A new solar techno word has been on the rise – micro-inverter. They’ve been touted as the next big thing that will revolutionize the solar industry. But what exactly is the difference between traditional inverters and micro-inverters?

Size is obviously the first thing you’ll notice when comparing a traditional inverter to a micro-inverter.

Most residential solar panel systems have only one or two inverters which convert the DC electricity generated by the solar panels into AC, which can then be used for your home appliances. A traditional solar array is connected (or strung) together as a group to one main inverter. The inverter is generally placed next to the utility meter on the side of your home.

When using micro-inverters, each panel in an array has its own micro-inverter installed underneath it, with each inverter/panel unit operating independently of its neighbors. This allows for more efficient power production. Why is that?

Since a traditional solar array contains a string of connected panels, the entire array is dependent upon each panel’s performance as well as the reliability of the main inverter. Various outdoor elements, such as shading or debris, may also impact part of the array’s overall performance.

But as the micro-inverters are independently controlled, the overall power production is only minimally impacted by a shaded panel. This makes micro-inverters an ideal candidate for installation sites with shading issues.

It is worth noting, however, that micro-inverters are a new technology and don’t have as long as a track record as more established types of inverters. Also, since the micro-inverters themselves are installed on top of the roof under the solar panels, high temperatures may contribute to lower efficiency. The micro-inverters themselves have no moving parts, but more hardware installed increases possible reliability concerns.

The outlook is promising, but as more real-world data comes in, we’ll get a better idea of how they will hold up over the long haul.

For more information on micro-inverters, check out Enphase Energy.