Enphase vs SolarEdge: which home solar inverter is best?
80% of the home solar inverter market is dominated by Enphase and SolarEdge. Here’s a side-by-side comparison.
When it comes to designing a home solar system, most people tend to focus on the panels, but arguably the most important component of the system is the inverter.
The inverter does the important job of converting direct current (DC) power from the panels into alternating current (AC) power that your home can use. It’s a complex device, and manufacturers offer different designs with pros and cons that a homeowner should understand before they sign off on a proposal from a solar installer. You can read our guide to solar inverters to learn about the different choices.
Over 80% of the US inverter market is dominated by just two companies: Enphase and SolarEdge. Any solar quote you get will probably include products from one of these companies, and if you get multiple quotes (as you always should) the chances are that you’ll be comparing Enphase versus SolarEdge.
Is one inherently better than the other? Not really, but there are situations where you might favor one product over the other. Here’s a look at the latest products from each company, and some tips on how to decide between them
The newest Enphase microinverters are the IQ 8 Series. They improve on the earlier IQ 7 with higher capacity models, making the IQ 8 Series suitable for pairing with the latest 400+ watt panels that have arrived on the market in the past couple years.
There are six models to choose from: the IQ8, IQ8+, IQ8M, IQ8A, IQ8H, and IQ8H 208v. The main difference between these models is the input and output power. Most home installations will only need either the IQ8 or IQ8+, as the latter tops out at 440 watts of input power. Only larger panels aimed at the commercial market will need the higher capacity IQ 8 models.
One other new feature of the IQ 8 series is Sunlight Backup, which is the ability to provide limited power output during a blackout without the need for a battery. (Standard solar inverters shut down during a blackout unless the system is coupled to a backup battery.)
Sunlight Backup means that your system can supply power to your home during a grid outage as long as the sun is shining. That might be enough to power a window air conditioner, gas furnace, or help keep your refrigerator from defrosting.
However, Sunlight Backup isn’t a free feature. It requires an additional component called the IQ System Controller, which currently sells online for $1,700. That doesn’t include installation, so even if your contractor is able to get a cheaper price from Enphase, it’s a pretty expensive feature with arguably limited use. However, if you do experience frequent blackouts but don’t want to go all-in with an expensive battery system, Sunlight Backup could be a nice option.
SolarEdge offers central inverters that pair with power optimizers. (SolarEdge does not offer a traditional standalone string inverter.) Their inverter for residential use is the single phase HD-Wave inverter. There is also a three phase HD-Wave, but that is for commercial use. (Homes in the United States almost never have three phase power.)
With the SolarEdge system, there is a central inverter that is installed in your basement, garage, or on an outdoor wall at ground level. It handles the DC-to-AC conversion for all the panels in the array.
There are seven products in the HD-Wave lineup. All of them share the same features except for power capacity. Here’s a list of the HD-Wave inverters by input power:
|Product||Maximum input power (watts)|
A key feature of the HD-Wave series is the addition of power optimizers.
Power optimizers are a component that improves the efficiency of a solar array, especially in situations where some of the solar panels experience shade for part of the day.
Similar to microinverters, one power optimizer is wired into each solar panel. The optimizers allow the system to handle shading situations better than a string inverter, also give you panel-level monitoring.
From a technical point of view, a power optimizer is a maximum power point tracker. An MPPT unit allows an inverter to better deal with partial shading, a situation that could cause the entire array to lose power generation if not compensated for. While a conventional string inverter might have 1 to 3 internal MPPT units, with a power optimizer system there is one MPPT per solar panel. This allows the solar system to get maximum electricity generation in partial shading situations.
One of the key metrics for any solar system is efficiency. This refers to the amount of light that is converted into electricity. With higher efficiency, you can generate more electricity with fewer solar panels.
While solar panel efficiency is something that manufacturers feature prominently, inverter efficiency is also important. This refers to the amount of power loss that occurs within the unit during the DC-to-AC power conversion.
Fortunately, inverter efficiency isn’t much of a deciding factor these days. The majority of solar inverters that you will find on the market these days have an efficiency better than 95%, and some have 99% efficiency. This means that only 1% of the incoming electricity will be lost as heat during the DC-to-AC conversion.
