If you are considering solar for your home in Oregon, and you have started gathering quotes from certified installers, chances are you now have 2 or 3 estimates. Great, step #1 accomplished!
The challenge is that more often than not each project quote you have is for a different system size, and uses different module and inverter types. That factor alone can often leave you wondering how much research to do before deciding not only which contractor to use, but also which equipment to select.
When it comes to solar, there are two main equipment components that determine how well your system will operate – solar modules and solar inverters. We will tackle the solar module question in an upcoming article, but for now let’s focus on the inverter. The inverter for your system will convert the DC power generated from the solar modules into usable AC electricity that feeds your home’s electrical panel, and the utility grid during times of over-production.
The Solar Benefits of Module Level Power Production
As a solar installer we love one particular inverter solution above all others. The SolarEdge system uses an individual power optimizer on each solar module and provides enhanced power production, a strong warranty, free monitoring (web and smartphone app), and the reliability that is critical for any solar investment.
Would you want your system’s performance to be limited by one or two modules that are shaded when others have full sun? Or, would you rather have each module generate it’s maximum power potential without being affected by shade on a nearby module? SolarEdge allows each solar module to contribute power independently of the other modules, and typically results in a 5% – 8% energy increase over standard inverters. Over the 25 – 30 year life of a solar array, that really adds up.
From an installer’s perspective, our philosophy is to only install high quality components from trusted manufacturers. Our installation warranty protects our customers’ interests, and we need to be absolutely sure that when issues arise, we can enforce the equipment warranties and fix the problem quickly.
SolarEdge’s monitoring system is a great tool – in the example below we have a customer’s system with one module that is clearly under-performing the others in the array. Rather than spending an extra trip to troubleshoot the problem on-site, we can view their monitoring data online, and order the replacement parts ahead of time. This saves us money, and our customers downtime. While module, inverter, and optimizer failures are infrequent, they do happen, and we love the convenience of module level monitoring.
Strong Solar Warranties Insure your Investment
Like any home improvement purchase, you want to know that the system will perform as promised, and won’t result in additional costs for maintenance. If you are looking at installation quotes and the proposal doesn’t list the module or inverter type, demand that information before going any further. You wouldn’t have someone install a roof, siding, or kitchen tile without knowing what you are buying first, and solar is no different. Quality matters, and you can usually tell what you are getting by the manufacturers’ warranties associated with the products you are being quoted.
SolarEdge provides a 25-year warranty on the power optimizers installed with each solar module, and a 12-year warranty on their inverter. For $240 to $460 (depending on inverter size), that 12-year inverter warranty can be extended to 20 years. Most standard string inverters come with a 10-year warranty, and their 20-year upgrade options cost substantially more.
There Must be a Downside to SolarEdge?
Simply put, the SolarEdge inverter solution will add a few percent to your system cost. Part of this cost difference will be offset by the 30% Federal Tax Credit, and in most cases we believe SolarEdge is worth the extra investment. However, there are times when we recommend standard string inverters to our customers. This decision is usually based on design factors, customer preference, or site-specific conditions:
- Array site has very little, or no shade throughout the year. The potential power gains from using SolarEdge optimizers may be less because all of the modules will operate close to their maximum production capacity.
- The customer likes another inverter’s feature. The best example of this would be SMA’s Secure Power Supply (SPS), which can provide up to 2,000 watts of power during daylight hours, even when the utility grid is down. SolarEdge does not currently offer this feature.
- No room for inverter to be mounted. It is uncommon, but sometimes there is very little physical space to mount the inverter in the garage or home. In space constrained situations like this, we will often recommend the Enphase micro-inverter solution, which does not require a main inverter.
Hopefully, this article gives you some perspective on why many installers are moving to SolarEdge and module-level power production and monitoring solutions. We always enjoy talking about solar, so please feel free to reply with comments and questions.
If you’ve been thinking about solar, and would like to see if it’s a good fit for your home or business, we offer free solar evaluations and quotes. We can determine if your home or land qualifies for Oregon’s incentive programs, and there’s no obligation.
The Energy Solutions Team