What are hybrid inverters?
A “hybrid” combines features of two similar things into one. For example, hybrid cars have the ability to burn gasoline and use batteries for propulsion. A hybrid solar inverter combines features of a standard solar inverter and a battery inverter into one affordable and smart charging electricity routing unit.
A standard, or string inverter, is a core component of your solar power system. It converts the DC electricity flowing from your solar panels into usable AC your home appliances use.
Solar battery inverters are bi-directional and may be used on or off-grid. They convert DC electricity into AC and can convert AC back to DC again.
Their main advantage is providing smooth, reliable electricity from battery storage systems to power critical loads. In a blackout, the backup power they provide offers a lot of peace of mind.
If you’re thinking about going solar and adding battery system storage at the same time, the combined features of standard inverters with battery inverters in a hybrid unit can be a compelling installation option.
Hybrid inverters are wired with more inputs and outputs than a traditional string inverter. They make sending electricity to and from your fuse box, the electric grid, and your energy storage unit easy.
There are several benefits and a few drawbacks to hybrid inverters to be aware of. We cover them below so you can be well-informed on these important considerations and can confidently proceed with your solar system design.
As always, if you are confused or are looking for more clarification, we recommend connecting with our network of solar installers to offer guidance and provide you custom savings estimates.
Advantages of solar hybrid inverters
Hybrid inverters have a few notable advantages over other grid-tie inverter systems like microinverters. Here are some of them to consider:
If you were to add a battery backup system to your existing solar PV system, you’d need to purchase not just the battery bank itself and possibly a new inverter, but also a battery charger controller, and perhaps a performance monitoring system.
These are extra pieces of hardware that take up a lot of space - with costs that add up.
Many hybrid inverter systems integrate performance monitoring, charge controlling, and bi-directional AC DC inverter function into one neat package, at a more affordable cost.
Smart inverter/charger features
Hybrid inverters come with a built-in charge controller to detect when it’s best to send electricity to your battery from the grid (or your solar panels). Several models can be programmed to allow for load shifting and peak shaving.
This means you can use your battery during times when grid electricity costs the most, and charge your battery when grid electricity costs the least - thereby saving you a lot of money in the process.
Mobile app cloud monitoring and control
We’re in the digital age, which means we can do a lot of cool stuff with our phones instead of just having conversations.
Many hybrid inverters have the ability to send your system performance data onto a company-branded portal in the cloud. Once there, you can log into the app to view your system’s performance, and be notified when and if your system isn’t performing as well as it should be.
Hybrid inverters also usually have configurable modes to set your system on vacation or standby mode through an app. These ensure you’re making optimal use of the energy you create with your solar panels, even when you aren’t onsite.
Some hybrid inverters are designed with more efficiency in mind. Any time you have to move AC electricity to DC or back again, you’re going to lose some power due to conversion losses.
There are plenty of hybrid solar inverters which are DC-coupled, meaning they take the DC power from your solar panels and feed it directly through to your battery, without converting it to AC and back in the process.
This ensures you get the most value from the electricity your solar panels produce in a battery backup system.
Some hybrid inverters, like the SolarEdge StorEdge system, allow you to connect a much larger sized solar array to your inverter or allow you to pair a smaller inverter size with your solar array.
The benefit of doing this is maximized performance more often throughout the day. This is achieved through increased power output in lower light conditions like sunrise and sunset. Increased harvest at sunset can be a strong financial consideration, especially if your utility is on a time-of-use billing structure when evening electricity is most valuable.
Care should be taken in system design though, as inverters are designed to output AC power to a level which can’t be exceeded. If you’re generating a whole bunch of DC with your panels, your inverter will clip the production of your panels to the amount of AC it can actually handle.
Moreover, too much power flowing to your inverter can reduce the longevity of your equipment. Since the inverter is the most expensive piece of hardware in your solar system and most prone to failure, you don’t want to get this part wrong.
Make sure to work with a reputable solar installer who can ensure you’re getting the most out of your solar equipment, without putting it at risk.
Disadvantages of hybrid solar inverters
Listed below are some issues to take into account with hybrid inverters, since no one type of inverter is going to check all the boxes.
Back-up power limitations
Some hybrid inverters like SMA or Sungrow don’t have the ability to use the electricity coming out of your solar panels when the grid is down in your home, known as pass-through power. This can be a frustrating realization if you don’t have a model with back-up power capability and the grid is down.
Other hybrid inverter models, like Imeon or Redback, allow you to route both solar and battery power to smaller essential loads during a grid outage.
While some hybrid inverter models such as SolarEdge do allow for full power to flow from your battery to your loads during an outage, others have a capped amount of electricity that can flow from your battery to your home loads during blackouts.
it is important to be aware of your system’s capability so you are fully aware of its limitations during times when you were expecting to take full advantage of high capacity battery output.
For example, if you were planning on being able to run full loads in two zones of your house during a blackout period, all your components may not be able to function simultaneously if your inverter can’t supply the full output capacity of your battery.
Suitability for existing solar panels
If you’re lucky enough to have a working solar installation already and want to add battery resilience, a hybrid inverter may not be your optimal choice. You already have a working inverter as part of your system - it will most likely be more affordable to pair your existing inverter to an AC-coupled battery.
While most hybrid inverters are IP65 rated for weather, meaning they can be installed on the exterior wall of your home, that isn’t the case across the board for all models.
Even if you keep your hybrid inverter in a semi-protected location outside the punishing rays of the summer sun, some higher-performance models are specifically designed for interior installations only.
Some hybrid inverters have multiple modes, which can be configured to provide power to essential home circuits when the grid is down. Many homeowners select hybrid inverters when going solar without even having a battery backup system installed, since they can be more affordable upfront.
Final thoughts on hybrid solar inverters
Hybrid solar inverters are a great option for pairing a new solar energy system with battery backup resilience. They neatly and efficiently combine the best features of a battery inverter with a traditional string solar inverter to provide an affordable, streamlined package.
For more thoughts on deciding which type of solar inverter system is right for you, visit our guide to choosing the best solar inverter for your home.
Author: Dan Hahn | Solar Journalist
Dan is a solar journalist and content advisor with SolarReviews. He also works with solar installers and solar nonprofits to develop and execute strategic plans.