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Inverters change DC electricity from PV, wind, hydro, and batteries into AC electricity you can use around the house.


Used In: Off-grid, on-grid, and mobile power systems

AKA: Power conditioner, power "converter," (though these terms refer more properly to cleaning up a wave form and DC to DC voltage changing, respectively). What It Is: An electronic device that converts direct current (DC) electricity to alternating current (AC) electricity

What It Ain't: A skateboard trick or a Schwarzenegger movie

The utility grid delivers AC electricity. For the last century or so, virtually everyone that was within reach of the grid has purchased their electricity from it. As a result, the appliances we use are designed to run on AC. But solar-electric panels and batteries generate and store DC electricity. AC appliances can't be run directly on DC, and vice versa.

Inverters convert DC electricity to AC electricity by using complex electronic switching mechanisms to break the continuous current into pulses. Originally, inverters were primarily used to power equipment in mobile applications — ambulances for example. These days, the proliferation of electronic devices, and the growing popularity of solar-electric systems, have given rise to a whole new generation of inverters. Now we have inverters small enough to toss in your backpack along with your laptop for working on the road, and large enough to send megawatts of renewable energy onto the utility grid. Different inverters also have different power output quality and expected service life. Like most things, you typically get what you pay for.

In off-grid systems, inverters convert the DC energy stored in batteries to AC for your appliances. The electricity many of these inverters produce is of better quality than what people buy from the utility. On-grid, inverters are used to supply power from batteries during grid outages when the utility fails to deliver.

Many on-grid inverters are designed to be used in solar-electric systems without batteries. These inverters convert the DC energy generated by PV panels or other sources directly into AC electricity to power appliances and sell to the utility. If you generate more electricity than you use, the majority of U.S. states require the utility to buy your surplus at the retail rate.

For more information on inverter basics, check out "How to Choose an Inverter for an Independent Energy System" by Windy Dankoff in HP82, page 74.

Joe Schwartz, Home Power• [email protected]

Alternative Energy

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