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Default Author Icon Written by Tamara Jude Updated 04/24/2024

Solar inverters are the heart of a solar power system. They help convert incoming solar rays into usable energy. The right inverter can boost panel performance, improve energy production, and power your home more efficiently. Although the best solar companies will choose the ideal inverter for your system, it’s important to understand how they work and the leading residential manufacturers. 

Our guide explains how solar inverters operate and their impact on system performance. We’ve also provided recommendations for some of the best solar inverter brands available.


What Is a Solar Inverter?

Solar inverters help convert solar energy into usable electricity for your home. Solar panels work by absorbing the sun’s energy into their solar cells. These cells generate direct current (DC) energy. This type of energy doesn’t work with your home because American homes use alternating current (AC) electricity. This is where solar inverters come into play. The inverter converts the incoming DC electricity into AC power, making it usable throughout your home.

Since inverters serve as a direct connection between your solar panels and home, they offer detailed insight into your energy production. Many solar monitoring systems use data from the inverters to monitor panel production, energy use, and performance issues. The inverter sends panel data via Wi-Fi and connects with a dedicated mobile app or web portal.  Depending on the inverter type, you’ll get readings for several panels or individual panel details. 

Inverters also help convert energy between solar batteries and your home. DC power flows directly from solar panels to your battery, storing the power for later use. When it’s time to power your home, the inverter converts the stored DC power to AC. 

Note that solar inverters aren’t the same as charger controllers, a different component is needed for solar battery storage. An inverter converts your energy, while a charge controller regulates electrical power for distribution to your solar batteries and solar energy system. Both devices are needed for battery performance.


Types of Solar Inverters

All solar inverters function similarly but can differ in areas such as efficiency, cost, and energy monitoring capabilities. Here’s an overview of each inverter type. 

String Inverters

String inverters (or central inverters) connect several solar panels and convert energy for multiple panels or a full solar array (or a group of solar panels). This inverter type is cost-effective but less efficient than others. If there’s an issue with the central inverter, it could shut down several panels at once, impacting your energy generation. String inverters are also prone to shading issues. If one panel experiences shading, the entire solar array is impacted, reducing production levels. Despite this issue, repairing string inverters is relatively cheap and easy to maintain.

String inverters have a shorter life span, typically around five to 10 years, and offer lower power production. The string inverter’s energy data also lumps all panel performance together, making it hard to determine individual panel issues. 

Microinverters

Microinverters attach to the individual panels, providing maximum power output. These inverters cost more than other options due to their high efficiency and improved performance. You’ll need one microinverter per panel, increasing your solar installation costs. Despite the higher price, microinverters offer better per-panel performance and don’t have the shading issues of string inverters. If one microinverter goes down, it won’t affect the other panels in your solar project. However, since they’re located on the roof with your panels, they require more maintenance and have higher repair costs. 

Microinverters have a long life span of at least 25 years. Since microinverters work with individual panels, you have more detailed system performance data. 

String Inverters and Power Optimizers

Although not technically a different inverter type, this design helps boost inverter performance. Panel optimizers help maximize DC power generation and send that power to the centralized inverter. The inverter converts all the power optimizers’ collected energy into AC and sends it to your home. This panel design can be very complicated and requires additional system-optimized power, increasing overall costs. This setup provides panel-level monitoring and additional optimization options. 

Hybrid Inverters

Hybrid inverters, also called battery-ready inverters, offer the benefits of both grid-tied and off-grid panels by including backup battery power for added protection. Normally, grid-tied panels stop working immediately during a blackout. But hybrid inverters draw energy from your backup battery system to power your solar inverters. 

Off-Grid Inverters

Investing in an off-grid solar system requires special inverters to help keep your system constantly powered by panels and solar batteries. Just like smaller do-it-yourself (DIY) solar systems, off-grid systems aren’t tied to any grid system and solely rely on a responsive and powerful backup battery system. These systems use Maximum Power Point Tracker (MPPT) charge controllers to protect your batteries from overcharging and improve efficiency. Off-grid inverters help charge and discharge solar batteries to keep your home running.


Major Differences Among Solar Inverters

Solar inverters differ in several ways, including efficiency, cost, and warranty coverage. We’ve detailed each comparison factor below.  

Cost

String inverters are the cheapest and require fewer inverters for your system. Microinverters are more expensive but offer better results. Inverters qualify for solar incentives, meaning homeowners can use the federal solar tax credit to receive up to 30% off their total solar installation cost. 

Efficiency

Efficiency plays a key role in inverter performance. Inventory efficiency represents how well the component converts DC to AC power. During this conversion process, some energy is lost. The higher the energy loss, the lower the efficiency rating. Look for solar inverters with high efficiency ratings between 96% and 99%. 

Power Output

Depending on the type, solar inverters will match either your system size or your panel size. The string inverters’ maximum output capacity should match your system size. If you’re using multiple string inverters, each inverter should match the connected panels’ total wattage. When using microinverters, you’ll match your panel size to the inverter’s maximum output. This size pairing is the best way to avoid clipping, which happens when solar panels produce more power than the inverters can handle, reducing your usable electricity. 

