Even if you have the best electric car on the market, you still have to charge the battery. Harnessing the power of the sun is the next great innovation that can keep you driving without having to pay for the fuel while even powering your home. Taking advantage of solar panel optimization technology has never been easier.
While it is nice to get solar panels for your home, a solar panel optimizer is an ideal add-on. Optimizing your solar panels on the individual level is an excellent investment. Optimizers allow better function, maintenance, and monitoring of individual panels and the entire system to harvest maximum energy.
You don’t have to face the fact that your solar panel is not as efficient as it could be. Instead, a solar panel optimizer delivers conditioned DC energy to the inverter for maximum energy intake from the sun. Read on for all you need to know about upgrading your solar panels to include a solar panel optimizer.
What is a Solar Panel Optimizer?
You’ve probably heard the term solar panel optimizer thrown around in Tesla forums and solar panel stores. If you have listened to the hype and don’t yet believe it, get ready to believe. Solar panel optimizers are a technology that helps your original solar panels harness the energy of the sun much more efficiently.
When you decide on installing solar panel optimizers, the unit is fitted to the module as a DC-to-DC converter. The solar panel optimizer is connected to the module, creating what some industries deem a “smart module.”
This smart module helps out the inverter. The inverter works to transform the raw energy from the sun as DC into usable AC power. Some may say that the inverter is an essential part of your solar power collection, next to the solar panels themselves.
The solar panel optimizer increases the conversion rate from DC to DC by supporting the inverter, making the final conversion from energy to usable power. In essence, the solar panel optimizer makes sure that you are getting the most out of your inverter.
Why Solar Panels Lose Power
Solar panel systems are increasingly more popular all around the world. Harnessing the sun’s power for your electricity needs is not only financially smart, but it is ecologically friendly, as well. However, inefficient systems of solar panel technology are wasteful. Utilizing every kWh of energy is vital in supporting your decision to go solar.
One of the most inefficient ways that solar panels lose power is through mismatching. Mismatching means that a solar panel cell’s electrical dimensions are vastly different from the cells connected to them. Module mismatching is devastating for the efficiency of your solar panel. Suppose one solar panel is affected by environmental conditions like shade. All other modules connected on the string of modules and solar panels lose efficiency, as well.
Up to ten percent of the energy captured by your solar panels escapes because of mismatched modules for the solar panels. The loss of ten percent in a green energy system like solar is a huge problem. Luckily, there is a reasonably easy solution. Before adjusting the mismatch, let’s look at some of the most common reasons for a mismatch in solar panels and modules.
- Mismatch because of solar panel orientation: When solar panels are on the roof of your home, they can be blocked by things like trees, chimneys, or other parts of the environment. You might install modules on solar panels with varying degrees and angles, causing them inefficiencies.
- Mismatch because the module fails: A failing module happens inevitably because of things like getting dirty, mechanical breakage, old age, and failed bypass diodes.
- Mismatch because of weather: When the weather varies, it causes a mismatch at the module’s site. Clouds that obscure the sun affect the efficiency of the module, as well as too high temperatures. Both of these factors affect the overall efficiency of the module on a string system.
- Mismatch because of differing power output: High-quality modules are usually a uniform output, but even they are prone to defects and differences of output levels. Some companies, such as CanadianSolar, report power tolerance differences between 0 and 5W. Some companies report more. Any variance between solar panels on a string system without an optimizer will affect the entire string’s efficiency.
Solar panels that lose power are losing you money. Optimizers and their monitoring systems help you find out what environmental or design flaws your solar panels are suffering from and help you identify solutions for maximizing your system’s energy creation.
Benefits of Solar Panel Optimizers
Power optimizers are known as module-level power electronics. They are attached to the module’s site and affect the conversion rate’s efficiency for conditioning DC energy to usable AC power. While it may be an added cost, solar panel optimizers are a great purchase and can add value to your system in many ways.
- Better Safety: Modules hooked up to power optimizers contain automatic shutdown mechanisms that protect the whole system from extreme weather, blackouts, disconnection, and other dangers.