With the SolarEdge system, you have two components to look at: the central inverter, which lists 99% efficiency, and the power optimizer, which lists 99.5% efficiency. The total system efficiency is these two numbers multiplied.
The Enphase IQ 8 series is slightly worse at 97% efficiency. Still, the difference is very minor, and shouldn’t be a deciding factor in most cases.
Enphase microinverters have a 25 year product warranty, which is the longest in the industry. While SolarEdge power optimizers also have a 25 year warranty, the central inverter comes with only a 12 year warranty. SolarEdge offers 20 and 25 year warranty extensions, but for an added cost.
The warranties for both companies cover product failures, but do not include installation labor.
Enphase vs SolarEdge pricing
In general, a microinverter-based system will be the most expensive option, a power optimizer-based system will be somewhat cheaper, and a string inverter will be the least expensive.
In the real world, while it will usually be the case that a string inverter will be your cheapest option, the actual price you pay is significantly influenced by the deal your installer can get from the manufacturer. The effects of local pricing and volume discounts mean that you could get a bid where Enphase is cheaper than SolarEdge.
With all that said, in most cases you’ll find that Enphase is cheaper than SolarEdge.
Both Enphase and SolarEdge give you panel-level monitoring that is available one the web or a smartphone app. You’ll be able to see power generation in real time, and you can generate reports on how many kilowatt-hours of electricity your system has generated on any day, week, month, or year.
Both systems also let you see how much power each individual panel generates, which is a great feature to help you monitor the health of your system and to know when one panel might be having a problem.
You can preview what this system looks by checking out any of the public systems that are available on the web. While the web portals that SolarEdge and Enphase provide don’t match exactly what their smartphone apps look like, it gives you a good idea of the detail available.
With an Enphase system, monitoring is provided by a separate product called IQ Gateway. It communicates over Wi-Fi or cellular to send data to Enphase servers. A SolarEdge HD-Wave inverter, on the other hand, has the monitoring system is built into the device.
Enphase vs SolarEdge: which should you choose?
Enphase and SolarEdge are the 800 pound gorillas in the residential solar market, so if you get multiple solar quotes (as you always should) there’s a really good chance that you’ll see quotes for both products.
Which should you choose? It should be said that both are excellent: there’s a reason that they’re market leaders. Because of that, you shouldn’t be afraid of making a “wrong” decision. Chances are, whichever manufacturer you go with, your system will work trouble-free for a couple decades.
That said, there are a few reasons why you might lean toward one or the other.
Shading: Microinverters will generally outperform power optimizers in difficult shading situations. Even though power optimizers are intended to limit the impact of partial shading (as you would experience with shade trees), they will fail to work when too many panels in a string are covered in shade. If your installation is impacted by trees or a complicated roof that throws shadows, a microinverter-based system may perform better.
Future expansion: You’ll notice in the list of SolarEdge HD-Wave products above that each has a power input limit. This limit means that if you expand your system in the future - as might happen if you purchase an electric vehicle, for example - the additional panels may exceed the power capacity of the inverter, and you’ll need to throw it out and purchase a larger one. Microinverters don’t have this design limitation: you simply add more panels and microinverters to your array. For expandability, microinverters have a clear advantage.
Sunny Backup: Enphase IQ 8 microinverters, with the addition of an add-on component, can provide power to your home in a blackout when the sun is shining without the need for a battery. While this capability isn’t free, it’s quite a bit cheaper than a battery.
Warranty: The 25 year Enphase warranty exceeds the basic 12 year SolarEdge warranty. You can get 25 years with SolarEdge, but it’s an optional add-on with a cost.
Price: In most cases, SolarEdge systems are cheaper than Enphase - sometimes by as much as a couple thousand dollars for larger systems.
Last note: a string inverter might be just fine
Finally, it should be noted that if your solar panels are being installed on a single flat section of roof and you have no shading issues, your best option might be a string inverter. While a 10 year warranty for a single inverter is typical (meaning that you should plan for at least one replacement during your system’s lifetime), the cost of a string inverter is also considerably cheaper than microinverters or power optimizers. In addition, the labor cost of replacement is lower because you don’t have to go up to the roof to replace components. Read our guide to solar inverters to learn more about this topic.