SMA is a world renowned solar inverter manufacturer and one of the few companies to offer leading solar inverters designed for residential, commercial and utility scale grid-tie systems, as well as advanced off-grid systems.
Here we review the full range of solar inverters supplied by SMA including:
Sunny Boy - Single Phase solar Inverters
Sunny Tripower - 3 Phase Solar Inverters
Sunny Tripower Core 1 - Commercial Inverters
Sunny Boy Storage - Battery storage Inverters
Sunny Island - Off-grid multi-mode Inverter/chargers
Plus the Sunny Portal monitoring & Tigo optimisers.
SMA is a solar icon. The German company was established in 1981, which is prehistoric in the world of solar and for a long time the SMA string inverters, branded Sunny Boy and Sunny Tripower, were head and shoulders above any other on the market. In Australia, from when the solar boom started around 2008 if you were to ask any solar installer which the best string inverter on the market was (regardless of price), they would no doubt utter the letters SMA. That is no longer the case, at least not in the 5 - 30kW inverter sizes. Whilst SMA still dominates the global large scale inverter market (according to 2018 figures by PV Magazine), they are no longer the favourite of installers for small - medium residential and commercial installations. In our Best solar inverters 2019 article, we have ranked SMA third on the residential list, and second on the commercial list (Fronius tops both of these).
Despite the high profile, SMA have faced tough competition over recent years and one area where they have struggled to compete is in the rapidly growing hybrid or home energy storage market where all-in-one hybrid and multi-mode inverters have dominated.
Get the latest opinions and SMA inverter reviews in our solar information forum.
The Sunny Boy Story
The rise and fall, and rise again!
When it came to reliability, SMA was for a long time seen as the only option. This was hugely important in a market getting flooded with new inverter brands every year, and many of those inverters continually proving the proverb “you get what you pay for.'' SMA was one of a few inverters that installers knew they they could count on to last for 10 years or more. SMA inverters were all German made, which fed into peoples preconceived idea that German manufacturing was superior. This was very true at the time as the fledgling Chinese inverter manufacturing industry was not producing reliable inverters.
Over the last few years the superiority that SMA held for so long has eroded slightly. Not so much because its products or service have diminished, but because the competition has become much tougher. There are now a number of inverter brands around the world that experienced installers are happy to vouch for. Whilst Fronius is now at the top of this list, there are a number of Chinese inverter brands including Sungrow, Huawei and Delta which also offer reliable inverters at very competitive prices.
It is perhaps this change in the competitive landscape that led SMA to try manufacturing in China in order to reduce costs. One of the big selling points for SMA has always been that its inverters were manufactured in Germany. That began to change around 2013 when SMA bought a majority stake in Zeversolar. The Clean Energy Reviews team was quite positive about this move, hoping that SMA would be able to transform this Chinese inverter manufacturer and create a low cost reliable inverter. However, whilst the Zeverlution models rolled out after SMA’s takeover did get some positive interest, Zeversolar has not to this point made big headway into the residential inverter market. The foray into China via Zeversolar, was potentially a strategic move to investigate the viability of manufacturing their own branded Sunny Boy inverters in China.
Made in Germany
At first SMA received a pretty bad rap from the solar community following the decision to manufacture the Sunny Boy AV series in China, and lost quite a lot of sales. Seemingly in response the poor sales, late in 2018 SMA decided to go back to its roots, close all manufacturing in China and consolidate its operations back in Germany. This move was very well received in the industry. It is important to emphasis that we are not concerned at all with the quality of manufacturing in China, as some of the worlds best products are manufactured in China. It is more that this move shows SMA’s desire to go back to its roots and focus soley on high quality production and reliability.
SMA and the Sunny Boy inverters often get mentioned in high regards on the Best Solar Inverter topic in our solar forum.
Sunny Boy - AV series Inverters
The Sunny Boy is the name given to SMA’s residential single phase inverters. After a slow start these sleek, efficient, lightweight inverters are now gaining in popularity around the world and are rated as one of the best quality solar string inverters.
The current AV range is available in 3.0, 3.6, 4.0, 5.0 and 6.0kW sizes, along with the very compact and lightweight Sunny Boy 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5kW.
The new Sunny Boy models have wifi as standard, however like most inverter manufacturers nowadays they do not have a display. This is becoming more common as the display is one of the weakest points on any inverter. The inverter setup, and monitoring is now managed using wifi or Bluetooth. The main problem with this is it can be frustrating if you have connection issues, hence why an intuitive, easy to use and robust mobile app is important.
