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inverters

The inverter is a basic component of PV systems and it converts DC power from the batteries or in the case of grid-tie, directly from the PV array into high voltage AC power as needed. Inverters of the past were inefficient and unreliable while today's generation of inverters are very efficient (85 to 97%) and reliable.


Today, the majority, if not all of the loads in a typical remote home operate at 120 VAC from the inverter. Most stand-alone inverters produce only 120 VAC, not 120/240 VAC as in the typical utility-connected home. The reason being, once electrical heating appliances are replaced with gas appliances, there is little need for 240 VAC power. Exceptions include good-sized submersible pumps and shop tools which can either be powered by a generator, step-up transformer, or possibly justify the cost of adding a second inverter. Most utility line-tie inverters do produce 208, 240, or 480 VAC.


Two types of stand-alone inverters predominate the market - modified sine and sine wave inverters. Modified sine wave units are less expensive per watt of power and do a good job of operating all but the most delicate appliances. Sine wave units produce power which is almost identical to the utility grid, will operate any appliance within their power range, and cost more per watt of output.


Utility-tie systems/sine wave inverters for utility interactive photovoltaic applications, provide direct conversion of solar electric energy to utility power with or without a battery storage system. These systems are designed to meet or exceed utility power company requirements and can be paralleled for any power level requirement. They are listed to UL 1741 for photovoltaic power systems.


Inverter Component Checklist


While an inverter can account for a good portion of the cost of a PV system, it is really a sub-system that requires a number of additional components. To make a safe, reliable, code compliant installation one should provide the following:


Inverter to battery cabling Because of the high current required on low voltage circuits, this cable is large, commonly #2 to 4/0 in size. Smaller conductors than required are unsafe and will not allow the inverter to perform to its full rating.


DC input disconnect and over current protection It is important to have safe installation with a properly sized DC rated, UL listed disconnect. Typically the disconnect works in conjunction with an over current protection device such as a fuse or circuit breaker. These components are usually installed in an enclosure which can also house shunts and additional equipment or circuit breakers.


Shunts Used to read the amperage flowing between the battery and inverter, this device is installed in the negative conductor. It can easily be housed in the disconnect or its own enclosure.


AC output disconnect and over current protection If the breaker panel, which is fed from the inverter, is adjacent to the inverter, then the main breaker will serve as the inverter output disconnect and over current protection. If, however, this panel is not grouped with the inverter, then a separate unit should be installed. This also holds true for AC circuits coming into the inverter from a generator or utility source. A second breaker may be needed if these breakers are not grouped.

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