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Are Solar Optimizers Worth Money?

Compared to traditional inverters, solar optimizers produce 2-8% more energy when wired to conventional solar panels. This translates to a significant increase in output power, which consequently renders them worth the money invested.

Despite this, solar optimizers are more beneficial for some solar power projects compared to others.

If you have a complex roof with a lot of shading, solar optimization is definitely worth the expense–it will increase solar energy production by countering the effect of shading on power production.

Conversely, if you have a simple roof with no shading issues, you should get as much out of a solar inverter and a conventional MPPT solution.

The problem is, shading is often unpredictable in solar PV systems. A shading problem may not be evident until you assess the solar output trend. So, it’s up to you to determine whether solar optimization is worth your money.

In this article, we’ll go over the topic of solar optimizers and help you understand why and when they’re worth the investment.

What are Solar Optimizers?

Solar optimizers are smart devices that perform the task of maximizing solar energy output from PV modules. They optimize solar power production losses by mitigating solar panel mismatch losses.

They’re like a hybrid between string and micro-inverters or, in other words, a maximum power point tracker for each module.

There’s so much that goes into designing optimal solar PV systems- from matching the output of the solar modules to determining the correct number of strings and string components. With power optimizers, you can easily do the following:

  • Maintain a string’s voltage in the required range
  • Install different string lengths
  • Do module-level monitoring
  • Determine multiple solar panel orientations
  • Use various tilts and module configuration
  • Detect faults in the solar system

How do Solar Power Optimizers Work?

For maximum solar power production, your solar panels need to follow all the solar radiation basics, including being placed in shade-free spots.

When installing your solar system, you may think you’ve scored in determining a perfect area with a 100% clear view of the sky, only to find out later that some modules are shaded.

This can be due to:

  • Telephone lines
  • Overgrown trees
  • New buildings in the area.

When some solar panels are shaded, their efficiency reduces significantly, and this can translate to a low overall output. Additionally, in a shaded situation, the inverter reduces the current instead of operating at a low voltage.

A solar optimizer comes in to ramp up this current while preventing the solar inverter to go off. The result is a system that produces high power (despite the shading).

Note: Solar optimizers don’t rectify the underperforming shaded areas. Instead, they make the remaining area (un-shaded area) run at a higher current thus producing more power.

With a solar optimizer wired to every solar panel in your solar PV system, shading is never a threat to production efficiency even if it occurs.

Additional ways solar optimizers work

Counter the effects of aging solar panels

Like any other electronic equipment, solar panels age and their efficiency reduce with time. The efficiency reduction is definitely not similar for all solar panels so; the indifferences may have a huge impact on the overall performance of the system.

Solar optimizers come to your rescue as they improve the performance of individual solar panels, thus reducing significant overall performance problems.

Eliminates manufacturer module mismatches

Solar panel manufacturers try their best to produce similar operating modules for a certain production range. Even so, there may still be some inconsistencies between the panels, especially when combining monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.

Increases fire safety

For fire safety, solar optimizers are integrated with an automatic DC voltage shut-down system. The integration should cut voltage flow whenever the inverter shuts down.

Makes monitoring modules a breeze

A solar optimizer is a perfect component you need to be connected to your solar panels for easier solar monitoring. And it’s not just standard monitoring with solar optimizers, it’s advanced, real-time performance monitoring.

What’s more, the individual-panel monitoring of solar panels is way much effective in regulating the maximum power point of each module compared to inverter solutions.

Solar Optimizers vs. Solar Inverters

Here is a comparison table of solar optimizers, microinverters, and string inverters:

ComponentKind of connectionDC-AC conversionCostPerformanceRunning DC voltage
Micro
inverters
Connected to each solar panelConvert DC to AC$0.56-$0.66 per wattBest performanceOperate at low DC voltage
Solar optimizersConnected to solar panels individuallyDon’t convert DC to AC$0.4-$0.55 per wattPerformance close to that of microinvertersOperate at low DC voltage
String invertersServes all solar panelsConvert DC to AC10% lower cost than optimizer and inverters solution
Standard performance but more suitable for high power systemsOperate at high DC voltages

Summary:

  • Solar optimizers give the advantage of microinverters while utilizing a more efficient technology.
  • Even with a solar optimizer wired on each solar panel, there’s still need to install a string inverter somewhere on the wall.
  • Solar optimizers beat string inverter solutions mainly because they’re very close to the solar modules. This means that they capture most if not all the power coming from the solar panels.
  • A solar PV system with optimizers costs 10% more than a string inverter, and roughly the same as a micro-inverter system.

Assessment of Investment Worthiness for Solar Optimization

Solar optimizers may seem like an unnecessary cost for a solar PV system. In the long run, though, they’re a worthy investment for anyone who suspects that some of their solar panels are underperforming.

Usually, if a module production is low, say due to shading, its low efficiency may affect the output production of the entire system.

With a component automatically monitoring and adjusting each solar panel’s peak efficiency and output efficiency, you get the most out of your entire solar PV system. These benefits make investing in solar optimization worth your money.

Solar optimizers outperform most inverter solutions in terms of increasing solar energy production. Solar Edge optimizers, for example, lead up to an 8% energy production increase compared to traditional solar inverters.

