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Another way to phrase this question is, “can I run an inverter without batteries?” When people think of inverters and solar panels, batteries come to mind as well, but is it possible to go without a battery bank?
An inverter can run from a solar panel even without batteries. Any excess solar power generated is sent to the grid where you can tap into it anytime.
How to Run an Inverter From Solar Panels
The easiest way to do this is to connect the inverter to your solar panels, integrating the system to the power grid. As your solar panel absorbs energy from the sun, the inverter turns it into AC power. The current flows from the solar panel and the power grid are synced by the inverter too.
Almost any high powered inverter can do this. The Giandel Pure Sine Wave 5000W Inverter can be configured to run off the grid, solar panels or batteries.
Under a grid tied setup, the inverter does not require any batteries. he solar array generates direct current (DC) and the inverter turns this into alternating current (AC) so appliances can use it.
You can also connect DC loads directly to a solar panel, bypassing the inverter. Do not connect AC loads directly to a solar panel. Doing so will damage appliances. If you need to load an AC appliance, run it through the inverter.
There are a lot of solar inverters that can run without batteries. You can use them with any solar panel and link it to the power grid. Setting it up is as simple as connecting the inverter to the solar panel. Doing this will connect the panel to the grid, and the inverter will now automatically convert the solar panel power into AC.
On and Off Grid Inverter Systems Explained
Use a DC to AC inverter If your solar power system is tied to the power grid, But if you are off the grid, you must have a battery bank that matches your inverter size.
Solar panels produce DC power, which is why you need an inverter to turn DC into AC power suited for home appliances. While inverters have the same function, there are different types, and your solar system setup determines what you should use.
There are two types of solar power systems.
On grid solar installations with no batteries. These are the most popular inverters in the US, as most solar powered homes are still connected to the grid. On grid solar systems do not need a battery. The inverter converts solar power to AC and can be used immediately by appliances.
Any extra energy produced by your solar panel is sent to the grid. You can tap into these anytime or sell them for credit. These inverter types are very common as most homes in the US do not have batteries.
Off grid solar installations with batteries. Batteries are required to store solar energy. Solar panels cannot generate power at night and there will be times production is low, i.e. winter. The battery plays the same role as the grid in an grid tied system, storing solar power for later use.
Off grid solar inverters are larger and more powerful than grid tied inverters. They not only convert DC to AC but also play roles in charging and discharging batteries.
In a grid tied system you can run appliances on electrical power if needed. Off grid systems have no other power source unless a generator is installed. So your inverter must be large enough to run every appliance and device you need.
Can a Power Inverter be Used Like a Normal Inverter?
Yes, solar inverters can function like a regular inverter. As pointed out earlier, these inverters both have the same function, convert DC power to AC. The difference is a solar inverter has additional features like battery management and is integrated with solar panels and charge controllers.
If your home is tied to the grid, you can install a solar panel and use a normal inverter. There is no need to add any special features unless you plan to off grid or add batteries. There are a lot of inverters available for this purpose so finding one will not be a problem. The only thing you have to make sure of is the inverter must be the right size for your solar appliances.
Can You Run an Inverter without Batteries Off Grid?
Technically it is possible, but it does not make any practical sense. The easiest way to demonstrate this is by explaining how off grid solar power systems work. There is a detailed guide here, but the summary is below.
Solar panels convert the rays of the sun into DC current. This is converted by the inverter into AC for use by AC dependent appliances. Everything works out fine during the day, but what happens at night or when it rains?
Without a battery bank your home will not have any power. An inverter runs appliances using electricity provided by a solar panel and/or battery bank. Solar panels cannot produce energy at night so an inverter has no power. Even a large inverter will do you no good without a power source.
So while it is possible to install a solar power system on your RV or cabin without batteries, it is impractical and makes the inverter useless during evenings or even days when solar power production is low.
Can You Add Batteries to an On Grid inverter?
If your solar system is storage ready you can install a battery in the inverter. If your inverter is not storage ready you have two choices, replace the existing inverter (DC coupled solution) or add another inverter where the battery will be installed (AC coupled solution).