Warranty

String inverters include five to 10 years of warranty coverage and require more frequent replacement. Quality microinverters typically include a 25-year warranty. Longer coverage means fewer equipment changes and protection for the duration of your solar panels’ life span

We recommend checking inverter warranties for mentions of labor costs, shipping expenses, and full protection details. Certain elements of an inverter, such as Wi-Fi communication equipment, may have a shorter warranty than the rest of the components. If the communication goes out, you must replace the device to resume system monitoring.


Best Solar Inverter Brands

We’ve highlighted some of the best solar inverter brands for residential installations and what features make them stand out.

BrandInverter Type Power OutputPeak Efficiency RatingWarrantyTop Inverter Model

Enphase

Microinverter

0.24–0.366 kW

97.5%

25 years

Enphase IQ8

SolarEdge

Optimized string inverter

3–11.4 kW

99.0%

12 years

SolarEdge HD Wave

SMA

String inverter

3–11.4 kW

98.5%

10 years

SMA Sunny Boy

Enphase: Best Warranty

Founded in California in 2006, Enphase has become one of the most popular inverter brands thanks to its advanced microinverter technology. The company offers a 25-year warranty with its inverters, one of the longest available. Enphase microinverters offer output power between 0.24–0.366 kilowatts (kW) and efficiency ratings of up to 97.5%. The company also carries the popular IQ Battery specifically for use with its microinverters. 

Most popular inverter model: The Enphase IQ8  series

SolarEdge: Best Efficiency

Headquartered in Israel, SolarEdge offers high-performance string inverters with some of the best efficiency ratings available. These inverters maximize panel performance but are more affordable than microinverters. They reach up to 99% efficiency, some of the solar industry’s highest ratings. SolarEdge string inverters offer 3–11.4 kW power output and come with a 12-year warranty, but you can extend it up to 25 years for an additional cost. 

Most popular inverter model: The SolarEdge HD Wave inverter series

SMA: Best Value

Founded in 1981, SMA Solar Technology has expanded into a leading worldwide inverter manufacturer. The company offers affordable string inverters for residential installations. Although its inverters don’t include power optimizers, they do offer reliable performance with outputs ranging between 3–11.4 kW and maximum efficiency ratings of 98.5%. The warranty coverage is 10 years but is extendable for additional fees. 

Most popular inverter model: SMA Sunny Boy series


How To Choose the Best Solar Inverter

Your solar panel provider may offer several options for solar inverters. We recommend keeping the following factors in mind when choosing your preferred inverter. 

  • Brand reputation: Look for reputable solar inverter manufacturers with high-quality products and long-term warranty coverage. Check online reviews for solar inverter brands and look for mentions of poor component quality, warranty replacement issues, or manufacturing defects.
  • Cost: The more inverters you install, the higher the overall cost. You’ll also pay more for microinverters than string inverters. 
  • Customer support: Get full details about the warranty replacement process and customer support options. Depending on the solar provider’s policies, you may place a warranty claim through them or directly with the inverter manufacturer. Get clear details on their policies and contact information for the manufacturer, if needed. 
  • Monitoring options: Your solar inverters should include options for monitoring and a dedicated app to track performance. Ensure your chosen inverter has Wi-Fi capabilities and a communication device to transmit panel data. 
  • System compatibility: Choose solar inverters compatible with your overall panel design. Your solar installer will offer a selection of inverters that work with your system.  Some providers may have their own in-house inverters for their systems.

Our Conclusion

Solar inverters are essential to both panel function and system performance. Your inverter choice impacts your energy production, system efficiency, and monitoring capabilities. Pairing quality inverters with the best solar panels will provide maximum energy efficiency and long-term savings. 

We recommend getting quotes from at least three solar companies to compare their system components and inverter options.


FAQ About Solar Inverters

What type of inverter is the most efficient?

Microinverters are the most efficient option since they handle power conversion on the individual panel level. They offer higher efficiency ratings, wasting very little energy during conversion. 

What is the most common residential solar panel inverter type?

String inverters are the most common inverters used in residential solar systems. These inverters connect to multiple solar panels and convert your home’s DC energy to AC electricity. String converters work best in homes with little to no shading and simple solar panel designs. 

Can I replace a solar inverter myself?

Yes, you can replace a solar inverter if you have intermediate electrical and solar technology knowledge and expertise. Otherwise, you might damage your solar system, impact panel performance, or cause personal injury. We recommend contacting a professional solar installer to assist with inverter replacement. 

What is the life span of a solar inverter?

String inverters can last five to 10 years before needing replacement. Microinverters offer longer life spans of 25 years or longer. 

Our Rating Methodology

We are committed to providing comprehensive and unbiased reviews to our readers. After over a thousand hours of research on solar companies, interviews with experts, and common customer needs, we’ve created a detailed rating system for solar providers based on six factors:

  • Solar equipment, installation, and services (25%)
  • Warranty and performance guarantees (25%)
  • Brand reputation and certifications (15%)
  • Financing options (15%)
  • Experience (10%)
  • Availability (10%)

Total scores are divided by 20 for a final 5-point rating scale.

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