SMA Sunny Boy inverter review

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SMA Sunny Boy has a new model string inverter. At last, the world’s most renowned inverter manufacturer is back in the game. The archaic SMA Sunny Boy will be brought into the second half of the ridiculously accelerating solar decade.

First – as if to test the market – the 1.5 and 2.5 Sunny Boy is now available, but by the end of 2016, a 3kW and 5kW Sunny Boy is expected to be on the shelf. But how will the new model be received?

It was in March 2016 that my operations Manager, Ryan sent a group message to my sales team anticipating the importance of the new SMA inverter:

SMA 1200, 2500 Specifications

The game changer?

“Check this out! SMA are launching a new inverter, this will be a game changer” Ryan messaged.

“I’ll be in Melbourne next month” I replied “can’t wait to check it out!”

Last week I went to Melbourne for the Australian Solar Council “Solar Expo”. When the doors to the candy store opened, I ran around like a little boy. Redback, Fronius and Enphase were the big players this year, but I know these inverters and their teams too well.  First things first, where is SMA?
“Ummm, Seriously?” I quivered to myself doubting my own expo navigation skills. “SMA doesn’t have a stand at the Solar Expo?” Nope, SMA did not have a stand at one of Australia’s biggest Solar conferences. Confusion set in, and I began wandering aimlessly.

SMA is in da house!

As I wandered through the candy store, to my relief, I noticed SMA had a few inverters on display at Solar Juice’s stand. When I started getting too techie with my mate Harry from Solar Juice, he let me into a little secret. SMA is in da house! However, my renewed excitement was extinguished within two minutes as the vanilla flavoured SMA rep unenthusiastically offered me a vanilla-flavoured inverter. I was bitterly disappointed. The new SMA should have been a serious competitor to Fronius. I summarise my pain below.

Pros of the new SMA Sunnyboy

  • It has Wifi. Welcome to the future SMA.
  • Is lighter, which is meant to make it easy for the installer.
  • It’s German made which makes it easy to sell.
  • It has the SMA badge which probably means it will last.
  • The new SMA sunny boy is going to be competitively priced. I don’t know this for sure, but it’s going to have to be when you see what it’s lacking. If it is competitively priced, it may be a good choice for systems that do not require complex stringing, load shifting, or consumption monitoring. A small number of our solar designs would be suited to such a basic set-up.

Con’s of the new SMA Sunnyboy

  • The new SMA has no display on the inverter. Sungrow were the first to try this, advising me that SMA were going to do the same. As much as I’m an advocate of the entry-level Chinese-made Sungrow inverter – they got it wrong. They came out almost immediately after the launch of the Crystal series with a retro-fit screen because customers don’t always have a blue tooth smartphone or WiFi. If I had a premium-priced inverter at my place, I would want a built-in display – just in case.
  • The new Sunny Boy does not have affordable consumption monitoring. With the ridiculously expensive energy meter (approx $600 plus installation), you still cannot monitor your consumption. In true SMA fashion, you still need to add the Sunny home manager. Not only expensive to buy but expensive to install. SMA has not thought this through.
  • The new SMA does not have inbuilt load shift contacts. Let’s say you set up your cost-prohibitive SMA Energy Meter and Sunny Home Manager, the inverter does not have any load control relays. Refer to Fronius’ smart meter solution.
  • The new SMA does not have a useful integrated DC Isolator. With the Fronius Snap inverter range, we do not have to install a third-party DC isolator. Integrated DC isolators not only look neater, but they also reduce costs in materials and labour, and they reduced the number of potential failure points in your system.
  • The SMA restrictive Voltage and current restrictions. While spec sheets are not yet published for the new 5kW SMA inverter, I was met with confusion when I asked SMA’s representative if they were going to increase their voltage and current parameters. He asked me what was wrong with the parameters. In short, they are restrictive for design purposes. I hope the new 5kW inverter will have a lower start-up voltage and a higher maximum current, but I won’t be holding my breath.
  • This one is more for installers. SMA brags that you only need 2 screws and no backing plate to mount their lightweight inverter. Two perfectly positioned firmly gripping screws on a variety of timber framed homes. Hilarious! Sungrow called me up to ask for my input about this concept a year ago. Thankfully I talked them out of such stupidity. If you want your inverter to mount straight and remain on the wall, give the installers a backing plate with a variety of mounting locations!
  • The little 1.5kW and 2.5kW inverters would primarily be used to replace old existing small inverters. However, it is transformerless, which renders it useless as a replacement for a transformer-based inverter.  AS3000 requires us to use “like for like” when replacing appliances, which with inverters, means using the same typology according to the CER. (New state regulator guidelines will soon enforce this interpretation).
  • The SMA website. To me, this is a sign of where a once market-leading company is heading. The copy, if not awkward, is incorrect. For example on their home systems page:

“PV systems allow you to become more independent from rising electricity costs and to move away from conventional energy carriers. Therefore, count on the sustainable and decentralized energy supply of the future. Without sacrificing comfort or convenience. The intelligent solutions from SMA make energy consumption affordable, manageable and reliable.”

Conclusion

SMA’s new inverter has been highly anticipated. However, if they had something to brag about, they’d probably show a reasonable presence at one of Australia’s biggest solar exhibitions. SMA’s new inverter now has WiFi, and that’s where it ends. With nothing else going for the new inverter apart from the brand’s reputation, I’m hoping they are going to be competitively priced. They took away the screen for backup monitoring and the backing plate for durable installation. It seems they forgot to include affordable consumption monitoring and disregarded load shifting. As DC isolator regulations are not an issue in Germany, why would they bother with a helpful solution for the Australian market? It seems they haven’t even listened to our start-up voltage and maximum current concerns. When you look at SMA Australian website, you can tell from the copy that this is a company that is struggling.

I am disappointed SMA. You were supposed to bring a game-changer.

Mark

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Author
Mark Cavanagh

Mark is the Owner and Manager of MC Solar & Electrical. He’s an Electrician, accredited solar installer/designer and an electrical contractor.

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