AC Coupled Solution
With an AC coupled solution, you get to keep your existing inverter. This is ideal if you don’t want to reconfigure your existing setup. However this method is not as energy efficient as directly replacing the inverter. It is more affordable though so if you don’t mind the extra energy loss, this is a good option.
DC Coupled Solution
With this method you have to replace your current inverter with one that allows battery storage. String inverters require replacement every 10 years, so if it is time to get a new one, might as well buy a battery ready inverter.
A DC coupled solution costs more than an AC coupled solution upfront. But your solar panel will be more efficient as energy loss is reduced. This translates into savings for the long term.
So what it comes down to is, DC coupled solutions cost more to install but in the long term is more energy efficient. AC coupled solutions are less expensive but not as efficient. It really depends on how much energy loss you can tolerate and your current budget.
You are probably wondering, why would anyone want to add batteries to an on grid solar system? Doesn’t the power grid serve as the battery? Yes, but you are dependent on it. If the power goes out you won’t have any backup power. Unless you have a solar generator that can power a house, adding a battery capable inverter provides peace of mind.
Types of Solar Inverters
There are two types, string and microinverters. Microinverters can theoretically produce more electricity and shuts down faster, but string inverters are more affordable. In most cases, string inverters are still the better option overal.Both work with inverters for on and off grid systems.
What is a String Inverter?
These are the most widely used inverters owing to its low cost and easy installation. Most US homes use a single phase inverter while those in Europe use a three phase version. There is usually one or two string inverters for each solar panel installation.
Troubleshooting is Easy. A solar power system is likely to have only one string inverter. If the system fails, this is the first place to look. Inverters are the most likely component to break anyway so troubleshooting will be quick and straightforward.
More Affordable Than Microinverters. You need less string inverters than microinverters so it is less expensive. The less parts to install so the less chance of system errors. Labor costs will be cheaper too, and if you are installing it yourself, less potential headaches to worry about. If budget is an issue this then string inverters have the edge.
Less Chance of Wiring Errors. A string inverter and solar panel have fewer cables and wires and that is always a good thing. This reduces the odds of something going wrong during or after installation.
Slow to Shut Down. String inverters take a while to shut down, so if you live in a place that requires quick shutdown of solar systems, you have to add a rapid shutdown mechanism. This requires extra wiring, installation and a visit to the local government authority for the proper guidelines.
Short Lifespan. String inverters usually have an 8 to 10 year warranty, compared to microinverters which are good for up to 25 years.
Works Only with Series Solar Panel Setups. Solar panels configured in a series have to be completely free from shade. If there is an obstruction in a single shade, this will affect the performance of the string inverter.
Difficult Expansion. If you want to add more solar panels in the future, you have to add another string inverter and reroute the panels.
What is a Microinverter?
Microinverters are connected to solar panels. Function wise they are similar to string inverters except each one is connected under the solar panel. The number of microinverters are usually equal to the number of solar panels installed.
Fast Shutdown. Microinverters are designed to shut down quickly. This may be useful as rapid shutdowns are is now a requirement in many locations so firefighters can respond quickly to a fire without being exposed to danger.
Can Produce More Electricity. String inverters drop the current to that of the lowest producing panel. Microinverters do not, so in theory it could produce more power.
Works Great For Complex Setups. Microinverters perform better under shade compared to string inverters. You can also use these for solar arrays that face different directions.
Expensive. Microinverters cost hundreds of dollars more than a string inverter. The price difference will become even more apparent if you have a large solar panel.
Difficult to Maintain and Repair. Because there are as many microinverters as there are solar panels, finding which one has failed will be difficult. Replacing it is just as complicated.
Lots of Hardware Needed. You have to put up numerous pieces of hardware on your roof to use microinverters. This might be an issue if you have an old roof or space is limited.
Inverters are discussed so often alongside batteries and solar panels that some consider them as a single system. Not so, as you can use an inverter without a battery with no issues. All it takes is understanding of how inverters work and what type of system you have.