Global warming which is leading to higher solar radiation and higher electricity bill is pushing many families to explore solar systems. The pivotal device of a solar system is the solar inverter. This equipment converts the direct current (DC) from the solar panels into alternating current (AC)—a form which household equipment can use. However, high down payment/upfront cost and getting the suitable inverter capacity are some of the obstacles people encounter.
Inverters usually cost 20 to 40 percent of a solar system—if you are going for premium products with high durability and cutting-edge technologies. However, depending on the size of the solar system you are setting up, pricey solar inverters may not be necessary. The number and diversity of inverters on the market are dizzying. Our goal is to present the right inverters with their applications at a glance to make it easier for you to make a choice.
How does a solar inverter work?
Photo credit: The Engineering Mindset
A solar panel produces direct current. However, home appliances make use of alternating current. This means that home appliances cannot make use of the current coming from the solar panels. Therefore, the work of the solar inverter is to change the current into a form that can be stored in a battery or used directly by home appliances. It does this by running the direct current from the solar panels through a transformer. The transformer takes in the DC and gives out AC which is readily available for use.
Types of solar inverters
The solar inverter comes in different types. Each type is made to fit into certain systems. For example, a power inverter for a home solar system cannot be used for an industrial setting that requires higher energy output. That said, below are the different types of inverters.
1. Battery Inverters
This is by far the most popular option—especially among people that want to keep their batteries separate from the solar panels. The battery inverter converts the stored power in the battery into 230V AC for use by home appliances.
These inverters are usually very small and connected directly to each solar panel. The greatest benefit of having a micro inverter is its ability to optimize each solar panel. This allows each of the solar panels to deliver more energy—especially in a cloudy or shady environment.
3. Hybrid Inverters
Some people call it ‘multi-mode inverters’. Hybrid inverters combine a battery inverter and a solar inverter into a single unit. They allow you to connect your batteries through DC coupling. This happens when the DC from the solar panel charges the battery using a DC charger. The inverter has technologies that control the charging and discharging of the battery.
4. String Inverters
They are called string inverters because they are linked to several solar panels connected together in series. String inverters are the most popular option for residential use in Europe, Asia, and Australia. However, their popularity in the United States is growing.
5. Central Inverters
This is the largest type of inverters. They are used for solar systems that require hundreds of kilowatts of energy. They look like a large metal cabinet and each of the cabinets can handle 500kW of energy. They are used for commercial-scale solar installations.
Review of the Best Solar Inverter
With the advancement in technology, inverters are becoming more competitive. Consequently, you can get more appealing inverters with more features at a lesser price than you would a decade ago. However, your choice of an inverter will most likely be determined by the size of the solar system you want to install. Without further chitchat, here are our top solar inverters.
Renogy Pure Sine Wave Inverter – Best overall
- Inbuilt MPPT charge controller
- Works with all battery types
- 4 charging modes
- Output: 3500 watts
Renogy Pure Sine Wave inverter is arguably the best solar inverter on the market. This model—which is also the highest in the manufacturer’s series—has an energy output of 3,500W. However, it has a surge of up to 7,000W. One of its coolest features is a user-configurable battery charger with switchable frequencies and optional power-saving mode. Also, it has an inbuilt MPPT technology boasting an efficiency of up to 99%.
This solar inverter boasts 4 charging modes namely solar only, hybrid charging, utility priority, and PV priority. Another smart inclusion is a dynamic LCD where you can identify errors in quick time. To ensure this solar inverter continues to run smoothly, it is equipped with exhaust ventilation fans for excellent heat dissipation. This also helps to extend the lifespan of the system.
Renogy pure sine wave inverter offers protection from short circuit, overload, over-voltage, and more. However, those that are used to Renogy will know that their products are often overpriced—and this one is not an exception. Also, Renogy’s customer support remains poor and mostly unhelpful. Well, when it works, it is a great product to have.
- Comes with a built-in MPPT charge controller
- Compatible with all battery types
- Has 4 charging modes
- LCD screen allows you to monitor the performance
- Exhaust ventilation fans for excellent heat dissipation
- Pricier than competing models
- Poor customer support
PowMr Hybrid Inverter – Best 5kW Bluetooth hybrid inverter
- Inbuilt 80A MPPT charge controller
- Works with lead-acid and lithium battery
- 4 charging modes
- Integrated Bluetooth
- Output: 5000 watts
The incorporation of Bluetooth into this inverter gives you the flexibility of monitoring it with your mobile phone. All you need to do is download and install the app. However, there is more to this inverter than just the Bluetooth compatibility. This hybrid inverter is compatible with lithium and lead-acid battery. This product combines a 5000W pure sine wave inverter with 80A MPPT solar charge controller. The accompanying advanced MPPT technology has a charging efficiency of 99.9%.
