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AC solar panels, what you need to know

Alternating current (AC) solar panels are a new innovative solar panel technology meant to simplify the installation process and components that go into a solar energy system. These solar panels bring a whole host of benefits which can also help reduce the cost of your solar energy system installation and added functionality to your system.

What are AC solar panels?

AC solar panels are also called AC modules or even “plug and play” modules. Are solar panels that have integrated inverters installed. These inverters are micro-inverters, which directly convert the DC electricity that is produced by the solar panel, into AC electricity that your home uses. Inverters are a key component of a solar energy system installation. A typical solar energy system will utilize a centralized inverter that converts all of the DC electricity from a string of solar panels into AC electricity.

Micro-inverters can be installed in a solar energy system as another component. Manufacturers and distributors are including them with the solar panels by attaching them to the back of the solar panel. This provides many benefits both for the installation, and the operation of your solar energy system.

What are the Benefits of AC solar panels?

Easier panel installations

A great benefit of AC solar panels is how easy they are to install compared to regular solar panels. Because AC solar panels have the inverter as part of the unit, this means fewer components are needed to be moved around, installed, and connected. This also cuts down on the amount of wiring and management work done for your solar energy system. A system with a centralized inverter will require plenty of wiring and management to ensure each solar panel is properly connected, and fit securely in place to be protected from the elements. AC solar panels minimize the amount of wiring work, with their “plug and play” style of installation. This results in easier installations and cuts down the total installation time for your system.

Individual panel performance and monitoring

With AC solar panels, the output of each solar panel won’t affect the entirety of your solar panel array and system. In a centralized inverter system, all of the connected panels will produce the same amount of power as the weakest panel in that string. This means that one solar panel that suffers from shading or issues, can affect the energy output of your whole system.

The micro-inverters that come with AC solar panels allow each unit to be independent and unaffected by the performance of its neighboring panels. This ensures each panel is performing at its best no matter its condition. Reducing the effects of shading and other issues that can reduce your system’s energy output. For example, if some of the solar panels in your system are being shaded by trees or another object, only the shaded panels will suffer from reduced performance.

With the inverter as part of the solar panel, they can also maximize the performance of the solar panel through maximum power point tracking (MPPT). This can increase your system’s power generation by 5% to 10%.

You will also be able to monitor the performance of each solar panel with the micro inverters. This means that you can gauge the performance of your system down to each solar panel, and troubleshoot poorly performing solar panels. You can find and solve any performance issues in your system much quicker.

Suitable for Complex Installations

If your solar energy system has a complex layout, AC solar panels are a suitable choice for these types of installations. One problem with complex solar energy installations is orienting the solar panels to work efficiently with the centralized inverter. As centralized inverter systems are tied to the lowest-performing solar panel in a string.

If your system’s design requires solar panels in different orientations to generate enough electricity, separate inverters will be needed for each string of solar panels. This is to keep each string of solar panels running efficiently, and unaffected by the conditions of the other panels in different orientations.

AC solar panels perform at an individual level and have their inverters. This reduces the complexity of the installation work and design of the system. The solar panels can be installed and oriented in whichever way to produce enough power for the home, and maintain a clean look.

Warranties

Adding on additional panels to your system may not be eligible for incentives like tax credits and rebates. This is because incentives tend to be valid for the original installation for your solar energy system and can only be claimed once whether for your property or per person. Meanwhile, Performance-based incentives (PBIs) can be affected by getting a new inverter and having a re-file for interconnection. They can also vary as they are relative to the performance of your solar energy system. When installing a system, we run our customers through the incentives they can take advantage of when installing their solar energy system.

Downsides of AC solar panels

Cost

AC solar panels provide plenty of benefits, and this comes at a higher cost compared to their standard DC counterparts. This also extends to a full system, as a DC string inverter system will be cheaper when compared to an AC solar panel system

Exposure to elements

One issue with AC solar panels is that the inverter is exposed to the elements along with the solar panel. This means that they are at risk of being damaged by the weather. While micro-inverters are designed and made for this kind of exposure, they are at more risk compared to string inverters that are sheltered inside your home.

The difficulty of maintenance and repairs

This downside of AC solar panels also involves added labor and cost. If the inverter on an AC solar panel fails, a technician will need to go up to your solar panels, find the faulty inverter or panel, and remove it. This is more tedious when compared to a centralized inverter, where the repair or replacement can be done without having to go onto your roof.

Are AC solar panels worth it?

It’s worth noting that each person’s needs and wants are different, especially when it comes to solar energy. You may find the benefits of AC solar panels to be worth the added cost when compared to a regular DC panel string inverter system. Another choice may involve using micro-inverters with DC solar panels. You may even decide to stick with the lower-cost string inverter system as the benefits of AC solar panels aren’t worth it. The choice will be up to you, and if you are still unsure what’s best for you, we are here to help.

Get started with solar energy today

If you are looking to start your transition to solar energy, we are here to help. Our website also has a free online estimate tool that generates a personalized report for you from a simplified questionnaire. That report will contain the potential savings you can net, and the cost of a solar energy system installed on your property. You can also contact us directly via phone at +1 (602) 363-8919 or via email at Scott@elitesolarenergy.org for more information regarding solar energy for your property.