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Pre-wired power conversion equipment is an easy and fast solution for both professional installers and DIY clients. There are several ways to go with an off-grid system:
- DC coupled
- AC coupled
- DC and AC coupled
Equipment designed for the large grid-tied market when used off-grid tends to be AC coupled (solar panels make DC, via micro or string inverter to AC, to central battery inverter).
Equipment designed for the much smaller off-grid market tends to be DC coupled (solar panels make DC, via DC MPPT regulator to battery, then via inverter to AC). Power from GTI’s (grid-tied inverters) can often also be injected on the AC side of the system as well.
The homeowner can often work on the DC side of the system if it is ELV (<120VDC). AC coupled systems are normally LV (>120VDC) on the DC side which in NZ requires the work to be done by an electrician, COC documentation, it is also classed as high risk needing an ROI documentation.
It is our view that for domestic scale solar/hydro jobs of moderate size that DC coupled systems are preferable with these advantages:
- Homes use most power outside sunlight hours, so DC coupled can be more efficient.
- You can do some or all of the DC work yourself if ELV in NZ – we have some guides to help you
- Lower and safer DC voltages.
- In remote locations where most off-grid jobs are installed, electricians skilled in such systems may be rare and have to travel long distances which can be costly.
Yes there are also some disadvantages like more cables and fuses needed etc. For more discussion on this topic read these links: Victron, Clean Energy, Solar Builder Mag
Pre-wired systems have been common for well over 10 years with the Outback FP-1 being the benchmark. Times have moved on and the FP-1 is on the small side for a typical NZ home and rather costly compared to the competition. The larger Outback FP-2 (without FM80s or FPA22 with FM80s) is a good size but rather costly.
Outback have recently launched a lower cost (up to 500V) hybrid inverter and MPPT called the SPC III. It appears to be a branded Chinese (or Indian) unit very similar to this one but with a few improvements such a logging and monitoring and with a 2 year warranty.
Steca have recently launched a lower cost (up to 150V) hybrid inverter and MPPT called Solarix PLI that appears to be a branded Chinese unit very similar to this one.
Victron recently launched the 5KVA EasySolar which has a 25% larger inverter and MPPT than the FP-1. They have just launched the 3KVA Easysolar-II GX and will in due course release the 5KVA Easysolar-II GX. The main differences on the more recent version are:
- AC breakers and the RCD have been removed
- Colour display has been removed
- Smaller form factor
- MPPT has been upgraded from 150V to 250v version, so can be LV or ELV on the DC side
- Price is the same
The main difference between that Outback FP-1 and EasySolar 5KVA range is that the FP-1 has a single interface for both the installer and the customer called the Mate 3s, settings can be adjusted remotely via cloud based monitoring. The Victron EasySolar has a nice colour display option (mainly for the customer) that can also be connected to the internet. EasySolar settings cannot be changed remotely and the installer requires a laptop, software and several special cables to set the system up correctly. You can read our Victron Easysolar guide here.
My experience with cloud based monitoring at remote sites in NZ has not been great, often due to unreliable internet connections. The setting up of cloud based monitoring is never as easy as the supporting documentation often implies. So you may need to engage an IT professional to help you with this aspect of the installation.
For those clients who cannot afford these quality pre-wired solutions then consider these low cost hybrid options that you can import yourself direct from China:
We only offer for sale quality DC coupled options - all have a 5-year (return to dealer in Auckland) warranty:
- Victron Easysolar 24V 3KVA with colour display (70A Blue solar 150V MPPT fitted)
- Victron Easysolar II 48V 3KVA with display (70A Blue solar 250V MPPT fitted)
- Victron Easysolar 48V 5KVA with colour display (100A Smart solar 150V MPPT fitted)
- Outback FP-1 (with Mate 3S and 80A-150V amp MPPT)
We also offer a range of inverters sized from 3-15 KVA. There are too many options to list them all, so contact us with the size you need and we can price a few options/makes for you. At the moment the Victron 3, 5, 8, 10 and 15 KVA 48V inverters are a very good & cost effective option for small, medium and large off-grid homes. Be warned that although Victron PCE’s are very good, the documentation supplied if often light if you need help with more advanced features.