A group of solar installers are having lunch at a solar convention, shooting the breeze and swapping project stories. Sooner or later, the topic of stressful installations is bound to emerge. As one reminisces how a particular solar inverter installation went awry, every other listening is sure to respond, “Been there, done that!”
The truth is that installing a solar inverter is not as easy as buckling a seat belt or changing a light bulb, although it’s getting close. An ideal inverter installation offers better esthetics, increased chances of passing inspections, fewer chances of making mistakes, and the highest level of safety. Here are some tips and tricks to seamlessly install a solar inverter.
Location and position
Choosing a proper location is another crucial step in a successful inverter installation. Today’s solar equipment should last up to twenty years, but location plays a role in that lifetime. Although many inverter warranties are not voided by installation in direct sunlight, it is best practice to install in a location that provides the cleanest, coolest setting possible. In the end, these are power electronics. Power electronics will always perform better by not derating on hot days, and their components will last longer in the shade. The inverter’s positioning is important as well. Consider a position that allows ease of access, because servicing or repairing the inverter may need to be done following an install. The standard for an inverter rating for an install should be NEMA 4X. This ensures the inverter is well-rated for harsh conditions, especially when the install doesn’t allow for that convenient, shady spot.
When working with electricity, safety should always be a primary concern. Always follow safety procedures and comply with NEC and local codes, and remember to always allow setback space for code and ventilation reasons, as well as clearance for code mandated setbacks and gas meters and vents.
Strings and things
Wiring and mounting is also an important component of installation to keep in mind while trying to lower costs. Keep it simple. Inspectors will scrutinize your installations less if they see wiring that is clean and well-organized. Some inverters can be very different than others when it comes to wiring access, deep wiring compartments are tricky to get your hands and into, and attaching ground bushings and lugs can be a nightmare. Well-designed inverters should have space for service loops and attachment points for zip-ties to keep wire management clean.
Proficiently installing, commissioning and connecting data communications for inverters has traditionally been a complex task because inverters used many different communications platforms. In many cases, an IT professional with a laptop was needed to connect an inverter to the internet. With today’s technology, connections are simple using Wi-Fi and a smart phone app- an installer can even leave the process up to a homeowner. SunSpec Modbus has become the standard for commercial communications to third party hardware, and provides simple to wire and plug-and-play integration and provisioning.
Know codes and products
Product familiarity is another key aspect in successful installations. The easiest inverters to install are lightweight and ergonomic. Some manufacturers like Fronius have also made it easier to commission the inverter by offering a product line with the same displays and interface, and pre-configuring the inverters based on the typical application. Little more than basic testing of AC and DC, and turning the inverter on is needed.
Also, as the solar industry evolves and the NEC code changes, it’s important to be up to date on the latest requirements. Inverters are constantly evolving to meet the new requirements such as arc-fault protection, rapid shutdown, and all the advanced grid features that will be needed to be part of tomorrows Smart Grid. Inverter companies are driven to offer seamless solutions that are simple to install.
Educating the customer
It’s also a great practice to educate the customer on their power electronics. Needs will surface throughout the life of their system and customers will usually require post-installation assistance with servicing and commissioning the inverter. A customer who is prepared to handle the post-install life of their inverter is one poised to save time and money, setting the stage for a positive experience with solar energy. Leaving the owner’s manual with customers so they can learn the basics of their system can be beneficial and prevent calls and time spent answering basic questions. Web based monitoring provides customers access to their system at any time using smart phones, and can send alerts if there is an issue with their system. Web connected inverters can also be seen by the Technical Support Teams at inverter companies, and can provide remote troubleshooting and service.
By: Sebastian Hassell, Product Manager at Fronius