Solaray Energy is now called 1KOMMA5° Sydney and 1KOMMA5° Melbourne
At a basic level, a microinverter system has one small inverter underneath each panel. With a standard system, the panels are all connected in series with a high-voltage DC cable running down to a central inverter.
It’s such a simple idea, and yet it has completely revolutionised the solar industry, giving you as the system owner a list of tangible benefits that really make a difference. This article will go through the top benefits, which are:
Increased output, which means more savings on your power bill
Flexible designs: because each panel is independent, you can have panels on different parts of the roof
Panel level monitoring so you can see what your system is producing (this really is a game-changer). Plus Enphase monitoring includes consumption monitoring, so you can manage your power usage compared to your solar system’s output
An AC cable run to the meter board: AC power is much safer, plus, by not needing to use DC isolators we can remove the main fire risk of standard solar systems
No single point of failure means you can keep generating power if one of the panels is faulty
Remote technical support – Enphase will often upgrade the firmware remotely, or they will be able to reset a microinverter if something goes wrong
Expandable! Many households add more panels when they install a battery or buy an electric car. You can too if you have an Enphase system
A longer warranty covers your microinverters for 15 years, compared to the industry standard of 5
If you have a single-phase power supply, you can install up to a 10kW instead of 5kW
Because of these benefits, most of our customers choose to go with an Enphase system. At the end of the day, it comes down to increased performance, added flexibility, monitoring that puts you back in control, and safety.
Let’s get into the details so you can make a more informed decision for your household.
An Enphase Micro Inverter is attached to the mounting kit underneath each panel and uses state-of-the-art electronics to convert DC to AC. This allows each individual panel to output power independently from the other panels, significantly increasing system output:
According to Renewable Energy World, shading of as little as 9% of a solar system connected to a central inverter, can lead to a system-wide decline in power output by as much as 54%.
Having each panel operate independently can give you significantly more output in many situations, such as if you have shade from surrounding trees, especially later in the afternoon – the time of day when you often need to be getting as much power out of your system as possible.
The below video is a great example of how micro inverters can significantly increase output. Across the day, the system will be working at near maximum output, despite the patchy shade because each panel is independent of the rest of the array.
One of the biggest limitations with standard string inverter systems is that the panels are installed in series, meaning that the system will always perform at the rate of the worst-performing panel. This means that partial shade on your array of panels can have a large impact on the output of a system.
It’s not just shade from trees that can affect solar output. Bird droppings and dust, as well as chimneys and power lines, can all affect solar output.
Additionally, solar panels have a tolerance during the manufacturing process. For example, REC Alpha 405W panels have a 5W tolerance, so they will range in output from 405W to 410W. Your system won’t be able to take advantage of this unless each panel is outputting power independently from the other panels.
Furthermore, panels decrease in output over time at different rates. With a string inverter, your system will drop off in output over the years at the rate of the worst-performing panel. With Enphase, you will get more power over the years because of this system design where each panel is independent.
Using Micro Inverters allows you to make the most of your roof – you can have panels across multiple roof areas, at different orientations, and angles.
If you use most of your power in the afternoon, for example, it can be beneficial to have panels facing both north and west to distribute the output of solar power across the day. This avoids your system having a big peak of solar power in the middle of the day, making it easier to use a large percentage of the solar power as it is generated, hence increasing the impact your system can have on your power bills.
An Enphase system comes with an Envoy Communications Gateway, which is the networking hub for the system.
The Envoy Gateway connects to the internet to transfer live data on system performance and critical issues. This puts the power back in your hands as you are able to keep an eye on the output of the system whenever you like.
The first few weeks of owning an Enphase system are so much fun. You get to see how much power the system produces on a sunny day, on a cloudy day and even on a rainy day. Many people are surprised to see that even on wet days the system will still produce some power that can help run the base load of the house.
You will also receive automatic emails alerting you to any technical issues. We get them too, making it simple for us or Enphase to conduct system checks remotely from our head office in Glendenning.
The Enlighten software platform provides you with ongoing performance data either on the app or by logging in on a computer. Enlighten has a user-friendly and engaging interface to view your energy production at both the panel level and what the whole system is producing. This energy monitoring platform is regarded as one of the best in the industry.
Because microinverters convert the DC power generated by the solar panels to AC immediately underneath each panel, it means the system has an AC cable run down to the meter board instead of high-voltage DC.
We hate the idea of having a DC cable running through a roof cavity as if a rodent chews the cable, it can actually be a fire risk.