- Better Energy Capture: One of the best things about solar panel optimizers is that your solar panels become more efficient. The optimizer monitors and conditions the energy the solar panel captures and converts it to useable energy at the source instead of transporting it first through wires to the inverter.
- Easier for Maintenance: When installing a solar panel optimizer, you make maintenance on the module much more straightforward. Once installed, there is no electrical reason to remove the module for maintenance.
- Saves Owner’s Money: The higher yield of solar energy captured and converted into usable AC power lowers solar panel owners’ overall energy bills with power optimizers.
- System Monitoring: Since you connect the module to the optimizer, you have access to monitoring the system as a whole. This monitoring through the solar panel optimizer reduces maintenance costs and needs. It keeps your solar panels working longer and harder.
Solar panel optimizers condition the energy from the solar panel for maximum efficiency. The efficiency comes from the on-site transition of solar energy into usable energy. Optimizers also make your entire system maintenance and monitoring much more efficient and effective. The data systems that come with optimizers are state of the art and show how each solar panel functions.
(Source: Alt Energy Mag)
When to Use Solar Panel Optimizers
There are many situations when solar panel optimizers are the only way of producing efficient electrical energy from the sun. However, optimizers are ideal even in cases that are difficult for traditional solar panels to function. The versatility of solar panel optimizers comes from monitoring individual solar panel energy intake and maintenance needs.
Even though optimizers are an option for any situation, they are ideal for environments with low light or if solar panels need to be angled in different directions at the same time. The varying energy that comes into the solar panels is a problem for a set of solar panels that you only monitor as a system.
But, when the solar panels have optimizers, the energy is conditioned more uniformly, providing the system with an even flow that can be monitored more closely.
You also get better energy monitoring for use with appliances and electric vehicles in your home. Some of the best name brand solar panel optimizers come with monitoring platforms. These monitoring platforms offer intuitive technology that directs energy to the appliances where it is needed most. Channeling your energy where it is needed is another efficient feature. This feature is beneficial if you own an electric vehicle that you charge at home.
(Source: Energy Sage)
Solar Panel Optimizers and Microinverters
The inverters on a power system convert the raw energy into usable AC power. Usually, one of these is on a power system where all solar panels feed the raw energy. With optimizers, that energy is conditioned so that the solar panels produce the maximum efficiency and feed the most significant amount of raw energy to the one inverter.
However, the other option that many solar panel owners decide on is installing microinverters on every solar panel instead of optimizers on every solar panel to capture the last efficiency before it travels to the central system inverter.
Suppose you are in the market to increase the efficiency of your solar panels. In that case, you will need to choose between microinverters and solar panel optimizers. Both of these additions to your solar panels will undoubtedly help with energy collection efficiency. However, only optimizers affect how solar panels transmit that energy into the inverter as usable energy by conditioning that energy into usable power at the source.
The following comparison shows how microinverters and optimizers function similarly. The comparison also details the glaring differences between the two. If you have only looked at microinverters’ price point compared to optimizers, you miss a lot. Read on to find out more about each of these energy and money saving options for your solar panels.
Differences Between Solar Panel Optimizers and Microinverters
There are several main differences between solar panel optimizers and microinverters. Before you decide to go with one or the other, you need to know how each function differently. Even though both make your solar panel system more efficient, they each do so in many different ways.
Solar Panel Optimizers: Condition the raw energy from each of your solar panels by isolating the power and then feed it to the central inverter. Optimizers tend to be more expensive. However, optimizers are much more efficient than microinverters. They are less costly over the life of your solar panels.
Microinverters: Mini inverters for each solar panel that convert the raw energy from the sun and the solar panel directly into usable AC power, eliminating the need to string the energy along to the mains system inverter.
(Source: Solar Electric Supply Inc.)
Similarities Between Solar Panel Optimizers and Microinverters
Even with the significant differences in how each function makes solar panels more efficient, solar panel optimizers and micro inverters have many similarities. These similarities are broad but show that each product is used for the same purpose: to make your solar panel system more efficient. However, only optimizers make the system efficient by conditioning energy.
When you buy either an optimizer or microinverter, they:
- Are more accessible for permits to work on solar panels
- Require fewer wires and cost to set up the solar panel system
- Give your current solar panels better performance in areas that are not as bright or angled away from the sun.
