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Solar Energy Terms: Glossary of 50+ Solar Energy Terms

Looking to expand your knowledge of solar energy? Check out our glossary of 50+ solar energy terms to help you better understand the industry. From photovoltaic cells to net metering, we've got you covered.

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    Glossary of Solar Energy Terms

    Solar energy is a rapidly evolving field, and as it expands, so does its vernacular. If you’re a novice to the solar industry or a seasoned professional looking to refresh your knowledge, this blog post serves as a convenient guide to understanding the fundamental terms. Let’s delve into some essential terminology that defines solar energy, its design, installation, equipment used, monitoring, and maintenance.

    Solar Energy

    Solar energy is the radiant light and heat from the Sun, harnessed using various technologies like photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, and artificial photosynthesis. It’s a renewable source of energy, abundant, and importantly, helps in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making it a key player in sustainable energy solutions.

    Solar Panel Design

    Solar panel design refers to the planning and layout of solar panels to optimize their efficiency. It involves the orientation, tilt angle, and positioning to ensure maximum solar exposure, along with the calculation of energy requirements and the number of solar panels needed. The design takes into account the geographical location and the specific conditions of the site.

    Solar Panel Installation

    Solar panel installation involves the process of securing solar panels onto the roof or ground-mounted structures and connecting them to the electrical system of the premises. Installation professionals consider various factors including the panel layout design, shading, and the structural integrity of the roof or ground. The process includes installing mounting hardware, panels, and an inverter, and making all necessary electrical connections.

    Solar Inverter

    A solar inverter is an essential piece of solar equipment that transforms the direct current (DC) electricity generated by your solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity. AC electricity is the standard used by most home appliances. Solar inverters come in various forms such as:

    • String Inverters: Connect a row or “string” of panels to convert the DC current they generate into AC.
    • Microinverters: These are small inverters attached directly to each solar panel.
    • Power Optimizers: Located at each panel like microinverters, but instead of converting DC to AC right at the panel, they “condition” the DC electricity before sending it to a centralized inverter.

    Solar Battery

    A solar battery, or solar storage, is a device that stores the excess solar power generated by the solar panels for later use. This helps to maximize solar energy use, maintain off-grid capabilities, and keep electricity costs down. Solar batteries store the energy as DC and then, with the help of an inverter, convert it into AC when power is required.

    Read More: Need a Solar Battery Plan Set for Your Project(s)?

    Solar Monitoring

    Solar monitoring refers to the system that tracks the performance of a solar panel setup. These systems provide real-time data about power output, system health, and energy consumption. Solar monitoring aids in identifying any issues with the solar system’s performance, thereby ensuring maximum efficiency.

    Solar Maintenance

    Solar maintenance encompasses all the tasks necessary to keep a solar power system running at peak performance. This typically includes cleaning the solar panels, checking the mounting system for integrity, inspecting the inverter and wiring for any issues, and monitoring system output to identify any performance drops that might suggest problems.

    Solar Plan Set

    A Solar Plan Set is a comprehensive package of system designs, diagrams, and specifications for a solar energy installation. It includes the blueprint for the physical layout of the solar panels, electrical schematics, and safety measures, along with details about system performance and output.

    Read More: What is Included in Our Solar Plan Set?

    Single-Line Diagram (SLD)

    In the context of a Solar Plan Set, a Single-Line Diagram is an essential component. It represents the flow of electrical power and signals in the proposed solar installation with standardized schematic symbols. This diagram provides an overview of the electrical system layout and design.

    Site Plan

    The Site Plan is another crucial part of a Solar Plan Set. It provides a bird’s eye view of the entire installation site, showing where the solar panels and other equipment will be located in relation to existing structures and features.

    Structural Analysis

    Structural Analysis forms a part of the Solar Plan Set process. It examines the building’s ability to accommodate the additional weight and stresses of the solar installation. The analysis includes roof condition, materials, age, and other structural components to ensure the safety and longevity of the system.

    Solar Plan Set Review

    A Solar Plan Set Review is the process of assessing and approving the Solar Plan Set by the relevant authorities. This usually includes local building departments and utility companies to ensure all designs are up-to-date with current codes and regulations.

    Solar Inspection

    Solar Inspection is an on-site evaluation carried out by a certified inspector after the solar system installation. The inspector ensures the system complies with the Solar Plan Set and local building codes. Inspections typically focus on system performance, safety, and quality of workmanship.

    Photovoltaic Effect

    The photovoltaic effect is the process that allows solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. It was first discovered by Alexandre Edmond Becquerel in 1839. The process involves photons (light particles) knocking electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. This phenomenon forms the basis of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.

