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Detailed reviews and information of the best solar panels, inverters and batteries. Plus hybrid and off-grid solar system reviews and information articles on how solar and battery systems work.

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Reviews and information on the best Solar panels, inverters and batteries from SMA, Fronius, SunPower, SolaX, Q Cells, Trina, Jinko, Selectronic, Tesla Powerwall, ABB. Plus hybrid inverters, battery sizing, Lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries, off-grid and on-grid power systems.

Technical guide to sizing hybrid inverters and off-grid solar systems

Jason Svarc

Diagram - Basic configuration of an AC coupled hybrid grid-connected power system

Diagram - Basic configuration of an AC coupled hybrid grid-connected power system

This is a guide only. For less technical information see the basic guide to selecting home grid-tie or off-grid solar battery system. Solar and battery storage systems must be installed by an experienced licensed electrical professional. Solar and Energy storage systems generate and store huge amounts of energy which can result in damage, fire or serious injury if the installation does not meet all relevant regulations, standards & guidelines.

Designing an energy storage or stand-Alone Solar power system

Before selecting or purchasing any equipment required for a hybrid or stand-alone power system, the installer should have a good understanding of the basics of sizing energy storage systems - The most important part of the process is establishing the load profile or building a load table to estimate the amount of energy required to be generated and stored per day. If you cannot develop a load table then a professional solar installer or system designer should be consulted. The general steps are as follows:

  1. Estimate the loads - how much energy is required per day in kWh. For off-grid power systems, a load table should be developed for both summer and winter requirements. The maximum demand or peak demand also needs to be considered when selecting the battery and inverter/charger.

  2. Determine the battery size required in Ah or Wh. You need to take into account the battery type and chemistry, maximum depth of discharge (DoD), round-trip (charging) efficiency and maximum charge rate.

  3. Determine how many solar panel/s are required to charge the battery and supply the loads taking into account the local conditions such as - average irradiance throughout the year, shading issues, panel orientation, and temperature derating factors.

  4. After steps 1 to 3 have been established you can now select the appropriate Inverter/charger, solar inverter/s or MPPT Solar Charge Controller/s to suit the system.


How to select a hybrid/off-grid inverter

Modern hybrid & off-grid energy storage systems have many specifications to consider before selecting and sizing an appropriate battery inverter/charger. There are also many different system types now available including all-in-one hybrid solar inverters, complete systems with integrated battery storage (BESS) and AC coupled battery systems. Here we help explain some the key requirements which should be considered.

  1. Inverter power output - continuous and surge rating (kW)

  2. Inverter charge rating (A)

  3. Solar PV array size (kW)

  4. Pass through power (A)

  5. Battery compatibility - System voltage and battery type

  6. Configuration - AC or DC coupled

  7. Software and energy management


1. Inverter Power Output

There are two main types of modern hybrid/off-grid inverters which are available in various sizes having different continuous and peak power ratings, measured in kW or kVA.

  1. Off-grid battery inverter/chargers with heavy duty transformers are more expensive but provide very high surge and peak power output and can handle high inductive loads, explained in more detail below.

  2. Hybrid all-in-one inverter systems and AC coupled battery systems use transformer-less inverters with 'switching transistors'. These lightweight inverters have lower surge and peak power output capability but are more cost effective being cheaper and easier to manufacture.

* Comparison of various all-in-one hybrid inverters and the Interactive inverters/chargers from Selectronic and Victron Energy. To be used as a guide only - refer to manufacturers specifications for full details.

Comparison chart of the leading off-grid inverters with continuous and peak power ratings * (48V)

Continuous Power Output

Most battery inverters (hybrid or Inverter/charger) are available in a wide range of sizes determined by the continuous output power rating measured in kW.

The inverter should be matched (sized) slighly higher than the load or power demand of the appliances it will be powering. Due to temperature de-rating the inverter should be at least 1.2 times larger than the highest continuous summer demand. Depending on the application this is often the most important specification to be considered when selecting a hybrid inverter especially when using a hybrid inverter as a back-up power source for dedicated or essential loads. Whether the loads are inductive or resistive is also very important and must be taken into account.

Note some inverters power ratings are provided in kVA which can be misleading. The general conversion ratio used for kVA to kW is kVA*0.8 = kW. For example a 5kVA inverter equates to roughly a 4kW inverter power rating.

For off-grid installations the inverter sizing is critical and must be sized to meet the full load (demand) under all conditions. As mentioned the temperature derating is especially important as the inverter output is derated (reduced) at higher ambient temperatures, for example a 6kW inverter which is rated and 20degC may only output a continuous power of 4.8kW at 40degC. This de-rating factor must be taken into account, especially in warmer climates.

EXAMPLE - Inverter spec sheet from  Victron Energy  for the new generation Multiplus II inverter/charger series. See the full  Victron Multiplus specification data sheet .