- Allow each solar panel monitoring and maintenance care
- Make your entire solar energy system more efficient
(Source: Unbound Solar)
Pros and Cons of Solar Panel Optimizers
The benefits of a solar panel optimizer far outweigh the downside. However, any consumer with a solar panel array knows that the investment is worth the research you spend on it. Microinverters might be less expensive. However, it would be best to have each microinverters and optimizers’ pros and cons for complete understanding.
- More system flexibility and more comfortable to do maintenance
- It makes it possible to install solar panels in shaded spaces.
- It gives owners the ability to split strings across all of the usable space on the roof of their house.
- Get the most efficiency out of each solar panel, not just the system as a whole
- Gives you the individual maintenance report on each solar panel allowing quick maintenance, monitoring, repair, placement, and reconfiguration
- Spot defects in your solar panel array more easily
- Costs nearly twice as much as microinverters
- Can require a lot installation costs and effort to previously installed units
As you can see, the benefits far outweigh the downsides. Even if you use microinverters, you won’t get the same energy production from solar panels in shaded areas or spread out over strings.
The Best Solar Panel Optimizers
When it comes to the best solar panel optimizers, there are two prominent companies you need information about. Once you look at each of these companies’ backgrounds, you will be ready to decide and look at your specific needs’ various optimizer options.
In the solar panel optimizer world, the two largest and most reputable name brands are SolarEdge and Tigo. Each of these brands makes quality products for solar panel power optimization. However, the overall focus of each company is a little bit different.
SolarEdge is a company that uses its universal, one-size-fits-all design to help consumers monitor all of their solar panels and entire solar panel system with ease.
Tigo offers customized options for your solar panel optimizers. They even integrate algorithms into the technology that use your real-time data. This data about obstructions, weather, and other environmental conditions predict how to serve your power creation needs and specifications best.
One of the worldwide leaders of solar panel optimizers, SolarEdge is an Israeli based company. All of your solar panel optimizer solutions are available from this company. Their optimizers’ technology is called Prism technology. Prism is one of the most versatile optimizers on the market.
The added benefit of SolarEdge is its focus on charging electric vehicles. The company stands by its dedication to never leave you in the dark with home backups for your energy and charging needs. The design is already made to work with electric vehicles so you can drive on all-sunshine power.
The systems that SolarEdge provides are intuitive and offer easy to monitor optimizers that maximize power efficiency, so your energy bills are always at their lowest. The whole point, after all, is to bring down that bill.
The SolarEdge app is one of the sweetest features of working with this solar panel optimizer company. Take the peace of mind knowing your home and car are fully energized with you in your pocket that you can check at any time during the day.
(Source: Energy Sage)
The optimizers from Tigo Energy are versatile and easy to combine with other inverter products and brands. The Silicon Valley company is large enough to scale up production as one of the leading providers of solar panel optimizers in the world since 2014.
The company is a leading provider and expert in semiconductors, power, communications, and solar panels. Their claim to fame is creating the first-ever Smart Module Optimizer that allows for seamless integration and monitoring of each solar panel up to the minute.
Tigo has partnered with several inverter manufacturers and aims to provide power to consumers, which brings the costs of solar power lower.
(Source: Energy Sage)
SolarEdge vs. Tigo Energy: Comparison of Solar Panel Optimizers
Since about 20% of the energy captured on a traditional solar panel is lost, it is essential to consider solar panel optimizers as an efficient option. Although buying solar panel optimizers are very expensive upfront, they save you money in the long run. So, choosing the right company with the ideal product for your purposes is essential.
Now that you know the two top companies that provide solar panel optimizers, you need to decide which best fits your needs. Each of these companies offers quality solar panel optimizers. However, there are some differences you need details about so your decision makes sense for your home and situation.
The system that SolarEdge offers includes modules connected to the optimizers. The solar panel optimizers from SolarEdge track and monitor the energy production for every module.
The inverters that go along with the SolarEdge system are less expensive than traditional string systems. You get a whole system that is less expensive and more efficient.
