine wave inverter the purity is measured by the harmonics; look for low harmonics content measured by THD (Total Harmonics Distortion), less than 5%. (rings a bell? HiFi systems also have a distortion limit. With musical ear you can actually hear the higher harmonics of the 60Hz sound)