    Total Solar Resource Fraction (TSRF)

    Total Solar Resource Fraction is a metric that represents the proportion of the total solar energy available to be converted into electricity by a photovoltaic system at a specific location. TSRF takes into account both the direct and diffuse solar irradiance, as well as the impact of shading from nearby obstructions. A higher TSRF means more solar power potential.

    Grid-Tied System

    A grid-tied solar system is one that’s connected to the traditional utility power grid. It allows homeowners to feed excess solar energy back into the grid for credit or draw from the grid when their solar system isn’t producing enough power. It’s the most common type of solar system and can help to significantly reduce electricity bills.

    Off-Grid System

    An off-grid solar system is completely independent of the traditional electricity grid. This system relies on batteries to store power for use when the solar panels aren’t producing enough electricity, such as during night-time or on cloudy days. Off-grid systems are ideal for remote locations without access to the utility grid.

    Net Metering

    Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. If your solar system produces more energy than you need, that excess power will be sent back to the grid, and you’ll be credited for it on your utility bill. This system can further reduce or even eliminate your electricity costs.

    Solar Charge Controller

    A solar charge controller is a device that regulates the voltage and current coming from the solar panels going to the battery. It prevents overcharging and ensures that the battery operates within safe parameters. The two types of charge controllers are:

    • PWM (Pulse Width Modulation): These are simpler and less expensive but less efficient.
    • MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking): These are more expensive and complex but significantly more efficient.

    Interconnection

    Interconnection refers to the linking of a solar energy system to the electricity grid. It involves a series of technical and procedural processes that ensure the safe and efficient transfer of electricity between the solar energy system and the grid. Interconnection policies can vary significantly from one place to another, often involving an application process, a technical review, and a connection agreement.

    Commercial Solar

    Commercial Solar refers to solar energy systems installed on commercial properties, such as office buildings, warehouses, retail stores, and more. These systems can significantly offset a business’s energy usage, reduce operational costs, and demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. For these, you will need a unique and much more detailed commercial solar PV design to submit along side your permits and utility interconnection.

    Feasibility Study

    A Feasibility Study in the context of solar energy is an evaluation or analysis of the potential of a proposed project. It assesses logistical and financial aspects, including location, system size, potential energy generation, cost, and return on investment. The goal of the feasibility study is to identify any potential issues and determine whether the solar installation is a viable option.

    Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)

    SRECs are a type of renewable energy certificate representing the clean energy benefits of electricity generated by your solar energy system. Each time a solar system generates 1000kWh (1MWh) of electricity, an SREC is issued which can then be sold or traded separately from the power, providing a source of income for solar owners in some regions.

    Photovoltaic Effect

    The photovoltaic effect is the process that allows solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. It was first discovered by Alexandre Edmond Becquerel in 1839. The process involves photons (light particles) knocking electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. This phenomenon forms the basis of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.

    Grid-Tied System

    A grid-tied solar system is one that’s connected to the traditional utility power grid. It allows homeowners to feed excess solar energy back into the grid for credit or draw from the grid when their solar system isn’t producing enough power. It’s the most common type of solar system and can help to significantly reduce electricity bills.

    Off-Grid System

    An off-grid solar system is completely independent of the traditional electricity grid. This system relies on batteries to store power for use when the solar panels aren’t producing enough electricity, such as during night-time or on cloudy days. Off-grid systems are ideal for remote locations without access to the utility grid.

    Net Metering

    Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. If your solar system produces more energy than you need, that excess power will be sent back to the grid, and you’ll be credited for it on your utility bill. This system can further reduce or even eliminate your electricity costs.

    Interconnection

    Interconnection refers to the linking of a solar energy system to the electricity grid. It involves a series of technical and procedural processes that ensure the safe and efficient transfer of electricity between the solar energy system and the grid. Interconnection policies can vary significantly from one place to another, often involving an application process, a technical review, and a connection agreement.

    Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)

    SRECs are a type of renewable energy certificate representing the clean energy benefits of electricity generated by your solar energy system. Each time a solar system generates 1000kWh (1MWh) of electricity, an SREC is issued which can then be sold or traded separately from the power, providing a source of income for solar owners in some regions.

    Kilowatt (kW)

    A kilowatt is a unit of power equivalent to one thousand watts. In solar terms, it’s often used to express the output power of engines and the power of electric motors, tools, machines, and heaters. It’s also the unit used to measure the potential energy production of a solar system. For example, a 5 kW solar system generates around 5 kW of power in peak conditions.