You also get a twenty-five-year warranty on all solar panel optimizers from SolarEdge. That means that they will service or replace any solar panel optimizer within that time frame. You get twenty-five years of free monitoring service with their easy to use the app along with the warranty. Keep track of your energy usage and monitor deficiencies even from your phone.
SolarEdge provides high-quality optimizers that create a more efficient solar panel system. They are also known for installing their monitoring technology, which acts as a management platform. This management platform helps you control the power of things like your electric vehicle or appliances in your home.
The best part about Tigo is that this American company based out of Silicon Valley offers simplicity and flexibility in a very efficient package. Tigo’s technology focuses on controlling the power you generate from your solar panels in the palm of your hand. The predictive technology works with you with alerts and settings that are optimal for any impedance.
As the consumer, you customize how and when optimizers on your solar panels work. The technology is called Tigo Selective Deployment, and it operates independently from the inverters. You control every solar panel for the angle and light needs that come up from the environment.
Another customizable feature is to connect Tigo optimizers without the monitoring system. The system can run with the simple TS4-A-O optimizers and nothing else. However, if you require monitoring, other equipment hookups need to take place.
How Tigo’s Monitoring Works
Monitoring the modules and optimizers and taking advantage of Tigo’s predictive technology requires installing several infrastructure pieces.
- First, you need a TAP Tigo Access Point which communicates from the modules to the Data Logger.
- Then, you need the Smart Modules, called TS4, attached to the solar panels.
- Finally, it would be best to have the Cloud Connect Advanced Data Logger. The logger is a cloud device that is connected to your solar panel system wirelessly. It keeps track of all of your solar panel data on a virtual cloud. It uses the information to make informed and predictive decisions on optimizing your energy creation.
- The whole system is connected with an RS-485 communication cable.
- The Modules and Data Logger have twenty-five-year warranties, while the Access Point has a five-year warranty.
How to Install Solar Panel Optimizers
Choosing the brand and number of optimizers you want is the easy part. You can also install the solar panel optimizers yourself with our step-by-step instructions below.
Installing solar panel optimizers are generally universal. If you live in North America, you need to ground each of the optimizers with a grounding conductor and wire, as seen in step 4. If you live anywhere else in the world, you do not need to ground your optimizers.
Installing the solar panel optimizers on each solar panel is much easier if the panels are in a safe location on the ground. However, suppose you are willing to climb the roof of your home and complete the install of your new solar panel optimizers. In that case, these steps will help you get it done properly and safely.
- Decide on where the optimizer for each solar panel will be attached to the racking.
- Attach the power optimizer to the solar panel racking with mounting brackets; this requires drilling, so measure distances carefully (Do not drill through the optimizer or the mounting holes; vibrations from the drill will damage the optimizer and void the warranty)
- Using 5/16 inch or 1/4 inch screws and washers, attach the power optimizer to the rack.
- Ground the power optimizer with a star washer. Star washers cut into the coating and give a low resistive connection for the grounding wire. Connect an equipment grounding conductor wire to the grounding conductor. Next, connect the frame and grounding conductor by tightening the screws. It would be best if you had a torque wrench and tighten by 7lb/ft.
- Make sure that each of the power optimizers is attached securely to the frame of the panel.
- Connect each power optimizer to each of the modules on that solar panel; connect the string of modules by connecting the (-) output connector of the first power optimizer on the string to the (+) output connector of the next power optimizer. Connect all power optimizers in the string in the same fashion
- Make sure the sting polarity is correct; measure the string polarity by using a voltmeter.
(Source: Grid Alternatives)
Solar panel optimizers are more expensive than installing inverters or microinverters on each solar panel. The price is a deterrent for many solar panel owners. However, what you save in energy efficiency makes up for the high cost. You also get the benefit of system monitoring platforms. These platforms show you exactly how well your solar panels produce electricity and when there are any concerns with your panels.
The two prominent companies that produce solar panel optimizers are both of high quality. However, suppose you are looking for a more customizable optimizer system. In that case, the Tigo brand might be a better choice for you. Overall, you can’t go wrong with solar panel optimizers, and they are worth installing on your solar panel system.