The LCD has user-configurable and easy-accessible buttons. It has a removable LCD control module which you can link with a longer wire. Unlike other inverters that operate one fan speed, PowMr Hybrid inverter has an intelligent variable speed fan for effective heat dissipation. Like all the best solar inverters, this product supports 4 charging modes namely utility first, solar first, solar and utility, and battery and solar.
It offers multiple protection including overload, low voltage, over-temperature, and short circuit. One thing you should know is that this inverter has no neutral connection. If you want to use it with utility, you need to have a 240V transformer and not 120V. The price of this solar inverter is also on the high side. If these are not deal breakers for you, this is an inverter that will outlast the price.
- Up to 5,000 watts power output
- Offers 4 charging modes
- Comes with a built-in 80A MPPT charge controller
- Inbuilt Bluetooth for remote monitoring
- Removable LCD control module offers flexible monitoring
- Not compatible with 120V transformer
ECO-WORTHY 3500W Inverter – Best solar inverter for battery compatibility
- Inbuilt 80A MPPT charge controller
- Works with all battery types
- 4 charging modes
- Output: 3500 watts
ECO-WORTHY 3500W solar charge inverter has a built-in 80A MPPT charge controller. It is also a pure sine wave inverter capable of converting a 48V DC system to a 110V AC system. One of the advantages of pure sine wave over modified sine wave is the lack of electromagnetic pollution. The accompanying charge controller has an efficiency of up to 99.9% which is over 30% higher than the PWM charge controller.
It comes with a small LCD screen that allows you to easily check the voltage, current, battery level, and so much more. It is compatible with 6 battery types including GEL, SLD, LF4, LF6, NCM/NCA, and FLD. The inclusion of four buttons allows you to customize your system parameters. You can choose one of four charging modes depending on your preference. It also offers two output modes.
ECO-WORTHY 3500W solar charge inverter features intelligent variable fan speed which helps in heat dissipation as well as extends the life of the system. Like other premium charge controllers, it has complete protection against overvoltage, overload, short circuit, and more. Although the price is fairly good for a 3,500W inverter, some reviewers complain that it only lasted for a short time.
- Offers complete protection
- Variable fan speed helps proper heat dissipation
- Comes with an inbuilt 80A solar charge controller
- Compatible with 6 types of battery
- Durability is questionable
- Often come with loose cords
KRIËGER 1100 Watt Power Inverter – Best modified sine wave inverter
- Installation kits included
- LCD screen
- Dual USB ports and power output ports
- Output: 1100 watts
You don’t always see a solar inverter with dual 110V AC outlets talk more of a USB port. With the KRIËGER 1100 Watt Power Inverter, you will get two of both. This inverter ensures continuous 1100 watts of power with up to 2200 watts at peak power. Like all other inverters, this unit also offers protection from overload, overheating, short circuit, and much more.
The small LCD screen tells you the input voltage and output wattage as well as battery level in real-time. This inverter is small enough to fit into your RV and offers power to your refrigerator, cooling units, and more. It has an on/off wired remote control which should give you some level of flexibility. To make sure the device continues to perform optimally, the manufacturers equip it with a large internal aluminum heat sink.
It has high-frequency transformers for more efficient power conversion and high-performance capacitors to charge equipment with heavy surge loads. The biggest setback to this device is the technology. Modified sine wave may have a detrimental effect on gadgets with motors because of the way they give out power. There are also numerous reports of the product coming with multiple faults. Considering the low price of this inverter, it is worth a try.
- Highly affordable
- Comes with installation kits
- Offers dual USB ports and power output ports
- Inbuilt transformers offer more efficient power conversion
- Modified sine wave technology can harm some devices
- Multiple complaints about defective deliveries
GoWISE 1000W Pure Sine Wave Inverter – Best RV solar inverter
- Remote switch
- 2 Battery cables included
- 2x AC outlets and 1x 5V USB port
- Output: 1000 watts
GoWise provides 1000W of continuous power and up to 2000W during a surge. This small solar inverter can convert 12V DC power into 120V AC. The user can access this power through either a 2x AC outlet or a 1x 5V USB port. It has 5 protection systems namely thermal, overload, over-voltage, under-voltage, and low voltage. The inverter notifies you when there is any of the following with an alarm.
Another interesting addition to this unit is the cooling fan that prevents overheating. It is equipped with negative and positive terminal power ports. To give the user some flexibility, this inverter comes with a power switch that has a 15-foot wire. You will also get a pack of 8 gauge starter cables capable of powering 1,000 watts.
