Fronius is somewhat of a legend in the solar world and generally considered the world’s leading string solar inverter manufacturer. This reputation is not based on sales volume, but service, quality and most importantly reliability. With the solar inverter being the most complex component in any solar systems, it is also the part most likely to develop problems. Inverter faults can be extremely frustrating for installers and customers alike and often result in complete system shutdown, hence why reliability is crucial.
All Fronius solar inverters are engineered, designed and manufactured in Austria. With over half a century of experience in inverter (welder) design and manufacturing it’s not surprising Fronius is considered an industry leader in power conversion equipment. Fronius’s history in designing high performance welding inverters provided the ideal background for moving into the solar inverter production over two decades ago with the first Fronius solar inverter released in 1994.
Fronius continued to develop a number of solar inverters but wasn’t until the release of the snap-in inverter (snapINverter) range in 2013 that Fronius really created a stir and quickly developed a strong following around the world. Up until this point SMA was widely regarded as the industry leader, with the Sunny Boy TL series inverters. SMA experienced some issues during the transition to the new generation AV series inverters and lost a lot of ground. However, they are one of the few manufacturers which can compete with Fronius on quality and reliability.
The current Fronius snapINverter range, including the Primo, Symo and ECO have become the inverters of choice for many domestic and commercial solar installations. The high demand for the popular Fronius Primo solar inverters used for residential installations has resulted in some supply issues at times and there have been a few minor issues, but overall feedback is extremely positive, and any issues have been promptly addressed by the Fronius service network.
Fronius Primo Inverters
Residential single-phase string inverters, 3kW to 8.2kW
The Fronius Primo ‘SnapINverters’ surged in popularity since the release of the new design 5 years ago and widely regarded as the best quality and most reliable residential string solar inverter available. The unique snap-in design makes installation and servicing easy, and the large clear display with 4 multi-function buttons is one of the best interfaces of any inverter.
The Primo inverters are cooled via an active cooling system using fan forced air which is claimed to increases performance and reliability when compared to the more common passive cooling systems. We believe this is a key part of the reason for Fronius’s low recorded failure rate. This is further examined below, along with the other benefits of active cooling.
Unique Snap-in design for easy installation & service
High input current - 18A per MPPT (5kW+ SC version)
Integrated DC isolator (CEC certified)
Fan forced active cooling system
External relay control - Digital output
The Primo range of single phase transformerless inverters are available in a wide range of power ratings from 3.0kW to 8.2kW, all featuring dual MPPT inputs, a wide operating voltage range. More importantly the larger inverters rated 5kW and above have a high input current rating of 18A per MPPT and Isc of 27A. This allows two strings of panels to be connected in parallel. Note, this is now referred to as the Superior Current (SC) version in Australia.
See the Fronius Primo Solar Inverter Specification sheet here.
Fronius Galvo Inverter
Residential single-phase string inverters, 1.5kW to 3.1kW
The Galvo range of single phase transformer based inverters use the same snap-in chassis and are available with power ratings from 1.5kW to 3.1kW. Utilising the ‘old’ transformer (isolated) topology, the Galvo inverters are perfect for retrofitting to older systems and are widely used as replacement inverters for old small capacity solar systems.
See the Fronius Galvo Solar Inverter Specification sheet here.
Fronius Symo & ECO Inverters
3-phase string inverters, 3.0kW to 27kW
The Fronius Symo three phase inverters are built around the same snap-in design and available in an impressive range of sizes to suit both residential and commercial applications. Symo inverters range from 3.0kW up to 20kW, while the ECO’s are available in 25kW or 27kW sizes.
Many commercial inverters are located in exposed locations and have to perform in extreme conditions, including high summer temperatures. This is where the Fronius active cooling system really shines enabling continuous operation with minimal power derating in high ambient temperatures up to 50 degC.
See the Fronius Symo Solar Inverter Specification sheet here.
Unique Snap-in design for easy installation & service
High input current (ECO) = 44A (Isc max 71.6A)
Integrated DC isolator and DC string fusing.
Fan forced active cooling system.
External relay control - Digital output.
The Fronius ECO series are highly sought after for larger scale commercial systems due to the high performance, reliability, advanced communication options, and unique features such as the integrated string fusing. The integrated all-pole string fusing (fuses optional) mean string combiner boxes are no longer required making installation quicker and easier.
See the Fronius ECO Solar Inverter Specification sheet here.
Limited Home Energy Storage Options
The one rapidly growing segment where Fronius has been severely lacking is battery storage. While most rival manufacturers have developed a range of battery storage (hybrid) options, Fronius have only one inverter available, the Symo Hybrid which as explained below has a number of limitations.
Fronius Symo Hybrid
Residential 3-phase hybrid energy storage inverter
The Fronius hybrid inverter option has not gained much traction due to only being available in 3-phase form. Most homes outside Europe are single phase so the Symo hybrid is simply not compatible. The inverter application was further limited due to the single MPPT input, generally meaning only one panel orientation could be used. The lack of sales was not only due to the inverter limitations but for many years the only battery option available was the rather expensive Fronius battery. Although, this was helped when the more affordable and popular LG Chem RESUH battery battery was added to the list in mid 2018.
Off-grid with the Fronius Primo
Surprisingly the Fronius Primo inverter has become a key feature in many off-grid solar or stand-alone power systems. As explained, the Primo is a solar inverter, not a battery inverter, but it can be coupled with a compatible multi-mode (battery) inverter to form an advanced AC coupled energy storage system.