EXAMPLE - Inverter spec sheet from Victron Energy for the new generation Multiplus II inverter/charger series. See the full Victron Multiplus specification data sheet.

Surge or Peak Power Output

The surge or peak power output is very important for off-grid systems but not always critical for a hybrid system. If you plan on powering high surge appliances such as water pumps, compressors, washing machines and power tools the inverter must be able to handle the high inductive surge loads.

The amount of time the inverter can maintain the surge power output is also very important, but can be misleading depending on how it is described by the manufacturer. For example some inverters may specify the surge output of say 8kW while others may specify 8kW for 60 seconds. Generally the high-end multi-mode or interactive inverters have the highest surge ratings for the longest amount of time. The Selectronic SP PRO is known to have the highest surge rating of any battery inverter/charger on the market.

Backup Power Output - Continuous

As highlighted in the chart above many all-in-one hybrid inverters have reduced or limited backup power when operating in backup or emergency supply mode. This can also be further limited by the battery capacity output rating depending on the battery size used. However there are several all-in-one hybrid inverters (Solax, Redback & SolarEdge) do not have reduced power output in backup mode. The dedicated battery inverter/chargers (interactive inverters) such as the Selectronic SP PRO and Victron Multiplus do not have any such limitations.

2. Inverter Charge rating

The battery inverter max ‘charge rating’ measured in Amps needs to be considered to ensure the battery bank capacity and inverter are ‘balanced’ correctly. Ie. ensure the inverter/charger has enough charging capacity to enable the battery to reach the absorption charge voltage. If the battery bank is too large and inverter charge rating is too small them the battery with not achieve a full charge cycle. This will result in poor performance, degradation and possible sulfation (if lead-acid).

Inverter spec sheet (SP PRO) highlighting the maximum charge rating in red.

Many modern lithium battery systems can accept a high charge current to capacity ratio and are able to be charged at a higher C1 rate. If a large or oversized solar array is used and the inverter charge rate is not adequate then the solar generation may be clipped (reduced) and the system will not perform as efficiently. The Selectonic SP PRO inverters are generally known to have the highest charge rating.


3. Solar Array Size - Solar PV Input

After sizing the PV array based on the energy consumption profile, location, losses, etc (as calculated by a solar professional) the next step is to determine the maximum solar array size in kW based on the specific hybrid or off-grid system used, which is usually limited by the inverter size. For off-grid systems the battery capacity (kWh) must also be considered when sizing the solar array.

Most hybrid systems have an integrated solar inverter or MPPT. If the system uses an all-in-one hybrid inverter, this will determine the maximum size solar array which can be used with the system (usually around 6-8kW). In comparison the high-end interactive battery inverter/chargers such as the SP PRO and Victron Multiplus can work with solar inverters or DC regulators in both AC or DC coupled configurations. These systems can accommodate much larger solar arrays, which can also be expanded at a later stage if required.

AC Coupled PV size limitations

In some AC coupled systems the solar array capacity may be limited by the inverter rating. For example the Victron multiplus can be AC coupled at a ratio of 1:1, with the solar inverter max AC output being the same as the mulitplus AC power rating. This means a max 5kW solar inverter can be coupled with a 5kW multiplus inverter/charger.

In comparison the Selectronic SP PRO ratio is 1:2 meaning it can have double the solar inverter AC capacity connected. For example a 5kW SP PRO could be AC coupled with 2 x 5kW solar inverters or one larger 8.2kW solar inverter.


4. Pass Through Power

The pass through power feature (also referred to as a ‘transfer switch’) enables the inverter to supply additional power from the grid or backup generator under high loads, when the batteries are low and when solar energy is not available. The ability to pass through additional power from the grid (or generator in an off-grid system) can greatly simplify the installation by not requiring separation of essential and non-essential loads.

Note: Generally only high-end hybrid/off-grid interactive inverter/chargers can pass through additional power from the grid or auto start and run a connected back-up generator. Selectronic, Victron Energy and Schneider electric multi-mode inverters all have transfer switches with pass through power capability.

5. Compatible Battery Type

Before the release of affordable lithium battery systems most battery inverters where designed to operate with the widely available lead-acid batteries (Gel, AGM & flooded). Lead-acid batteries are far more common but are larger, heavier and can emit gases which require ventilation, whereas lithium-ion batteries are lighter, more compact and are considered safe to store inside a garage. Most lithium battery systems have an integrated battery management system (BMS) which requires an inverter with compatible communications (network protocol) to operate safely and efficiently.

There are several self-managed lithium LFP battery systems which do not require BMS communications to the inverter and will function much like a lead-acid battery system, these include Simpliphi PHI, Powerplus Energy and GenZ LFP battery modules.

The most popular  self-managed , modular lithium battery systems use LFP cells in different formats.

The most popular self-managed, modular lithium battery systems use LFP cells in different formats.

