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Power inverter

A power inverter, or inverter, is an electronic device or circuitry that changes direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC).  The input voltage, output voltage and frequency, and overall power handling depend on the design of the specific device or circuitry. The inverter does not produce any power; the power is provided by the DC source.


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Buying a Power Inverter - What You Need to Know to Get the Right Inverter


It might be tempting to buy a cheap power inverter, and on the face of it well it might even seem like I good idea, but if you are not careful it can quite often end up costing you more. Instead of learning the hard way here are a few things to look out for which could save you money, time and a whole lot of hassle, and a few things to consider which will help you make the right power inverter choice.


First and foremost do you really need a power inverter? If you are just interested in running your laptop from your car when you are out and about and don't have access to a power point for example, then you are probably better off just getting a car laptop power supply as not only are these specifically designed for what you are wanting to do but also saves you having to worry about making sure you pick the right inverter for the job. On top of that they are usually around the same price as a good quality inverter so if that is all you are going to use it for then maybe have a look at what is available for your laptops make and model.


Ok, now that we have that out the way we are going to assume that a power inverter is what you want/need and so we are going to cover the main things you need to think about before clicking the buy button on a cheap and dirty power inverter. Before I go any further I just want to point out that when I say cheap I am referring to build quality, not necessarily price. While it is true you usually get what you pay for there are some very good quality power inverters out there without the hefty price tag if you do a little shopping around.


The main choice you will have to make is how high a quality power source you will need. There are two types of inverters: modified sine wave and true sine wave power inverters. Each inverter type has their pros and cons and what you end up choosing will come down to cost and the type of equipment you want to power.


You can pick up a cheap modified wave power inverter which will create a fairly choppy AC power source for a lot less than the cost of a true sine wave inverter that will replicate your homes power supply almost perfectly so it is worth having a quick think about what you want to run from it as for some appliances a cheap modified wave power inverter will do the job just fine, and save you having to fork out the extra bucks.


Having said that you will want to run a lot of electrical equipment from a high quality power source so a true sine wave power inverter is really your only option for those devices as otherwise chances are you will run into problems one way or another at some point down the track and you might even cause some serious and even irreversible damage to very sensitive equipment so it is worth making sure you pick the right inverter for the job.


Inverters - What's New for AC-DC?


The role of the inverter is often overlooked in a photovoltaic system. Kept inside in the attic or in a closet, it is not the most visible part of a system but it performs a critical role and makes up large component of the equipment costs. The inverter is the hub that converts the direct current produced by the solar panels into alternating current suitable for the UK grid.


In a typical residential photovoltaic system, solar panels are connected in a 'string,' which means they are connected together in series so that the voltage of each module adds up. The positive and negative ends of the string are connected to the inverter which then does two main things:


Firstly, the inverter applies the optimum voltage across all the solar panels in the string. In order to extract the maximum energy from a solar panel you need to apply to certain voltage across it. The easy way to understand this is by remembering that power equals current times voltage. Current will still flow out of the solar panel if there is no voltage across it, but it won't be able to provide energy. If too much voltage is applied to the solar panel then you lose current coming out of the solar panel, so the optimum voltage is somewhere in between. It is the inverter's job to keep the solar panels at this optimum voltage. This is quite tricky since the optimum voltage changes with the temperature of the solar panels. To cope with this there is a special algorithm built into the inverter called 'maximum power point tracking', which makes continual adjustments to the voltage to ensure the most energy is got out of the system.


The second important job of the inverter is to convert the direct current produced by the solar panels into alternating current suitable for the mains electricity grid. In the UK, the mains frequency is 50Hz so the inverter must make sure that the electricity it supplies is matched to this frequency so that it can be used by other appliances in your house or be sold to your energy supplier.


Inverters are very common, for example your laptop charger uses an inverter to convert mains 50Hz electricity into direct current for your computer (this partly explains why laptop chargers are so expensive though I still think it's a rip-off), and there are some very good solar inverters already out there. The largest manufacturer of solar inverters is called SMA, which enjoys a +30% market share worldwide (their line of residential solar inverters is called the 'SunnyBoy'). Other big manufacturers are Kaco, Xantrex, Danfoss and Mastervolt to name a few. These inverters work well, so what are the developments on the horizon that make inverters interesting?


One issue is efficiency. Most commercial inverters are around 97% efficient, which is pretty good, but it still means that you lose 3% of all the energy you produce converting it from DC to AC. Increasing efficiency to 99% would increase the return on investment of your solar system and give a real competitive advantage. Several manufacturers claim to be close to offering new, super-high efficiency products.