While this may seem like the perfect inverter, there are a few limitations that may stop many from owning one. Firstly, it is far more expensive than some of the competing brands in the same category. Also, although it is rated 1000W, customer reviews show that appliances above 500W will not work on it. The durability is questionable too. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Nevertheless, when performing optimally, it is a treasure to have.
- Comes with 2 battery cables
- Offers 3 output ports and long 15-foot wires
- Gives 5 protection systems
- Slightly affordable
- Durability is questionable
- Appliances rated over 500W may not work
Xantrex Freedom XC – Best for over drained batteries
- Inbuilt lithium-ion battery charger
- Ignition key
- Bluetooth monitor
- Inbuilt 30A AC transfer relay
- Programmable AC under-voltage
- Output: 2000 watts
Most inverters will not charge over-drained batteries. However, Xantrex has a built-in lithium-ion battery charger, designed to charge dead batteries with extremely low voltage—down to 0 Vdc. It comes with a feature to turn off the inverter to minimize battery drain. This inverter is designed to be compact and lightweight to fit into a boat or RV. It is also easy to handle and install irrespective of the system you are trying to build.
The hardware is built tough to work in extreme weather conditions—albeit the output will be less efficient. Xantrex Freedom XC operates on pure sine wave technology. This allows it to operate sensitive and motor loads. One of the coolest features of this inverter is the built-in 30A AC transfer relay. This device senses the outside AC power is present and transfers the load from the inverter to the source of incoming power.
You can monitor the status of your system remotely using the FXC Control Mobile App which is available on Android and iOS. On the downside, the price of this inverter is on the high side. The remote display turns off after every 30 seconds and you will have to press one of the buttons to turn it back on. Also, it has only four buttons that control lots of features. Therefore, without the manual, you may run into trouble with the control. However, users agree on the durability of this inverter.
- Capable of charging over-drained batteries
- Work in extreme weather
- Remote control through FXC control mobile app
- Comes with a built-in 30A AC transfer relay
- Highly durable
- Few buttons with numerous functions can create confusion
SMA SB5 Sunny Boy Solar Inverter – Best inverter for shading mitigation
- Smart grid features
- Enhanced SMA OptiTrac
- SMA installation assistance
- 3 MPPT charge controllers
- Remote monitoring
- Output: 5000 watts
One of the biggest problems that solar power has to deal with is shading. However, Sunny Boy solar inverter has found a way to mitigate that using the enhanced proprietary SMA OptiTrac feature. This unit has a ‘smart-grid’ feature which is a sort of future proof. That means you can easily expand your solar setup in the future without having to shop for new inverters to match. It is designed to work with 208V AC single-phase or 240V AC split phase.
With inbuilt Arc Fault Circuit Interruption (AFCI) and DC disconnects, this unit was exclusively made for the United States market. Interestingly, it boasts of hundreds of stringing configurations. This device supports remote monitoring using smartphones too. Also, you will have access to SMA’s Installation Assistant which will help to minimize the time and labor you will spend during the installation. With this device, you don’t need to install additional equipment.
The new design has a two-part enclosure that separates the power unit from the connection unit. This makes servicing easier. All these cool features come at a great price. Costing over $1,000, you need to be really sure that you need one before making a purchase. Also, strict US design screens out users from most parts of the world. For those who can afford it, this is one of the coolest inverters to have.
- Smart-grid feature prepares inverter for the future
- Mobile installation assistance reduces installation time
- Two compartment design makes servicing easier
- Multiple MPPT accommodate vast stringing opportunities
- Extremely expensive
- May not be suitable for users outside the United States
Fronius Primo 3.8-1 Solar Inverter – Best user-friendly inverter
- SnapINverter technology
- Integrated data communication
- Smart grid ready features
- Wi-Fi support
- Output: 3800 watts
Fronius Primo solar inverter is the most user-friendly inverter on the market—and we will tell you why. The sleek inverter comes with a SnapINverter hinge mounting system that ensures convenient and secure installation. You will mount the lightweight connection compartment with all the wiring on the wall then snap the power stage in. Therefore, if there is a problem, you don’t need to start removing all the wires. All you need to do is take out the power stage for servicing.
To ensure smooth and effective monitoring of the solar system, Fronius integrates data communication capabilities in all their inverters. All you need to do is connect the inverter to the Internet using Wi-Fi and use the Modbus TCP SunSpec, Fronius Solar API (JSON), or Modbus RTU SunSpec interface to monitor the performance. Most interesting is the smart grid-ready features which prepare your inverter for tomorrow’s grids.
There is a small LCD screen at the front which also gives you operation information in real-time. Other integrated features that set this unit apart from the competitors include wide input voltage range, high system voltage, and mobile monitoring platform (solar.web). The biggest setback to owning this device is the massive price tag. For those who can afford it, it is the inverter of the future.