For off-grid systems lead-acid batteries are still a very well proven and reliable technology with a lifespan of up to 15 years when sized and managed correctly. One of the biggest benefits of lead-acid batteries is that, unlike modern lithium batteries, they will not shutdown at a low voltage or low SOC. This is important in emergency situations or when a backup generator fails or is not available.

There are many reliable and well proven lead-acid batteries available for off-grid systems.

There are many reliable and well proven lead-acid batteries available for off-grid systems.

Battery Voltage

All hybrid/off-grid inverters are designed to be used with a specific nominal DC battery voltage, the most common being 48V. Since most lithium battery systems are 48V this is not a problem, however many small capacity inverters use 12V or 24V so these may only be compatible with lead-acid battery banks of the same voltage. Selectronic, SMA and Schneider have a range of high-end 48V hybrid/off-grid inverters while Victron Energy and Outback Power supply both dedicated 12V, 24V & 48V off-grid inverters.

The first Tesla Powerwall was one of the first battery systems to operate at a high voltage (400V) and is connected in-line with the solar array which generally operates at a similar voltage (300-500V). The SolarEdge StorEdge and Fronius Symo hybrid (3-phase) inverters both work with the high voltage battery systems.

Note: Unlike the traditional DC coupled solar controllers or regulators, all modern hybrid inverters cannot work with multiple battery voltages.

Battery Capacity - KWh

Battery capacity is measured in kWh (kilowatt/hour) or Amp-hours (lead-acid) is the total amount of energy a battery system can store. However, depending on the battery type and specifications not all of the available capacity is usable. Common Lead-acid deep-cycle batteries (AGM & Gel) should only be discharged to 20-40% of total capacity, whereas Lithium-ion and new generation battery technologies can be discharged from 80-95%. Therefore the battery chemistry and capacity need to be carefully selected to cater to the user’s energy requirements.

Hybrid Vs Off-grid - For a typical grid-connected home with peak (evening) energy use of 8-10kWh from 5pm until midnight, roughly a 12-15 kWh lithium battery would be sufficient. However, for off-grid systems, the battery system will need to be able to store enough energy for several consecutive days of bad weather. With an average (efficient) home using 10-15 kWh over a whole day, this will require a much larger, more expensive 30-60 kWh battery system depending on the days of autonomy required and the size of the solar array.

Hybrid Example: If peak energy use (from 6-12pm) was 6kWh, then the system would require roughly 14-16kWh lead-acid battery or 7-8kWh lithium battery system to adequately cover peak energy consumption.

Comparison of the leading lead-acid Vs High performance Lithium battery systems - Click image

Comparison of the leading lead-acid Vs High performance Lithium battery systems - Click image


6. configuration - AC or DC coupled

As solar battery systems became larger and more advanced AC coupled systems evolved as one of the best configurations due to the use of low cost, easy to install string solar inverters. Most modern off-grid AC coupled systems use advanced bi-directional multi-mode inverters coupled with one or more compatible solar inverters. AC coupled systems are generally more efficient during the day when there is high AC power demand such as air-conditioning systems, modern kitchen appliances and pool pumps.

However the new generation high voltage DC coupled battery systems (400V) are becoming more and more popular with the growing range of advanced HV hybrid inverters now on the market.

See the complete AC vs DC coupled system review article.

7. Software and Energy Management

To enable hybrid or off-grid power systems to optimise energy use and prolong battery life, a high level of power management and battery monitoring is required. The software used to run hybrid/off-grid systems thus require advanced energy management and monitoring capabilities and this is where the high-end Interactive inverters really shine. These powerful inverters have the most advanced software packages with built-in control systems, relays and digital inputs and outputs. These systems also incorporate specialised battery monitoring and temperature sensors to prolong battery life and optimise charging when used with lead-acid or VRLA battery banks.

Example of logged data from a Redback technologies hybrid inverter - Image credit Redback Portal

Example of logged data from a Redback technologies hybrid inverter - Image credit Redback Portal

Several advanced hybrid inverters such as those from SolarEdge and Redback Technologies also include smart control features. For additional monitoring and control add on energy monitoring systems like Reposit Power and Solar Analytics can provide more advanced remote monitoring and smart control features.

Two popular add-on remote monitoring and energy management systems

Reposit Power remote monitoring and energy management system

Reposit Power remote monitoring and energy management system

 
Solar Analytics remote monitoring system

Solar Analytics remote monitoring system

Most hybrid systems with built-in battery storage (BESS systems) also utilise advanced energy management systems and sensors however, some of the low cost all-in-one hybrid inverters have limited capabilities which can result in less efficient use of stored energy.


Hybrid inverter comparison table

See our Hybrid/off-grid inverter and energy storage summary for direct comparison of all available hybrid and energy storage systems

Click image to review the hybrid inverter comparison table featuring the most popular inverters.

Click image to review the hybrid inverter comparison table featuring the most popular inverters.