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Detailed reviews and information of the best solar panels, inverters and batteries. Plus hybrid and off-grid solar system reviews and information articles on how solar and battery systems work.

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Reviews and information of the best Solar panels and inverters from SMA, Fronius, SunPower, SolaX, Q Cells, Trina, Jinko, Selectronic, Tesla Powerwall, ABB. Plus hybrid inverters, battery sizing, Lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries, off-grid and on-grid power systems.

1. AC or DC Coupled Off-grid / Hybrid inverters

Jason Svarc

Interactive or multi-mode inverters are capable of operating in on-grid (hybrid) or off-grid modes and can be used to create AC or DC coupled systems. The AC coupled Interactive & solar inverter combination is the most common configuration used for larger systems above 5kW. These high end systems can also be expanded to work with multiple solar inverters or other energy generation systems in different locations to form independent micro-grids.

SMA and Selectronic have long been regarded as the leaders in AC coupled systems however in the US the DC coupled Outback Power inverters may be considered number one as they have optimised there Radian series inverters to work with the common split phase homes. Schneider Electric and Victron Energy are also becoming big players in this area.

 Basic layout diagram of an  AC coupled solar battery system  - Grid-tie (hybrid) setup

Basic layout diagram of an AC coupled solar battery system - Grid-tie (hybrid) setup

Solar Inverter

For AC coupled systems the Solar inverter can be any common unit for most grid-connected or hybrid installations but it is usually the same brand or is compatible with the interactive inverter to enable communication between the two inverters for monitoring and control purposes.

For off-grid installations it is critical that the solar inverter is compatible with the interactive inverter to optimise battery charging - When the battery is full and the loads are low the solar output can be controlled and ramped down by the interactive inverter as required. DC coupled systems use solar controllers which charge the batteries directly from the solar array.

Interactive Inverter

The interactive or mulit-mode inverter is the heart of the system and acts as a battery inverter/charger and complete grid/generator management system. They incorporate clever, fully programmable software to optimise energy use through features such as load shifting and peak-shaving. Interactive inverters supply power in the same way as an off-grid inverter but also control grid connection (import and export power) and can be setup to automatically start and run a back-up generators. In addition these inverters are capable of handling very high surge loads and can pass through additional power directly from the grid if the batteries are low or the load is very high. This pass through power capability has many advantages but in particular it can enable the entire home to be powered through the inverter without the need to separate essential and non-essential loads or circuits.

The following list explains in detail the features and specifications of the various interactive inverters available. Since the solar inverter can be almost any type we will focus only on the interactive inverter.

See the full inverter summary list here for easy direct comparison.

 

SP PRO from Selectronic

Selectronic based in Melbourne, Australia is one of the largest off-grid/hybrid inverter manufacturers. Selectronic’s interactive inverters provide a basis for efficient, high-end, hybrid and off-grid power systems. The SP PRO inverters are renowed for their high build quality, performance and reliability. Selectronic has teamed up with two european solar inverter manufactures - ABB and Fronius, which have a range of high-end solar inverters made to be AC-coupled with the SP PRO multi-mode inverters.

See the full Selectronic SP PRO Review here

Basic specifications:  (5 sizes available)

  • Type: Interactive and solar Inverter (AC coupled)
  • Use: Solar storage, back-up (UPS), off-grid
  • Solar Array Size (Solar input): n/a
  • Sizes available (power output): 3.0kW, 4.5kW, 5.0kW, 7.5kW, 20kW
  • Pass through power: 15kW (highest in class)
  • Compatible Battery types: Lead-acid, lithium-ion, flow, sodium-ion
  • Battery System Voltages: 24V, 48V, 120V

Features:

  • Very high pass through power capability
  • Very high surge power output
  • Battery temperature monitoring for longer battery life (lead-acid)
  • Battery sense monitoring and mid string sensor for very precise battery charging (lead-acid Gel and AGM)
  • Very powerful and user friendly software package with remote access
  • Unique pre-charge feature for safer startup
  • Compatible with many lithium battery systems (48V)
  • Generator auto start and monitoring
  • AC / DC coupling capability
  • 3-phase capability

Note:

  • Separate solar inverter or solar DC regulator required
  • Full off-grid capability when used with certified Fronius or ABB solar inverters
  • Additional generator contactor required if used with dual AC sources.
  • Mobile App monitoring not yet available - Coming early 2018

Price bracket – From $4500 (3kW)

 

Sunny Island from SMA

SMA Sunny Island small.jpg

SMA Solar Technology is a German solar energy equipment supplier founded in 1981. It is the world's largest manufacturer of solar inverters. SMA is represented in 21 countries on four continents and is renowned for their high quality and service.

Basic specifications:  (4 sizes available)

  • Type: Interactive Inverter and solar Inverter combo
  • Use: Solar storage, back-up (UPS), off-grid
  • Solar Array Size (Solar input): n/a
  • Sizes available (power output): 2.3kW, 3.3kW, 4.6kW, 6.0kW
  • Pass through power: 11.5kW
  • Compatible Battery types: Lead-acid, lithium-ion (refer to manufacturer)
  • Battery System Voltage: 48V

Features:

  • High pass through power capability
  • High surge power output
  • Battery temperature monitoring for longer battery life
  • Powerful software package with remote monitoring
  • Generator auto start and monitoring (optional)
  • Dual AC inputs (grid and generator)
  • Very good IP54 weather rating
  • AC / DC coupling capability
  • 3-phase capability + parallel for higher output

Note:

  • Separate solar inverter or solar DC regulator required
  • Full capability when used with SMA or compatible solar inverters
  • External automatic transfer switch required to enable battery backup
  • When configured as a hybrid inverter, grid isolation (backup mode) is not instantaneous - 2-3 sec delay.