- Wi-Fi support allows mobile monitoring from anywhere
- Accepts a wide range of voltage input
- Innovative SnapINverter technology makes mounting easier
- Extremely expensive
- MPPT charge controller absence
Buying guide for the Best Solar Inverters
If you have made up your mind to get an inverter but do not find a suitable product on our list, this buying guide is designed to still help you to make the best choice. Although there are varying inverter options with different capacities, efficiency, and purpose, knowing your purpose and need will help you to get the most suitable product. Here are important factors to pay attention to.
The first and most important step in choosing the best solar inverter for your home is to check the wattage to make sure that it tallies with your energy need. You need to make sure that the inverter that you want to install has a rating that is higher than your total energy need. For example, if your energy need is 1000W, you will need an inverter with double that rating to effectively run your home off a solar system. To know your total energy need, add the wattage of all your different home appliances (bulbs, television, blender, etc.).
Some inverters come with a charge controller—and you should keep your eyes open for this feature. The type of solar charge controller will determine how efficiently the inverter charges your battery.
There are three types of inverter technologies. However, pure sine wave is the best of them all—but usually more expensive. They transfer power from the battery to the wall socket in the same way as the utility. This helps to extend the life of your devices, particularly motor devices.
Before you pay a premium on an inverter, it is important to make sure that it will last so long to give you value for your money. You can do this by reading through the reviews of that product. Also, make sure you purchase from reputable retailers. Some retailers repackage refurbished products and sell them as new ones.
Pay attention to the warranty of the inverter. Always choose a product with the longest warranty. This will give you enough time to use the product and get used to its functions without worrying about breaks down. If the dreaded occurs, you can ask for a refund or replacement. This helps you to maximize the value of your money.
Types of inverter technologies
The display of the different wave patterns of inverter types (Photo credit: Circuit Digest)
There are three main types of inverter technologies namely pure sine wave, modified sine wave, and square wave. Their differences lies in the way they operate and the kind of devices they support.
1. Pure Sine Wave Inverters
This is the most advanced and reliable inverter technology. They transfer power from the battery to the device in a smooth and reliable manner that is similar to what you will get from a wall socket. The current supply is in a sine waveform which is similar to utility supply. In a home setup running multiple devices, it adjusts the voltage to suit power requirements. They are also the costliest.
2. Modified Sine Wave
The transfer of current from this type of inverter is not as smooth as the pure sine wave. There is often a brief pause during phase shift. Thus, the efficiency of some connected devices may be affected. So, you may experience humming noise from appliances or dimmer lights. However, they are less expensive compared to pure sine wave.
3. Square Wave
This type of inverter delivers electricity in square waveforms—which is less reliable compared to the other two. However, they can still work well for devices with universal motors. The biggest setback with these kinds of inverters is that they often give a loud noise during operation.
How to take care of your inverter
After choosing your inverter, there are steps you need to take to make sure the inverter outlasts the price you paid for it. Taking good care of your inverter will allow it to keep working optimally for many years to come. Below are some of the steps you need to take to care for your inverter.
Inverters must always be kept in a cool and dry place and out of direct sunlight, flammable material or source of heat. It should always be on level ground. Consider investing in an inverter trolley.
2. Appropriate earthing
Make sure that your home is properly earthed. This will help to prevent accidents like electrocution and short circuit. Also, never touch your inverter with wet hands.
Carry out routine cleaning of your inverter and battery using a microfiber cloth to avoid the accumulation of dust.
4. Avoid overload
If you have an inverter that is lower than the wattage of all the appliances in your home, make sure appliances with high electric consumption are turned off. Some inverters will notify you with a buzz when there is overload.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What does a solar inverter do?
Solar inverter translates the DC energy generated by the solar panel into AC which is the form that home appliances can use.
- What is the difference between solar inverter and normal inverter?
The primary power reservoir of solar inverters is solar energy. This is opposed to normal inverters that have their primary sources of electricity as gasoline or fuel.
- How long should a solar inverter last?
The life span of most solar inverters will range from 2 to 25 years depending on the type—string inverters (5-10), central inverters (5-10), micro-inverter (20-25), battery-based inverters (2-5). However, how you use your inverter or the condition where it is kept can either extend or lower its life expectancy.
- What is the best solar inverter brand?
One of the best solar inverters is the Renogy solar inverters. It has a high wattage rating and works with all battery types.
Some inverters work with only a certain types of batteries. Therefore, it is important to think about the battery you have when picking an inverter. Check the socket connections in your inverter from time to time for signs of rust which may occur from water spills or humidity. You can prevent rust by applying grease on them. Nevertheless, when rust happens, use a mixture of hot water and baking soda to get it out. If your inverter is not performing correctly, it may just be the wiring or positioning.