If you want to make the most of an off-grid power system you will need multiple sources of power. Even on-grid systems with backup or partial battery or partial solar power need to be able to mix power sources. This is where a hybrid inverter comes in.
We have been living off-grid for many years and have lots of experience with hybrid inverters. Join us today as we dive into the specifics of what hybrid inverters are used for and why they are so great.
What Is a Hybrid Inverter?
Let’s start with what a standard inverter is. An inverter is a device you add to your DC (direct current) battery system to convert it to AC (alternating current) electricity. This is needed if you want to use standard household appliances on a battery system that is charged up by solar or a generator. These can be small devices used for just a few hundred watts all the way up to a home or grid-size power applications.
A hybrid inverter does the same thing as a standard inverter but can take power from a second source and mix it with the battery power. There are many reasons that this may be desirable and it can be a huge benefit for off-grid power systems. We will talk more about the benefits and reasons you would use one in a bit.
What Is the Difference Between a Standard Inverter and a Hybrid Inverter?
Standard inverters can only take power from a DC source (usually batteries) and convert it into AC power.
A hybrid inverter can do the same but can also combine the power with a second AC power source. This could be a shore, generator, or even another inverter.
Pro Tip: Learn more about the ins and outs of what a standard Inverter Does in an RV.
What Applications Can Use Hybrid Inverters?
Any application where multiple power sources are used in conjunction with battery power is where a hybrid inverter is best used. This includes boats, RVs, and off-grid homes and cabins.
For mobile applications, the inverter can be adjusted to work best with differing shore supplies so that you never have power limitations. In more permanent off-grid or grid-tie setups, a hybrid inverter can make the most of a generator or secondary grid supply as needed.
Let’s now take a look at why it helps in these applications.
What Is the Advantage of Hybrid Inverters?
The hybrid functionality can be controlled to choose and limit how much power is used from the second source. This is very helpful if your second source is limited in its supply.
Consider a situation where you are operating a small generator but would like to run an air conditioner. You can tell a hybrid inverter to limit the generator supply to 10amps and it will provide the rest of the power to run the AC from batteries.
Limiting the supply can also help prevent tripping breakers. You can plug your big RV or Boat into a 15 amp receptacle and limit the supply so that it will not trip the breaker. However, you can then use your devices inside the RV or boat as if you are plugged into a larger power source because the power will be added from your batteries.
Many hybrid inverters are also battery chargers. This adds even more functionality to recharge the batteries while still limiting the shore current.
Hybrid Inverter Use Case Example
Let’s explore one example of using our hybrid inverter. We were camped in a location where it was very hot during the day but we only had access to a 15 amp shore service. Unfortunately, its voltage sagged to low with any draw over 10 amps, so we told our hybrid inverter to limit power to 10 amps (1200 watts).
Our air conditioner draws around 1800 watts and we have other appliances we need to use, but the hybrid inverter mixed in battery power which was being recharged from the solar. We were able to go about using the RV as normal without even thinking about power. Even if the batteries drained a bit during the day, at night we did not use as much air conditioning, and the inverter recharged the batteries so we were ready for the next day.
Without a hybrid inverter, we would have had to run our generator or gone without air conditioning altogether.
Another application is running an air conditioner on a small 2000-watt generator. This is normally not enough for a 15k AC unit, but the hybrid inverter mixes additional power to easily run it.
For an off-grid or grid-tie house, a hybrid inverter can be programmed to use all the solar power that is available but mix in grid or generator power as needed. This allows the solar power system to produce as much usable power as possible while not affecting the usability of the power system so the users don’t have to think about being conservative or checking battery levels.
What Are the Disadvantages of a Hybrid?
The only disadvantage to a hybrid inverter is that they tend to cost more. Some applications do not need them. In those cases, it does not make sense to spend the money on them.
Pro Tip: Using solar panels for the first time? We uncovered How Much Solar Power Do You Need for Your RV?
Can I Use a Hybrid Inverter Without A Battery?
Some grid-tie inverters are technically hybrids and work without batteries, however, most off-grid inverters that have a DC input need a battery to work properly. Technically they will continue to work without a battery (we have accidentally tested it when we blew our main battery fuse) but they will have problems the second you attempt to draw more current than the solar can output, causing a crash of the system.
Using a high-quality lithium battery in conjunction with a hybrid inverter is by far the best option.
Are Hybrid Inverters Worth It?
Hybrid inverters are worth the investment if your particular needs call for one. They’re not the right solution for everyone working with solar power, but they have their place. Consider the investment if you want to maximize energy use from multiple different sources.
From experience operating both hybrid and nonhybrid systems, we will always opt for the hybrid inverter for larger power systems. It feels extremely limiting to try and operate without it.
How will you use your solar power on your RV or home? Tell us in the comments!
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