What are AC solar panels?
Alternating current (AC) solar panels have recently created a lot of buzz among solar enthusiasts. Let’s take a look at them and see their advantages and drawbacks compared to traditional DC solar panels.
As you already know, a solar panel generates DC power only. An AC solar panel is nothing more than a solar panel integrated with a microinverter. The inverter converts DC electricity to AC electricity.
Usually the microinverter and the pertaining cables are attached to the solar panel already in factory conditions. According to the US National Electric Code, an AC solar panel is “a complete, environmentally protected unit consisting of solar cells, optics, inverter and other components, exclusive of tracker, designed to generate AC power when exposed to sunlight.”
Advantages of AC solar panels:
AC solar panels produce maximum power in any conditions, thus ensuring:
- Each panel working independently, without negatively influencing the rest panels in the array, if operating conditions are not optimal
- Optimal energy generation when solar array is shaded
- Part of the panels in a solar array to collect solar energy from non-optimal directions different from True South/ North, without decreasing the overall performance of the array, as it is in a solar power system with a central inverter
- Optimal maximum power point tracking per panel, compared to the less efficient tracking of whole array
- Elimination of power losses from cables connecting solar panels in array that are typical for solar panel systems with a central inverter
- Energy production monitoring at panel level
- Simplified system assembly, thanks to the plug-and-play architecture
- Lower installation cost
The life expectancy of an AC solar panel is limited by the lifespan of the integrated microinverter. In a typical solar power system, the life expectancy of the inverter is 12–15 years. In contrast, the average lifespan of a panel is 25–30 years. Yet there are 40 years old solar panels that are still completely operational. Usually, manufacturers of AC solar panels guarantee that the embedded microinverter will serve you 25–30 years.
The main drawback of solar panel systems based on AC solar panels is their higher final cost, as compared to a system initially designed with a central inverter. Although the price of a single AC solar panel looks enticingly low, after scaling up your system by adding more AC solar panels, you will find out that your system becomes more expensive, compared to a system of the same size with a central inverter.
Therefore, before deciding to use AC solar panels, you should evaluate whether the higher price of such panels would justify the expected energy production increase of your solar panel system and the ensured monitoring and control at the panel level.