SOLAR POWER INVERTER

Green DIY EnergyRemember the classic rock band AC/DC? (some of you reading this right now are saying “oh no, he is NOT going there”) Well, yes I am. I want to make sure you understand the AC/DC difference when it comes to electricity. This is necessary in order to understand what a solar power inverter actually does.

WHAT IS AC & DC POWER?

Regardless if you know anything about the classic rock band AC/DC, in electrical terms, AC stands for alternating current, and DC stands for direct current. In AC power, it can be said that the flow of electrons within a wire actually reverses back and forth.

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To simplify the AC concept, think of the electricity in a wire turning on and off extremely fast, in fact, as fast as 120 times in a second (60 hertz); that’s AC. Now DC on the other hand stands for direct current. Can you take a guess? Yep.. a steady flow of electricity; none of this off and on nonsense. Got it? Ok onto solar power inverters.

INVERTER BASICS

A solar power inverter takes DC electricity (i.e. energy stored in batteries, or for our sake, the type of energy that is produced by solar panels) and converts it to AC electricity. AC power is the kind used by most appliances in our homes. So, if were running a “grid free” set up from solar power (see Home Solar Power), wind power (see Homemade Wind Turbines) or both, we need to have properly rated inverter as part of our setup. When I say properly rated, that simply means one that can accommodate the maximum amount of power that our home would be using at any given time. A solar power inverter can be connected between the actual bank of solar panels (which remember produces DC current) and an actual electrical panel, or between the storage batteries (remember, batteries store DC) and the electrical panel.

There are really 3 major types of inverters, grid-tie, battery backup, and stand-alone.

Grid-tie inverters as you can guess are used in alternative energy systems which are not only connected to an electrical panel or load, but are also connected to an actual electrical grid (i.e. the county electrical grid that supplies residential areas). The other major difference in actual design between the units is that they have a “phase matching” component in order to make a safe connection with the electrical grid. Something interesting with this kind of set up is that when your solar or wind power system generates excess power, it is sent into the electrical grid where it can be used by your neighbors, and YES you can get $PAID$ for it!

Battery back up inverters are specifically designed to take energy from a battery, convert it and send it the utility grid or electrical load to be used. They also are designed to maintain the charge of the batteries (see Deep Cycle Batteries) in which they draw energy from.  Not much more to be said about these; pretty straightforward.

Stand-alone inverters are usually found integrated into home solar or home wind power systems. These inverters are connected in between the solar panel or wind turbine output and the electrical panel, or between the storage batteries and electrical power as described above. These systems are “stand-alone” because they are not tied to an electrical grid.

This article went over the basics of solar power inverters and hopefully gave you a clear understanding of what they actually do, how they’re utilized and why they are vital to any alternative energy system.

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