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Keep solar power on when power goes out

SMA has an inverter that keeps the solar system going even during a blackout.

Savor the irony. When there is a blackout, your solar power system will probably go out too.

That's because most systems are tied to the electrical grid. (In Germany, the utilities pay for this electricity, but in most states here, the utilities give you credit against any grid power you might buy.) To ensure that their workers don't get hurt, utilities shut off all devices that feed power into particular sectors of the grid when doing repairs.

Welcome to the Sunny Island. SMA America

To ameliorate that problem, SMA America, the U.S. group of a larger German company, has released a new version of its Sunny Island inverter. An inverter converts DC power coming from the panels into AC power that can be used in your home or fed into the grid. The company's Sunny Boy inverters are grid-tied. The Sunny Island line feeds the power into batteries instead.

"It's for vacation cabins, or backup systems," said Jeffrey Philpott, marketing manager for SMA America.

The new Sunny Island 5048U, announced at Solar Power 2007 taking place in Long Beach, Calif., has 20 percent more capacity than its predecessor. It can provide up to 5,000 watts of power. So in case you need to start a motor or something (think Charlton Heston in The Omega Man), the Sunny Island will do the job.

Like other inverter companies and even solar panel companies, SMA is trying to reduce the cost of installation and service. Installation is half of the cost of most solar systems.

"The installers like to go out once. They lose the money they made if they have to go out and fix something," he said.

SunPower, the fast-growing U.S. maker of high efficiency solar panels and cells, includes SMA inverters in its systems. SMA also sells through distributors.