Price bracket – From $4200

 

Conext XW & XW+ From Schneider Electric

Schneider Electric is a well known, large European corporation and a leader in electrical product development and manufacture. Focusing on designing and developing products for the solar power conversion chain.

Basic specifications:  (3 sizes available)

  • Type: Interactive Inverter and solar Inverter combo
  • Use: Solar storage, back-up (UPS), off-grid
  • Solar Array Size (Solar input): n/a
  • Sizes available XW (power output): 4.0kW, 4.5kW, 6.0kW
  • Sizes available XW+ (power output): 5.5kW, 6.8kW
  • Pass through power: 14kW
  • Compatible Battery types: Lead-acid, Lithium-ion (XW+ only)
  • Battery System Voltage: 24V & 48V

Features:

  • High surge power output
  • Very high pass through power capability
  • Battery temperature monitoring for longer battery life
  • Generator auto start and monitoring (optional)
  • Dual AC inputs (grid and generator)
  • Programmable software with remote access
  • AC / DC coupling capability
  • 3-phase capability 3-phase capability + parallel for higher output

Note:

  • Separate solar inverter or solar DC regulator required
  • Full capability only when used with Schneider solar inverters & regulators.
  • No built-in battery state of charge (SOC) control system
  • Difficult to configure for hybrid self-use installations

Price bracket – From $4000

 

Radian Series by Outback Power Systems

Outback Radian Series.jpg

Outback Power Systems is a North American company based in Arlington, WA, and have been producing high quality renewable energy products since 2001. Outback is also an innovative designer and manufacturer of reliable power electronics for renewable energy applications including solar, wind, micro-hydro and battery based energy systems.

Basic specifications:  (2 sizes available)

  • Type: Interactive Inverter and solar Inverter combo
  • Use: Solar storage, back-up (UPS), off-grid
  • Solar Array Size (Solar input): n/a
  • Sizes available (power output): 4.0kW, 8.0kW
  • Pass through power:  3.6kW, 7.2kW
  • Compatible Battery types: Lead-acid, Lithium-ion
  • Battery System Voltage: 48V

Features:

  • Dual AC inputs (Generator & grid)
  • Split phase - 120/240V (North America)
  • Very high surge power output
  • Pass through power capability
  • Battery temperature monitoring for longer battery life
  • Powerful software package and advanced communications

Note:

  • Additional Coupling unit required to enable AC coupling
  • Full capability when used with Outback regulators.
  • Only available in North, Central and Latin America.

Price bracket – From US$3200

 

ECOmulti by Victron Energy

Victron Energy founded in 1975 in Almere, Netherlands, has grown to become an international high quality manufacture with a wide product range including battery chargers, sinewave inverters, inverters-chargers, DC/DC converters, transfer switches, battery monitors, charge controllers and more.

See the full Victron Energy Review here

Basic specifications:  (1 size available^)

  • Type: Interactive Inverter and solar Inverter combo
  • Use: Solar storage, back-up (UPS)
  • Solar Array Size (Solar input): 1.8kW-3.2kW
  • Sizes available (power output): 2.5kW (^expandable)
  • Pass through power: 11.5kW
  • Compatible Battery types: Integrated lithium iron phosphate 2.3kWh
  • Battery System Voltage: 24V

Features:

  • All-in-one unit includes batteries and system management.
  • Simple installation
  • High pass through power capability
  • High surge power capability
  • Compact unit
  • Additional battery storage available (^expandable)

Note:

  • Separate solar inverter required
  • Full capability only when used with Victon solar Inverters
  • Low total energy storage capability

Price bracket – TBA

 

MultiPlus & Multigrid by Victron Energy

Victron Multiplus Hybrid inverter charger

Victron Energy founded in 1975 in Almere, Netherlands, has grown to become an international high quality manufacture with a wide product range including battery chargers, sinewave inverters, inverters-chargers, DC/DC converters, transfer switches, battery monitors, charge controllers and more.

See the full Victron Energy Review here

Basic specifications:  (5 size available^)

  • Type: Inverter/charger (coupled with DC solar regulator/s)
  • Use: Solar storage, back-up (UPS), off-grid
  • Solar Array Size (Solar input): N/A
  • Sizes available (power output): 0.7kW, 1.3kW, 1.6kW, 2.4kW, 4.0kW
  • Pass through power: 3.6kW - 11.5kW
  • Compatible Battery types: Lead-acid or lithium (LG chem)
  • Battery System Voltage: 12-48V

Features:

  • Economical Inverter/charger option
  • Med-High surge power output
  • Pass through power capability
  • Battery temperature monitoring for longer battery life
  • Generator auto start and monitoring available
  • Dual AC outputs for non-essential loads (high-power units only)
  • Programmable software with remote access and Wifi App
  • 3-phase capability + parallel for higher output

Note:

  • Separate solar inverter or solar DC regulator required
  • Full capability only when used with Victron regulators and color control panel (CCGX) and Venus GX
  • Larger capacity Quattro inverters also available (up to 15kVA)

Price bracket – $2300 (2.4kW)

 

For direct comparison of all Interactive inverters see the complete Hybrid InteractiveInverters Summary page.