SMA Solar Inverter Review
SMA is one of the largest and oldest players in the solar inverter market. It has a similar position as Mercedes in the automotive industry.
Buying an SMA inverter will never be the wrong choice. The company has too much experience to offer to make mistakes and too much prestige to lose to afford them. Of course, this comes at a price. Is it worth paying more for SMA? Rate with us the quality, efficiency, and price of their inverters and the brand’s reliability.
What is SMA Solar?
SMA was founded in 1981, and the company’s headquarters is in Niestetal, Germany. Since then, SMA has become one of the most recognizable and essential inverter brands in the world. In 2011, SMA bought the Polish company Dtw from Krakow, with which it had been cooperating for a long time, so each of its inverters has electronic parts made on the Vistula River.
In my reviews, the higher the quality rated, the more reliable the inverters are. Good quality inverters should operate for many years, even in unfavorable conditions. What can I say about SMA?
1. Factory warranty: If you buy in the USA, Mexico, and Canada, you will receive a 10-year warranty on SMA inverters. Unfortunately, in all other countries, you will only get five years. Are inverters manufactured for Europe of lower quality? Unlikely, it’s more of a marketing issue. The existence of an extended warranty proves this.
2. Extended warranty: SMA offers the option of extending the warranty to 10, 15, or 20 years as part of two packages, Active and Comfort, which are not much different.
The warranty must be extended during the first five years of use of the inverter. The maximum warranty period is 20 years (15 years for some products). If the inverter breaks down during the warranty period, SMA will ensure it is repaired quickly, or they will send a replacement with any updates.
The fact that SMA offers the opportunity to obtain such an extended warranty proves that they are confident in the quality of their products and that these inverters are worth servicing and repairing., and not thrown away after the first failure.
Please note that the extended warranty is obtained after a one-time payment. For a 5kW inverter, extending the warranty to 20 years costs over Php 29k (in 2020), which is a particular expense. Is it worth it?
The fact that SMA offers such an extension of the warranty means that their inverters will continue to work long after the bare warranty ends.
3. Reliability acc. PVEL: SMA won the TOP PERFORMER award in PVEL 2019 reliability tests for the resistance of inverters in a passive endurance test. This means that this inverter is as resistant to bad weather conditions as standard photovoltaic panels, and that’s something! It is worth adding that only two inverters worldwide received distinction for this test!
4. IP protection rating: Sunny Highpower, Sunnyboy, Sunny Tripower – all these series have an IP65 protection rating, which means that these inverters are dustproof and protected against water jets (12.5 l/min) poured onto the housing from any direction. They can be easily installed outdoors.
To sum up, SMA inverters, with proper servicing and occasional replacement of components, can operate for over 20 years. You can take the risk on yourself and pay for the above-mentioned service and minor repairs, or you can be utterly sure by purchasing an appropriate warranty package.
Inverters’ efficiency is in converting direct current produced by the panels into alternating current that powers the equipment in our home/plant. Efficient inverters should not turn off for no apparent reason, as they sometimes do. Even if such downtime is short, it is costly.
Reliable performance acc. PVEL: SMA won the TOP PERFORMER award in the 2019 PVEL Reliability Tests for their inverter performance in a 30-day field test. This inverter performed flawlessly in natural conditions – it had the highest yields and the most minor downtime! It is worth adding, again, that only two inverters in the world received distinction for this test!
The same inverter won the award in a performance test against complete temperature cycles, meaning it operated with exceptional efficiency despite drastic temperature changes.
Optimization: SMA inverters are compatible with TIGO, so it is possible to optimize the modules selectively – you do not have to install the optimizers on all modules, just those with shadow problems.
A reliable manufacturer will honor its warranty obligations if its products stop working for any reason. SMA guarantees 5 to 20 years of operation of its products. We need to make sure the company can survive this period.
1. Company size: SMA is one of the largest manufacturers of solar inverters in the world. Their income in 2018 was over $760.9 million. They seem to be doing fine.
2. Financial Stability: The Altman Z-Score algorithm predicts businesses’ financial stability. SMA is in the gray zone, which means that the probability of bankruptcy in the next two years is difficult to determine. This indicates some financial pressure but is not a cause for alarm.
Every SMA inverter has its price, and it is not tiny. However, we think they are worth it. Remember that you can save on photovoltaic panels, but saving on the inverter is not worth saving.
A photovoltaic installation may pose a fire hazard in two ways: it may cause ignition, and if the cause of ignition is something else, it may intensify the fire and make firefighting more difficult.
How SMA protects against installation ignition – SMA has ground fault detection as standard.
How SMA protects against the spread of fire and facilitates firefighting – SMA works perfectly with TIGO optimizers, so to obtain additional protection, install TIGO modules with the Rapid Shutdown function. When the fire brigade disconnects your house from the grid, the photovoltaic modules stop producing energy.
SMA Inverter Individual Series
1. Sunny boy
One of the best small inverters available on the market, especially the newer versions. Light, efficient, resistant, beautiful, allows remote monitoring – what more could you want? In 2019, the reliability of the Sunny Boy series inverter was the subject of research by the PVEL Institute. It won distinctions in 3 categories:
1. Passive endurance tests: TOP PERFORMER
2. Performance test against complete temperature cycles: TOP PERFORMER
3. Field test 30 days of work: TOP PERFORMER
These are genuinely unique distinctions. The first means that the inverter is downright armored. The second means that it can adapt to sudden changes in temperature and maintain high efficiency. The third means that the inverter copes perfectly with real-world challenges and does not report downtime when there is no apparent need.
There is a vast variety of versions of the Sunny Boy inverter. Some versions in 2017-2019 were manufactured in China (no longer) and were made with slightly less care. Newer versions are among the best inverters in their class in the world. Before purchasing, I advise you to check the country of production and the European efficiency (corresponding to the CEC weighted efficiency) of the model in question. This information can be found in the datasheet.
SMA has also developed a particular type of TS4-R optimizers, which, together with Sunny Boy, create a well-coordinated team, even more resistant to shading. How do SMA optimizers differ from other brands of optimizers? Well, other brands, for example, SolarEdge, require the installation of an optimizer on each panel – and in the SMA system, optimizers are installed only on those panels exposed to shading. Why is this solution better?
Well, it eliminates unnecessary elements (optimizers without a shadow falling on the panels do not have much to optimize), which results in a lower price for the system and lower reliability (because the more equipment, the more likely something will break down).
What does this look like in an example? Let’s say you have a south-facing roof with a chimney. You can easily install the panels around the chimney by inserting the optimizers only into those panels on which the chimney’s shadow will fall.
2. Sunny Tripower
One of the best three-phase inverters for prosumer installations. Efficient, light, and informing the owner about the status of the installation. The inverter has no particular deficiencies.
Like other SMA inverters, it has an IP 65 protection rating, which means it can operate outdoors without any problems. It can be combined with TS4-R optimizers – a solution mainly used by SMA.
3. Sunny Highpower
A great inverter for larger installations or decentralized photovoltaic farms, up to 150 kW per string. It can be oversized up to 150%. The IP 65 protection level means it can be placed outdoors without problems. Remote data reading and management are possible via the ennexOS platform.
This is an option worth considering for larger installations. Regarding efficiency, Sunny Highpower is top-of-the-line. The European weighted efficiency is 98.6-98.8%. These inverters also work perfectly in all conditions – regardless of load and voltage. This gives designers of photovoltaic farms a lot of scope and reduces the risk of design errors.
SMA is a trustworthy brand that cares about the high quality of its products. Worth recommending. Our only regret is that we do not have the 10-year factory warranty that US residents enjoy.