The most important thing when it comes to an inverter is reliability, and the Sunny Boy was for a long time seen as the most reliable inverter on the market. So far the Sunny boy AV series has generally had a very good rap from installers, with the only gripes being with network or wifi connections, a common issue with most display-less inverters. While the latest model has not been around long enough to be sure it has the same reliability as previous Sunny Boy TL models, there is no reason to think that new AV series are not built to the same high level of quality.
See the full SMA Sunny Boy AV series specification sheet
Sunny Tripower - 3 Phase inverters
The Sunny Tripower is the 3 phase version of the Sunny Boy and is available in a wide range of sizes for residential and commercial installations. The smaller residential Tripower also had a revamp recently and comes in a tidy lightweight compact package similar to the Sunny Boy. The new AV Tripower comes in 3.0 - 6.0kW range, which you could easily mistake for a Sunny Boy, both in features and size/weight (the main difference being the deep blue colour for the Tripower, and bright red for the Sunny Boy). There is also an 8.0 and 10.0kW model in the new compact efficient package.
See the full SMA Tripower AV series specification sheet
For the larger commercial systems the old faithful SMA Sunny Tripower still comes in the 15000TL, 20000TL and 25000TL versions. These proven reliable inverters are still very popular for all kinds of larger scale commercial systems up to several hundred KW in size.
See the full SMA Tripower TL series specification sheet
Tripower Core 1
A special mention is warranted for the Sunny Tripower Core 1, 50kW inverter. This award winning inverter clearly highlights SMA’s focus on larger scale systems and why SMA is so popular in the commercial solar space. SMA calls this “the world’s first free-standing string inverter”, meaning it can be fixed to the ground, or roof, rather than onto a wall.
The unique design is the first thing you notice about the Core 1, but it does not stop there. The 6 MPPT inputs allows for a lot of flexibility in design, and improved performance if there is a need to place arrays on slightly different angles, or orientations. This flexible inverter allows for reasonably small 50kW installs, right up to 1000kW (or 1MW). The Core 1 comes packed with features at a price point that make it highly competitive in the small to medium commercial market.
Sunny Highpower & Sunny Central
Whilst this review is focused mainly on SMA’s residential and small commercial offerings, it is worth noting that SMA is a very popular choice for large commercial and utility scale systems. Along with the popular and capable Tripower Core 1, SMA recently released the Sunny Highpower PEAK 3 150KW inverter for large scale power plants operating up to 1500V DC and designed to be flexible and easily scalable.
SMA also has a unique range of high powered solar and battery inverters rated over 100kW, including the Sunny Highpower string inverter, and Sunny Central central inverter, as well as the Sunny Central Storage battery inverter.
Sunny Highpower PEAK 3 - More details coming soon.
SMA battery storage inverters
Sunny Boy Storage - SBS
To add battery storage to a grid-connected home, SMA took a different approach to most other inverter manufacturers who developed hybrid (all-in-one solar/battery) inverters coupled with lithium batteries. To store energy, SMA released the Sunny Boy Storage Inverter or (SBS as it is more commonly known) to create an AC coupled energy storage system. The SBS inverters connects with the popular high voltage (300-500V) batteries, such as the LG Chem RESU-H and can be AC coupled together with any common solar inverter. However, for best results the SBS should be installed with an SMA Sunny Boy inverter to enable monitoring of the whole system on one common platform.
AC coupled Battery Inverter
The Sunny Boy Storage is a battery inverter/charger used to AC couple a high voltage battery such as the LG Chem RESUH or BYD HV. The most significant advantage of AC coupling is the ability to retrofit a battery to any existing solar installation easily.
The first SBS2.5 released in 2016 was not a huge success as it was limited to 2.5kW charge and discharge power, which is a little undersized for most modern households. The second generation SBS released in 2018 is far more powerful and is the first battery inverter with multi-string battery connections meaning it can be connected with up to three separate batteries. The new SBS AC coupled battery inverters are available in 3 sizes, 3.7kW, 5.0kW & 6.0kW and have a high peak power ratings of 4.6kW, 6.3kW & 7.5kW respectively. The two larger inverters are much better suited to handle the relatively high loads of modern electric households.
The Sunny Boy Storage inverters are able to provide back-up power with an additional backup box of which there are two options. The standard manual changeover switch for ‘essential circuits’ or the fully automatic backup unit if larger loads are needed to be backed up in the event of a prolonged blackout.
See the full SMA Sunny Boy Storage SBS Inverter specification sheet
Sunny Island Inverters
SMA’s Sunny Island (SI) inverters are highly regarded in the off-grid solar world being one of the few high quality off-grid inverters with proven long lasting reliability. The Sunny Island series was first launched over a decade ago and quickly became the go to inverter for any serious off-grid installation for both single phase and advanced three-phase remote power systems.