AC coupling for off-grid energy storage systems has become the configuration of choice over recent years. The flexibility and simplicity of AC coupling allowed off-grid systems to became larger and more powerful. Several years ago, Fronius made the clever move of teaming up with two of the leading off-grid multi-mode inverter manufacturers, Selectronic and Victron Energy to allow the Primo inverters to operate in an on-grid or off-grid AC coupled system. *Note, the Primo inverter as shown below, must be ‘Selectronic certified’ to function in a ‘managed’ AC coupled system.
New GEN24 Plus Hybrid inverters
New generation Fronius hybrid inverters due early 2020
Fronius has developed an entirely new generation hybrid Inverter known as the GEN24 Plus which are due be released in early 2020. The GEN24 plus range highlights Fronius’s new vision of ’24 hours of sun’ meaning both solar and energy storage combined to deliver power to homes and businesses.
The GEN24 plus inverters are compatible with the higher voltage battery systems such as the LG Chem RESU-H, but the full list of compatible batteries is yet to be released. They also feature dual MPPT trackers, a wide operating voltage range, and unique front-mounted fan, giving it a surprisingly retro look. However, there is much more behind the front cover; it hides an extremely sophisticated thermal management system with a cleverly designed spiral heat-sink. This active cooling system described in detail below helps improve both performance and reliability. But it doesn’t stop there, unlike other all-in-one hybrid inverters the GEN24 Plus will feature integrated grid back-up and 4 digital inputs/outputs to take full advantage of smart home controls.
Is active cooling the secret to long term reliability?
Unlike the majority of manufacturers, Fronius only design inverters with active or fan-forced cooling. Most inverters available today are transformerless and utilise large rear-mounted heat sinks which use natural convection to cool the inverter. This simple design, known as passive cooling, doesn’t rely on any moving parts such as fans which can fail over time. However, relying on passive cooling alone can be problematic, especially in higher temperatures or locations with low natural air circulation. While mounting a solar inverter in locations exposed to the sun should be avoided, it is sometimes not possible and this is where many ‘cheap’ inverters relying on passive cooling alone can fail. Mounting in exposed positions with full sun (especially during the afternoon), heats the inverter to extreme levels and can cause severe power derating, thermal shutdown, and early failure
Fronius only use fan-forced active cooling which extracts heat at a more constant rate. As highlighted in the chart below, this can increase performance with less power ‘derating’ in high ambient temperatures. Power electronics have a maximum operating temperature after which the power transfer needs to be reduced to prevent overheating and potential damage. This is where active cooling can dramatically improve reliability. Fans can also fail; however, modern brushless DC fans have a very long lifespan. If a fan replacement is required, then it is easier to replace a fan rather a blown transistor or capacitor which may be impossible.
Adequate cooling is essential for increasing the life of any electronic product. It is particularly crucial for solar inverters that use sophisticated power electronics to transfer thousands of watts of power in extreme environments. Modern inverters use solid-state transistors (semiconductors) to convert the DC power from solar to AC power. High temperatures will reduce the efficiency, performance, and life of transistors and most other electrical components.
Based on the long development time and vigorous testing, we are confident the Fronius engineers have designed the new GEN24 inverters to be extremely reliable, efficient and offer high performance in all conditions. Looking at the GEN24 Plus specification sheet, it appears the new inverters may have high tolerance to being located in exposed locations with little protection. However, this it is yet to be verified in real-world conditions.
Service & warranty
In regards to service, Fronius has ranked very highly for many years due to the low failure rates and great service. If a failure occurs, they usually ship replacement units in 3-5 business days. Fronius inverters are available with either 5 or 10 year warranties, depending on the location or country.
In Australia, all Fronius string inverters come with 5 years Fronius Warranty Plus. Customers can obtain an additional free, 5 year extented warranty when the inverter is registered online via www.solarweb.com. This provides a total 10 warranty period.
Monitoring – Solar Web
Wifi monitoring comes standard with all inverters via the Fronius Solar.Web. The addition of the Fronius smart meter enables monitoring of energy generation and consumption, and can be used as a complete home energy monitoring system. A free solarweb smart phone app is also available for android of iOS.
There is also the option of adding the Fronius Ohmpilot which is designed to automatically use excess solar energy to heat water.
From reading this review, it’s fairly obvious why Fronius is widely considered the leading solar inverter manufacturer. When you sum it up, the reasons are pretty simple, high build quality, proven performance and reliability from an experienced manufacturer.
The decision to engineer active cooling into the inverter platforms seems to have paid off, providing a higher level of performance and reliability, especially in extreme environments. The clever snap-in design, advanced communications, and features such the integrated DC isolator and string fusing won over many installers. This, together with a high level of service and support, means any issues have been promptly addressed. In an industry plagued by cheap, unreliable inverters, this kind of service and reliability is essential.
Energy storage, on the other hand, is the one area where Fronius has been lacking. Until recently the Austrian manufacturer had only really dabbled in the hybrid space, but this is soon about to change with the new GEN24 plus inverters due to be released in early 2020. The rapid evolution of hybrid inverter technology over the last 3-4 years has seen many manufacturers rush out inferior and problematic products with multiple issues. In some ways, this may have benefited Fronius who don’t appear to rush through development. The slow and steady approach to designing new inverters may result in Fronius also becoming the dominant player in the hybrid energy storage market. Looking forward to testing the GEN24 plus inverters in 2020.