Solar power isn't just a buzzy phrase anymore. Panels have gotten cheap and effective enough that homeowners can use them to cut power companies out of the loop. Harvesting your own energy from the sun feels fantastic, and keeping it in a home battery to use at night, or when the lights go out, can be a big benefit. To use the power in your house, though, you need a solar inverter somewhere in your system.
The Tesla Solar Inverter
Solar inverters convert the direct current (DC) power flowing from your panels to the alternating current (AC) power you need to run standard commercial appliances. Inverters are basically the gateway between the energy hitting your roof and the power coming out of your outlets.
The Tesla inverter is compatible with Tesla solar panels and shingles, obviously. It monitors energy consumption, and like the rest of the system, can be managed through the Tesla app.
Most solar panels larger than five watts require an inverter. And while you don't have to use a Tesla inverter just because you have Tesla solar panels, they are designed to work together well.
The inverter is simple and straightforward—a sleek rectangular box. Designed for easy installation, it's small and somewhat flat so it can be hung on a wall easily. Because the Tesla inverter was designed to work with Tesla solar panels and technology, the clean, rectilinear design matches the rest of the Tesla system.
Despite its sleek appearance, a lot of technology goes into this little box. Inverters are complicated, which makes them more prone to malfunctioning than other power system parts. And since the inverter is usually mounted outside, it has to handle exposure to cold, humidity, moisture, and other weather conditions.
Placing an Inverter
Where you place the inverter can therefore affect its lifespan. Try to mount the inverter in a sheltered location where it will be at least partially shielded from the elements.
Remember, the inverter doesn't collect sunlight. That's for the solar panels. So the inverter can be and should be as shaded as possible.
Protect it from water—don't put it near downspouts, sprinklers, or faucets. And never mount an inverter near heating equipment.
Types of Solar Inverters
Though they all perform the same function, there are different types of solar inverters.
Hybrid inverters connect directly to a battery storage system so they can continue to provide backup power.
String solar inverters are the most common. They are connected to a "string" of solar panels that are liked together.
Off-grid inverters are used with advanced, independent solar power systems.
Finally, microinverters attach directly to each solar panel. This means that even if one or more microinverters fail, you'll still have solar power. The efficiency will be reduced, but you'll still have energy.
Home Solar Systems
Tesla is a well-known name in energy—as old as the name Edison, in fact. Tesla and Edison were famously competitive contemporaries.
Today, Tesla is most known for electric cars, but the company has made big strides toward delivering home power with its solar panels and shingles. Installation isn't cheap, and some people have complained about the pace, but the systems are highly effective and durable once they're up and running, so they make a good long-term investment.
How long it takes to build this system is another question, but it's definitely worth considering a project like this, especially if you're thinking about upgrading your roof anyway.
Parts of a Solar System
Home solar systems consist of four key components with two optional add-ons:
Solar Panels or Shingles
Solar panels harness the sun's energy. They're probably the biggest and most recognizable feature of a home solar system. There are all sorts of places you can put solar panels, but it's common to put them on the roof, which typically receives a lot of sunlight.
Recently, more companies like Tesla have started incorporating these panels directly into sturdy roofing materials. These solar shingles are much tougher than their cedar or asphalt predecessors, so instead of just sitting on top of your roof, they can become primary structural elements themselves.
Inverters convert the DC energy from your panels to AC for your home.
Your solar system's electrical panel (Tesla calls theirs a "gateway") connects to your main breaker panel to distribute energy to the circuits in your home.
The electric meter monitors the system and measures how much power it's both producing and using. This is your connection point to the power grid (if you're on one).
In most places, you can essentially sell your solar power to the local power companies, rolling back your meter by sending power into the grid.
If you're thinking about setting up a long-term plan around this opportunity, be warned—power companies are starting to push back against individual homeowners adding their energy to the mix. Some municipal power providers are trying to significantly cut the payments they'll issue to solar contributors, essentially trying to sell your energy to other people for much more than they pay you for it.
If a solar installation company offers you a 30-year contract based on recouping costs by selling energy to the grid, ask them what would happen if your utility company dropped their rates for solar contributions.
Batteries are optional, but they can significantly boost your savings from a system. If you can collect power all day and then use your own energy at night, you'll pay much less to your power company.
Additionally, batteries can act as backup generators in the case of outages. This can come in very handy if your neighbor has some surprise electrical work done that shuts off power to your street, or a part of your grid goes down because of a big weather event like a heatwave or a hurricane.
Once you're collecting free electrons from the sun, it starts to make an awful lot of sense to charge a car instead of filling it with gas.
What's the Cost?
The number of solar panels you need depends on the size of your home and how much energy you consume. Tesla can work all this out for you on their website (they're not a DIY affiliate). Expect a number in the tens of thousands, even with government rebates.
To get a sense of how long it will take for this to start earning you money, divide the total cost by your monthly power bill, then divide that number by 12 to get an answer in years.
Tesla says they'll match competitor prices, so you may want to shop around and negotiate.
Some companies will cover solar installation costs up front, recouping their expenses over the years by collecting money for the energy they produce. We recommend examining these deals carefully—make sure you understand the fine print about long-term rates, and try to get a battery so you can at least use your system to reduce your monthly bills.
You can set up small solar systems yourself, but unless you're an electrician, you'll need pro installers to get a full home system up and running.
Is Solar Power Better?
In addition to offering independence from grid power companies, solar power is a cleaner, more reliable form of energy than older fuels. Both coal and gas will eventually run out, and as amazing as they've been for the development of modern economies, they have some serious downsides.
Anyone who's lived close to a coal plant, for example, knows that it can leave a residue all over vehicles and home exteriors. These particulate emissions contribute to bad health outcomes. Exact numbers are hard to pin down, but many organizations say that deaths from air pollution number in the millions every year.
You don't have to be an environmentalist to enjoy the benefits of solar energy, though. Installing solar panels can increase a home's resale value by thousands of dollars, and many areas offer significant tax breaks for putting them in.
Should You Get a Tesla Inverter?
If you're using other Tesla pieces in your energy system, a Tesla inverter will work well, but you could potentially install one from a 3rd party. Just double check the details to make sure you get one that's the right size for the rest of your equipment.
Do Solar Inverters Need Regular Maintenance?
Solar inverters don't have aren't any filters or other parts that need to be cleaned regularly, so they don't need regular maintenance.
You should check your levels of energy regularly to make sure your system's operating efficiently.
Also, visually inspect the inverter after any serious weather events to remove any buildup of moisture, especially from winter ice and snow.
What’s the Advantage of Smart Technology?
Tesla systems can send data to your smartphone, giving you real-time info about your solar energy system.
This data can be invaluable when it comes to making sure your equipment is functioning efficiently, plus it puts you much more in touch with how much power you're using.
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