If you want to maximize your solar energy system’s production, finding the best solar inverter is as important as the solar panels you choose. For an “uncomplicated” roof – one that faces south and has no gables, chimneys, or other obstructions that can cast a shadow – the best solar inverter for you may be a standard string inverter. However, more than half of new residential solar installations are using module-level power electronics (MLPEs) like power optimizers and microinverters to maximize electricity production.
In the world of MLPEs, you’re probably trying to decide between two big names: SolarEdge vs. Enphase. According to Greentech Media, the two companies controlled 95 percent of the module-level power electronics market in 2015. They are also currently the two leading inverter brands featured in quotes to solar shoppers on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. The question of which is the best solar inverter comes down to cost, performance, warranties, and personal preference.
SolarEdge: the industry-leading power optimizer
SolarEdge Technologies is headquartered in Israel and manufactures the leading power optimizer product available in the United States. Power optimizers are installed at the site of an individual solar panel and “condition” the direct current (DC) electricity that the panel produces, which makes it easier for the inverter to convert the electricity to useful alternating current (AC) electricity.
Unlike microinverters, SolarEdge power optimizers cannot fulfill the function of an inverter alone. Instead, they fix the voltage of the solar electricity and then send it to a centralized inverter to be converted to AC power, which increases the overall efficiency of the system. According to SolarEdge, there is little difference in efficiency between a system with microinverters and one with power optimizers and a string inverter.
A system that uses power optimizers will cost less than one with microinverters, all other things being equal. SolarEdge power optimizers offer many of the same capabilities that Enphase and other microinverter manufacturers do. In addition to increasing system efficiency, they make it possible to monitor the performance of a solar panel system on the panel level, which isn’t possible with a system that has a single string inverter. SolarEdge also offers the advantage of manufacturing inverters that are compatible with the Tesla Powerwall 2.
SolarEdge power optimizers come with a 25-year warranty. However, the string inverter that the power optimizers are paired with typically has a 12 year warranty, and it will need to be replaced at some point during the lifetime of the solar PV system. Importantly, SolarEdge offers an extended warranty of up to 20 or 25 years for their string inverter system, depending on the model. This extension comes at an additional cost.
Enphase: microinverters for a top-performing solar panel system
Enphase is headquartered in California and manufactures the most popular microinverter product for sale in the United States today.
Like power optimizers, microinverters are located on the roof alongside individual solar panels. Instead of sending electricity to a centralized string inverter, systems with microinverters convert the DC solar electricity to useful AC electricity at the site of the solar panel.
Generally speaking, a solar panel system with microinverters will be slightly more efficient than one with power optimizers. However, up-front costs and maintenance costs will be higher with Enphase microinverters than with SolarEdge power optimizers due to the fact that that microinverters are a more technologically complex piece of equipment.
Enphase’s microinverters come with either a 25-year or 15-year warranty (depending on model), and because they don’t rely on a string inverter, there’s no need to worry about purchasing a replacement product during your solar panel system’s lifetime. Enphase also manufactures a storage product that can be used in conjunction with its microinverters.
SMA & Tigo: other module-level power electronic options
SolarEdge and Enphase are the two of the best solar inverters on the market, but they aren’t the only MLPE options available for home solar PV systems.
SMA America is a subsidiary of SMA Solar Technology, which is headquartered in Germany and manufactures both string inverters and power optimizers. The company was founded in 1981 and is considered widely considered to be a manufacturer of high-quality inverter products. However, they’re slightly more expensive than other options, and as a result they aren’t as popular as SolarEdge’s power optimizer product in the United States.
Tigo Energy is a MLPE manufacturer based in the United States that produces power optimizers. They may not be a household name like SolarEdge, but they partner with a variety of solar panel manufacturers (among them CSUN, Jinko Solar, Silfab, and Trina Solar) to produce “smart modules,” which are essentially solar panels manufactured with power optimizers attached. These are particularly appealing for solar installers because they make it easier to install a solar energy system with MLPEs, which can also have the effect of reducing your solar installation costs.
Choosing the best solar inverter option for your home
EnergySage has additional resources that can help you make a decision about your solar inverter options:
- How do inverters work?
- Comparing string inverters, microinverters, and power optimizers
- Microinverters vs. power optimizers: which panel-level option is best for you?
- Advantages and disadvantages of microinverters and power optimizers
While you can continue to read about the different technologies, the best way to find out which option works for your needs is to review actual quotes from qualified local installers in your area.
When you register your property on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can review offers that have been customized to your home and evaluate the costs and benefits of different inverter options. Customers who compare quotes on EnergySage can save 20 percent or more on their solar installation simply by evaluating all of their equipment, financing, and installer options.
NOTE: the data in this piece was last updated January 2019 and is updated every 6 months.