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Hybrid Solar Inverters: Modes, Pros & Cons + Ideal Applications

Hybrid solar inverters were invented in the early 2000s. They are innovative inverter products that combine multiple superb features to drive the deployment and adoption of solar further.

In this article, we will explore the following topics:

  • The definition and background of hybrid inverters
  • Their different working modes
  • Comparison to other inverters
  • Pros and cons
  • Ideal applications of these inverters

Let’s dive in!

Hybrid Solar Inverter Explained
"Hybrid Inverter" (remix) by mobius is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED

What Are Hybrid Solar Inverters?

Hybrid solar inverters are ‘versatile masters’ that manage and optimize the flow of electricity between solar panels, battery storage systems, loads and the power grid.

By integrating multi-purpose power input and output interfaces as well as new built-in modules such as battery inverters into a single unit, hybrid solar inverters are capable of optimizing energy generation and utilization in both grid-tied and off-grid scenarios, while requiring fewer components than in a traditional solar system.

Being residential, commercial or even some industrial projects, these inverters excel in switching between different working modes smartly and seamlessly and with great flexibility.

What Are the Different Working Modes of Hybrid Inverters?

Aiding you with a clear understanding of their functionalities, below is a breakdown of some major working modes a hybrid inverter can provide:

  • Solar Priority Mode: In this mode, the DC power generated is optimized, converted and then used to power connected loads directly. If the solar output is insufficient to meet the load demands, the inverter draws additional power from the battery or the grid. Excess solar, when available, is used to charge the battery,  before any surplus is fed into the grid using net metering.
  • Battery Priority Mode: The inverter prioritizes using stored energy from the battery to power connected loads, while the solar generated is used to charge the battery. If the battery is fully charged, the excess power is fed into the grid.
  • Grid Priority Mode: Typically switched on when the grid power is cheaper, the inverter prioritizes using grid power to meet the load demands. Solar can be used to complement the supply, charge the battery or send to the grid.
  • Off-Grid Mode: Also known as standalone mode, the inverter operates independently from the grid, powering the loads using solar and stored battery power.
  • Backup Power Mode: The inverter switches to this mode when there is a grid outage and solar system fault. It draws energy from the battery to power essential loads. Once all is restored, the inverter automatically switches back to its previous mode.
  • Grid-Tied Mode: The inverter is connected to both the panels and the grid. Solar is used to power the loads, with any extra energy supplied to the grid. This mode is generally used when solar production exceeds consumption and the battery is fully charged. 
  • Time-of-Used (ToU) Mode: This is an ‘electricity-rate-oriented’ mode that allows the inverter to smartly optimize energy usage based on variable electricity rates. In this mode, the inverter can be programmed to channel solar and grid power to charge the battery and power loads during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lower; and discharge the battery to supply loads during peak hours when rates are higher.

Hybrid Inverters vs Other Inverter Products

Apparently, hybrid inverters are made upon the features of preceding products. Conducting a comparison to these products will offer you a deeper understanding of these inverters.

Hybrid Inverters vs. String Inverters

In essence, hybrid inverters perform the core function of a standard string inverter. 

In a hybrid inverter solar project, all solar panels are connected in series to the hybrid inverter. All DC power generated is channeled to and then aggregated in the hybrid inverter for the following DC-AC conversion process. Thus, the marked downside of string inverters can also be seen in hybrid inverters. Any shading and hotspot effects as well as malfunctionings can pose a great impact on the overall efficiency and output of the system along the chain from panels to their converted output.

Scalability is another issue, the entire capacity of the system would be limited by the power rate of the inverter itself. If your expected new capacity exceeds that rate limit of the inverter, a replacement of it would be needed.

Despite these challenges, hybrid inverters provide a versatile solution with exceptional flexibility for both grid-tied and off-grid applications.

Hybrid Inverters vs. Microinverters

Unlike the centralized working mechenism of hybrid inverters, microinverters fulfill panel-level power optimization and DC-AC conversion. But they lack sufficient capabilities in multi-purpose scenarios, involving management of battery charging and recharging, and switching between grid-tied and off-grid modes.

It is also worth introduction that many hybrid inverters accept multiple sources of DC and AC input. They can accept input from a fossil fuel power generator or even a wind power generation system. This increases their capability to manage and balance the different sources of power seamlessly, ensuring a stable and reliable electricity supply.

