Inverters (and Line Dancers)

Illustration by DALLE-2

Choreographing The Grid

Inverters take ‘direct current’ electricity from where it’s generated or stored (like solar panels or batteries) and turn it into ‘alternating current’ which can be used in your house.

They’re like high tech choreographers!

Think of electricity like a row of line dancers. The direct current (DC) dancers that come off a solar panel only move in one direction. But then the inverter tells them to ‘alternate’ their body movements – lean left, lean right, lean left. All while continuing to move down the wire toward your house.

Thanks to inverters, these direct current dancers become alternating current (AC): a body-shaking, undulating, wave-like chorus line. So they can mesh up with the other AC waves flowing through your house, and the public electric grid, without collisions.

This choreographed synchronization is called frequency matching. And it’s crucial, because if the frequency of the grid doesn’t match (i.e. the dancers get out of synch), it can crash.

Because inverters have gotten so powerful, they can help us replace fossil fuels faster; previously the only way to synchronize the grid was to ramp up or down fossil fuel power plants in real time (gas or coal-fired) to make sure the supply of AC current always matched demand.

But now inverters can do this. They can choreograph the solar panels – and batteries – and ask them to turn up or down their power production so all the AC dancers on the wires are dancing at the same rate. No fossil fuel needed. It’s called “grid forming” (for you energy geeks out there) and it means you can now have your own little micro-grid at home, even if you get disconnected from the public grid.

So, inverters… they’re cool, and one of the keys to a fossil-free future.

Just don’t interrupt them; they’re busy choreographing!