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Explain Like I’m 5: Solar Inverter (ELI5)

A solar inverter, which changes electricity from direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) for use in the home.
PublishedNovember 5, 2021
UpdatedJune 21, 2024
AuthorCory O'Brien HeadshotCory O'BrienSenior Director - Growth MarketingEditorRyan Barnett HeadshotRyan BarnettSVP, Policy & New Market Development
In this article
What Is A Solar Inverter?
How Does A Solar Inverter Work?
Why Can’t My House Use Direct Current?
What Else Can A Solar Inverter Do?
Why Do I Need A Solar Inverter?

As any teacher knows, kids need concepts explained in easy-to-understand ways without complex vocabulary words and confusing terms. At Palmetto, we believe adults would benefit from this approach as well. After all, solar can be confusing! In our “Explain Like I’m 5” (ELI5) series, we’ll examine key elements of the clean energy revolution to help everyone understand the concepts, kids and adults alike.

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What Is A Solar Inverter?

A solar power inverter changes the direct current (DC) electricity created by solar panels into the alternating current (AC) electricity your house uses.

Imagine that an electric wire is like a tube filled with air. DC is like blowing air into one side of the tube, while AC is like breathing in and out into the tube. DC electricity flows in one direction, but AC electricity flows back and forth.

Changing electricity from DC to AC is done by the solar panel inverter, which lets you use solar energy to power your home.

How Does A Solar Inverter Work?

A solar power inverter helps your solar panels and your house talk to each other.

  • The solar panels send DC electricity to the inverter.
  • The inverter changes the electricity from DC into AC.
  • The inverter sends the AC electricity to the electrical panel so it can be shared around the house.

The actual change from DC to AC is done by transistors, which are like very fast switches. By turning those switches on and off in a specific pattern, you can change the direction that the electricity flows.

This process sounds simple, but it might be the most important work your home solar panel system does.

Why Can’t My House Use Direct Current?

Around 150 years ago, there was a big competition between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla to decide if homes would use DC or AC electricity. This is now known as the “War of the Currents”.

Edison had developed DC, and in the early years, that was the standard for U.S. homes. The only problem was that it’s hard to change the voltage of DC (voltage is like the pressure of electricity) which is important for sending power over long distances.

That changed with the invention of the transformer, which is basically a box of iron with wires wrapped around it. A transformer allows electricity to be changed from high voltage to low voltage, or from low voltage to high voltage.

Low voltage is much safer to use in the home, so the transformer allowed high voltage power to be sent through over long distances, and then changed into low voltage power to use in the home. As a result, AC electricity, popularized by Westinghouse and Tesla, ultimately became the standard used in all American homes.

What Else Can A Solar Inverter Do?

A solar power inverter can do other important tasks based upon what your home’s solar panel system needs:

Why Do I Need A Solar Inverter?

It’s pretty simple: You can’t use the solar energy from your solar panels without a solar inverter. Whether you install one solar panel on a garage yourself, or pay a solar company to install enough panels to power your entire home, you need at least one solar panel inverter. 

Ready to see how much you could save by going solar? Check out Palmetto’s Estimate Your Savings Tool.

See what solar can do for you:

My electric bill is $290/mo
About the AuthorCory O'Brien HeadshotCory O'BrienSenior Director - Growth Marketing

Cory brings over 8 years of solar expertise to Palmetto, and enjoys sharing that knowledge with others looking to improve their carbon footprint. A dog lover residing in Asheville, NC with his wife, Cory graduated from UCSB. If you run into him, ask him about the company he founded to rate and review beer!

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