Pros and Cons of Hybrid Solar Inverters

Serving as a smart control hub for energy conversion, optimization and management, hybrid solar inverters have many benefits as follows:

Pros of Hybrid Inverters

  • Versatility for Enhanced Power Resiliency: Hybrid inverters are versatile and allow for both on-grid and off-grid operations. They supply backup power during grid outages by utilizing stored energy in the battery, ensuring continuous power supply.
  • Flexibility for Grid Independence: By taking in multiple sources and enabling switching between grid power, solar power and battery power without interruption in response to various circumstances, hybrid inverters allow system owners to consume energy more efficiently with an assured supply. 
  • Simplified But Powerful Energy Monitoring: These inverters provide system owners a single interface to track energy generation and usage across different energy flows. This helps owners better comprehend the overall performance of their systems for better energy consumption optimization with insightful data.
  • Potential Improved Efficiency: By working at an ideal mode to gear toward a particular scenario, hybrid inverters can reduce power losses, get the best value for the DC and AC flows, and ultimately improve overall efficiency of the entire power system.
  • Future-Proofing: Hybrid solar inverters prepare the necessary interfaces and hardware and software modules for those just tap into the benefits of solar but with plans for system upgrades. This enables system owners to add battery storage capability to their system for enhanced resiliency at a later date, without replacing the existing inverter.
  • Cost Savings: In the long run, hybrid inverters can be more cost-effective than installing separate inverters, charge controllers and associated accessories for a solar-plus-storage grid-tied system. On the other hand, any surplus solar energy can be fed into the grid and sold to the utility for money, in the form of credits and savings.

Cons of Hybrid Inverters

  • Higher Upfront Cost: This might be the most pronounced downside of hybrid inverters. They are more expensive than other types of inverters.
  • Complex Installation: The setup and configuration of hybrid inverters can be more complex, as they come with more interfaces and features to connect to more circuits. This requires professional installation and programming.
  • Limited Compatibility & Scalability: Some inverters may have limited compatibility with certain battery types or panel configurations. For example, for those inverters equipped with a built-in charge controller, connecting to a battery also with a built-in controller may cause issues. Additionally, as mentioned previously, the expansion of the solar system might be constrained by the power rate of the inverter.
  • Maintenance Challenges: Hybrid inverters nest many components and functionalities into one, so there may be a higher potential for maintenance issues compared to simpler inverter types. If maintenance is needed, a shutdown for the entire system may be necessary.

When to Use Hybrid Inverters? (Things to Consider)

Hybrid inverters are a solid solution for those solar projects built for multi-purpose, more complex applications. 

If you desire to take advantage of free and clean solar energy, the cheaper rates of grid power during off-peak hours as well as the resilient power that battery supplies, hybrid inverters can let you do so with ease.

Since they are a one-stop solution. If you have a near plan to add an energy storage module and connect to the utility grid but don’t want to do a replacement or retrofit, getting a hybrid inverter installed at the start can avoid the hassle.

Hybrid Solar Inverter for On-Grid and Off-Grid Applications

However, you should factor into several considerations to determine whether they are ideal for you. Please confirm if the capacity of your hybrid inverter suffices your foreseeable needs, if any compatibility issue can be excluded in your case and if after-sale or maintenance services for your product are adequate or not.

FAQs about hybrid solar inverters

Can hybrid inverters be used for residential solar projects?

Yes. Hybrid inverters can revolutionize your residential project. There are products with ideal capacity for residential use. Make sure you can accept the potential impacts of their downsides or find ways to mitigate them.

Can a hybrid inverter connect to optimizers attached to the panels?

Technically, a hybrid inverter can connect to optimizers attached to the panels and receive the optimized output of panels for later procedures. However, compatibility and communication issues might occur. Hence, it is recommended to check the technical manual of the inverter or reach out to the manufacturer for confirmation.

Can a hybrid inverter connect to existing microinverters?

Typically, a hybrid inverter cannot directly connect to existing microinverters. Microinverters are designed to work independently at the panel level white hybrid inverters are to manage the entire system centrally. They have different electrical characteristics, communication protocols and control algorithms, which makes them incompatible with each other.

Do hybrid inverters adopt MPPT technology?

Yes. By incorporating the maximum power point tracking (MPPT) technology, hybrid inverters can ensure that both the direct consumption needs of connected loads and the charging of the battery storage are managed in the most efficient way possible.

Final Words

Hybrid solar inverters will beat other products in the context of increasing demands for smart multi-source energy management and efficient distributed energy coordination.

As the solar market is under ongoing evolution, the demand for hybrid inverter products is expected to grow continually. They are a worthwhile investment for both project developers and solar business owners.

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