This adds to the investment worthiness of solar optimization.

Fundamentally, it makes sense to install solar optimizers in the following situations:

  • A complex roof structure, regardless of whether there is shading or not.
  • A simple roof with some shaded solar panels
  • An aging PV system with lower power output than expected

As a general rule, deciding whether a solar component is worth your money or not depends on the situation it serves better and how that relates to your needs.

A solar optimizer is your go-to solution, primarily when your solar PV system suffers from shading.

Solar Optimizers Buying Guide

Before purchasing a solar optimizer, keep these top factors in mind:

Safety and shutdown codes compliance

Almost every country has safety and shutdown codes meant to protect first responders in case of an emergency. In the US, the shutdown requirements for solar PV systems are covered in Section 690.12 of the 2020 National Electrical Code.

Before trusting a brand for a solar optimizer solution, ensure that it complies with the relevant safety and shutdown codes.

Outdoor compatibility

Just like for modules, solar optimizers should be built for the harshest environmental conditions. So before you settle for a solar optimizer, make sure you check the box for this one.

Adaptability

As seen from the inverter design table, not all solar optimizers are compatible with every solar inverter. So, if you want to convert the DC power from the module-optimizer setup, ensure that the latter is compatible with your inverter.

Manufacturer

The following table highlights some of the best solar power optimizer brands in the market with some crucial information you need to know about them:

Solar optimizer typeInverter compatibilitySolar panels compatibilityEfficiencyCost
SolarEdgeCompatible with SolarEdge power inverters onlyCompatible with c-Si, thin-film, and high current modules98.9-99.5%$55.04-$84.32
TIGOCompatible with all invertersCompatible with all inverters99.6%$48.02
POWERTURE DCCompatible with all invertersCompatible with 250-330W solar panels98.9-99.5% peak efficiency$13.55

Installing Solar Optimizers

Solar optimizers are so simple to connect to the output of solar panels. We’ve seen industrial leaders such as solarEdge do collaborations to produce plug-and-play solar optimizers.

Essentially, most solar optimizers come pre-assembled with connectors that you can easily snap into all your solar panels and get started with power optimization right away.

If you’re looking for an elaborate solar optimizers installation procedure, here’s one for you:

  • Install racks for the solar panels in the conventional way.
  • Start with grounding the solar optimizer. A star washer installed between the optimizers and the rack is suitable for this. Lock it in place with a single bolt.
  • Wire the solar optimizers together using their male-female connector cables.
  • Lastly, connect the short cables from the solar optimizers to the MC4 connector cables from your solar modules as you install them on the racks.

Solar Optimizers Lifespan

The average lifespan of solar optimizers is 25-30 years. Considering that this is the standard lifespan of most solar panels, it directly qualifies these components as a worthy investment in the long run.

The best part is, solar optimizers have the capability to increase the longevity of the inverter wired to the solar inverter– in the unlikely event that there’re system faults in the setup, the existing current is maintained by the solar optimizer, thus eliminating huge adjustments on the inverter’s side.

This way, the inverter ends up serving you for an extended period.

Point to note: 25-30 is the warranty period you should get for a perfect solar optimizer in the market.

Are Solar Optimizers Safe to Use?

Solar optimizers are safe components thanks to their integration with a safe DC function. They work hand in hand with the inverter to step down the voltage in emergencies making the entire system even safer.

You can make the solar optimizers safer by grounding them. Follow the grounding regulations in your area or consult with your solar technician about how to do it.

Pros of Solar Optimizers

Lowers the maintenance costs

With the optimizers always there to detect anomalies, it becomes easy to work around the problems before detrimental effects occur to the solar modules.

Higher power production

Power production is considerably higher for optimized solar panels than for non-optimized solar panels. This is the primary reason why solar optimizers are worth your money.

Less downtime compared to micro-inverter solutions

The DC production of a solar panel does not stop when one of the connected solar optimizers fails. In contrast, no power comes from a solar panel when its microinverter is faulty.

Monitoring of every solar panel

Solar optimizers make every solar panel independent, thus making it possible for individual monitoring. Consequently, tuning every solar panel in the setup reduces overall power losses.

Cons of Solar Optimizers

High installation cost compared to string inverters

Despite having an almost similar price to microinverters, solar optimizers have a higher installation cost than string inverters.

The average price of a solar optimizer is $50, so it’s no surprise to find that the installation cost for a typical PV module setup is several hundred dollars.

No DC to AC conversion

While solar optimizers will amplify the production of your solar panels, they’ll not convert DC to AC power.

Limited use

Some solar optimizers need to be matched with specific solar panels and/or solar inverters. Therefore, it’s not always straightforward to pick the ideal solar optimizer for your PV system.

Build an Energy Intelligence Solar PV system with Solar Optimizers

If you want to get the most out of your solar panels, you should configure them to function independently with solar optimizers.

You’ll build an energy-intelligent system that’ll be worth every single penny you spend. As mentioned at the start, though, you can as well stick to solar inverters if your solar system performs as expected.

Despite their short existence in solar power production scope, solar optimizers already offer significant potential for maximizing the power output of solar PV systems. And we can only expect this technology to get more advanced in the future.