However, just as the Sunny boy string inverters lost some ground over recent years, so too has the Sunny Island (SI) due to some serious competition from the likes of Selectronic in Australia, Outback Power in the USA and Victron Energy in Europe. While the Sunny Island has had a few minor updates, these three well established companies have made some big advancements, especially in the grid-connected hybrid storage segment. They also offer high performance off-grid/hybrid inverter solutions at the same level as the SMA Sunny Island series.
See the full SMA Sunny Island Specification sheet here
Best off-grid inverter for extreme locations
One important area where the Sunny Island inverter leads the other brands is in regard to operating in extreme environments. The Sunny Island is the only high powered multi-mode inverters with a IP54 weather rating. This means it can installed outside in relatively exposed locations. Most competing inverters in this class are only IP20 rated, which means they can only be installed in well protected areas or indoors. The Sunny island inverters also incorporate an advanced active cooling system which helps improve reliability and performance in high temperatures.
Hybrid Energy Storage
In regards to gird-connected hybrid systems, the biggest downfall of the SI is the lack of an internal AC bypass contactor. This feature enables pass-through power and almost instantaneous grid-isolation, something most of the other leading off-grid/multi-mode inverters offer. Without the internal contactor it is more complex and difficult to setup a hybrid backup solar system and it does not offer instantaneous backup in the event of a blackout.
On the plus side one of the unique capabilities of the Sunny Island inverters is the level of scalability which is unmatched by almost all other systems. The Sunny Islands can be used to power a simple off-grid home right through to a large scale micro-grid’s for powering remote communities and commercial operations using the powerful and flexible SMA clustor controllers.
SMA Sunny Portal
The Sunny Portal is the free cloud-based monitoring platform from SMA. It provides a great insight into the performance of the solar system, plus more detail can be obtained once you can figure out how to navigate the rather tricky menu and charting interface. This is a vital piece of software given that the new Sunny Boy and Sunny Tripower inverters do not have a display. The latest model SMA inverters all ship with wifi webconnect as standard, so it is relatively easy to setup the Sunny Portal monitoring.
The Sunny Home Manager is required to enable complete consumption and solar generation monitoring, however it is prohibitively expensive compared to most other energy meters on the market at close to double the price. For those who can afford the optional Sunny Home Manager 2.0 energy meter, it provides gives great insight into home energy consumption. Also, if Tigo optimisers are added to the panels, Sunny Portal allows installers and property owners to see the performance of individual panels in real time.
Unfortunately the SMA mobile App is still very limited and does not provide real time or direct system monitoring and has very limited functionality. It is surprising that SMA has not developed the app to be more user friendly and functional like the sunny portal.
SMA partnership with Tigo
SMA has bought a stake in the power optimiser (optimizer) company Tigo which develops a product used for panel level monitoring, rapid shutdown, as well as power optimisation. In fact the TS4-R model optimiser (optimizer) is also modular, so it can be installed simply for monitoring and rapid shutdown, or if required the optional optimiser very easily slots in to the device. SMA engineered the new Sunny Boy models so that the Tigo TS4-R model will work seamlessly with the Sunny Boy 3.0 - 6.0 models. The big selling point of the Tigo TS4-R is that the power optimiser does not need to be installed on every panel in the solar system, it can just be added to a particular panel that will be affected by shade, thus reducing the cost significantly.
Note that while SMA did manufacturer a Sunny Boy 240 micro inverter for a few years, they are not currently selling any micro inverters. We have mentioned that Fronius is a strong competitor to SMA in the small scale string inverter market, however we should note that Enphase poses serious competition with its micro inverters also. There is strong data to suggest that whilst the upfront cost of an Enphase system is higher, the ROI is often greater than that of a string inverter system. Read more about Tigo optimisers vs micro inverters in our forum.
SMA is considered somewhat of a legend in the solar world and manufacture some of the best quality and most reliable inverters on the market backed by an excellent service team. SMA did lose some of its shine in the smaller scale residential market for a short while, but the new Sunny boy series inverters are once again gaining in popularity. While in the advancing hybrid and off-grid world, the once leading Sunny Island multi-mode inverters have grappled with tough competition from manufacturers focused solely in this space.
However, the company is now cementing its place as a leader in the commercial and utility-scale solar inverter market with the impressive Tripower Core 1, Sunny Highpower and Sunny island central inverters.
SMA is still moving ahead and continuously improving with more advanced monitoring, upgrades to the Sunny Boy AV series and the new 3 phase version of the Sunny Tripower. Solar installers love working with SMA inverters, particularly on large commercial jobs, and we expect an increasingly strong performance by SMA in the residential sector going forward.