Solar and Inverter Systems

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An inverter is an electrical device that converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC); the converted AC can be at any required voltage and frequency with the use of appropriate transformers, switching, and control circuits. Static inverters have no moving parts and are used in a wide range of applications, from small switching power supplies in computers, to large electric utility high-voltage direct current applications that transport bulk power. Inverters are commonly used to supply AC power from DC sources such as solar panels or batteries. The electrical inverter is a high-power electronic oscillator. It is so named because early mechanical AC to DC converters were made to work in reverse, and thus were "inverted", to convert DC to AC.

The inverter performs the opposite function of a rectifier.


DC power source utilization

Inverter designed to provide 115 VAC from the 12 VDC source provided in an automobile. The unit shown provides up to 1.2 amperes of alternating current, or enough to power two sixty watt light bulbs.

An inverter converts the DC electricity from sources such as batteries, solar panels, or fuel cells to AC electricity. The electricity can be at any required voltage; in particular it can operate AC equipment designed for mains operation, or rectified to produce DC at any desired voltage.

Grid tie inverters can feed energy back into the distribution network because they produce alternating current with the same wave shape and frequency as supplied by the distribution system. They can also switch off automatically in the event of a blackout.

Micro-inverters convert direct current from individual solar panels into alternating current for the electric grid.

Basic designs

In one simple inverter circuit, DC power is connected to a transformer through the centre tap of the primary winding. A switch is rapidly switched back and forth to allow current to flow back to the DC source following two alternate paths through one end of the primary winding and then the other. The alternation of the direction of current in the primary winding of the transformer produces alternating current (AC) in the secondary circuit.

The electromechanical version of the switching device includes two stationary contacts and a spring supported moving contact. The spring holds the movable contact against one of the stationary contacts and an electromagnet pulls the movable contact to the opposite stationary contact. The current in the electromagnet is interrupted by the action of the switch so that the switch continually switches rapidly back and forth. This type of electromechanical inverter switch, called a vibrator or buzzer, was once used in vacuum tube automobile radios. A similar mechanism has been used in door bells, buzzers and tattoo guns.

As they became available with adequate power ratings, transistors and various other types of semiconductor switches have been incorporated into inverter circuit designs.

Three phase inverters

3-phase inverter with wye connected load Three-phase inverters are used for variable-frequency drive applications and for high power applications such as HVDC power transmission. A basic three-phase inverter consists of three single-phase inverter switches each connected to one of the three load terminals. For the most basic control scheme, the operation of the three switches is coordinated so that one switch operates at each 60 degree point of the fundamental output waveform. This creates a line-to-line output waveform that has six steps. The six-step waveform has a zero-voltage step between the positive and negative sections of the square-wave such that the harmonics that are multiples of three are eliminated as described above. When carrier-based PWM techniques are applied to six-step waveforms, the basic overall shape, or envelope, of the waveform is retained so that the 3rd harmonic and its multiples are cancelled.

3-phase inverter switching circuit showing 6-step switching sequence and waveform of voltage between terminals A and C To construct inverters with higher power ratings, two six-step three-phase inverters can be connected in parallel for a higher current rating or in series for a higher voltage rating. In either case, the output waveforms are phase shifted to obtain a 12-step waveform. If additional inverters are combined, an 18-step inverter is obtained with three inverters etc. Although inverters are usually combined for the purpose of achieving increased voltage or current ratings, the quality of the waveform is improved as well.

Controlled rectifier inverters

Since early transistors were not available with sufficient voltage and current ratings for most inverter applications, it was the 1957 introduction of the thyristor or silicon-controlled rectifier (SCR) that initiated the transition to solid state inverter circuits.

The commutation requirements of SCRs are a key consideration in SCR circuit designs. SCRs do not turn off or commutate automatically when the gate control signal is shut off. They only turn off when the forward current is reduced to below the minimum holding current, which varies with each kind of SCR, through some external process. For SCRs connected to an AC power source, commutation occurs naturally every time the polarity of the source voltage reverses. SCRs connected to a DC power source usually require a means of forced commutation that forces the current to zero when commutation is required. The least complicated SCR circuits employ natural commutation rather than forced commutation. With the addition of forced commutation circuits, SCRs have been used in the types of inverter circuits described above.

In applications where inverters transfer power from a DC power source to an AC power source, it is possible to use AC-to-DC controlled rectifier circuits operating in the inversion mode. In the inversion mode, a controlled rectifier circuit operates as a line commutated inverter. This type of operation can be used in HVDC power transmission systems and in regenerative braking operation of motor control systems.

Another type of SCR inverter circuit is the current source input (CSI) inverter. A CSI inverter is the dual of a six-step voltage source inverter. With a current source inverter, the DC power supply is configured as a current source rather than a voltage source. The inverter SCRs are switched in a six-step sequence to direct the current to a three-phase AC load as a stepped current waveform. CSI inverter commutation methods include load commutation and parallel capacitor commutation. With both methods, the input current regulation assists the commutation. With load commutation, the load is a synchronous motor operated at a leading power factor.

As they have become available in higher voltage and current ratings, semiconductors such as transistors or IGBTs that can be turned off by means of control signals have become the preferred switching components for use in inverter circuits

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