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How do solar panel optimisers work?

With the increased interest in environmental issues across the globe, the interest in solar power has also increased. And, with this comes a vast improvement in solar technology, with solar panel optimisers offering a huge positive step towards better solar output and production. So, what exactly are they and how can they help you?

Solar Panels

If you have any questions, give Static Electrics a call on 0429 139 039 and we can assist with any solar or electrical queries you may have.

What is solar panel optimisation?

Solar Panel Optimisation, otherwise known as Panel Level Optimisation (PLO) and Module Level Power Electronics (MLPE), is an extra feature that can be added to your solar installation in order to optimise the power output from each of your solar panels individually.

If one panel in a conventional solar installation is performing at a low standard, all the other panels that it shares a 'string' with will perform at a lower standard too.

What is a 'string'?

When it comes to conventional solar panel systems, the panels are connected in what is called strings. Each string will have a number of connected solar panels that are wired in a series. It looks a little something like this :

Solar Panel String

The current begins at A, and then travels through every panel until it gets to B. If any one of those panels is shaded, it will restrict the current that passes through the module. So, in other words, any limitations that are placed on one panel will restrict the current through any other panel. If you are looking at this in a practical sense, then if one of your solar panels is only working at 60% due to shading, then your other panels are only working at 60% as well.

If you are reading this and thinking, "but what are bypass diodes!?", then you are a tiny bit right (but only a little) as they do not optimise a solar panel individually, they only make the situation slightly better. We aren't going to go into bypass diodes in detail here however, that is a topic for another day.

What is a solar panel optimiser?

A solar panel optimiser is a device that can be added to one or all panels in a string. Its aim is to increase the output of a solar installation, by bypassing the shaded solar module which allows the system to operate to its full potential.

How does a solar panel optimiser work?

As mentioned above, conventional solar systems are generally in a string or series of strings with each panel plugging into the next, however it depends on the system size (in kilowatts) as to how many panels will get wired in series together. Solar panels are located across a particular area, such as a roof-top, where things such as antennas, stink pipes and trees can cause unwanted shading.

Enter the optimiser, which can then bypass the shaded solar module allowing the system to operate to its full potential and generally dramatically improve the system output.

Different types of solar panel optimisers

In order to achieve PLO, there are 4 different optimiser options to choose from:

  1. Microinverters.
  2. Maxim Panels.
  3. Smart Panels (Integrated DC Optimisers).
  4. Discrete Optimisers.

Each will be an additional cost to your solar panel installation, with microinverters generally being the most expensive option, followed by DC Optimisers, Smart Panels then Maxim Panels (Maxim Panels aren't usually available in Australia). Have a chat to your local solar professional as to which solar panel optimiser will be best for your needs, as well as the suitability of an optimiser fitting into your budget.

Who can install a solar panel optimiser?

A professional! Solar panel optimisers are not a DIY project, and you must speak with your solar electrician regarding their installation. Some people choose to buy an optimiser when they purchase their solar panel system, and have them installed together, but others purchase an optimiser later on and have them retro-fitted.

Your solar electrician will install the optimiser to the required shaded solar panels and generally, they are fitted under the modules, attach to the solar array frame and then the solar panel plugs into the optimiser. There’s a few different brands on the market, so the fitting slightly varies across the different ranges.

Who should have a solar panel optimiser?

You're probably reading this and wondering if you should either have a solar panel optimiser installed, or have one included when you purchase solar panels in the future.... and this is a relevant point. Take a look at the following, which gives some indications as to who should have an optimiser (and who doesn't really need one):

  1. If your roof faces 1-3 ways, but without any shade, then a solar panel optimiser isn't really worth spending any extra money on. But, if you want to get more out of your system anyway, installing a solar panel optimiser can allow you to get up to 12% more energy from your panels by simply making it run better (e.g. through cloud cover or dirt).
  2. If the safety of your solar system is a big thing for you, then options such as microinverters and DC optimisers are a good choice. They both shut-down the system when there's faulty circumstances.
  3. If you would like to monitor the power of each of your solar panels, then both DC optimisers and microinverters allow panel monitoring.
  4. If you have a complicated roof that runs in many different directions and has a lot of items on it (such as aeriels or flues) then a solar panel optimiser is likely a good idea.
  5. If you have a small number of areas that are shading your solar panels, a DC optimiser may be a good choice (and is super cost effective too!).

Why have a solar panel optimiser?

As its name suggests, a solar panel optimiser does just that - optimises the current from each solar panel, no matter how the other panels are performing. It allows you to get more output from your solar panels, which means more energy and a more efficient solar system. They are also relatively inexpensive compared to the savings they can provide, and ensure one under performing panel does not negatively affect your solar panels' capabilities.

Static Electrics

Your knowledgeable and friendly solar experts

If you have any questions regarding solar panel optimisation, or are looking at getting a solar system but worried about some shading, give State Electrics a call on 0429 139 039 and we can assist. We service Brisbane, Moreton Bay and the Sunshine Coast, so get in contact now!

Resources:

Solar Quotes (Solar Panel Opimisation): https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/solar-panel-optimisation/

Solar Quotes (Microinverters vs. DC Optimisers: Which option is best?): https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/microinverters-vs-dc-optimisers-which-option-is-best/

CHOICE (Are my solar panels working?): https://www.choice.com.au/home-improvement/energy-saving/solar/articles/six-step-health-check-for-your-solar-system

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