In our never-ending quest to find unusual topics in the Solar world to interest and entertain our bloggin’ public, we bring you the most unlikely and far-fetched idea that we could think of … a failed inverter. At least, that’s what we thought just a few weeks ago before reports started coming in of smoke and sparks from the same inverters that we felt were previously indestructible. (Don’t worry, they weren’t SkyPower customers.) Granted, it was not all of the inverters, rather five reports which came from Xantrex, which is otherwise a very good company. So if it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.
Inverters change electricity from direct current (solar panels) to alternating current (residential power grid) using a combination of modern computer switching and somewhat dated induction technologies. The older tech in these things placed a lot of the work on capacitors, big ones to make the change. Capacitors are one of the few electronic components that actually have moving parts and wear out.
Before we start in on all the bad things that could happen, let’s take a moment to tell you what actually did happen. If the inverters are not quite right for the application, they fall apart. Sometimes they “pop” and sometimes they “smoke.” In this case, they did both Out of the thousands that were placed into service, only five machines were known to have problems, which is clearly a best case scenario of “What could possibly go wrong?”
Underperformance is on the list of bad stuff that could happen. Is it the worst? You might not see it and it robs you of cash a little at a time. It could be years before you notice it … if ever. We’re not talking about design flaws or construction inefficiencies. We’ll assume that a good solar guy does it right. This is about crappy pieces of electrical stuff in the box, or good stuff that goes bad before it’s time. If the inverter gets progeria, you’re not going to get all the power you have paid for.
On a more cataclysmic note, your inverter’s computer side could have a stroke and stop talking altogether. No computer, no sensing the grid. No grid phase to match, no power to your house… even if the solar panels are happy and cranking out power like crazy. If the computer in your inverter takes a dive, all of that power will be lost. That’s why we put all those fat copper wires around everything. It routes the power to the safety of the ground if something bad like this happens.
If your inverter was installed on the south or southwest side of your house, it could be cooking itself to death. (Dumb duh-dumb dumb.) A slow simmer or a quicker boil, either way – no juice! An early doom for the inverter ends up meaning more cost for you.
Now, let’s turn to the really stupid. Inverters are heavy. In the future, they will probably be lighter, but for today, they weigh a lot. Your inverter should have a mounting board behind it. We’ll stop here for a moment and let you go out and check… Ok, are you back now? Did you see the mounting board? It’s there to distribute the weight of the thing across more than one of the 2×4’s holding up your house. Otherwise, it could literally fall of the wall. Count the screws — there should be BIG screws, and lots of them. Again, too few and kaboom! Maybe not today, but we’re counting on ten or fifteen years.
The last thing you’d think could go wrong with your inverter is someone taking it. But alas, if your installer put the inverter on the outside of your house, there’s a good chance this would eventually happen. Crooks are often stealing copper wire from empty houses. Once they start to realize what inverters are and what they’re worth, they will find yours. Imagine leaving a wide-screen TV outside 24/7 and you’ll get the idea. Oh, well. That’s what insurance is for. But if your inverter is in the garage, you don’t have to worry about that.
So you see, not much bad stuff that happens with inverters, and nothing that can’t be dealt with and fixed. But we need to handle the dumb stuff up front, and do what we can for the rest. Fuses do blow and inverters do occasionally stop working. With SkyPower systems, we include web monitoring of your productivity levels – so, if your inverter does stop, we’ll see it on the computers at SkyPower Central. Pretty cool! In the in end, your inverter isn’t going to give you much to worry about.
If you have any questions, please call Jay Leopold at 480-290-2040 or email Jay at email@example.com.
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