Home solar energy storage is quickly coming into the mainstream in Pakistan, thanks to the low cost of solar PV installations here. Every home that installs a battery storage system will need an inverter to convert the stored DC electricity into grid & appliance-friendly AC electricity. The two main choices available are battery-specific inverters and so-called ‘hybrid’ or multi-mode inverters. What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of these types of solutions with regard to the role they play in energy storage systems?
Standard solar PV inverters
The basic function of a solar PV inverter is to convert the DC electricity generated by solar panels into AC electricity. Although individual products may each have their own bells & whistles, without performing this integral function they cannot be called an inverter. Solar PV inverter brands are plentiful in Pakistan – Voltronic Power's Axpert, SMA, Fronius, Schneider Xantrax, INVT, ABB/Power-One and Zeversolar are just a handful of the popular brands here.
- º Time-tested technology – used widely in grid-connected solar systems around the world
- º Countless product options available
- º Possible to include battery storage, but battery side of the system will require a separate inverter
- º Separate energy management system may be required to maximize overall system efficiency
Hybrid solar inverters
In the context of residential solar+storage systems, a hybrid inverter (sometimes referred to as a multi-mode inverter) is an inverter which can simultaneously manage inputs from both solar panels and a battery bank, charging batteries with either solar panels or the electricity grid (depending on which is more economical or preferred). Their capabilities may go beyond this however – some devices also handle inputs from wind turbines, generators and other power sources.
- º All-in-one inverter solution for grid-connected solar-plus-storage systems
- º Frequently intelligent and programmable for maximizing overall system efficiency and savings
- º Can usually be installed without batteries for future expansion
- º Long history of use in off-grid and stand-alone power systems
- º Less design flexibility than modular solutions which use separate PV and battery inverters
- º Generally less efficient than dedicated solar-only or battery-only inverters
Battery-specific inverters manage the charging and discharging of a battery bank. Just as with other inverters, their job is to convert DC electricity into AC electricity, but they also do the reverse – converting AC electricity into DC in order to charge a battery bank. Battery inverters can be installed into homes where no solar PV system exists for purposes of energy arbitration (i.e. using cheap off-peak grid electricity for battery charging), but most homes are more likely to install them in order to capture and store excess solar energy. Their modular nature means that they can be retrofitted relatively easily onto existing solar PV systems.
- º Modular nature lends to greater system design flexibility
- º Long history of use in off-grid and stand-alone power systems means most units are exceptionally sturdy and durable
- º Can be retrofitted onto existing solar PV systems for addition of battery storage
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