Power inverters have been in use for decades to convert direct current into alternating current so devices typically ran on the latter can be powered by sources producing the former. As new technologies come along, however, people are finding new, environmentally helpful uses for power inverters.
A solar inverter (also known as a PV inverter) is a power inverter that helps change solar energy into alternating current. Let’s take a look how this is done. Solar power is harvested by way of solar panels. Photovoltaics (PV) is the process by which solar radiation is converted into direct current electricity using semiconductors. You have probably seen the metallic surface of a solar panel at some point facing the sky (e.g. on the top of some houses, off the side of highways, etc.). Many of us grew up calculators that had panels at their tops which would grab light and run itself off it.
While photovoltaics is a very involved science that would need its own article, the important thing for this discussion is that it’s able to convert the sun’s light into direct current. As such, this electricity needs to be stored and is so in a battery.
Direct & Alternating Current
Direct current is electricity in its natural state. It has no “wavelength”, but rather would be graphed as simply a straight line of steady, consistent electricity heading in only one direction. This form of energy can be stored in batteries and used later. Anytime you use a battery powered device, you are taking advantage of direct current. Hence, when solar energy is converted into direct current, it is automatically stored I in a battery.
Alternating current is an artificial version people create. If graphed, it would very much have a wavelength. The line would hit peaks and valleys and resemble an actual wave rolling towards shore. This is the version of electricity you get when you plug something into an outlet. Utility companies deal in alternating current. It is the preferred energy for many of your devices because it regulates the watts and voltage it provides.
A power inverter is used when someone wants to run a device normally powered by direct current off of alternating current. This is typically done when someone hooks up their battery powered device with an adaptor to a wall outlet.
Solar Power Inverters
The same thing happens when solar energy is harvested and stored as direct current. A solar inverter (or PV inverter) takes this direct current and converts it to alternating current so the majority of devices that run off that form of electricity can take advantage of solar panels.
Power inverters are an essential part of modern life. Without them, the use of many of our most prized devices would be severely limited. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in the burgeoning science of solar energy. The truth is just about any “natural” energy is going to need a power inverter as it will most likely be stored in a battery as direct current after it is harvested.