There’s a lot of different equipment involved in building a solar power system. Among those pieces of equipment are inverters, chargers, and inverter/chargers. If those names confuse you at all, you’re not alone. What are the differences between these options, and how do you know which one will work right for you? Keep reading to learn more about the similarities and differences between a Cotek inverter, battery charger, and inverter/charger combo.


What’s an Inverter?

An inverter takes DC voltage and converts it to AC electricity. It would help if you had this AC power to run a wide variety of devices in your home. Without it, the DC power your solar panels creates won’t be helpful to you. Note that this is different from a converter, which shifts electricity in the opposite direction—from AC to DC. With this in mind, it’s probably quite apparent that every solar application will need an inverter of some kind. The question remains whether or not you will also need a charger, so let’s address that next.


What’s a Charger?

A charger works much like a converter with a sophisticated multi-stage charging algorithm. This algorithm adjusts the voltage and amperage output depending on the state of the battery’s charge. The majority of multi-stage chargers on the market have three stages:

  1. Bulk – This is the first stage of charging. It outputs full amperage with increasing voltage until the battery hits a certain voltage threshold.
  2. Absorption – This stage outputs a constant voltage, decreasing amperage until the battery reaches a full charge.
  3. Float – This is the final charging stage. It’s designed to output constant low voltage at low amperage.

This multi-stage process is so crucial because it will not only fully charge your batteries but will also prevent overcharging. Both undercharging and overcharging your batteries can impact your batteries’ longevity and decrease their total charge load over time. This means that if you have batteries in your system, a charger is essential to your system.

What’s an Inverter/Charger?

An inverter/charger is designed to fully charge your batteries while also maintaining power loads for the items in your home. If this is important to you, you’ll need an inverter/charger, not just one or the other.


Which Do You Need?

As we mentioned above, if you have solar panels and items that use AC power, you’ll need an inverter. If you have batteries to charge, you’ll need a charger to ensure they’re adequately charged without risking damaging the batteries by overcharging. And if you have both, you’ll need an inverter/charger.

But how do you find the right one? What equipment should you be looking at to begin with? Most off-grid and hybrid inverters are designed to charge batteries; however, you should always double-check that the inverter you buy has a built-in charger. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to purchase a separate charger to charge your attached battery bank properly. If you have a grid-tied inverter, this is not designed to connect and charge batteries at all, and you’ll need to change your inverter to a different model.

The only situation in which you would not need an inverter for a solar power system is if you are only consuming DC power. This is very rarely the case, but may apply in small systems, such as marine or RV applications. It’s important to carefully examine your power needs to see which types of power you’re consuming, so you can ensure that your system is supplying the type of power you need.


Finding the Right Brand

Once you know whether you need an inverter, charger, or inverter/charger, you’ll still have many choices to make, from the size of the equipment to the brand that you buy. The most important spec to look at when choosing a model is the total power output. You want to ensure that an inverter is properly sized so that it can provide the continuous power you need and any power surges that might be required to start larger pieces of equipment like HVAC systems and machinery. While exact power output is less important than it is for an inverter, you’ll still want to ensure that it can maintain a charge based on the size of your battery bank. As described above, look for 3-stage chargers to prevent undercharging or overcharging.


If you’re looking for chargers, inverters, or a Cotek inverter/charger, contact The PowerStore, Inc. today or check out our online store. If you’re still unsure what you need, reach out to us, and we’ll help you choose the right type of equipment to meet your needs and fit your solar power system.