SMA Solar Inverters: An Independent Review by Solar Choice

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Overview of SMA – Company History

SMA Solar Technology AG is a German company focused on manufacturing and supplying solar energy equipment. The company was founded in 1981 by a team from the University of Kassel and has since grown into company with 3,000 employees and over AU$1billion in revenue (according to their 2018 annual report).

The company supplies photovoltaic solar inverters to the residential market under the Sunny Boy name, Sunny Tripower and Sunny Highpower into commercial market and Sunny Central for large scale applications and utility-scale solar farms. SMA also produces the Sunny Island predominantly used in off-grid and battery applications.

A Brief Rundown on Solar Inverters

A solar system’s inverter is the point at which the DC electricity produced by solar panels is turned into grid-compatible AC electricity.

String inverters (such as SMA’s product range) have traditionally been the standard in the solar industry. They send the power produced by solar panels to a central inverter that changes it from the DC electricity to the usable AC electricity that powers homes.

Microinverters, on the other hand, convert DC to AC electricity at each individual panel and allow for monitoring and power regulation at the panel level. This is useful for homes that are located somewhere with shading from clouds, trees, or other buildings.

SMA Sunny Boy inverters were named as a PV Evolution Labs Top Performer

PV Evolution Labs (PVEL) independently test solar inverter reliability. The tests are voluntary, with solar inverter manufacturers paying to participate in the testing. This testing process is internationally renowned and is an accurate reflection of the solar inverter’s performance.

To see the full PVEL scorecard results click here.

In 2019 the SMA SB7.7-1SP-US-40 ranked as a top performer in the following 3 tests:

  • Passive Chamber
  • Power Thermal Cycling
  • 30 Day Runtime Performance

What are SMA solar inverters point of difference?

SMA’s primary point of difference is their 40 year history as a inverter developer and manufacturer. Their inverter’s have truly stood the test of time and have a proven reliability and low-failure rates than emerging market entrants and Chinese inverter companies cannot compete with.

The SMA Sunny PortalSMA solar inverter - sunny portal monitoring system

SMA offer one of the best free built-in monitoring systems in the residential and commercial market. The system has been intelligently built and adapted to pro-actively identify faults and anomalies and to send this information to both the owner and the installer. Where a warrantied product fault is identified, SMA guarantees they will supply a replacement within 3 days otherwise the operator can claim compensation.

SMA Smart MeterSMA solar inverter sunny home manager 2.0 smart meter

With an SMA smart meter home and business owners can monitor both the solar power generation and their energy consumption through the Sunny Portal. This is generally sold as an optional extra in the Australian market but enables the operator to gain much more valuable insight into managing the electricity usage. The smart meter also enables home owners that are restricted to a certain system size (e.g. 5kVA in most of Victoria) install a larger solar system and limit the amount of energy that is exported back into the grid.

Warranty Periods

In Australia SMA inverters come with a standard 5 year warranty period. They offer an purchasable extension to 10 years for about 15%-20% of the value of the inverter. To remain competitive with other brands some installers choose to include this extension in their price, while other installers will offer it to a customer as an option.

 

Limitations of SMA Solar Inverters

The residential range of SMA inverters are limited to 2 MPP inputs. As the SMA inverters are string inverters, that means if you are hoping to install solar panels on more than two roof orientations then you will require 2 inverters or third party power optimisers. Some 5kW inverters now come with 3 or more MPP inputs to prevent this challenge as it add significant additional cost to the project. Additionally in shaded environments SMA inverters won’t perform as well as micro-inverter or power optimiser solutions.

SMA inverters come with a standard 5 year warranty. This is rapidly becoming one of the shortest inverter warranties offered in Australia with many of the growing Chinese companies offering a standard 10-year warranty. As we’ve discussed previously, a warranty is only worth something if the company providing it is still around and there is an accessible route to claiming it if your Solar Installer is no longer around. Our advice would be to request the 5-year extension on SMA’s inverters so that you can make an apples for apples comparison.

 

SMA Solar Inverter Costs

As many SMA inverters are manufactured in Europe, this higher quality product comes with a higher price tag in comparison to the inverters that are designed and manufactured in China.

Indicative pricing

SMA Sunny Boy 5KW Inverter$1,700 to $2,000
SMA Tripower 10KW Inverter$2,800 to $3,500
SMA Tripower 25kW Inverter$4,500 to $5,000

Keep in mind that inverter costs generally only run between 10-20% of your total system, so often it is worth investing in a high quality inverter given this will have a large impact on the efficiency and performance of your Solar Power project.

Compare quotes from up to 7 installers in your area now.

 

Full Range of SMA Inverters Available in Australia 

The majority of SMA’s Inverters are approved by the Clean Energy Council for the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme, which is Australia’s home solar rebate program. See the below list of common SMA inverter variations:

SMA Sunny Boy – 1.5kW to 6kW

SMA Sunny Tripower – 3kW to 25kW

SMA Sunny Tripower Core 1 – 50kW

SMA Highpower Peak 1 – 75kW

SMA Sunny Island – combines with Sunny Boy or Sunny Tripower

 

Comparison SMA Solar Inverter Specifications (common models)

 Sunny Boy 5kW SB5.0-1AV-41Sunny Tripower 8kW STP8.0-3AV-40Sunny Tripower 25kW STP 25000TL-30
Rated AC Power Output5,000VA8,000VA25,000AV
Maximum Continuous Output Current22A3 x 12.1A36.2A
Maximum DC Input7,500W15,000W45,000W
Maximum Inverter Efficiency97%98.3%98.3%
Dimensions 435 x 470 x 176 mm460 x 497 x 176 mm661 x 682 x 264 mm
Weight17.5 kg20.5kg61kg
Warranty5 Years5 Years5 Years
Operational Temperature Range-25°C to 60°C-25°C to 60°C-25°C to 60°C
Made inGermanyGermanyGermany

 

So, is SMA a good solar inverter brand?

In our opinion you cannot go wrong with an SMA inverter. It was one of the few brands in the Australian market that has truly stood the test of time with proven performance and reliability for over 20 years.

 

Example of a large-scale SMA Inverter Solar Project 

SMA solar inverters were deployed on the 60MWdc Gannawarra Solar Farm in Victoria in 2018. The Solar Farm project was originally developed by Solar Choice and funded by a partnership of Manly-based Wirsol and Edify Energy.

SMA inverters were selected on the basis of their bankability and proven track record in similar projects. The project features 11 MVPS 5000SC-EV inverter stations and a SMA Power Plant Controller. The project was subsequently integrated with a large-scale Tesla Battery to provide grid support services to the local networks and capture peak pricing events on the National Energy Market.

Gannawarra Solar Farm aerial photo showing solar panels and SMA Inverters