If a string inverter system was invented today it would probably be deemed illegal due to this fire risk, and in fact, in several other counties such as the USA, string inverters are banned.
Solar fires are becoming much more common in standard systems and this is only set to continue because of ‘cheap solar’ flooding the market at the moment. The most common issue is when water gets into a DC isolator, which is a safety switch that ironically is meant to turn off the system in the event of a fire.
In the unlikely event that something goes wrong with one of the panels or microinverters, with an Enphase system, the rest of the system will still be operational. This allows for less downtime and allows you to continue generating solar power during a warranty claim or service check.
Both Enphase and 1KOMMA5° as your installer have access to live, real-time monitoring of every panel. As do you, of course.
In the event of a fault, 1KOMMA5° receives an automated message to alert us to the issue. In most cases, the firmware can be updated by Enphase technicians and the problem fixed remotely. This can save you days of downtime and the frustration of having to call out a technician.
Before Enphase, it would often take weeks for a warranty claim to be serviced as the manufacturer would need to ship out a new inverter.
Microinverter systems are expandable, limited only to your roof space.
This means you can install as many additional panels as you like to start with, and then when you are ready to expand you don’t need to match the new panels to your existing array.
This allows you to take advantage of any technology gains over the next few years. For example, you may find that in 3 years’ time, 600W panels are the market standard if we get a big breakthrough in solar tech. It sounds crazy to say that, but it wasn’t so long ago that we were installing 250W panels.
With a standard string inverter, if you want to expand you need to match the inverter size to the panel array to ensure high performance. This means that adding panels normally requires the inverter to be replaced.
The other limitation is that we need to match the panels in order to add panels to a string. This limits the upgrade window to around a year or so, as trying to find old stock is close to impossible due to the fast advances in technology.
For older systems with a standard inverter, we will normally install a new Enphase system alongside the existing one and then connect the two. It’s a much better design to have all of the system using microinverters.
This one is a little technical, but bear with us!
With a single-phase home, the largest inverter we are allowed to install is 5kW. On top of this, we can oversize the panel array to about 6.5kW. This is to do with regulations from the energy distributors that need to manage the power grid.
With an Enphase system, we can get around this regulation by limiting the amount of excess solar power that is sent out to the grid. Using ‘export limitation’, you can actually install a 10kW Enphase system on a single-phase home, and then limit the amount of excess power that is sent out to the grid to 5kW.
To be clear, nearly all of the benefit of a solar system is to use solar power in the home, so it makes almost no difference to your savings if we limit the amount of power going out to the grid. As a ballpark figure, without this, you may be able to save a few dozen dollars more a quarter.
Compare this to the massive benefit you can get from installing a 10kW system and then using all of that solar power in the home, and you can save many thousands of dollars on your power bills each year, plus have a system that is big enough to work well with a large battery such as the Tesla Powewall.
With a standard string inverter system, we would normally use a single-phase inverter even if you have three-phase power. We connect the inverter to the phase that uses the most power. The alternative is to use an expensive three-phase inverter. For systems over 5kWs, you must have three-phase power and so the only option is to use a three-phase inverter.
With an Enphase Micro Inverter system, there is no additional cost for you if you have three-phase power. This is the best option from a technical viewpoint and can save you a lot of money as you don’t need to upgrade to a three-phase solution.
Your Enphase systems come with a 15-year microinverter warranty from Enphase, plus you can easily extend it to 25 years if you’d like to for a small cost. Enhpase systems installed by us come with a full replacement warranty, so you are not out of pocket in the event of a warranty claim.
Just one of those little tips that is good to know before you decide on an installer – one of the reasons1KOMMA5° is considered to have industry-leading support standards is that we offer full replacement warranties. 1KOMMA5° does not have ‘back to base warranties’ where you need to send faulty parts back to the manufacturer. This has caught out a lot of people looking for a ‘great deal’ on cheaper solar systems.
But this isn’t the place to delve into the murky waters of the solar industry…you can do that here
You can add a Tesla Powerwall to pretty much any system… however the battery works a lot better with certain inverters in the event of a blackout, and Enphase is one of them. The others are SolarEdge and Sungrow.
The other thing to consider is the new Enphase battery is now available. One of the main benefits of the Enphase IQ Battery is that it is smaller than the Tesla Powerwall, so you can choose to start with a smaller 5kWh battery if you’d like, and then add to it over time if you want more storage capacity.