    Kilowatt-hour (kWh)

    A kilowatt-hour is a unit of energy equivalent to one kilowatt of power expended for one hour of time. The kWh is used commonly to measure energy usage over time. For instance, if a 1kW machine runs for one hour, it will consume 1 kWh of energy.

    Module Efficiency

    Module efficiency refers to the ratio of energy output from a solar cell to the energy input from the sun. Higher efficiency means more power generation for a given amount of sunlight. Solar panel efficiencies generally range from 15% to 22%, although high-end panels can achieve higher efficiencies.

    Solar Cell

    A solar cell, also known as a photovoltaic cell, is an electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect. It’s the fundamental building block of a solar panel.

    Feed-in Tariff (FiT)

    Feed-in Tariffs are payments to ordinary energy users for the renewable electricity they generate. This could be via solar PV panels or a wind turbine. FiTs can make the installation of renewable energy technologies a more attractive investment.

    Microgrid

    A microgrid is a localized grouping of electricity generation, energy storage, and loads that normally operates connected to a traditional centralized grid (macrogrid), but can also disconnect to “island mode” and function autonomously as physical or economic conditions dictate.

    Parabolic Trough

    A parabolic trough is a type of solar thermal collector that is straight in one dimension and curved as a parabola in the other two, lined with a polished metal mirror. It’s used to concentrate sunlight onto a receiver pipe along its focal line, where the concentrated sunlight heats a working fluid.

    Monocrystalline Solar Panels

    Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single crystal structure. They are easily recognizable by their black color and the uniformity of the silicon used. Monocrystalline panels are more efficient but also more costly than other types of solar panels.

    Polycrystalline Solar Panels

    Polycrystalline solar panels are made from multiple crystal structures. They have a blue hue and a speckled appearance due to the multiple crystals. Polycrystalline panels are less efficient and less costly than monocrystalline panels.

    Thin-Film Solar Panels

    Thin-film solar panels are made by placing one or more thin layers of photovoltaic material on a substrate. They are less efficient but cheaper and more flexible than crystalline panels. They are often used in large utility-scale installations and building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).

    Peak Sun Hours (PSH)

    Peak Sun Hours refer to the equivalent number of hours per day when solar irradiance averages 1,000 watts per square meter. PSH is a crucial variable in calculating the potential solar power generation of a given location.

    Solar Access

    Solar access refers to the amount of sunlight available to a site or area for solar energy generation. It takes into account shading from nearby buildings, trees, and other obstructions. Maintaining good solar access is crucial to the efficiency of a solar energy system.

    Load Profile

    A load profile is a graph of the variation in the electrical load over a specific time period. It helps to determine the energy usage patterns of a building or system. This information is useful for sizing a solar system correctly to meet energy needs.

    Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)

    A Power Purchase Agreement is a contract between the developer of a solar facility and a customer (usually a utility or large power user). Under a PPA, the developer remains responsible for the operation and maintenance of the system, and the customer only pays for the electricity that the system generates.

    Solar Irradiance

    Solar irradiance is the power per unit area received from the Sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation. It’s measured in watts per square meter (W/m²). Solar irradiance is a critical factor in determining the amount of solar power that a solar panel can produce.

    Hybrid Solar System

    A hybrid solar system combines the best of both grid-tied and off-grid solar systems. These systems are connected to the grid, have a battery for energy storage, and can function independently if the grid goes down. This offers flexibility, as you can store excess power and use it during power outages or during peak electricity cost times.

    Solar Water Heater

    A solar water heater uses the energy from the sun to heat water for use in a home or business. There are two types of solar water heating systems:

    • Active Systems: These have circulating pumps and controls.
    • Passive Systems: These don’t have any moving parts and rely on the natural circulation of water between the collector and the storage tank.

    Perovskite Solar Cells

    Perovskite solar cells are a type of photovoltaic cell that includes a perovskite-structured compound, usually a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material, as the light-harvesting active layer. They are an emerging technology with high potential due to their excellent light absorption, charge-carrier mobilities, and lifetimes.

    Solar District Heating

    Solar district heating is a solar energy system that provides heat to a number of buildings through a network of insulated pipes. Solar thermal collectors, usually placed on rooftops, capture heat energy from the sun and a pump circulates a heat transfer fluid around the network, delivering heat to each building.

    Solar Decathlon

    The Solar Decathlon is an international competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy in which universities from across the globe meet to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses. The goal is to create homes that are energy-efficient, affordable, and attractive to consumers.

    Balance of System (BOS)

    Balance of System includes all components of a photovoltaic system other than the solar panels. This includes wiring, switches, a mounting system, an inverter, a battery for storage, and additional components like a charge controller. BOS components contribute significantly to the overall cost of a solar energy system.

    Solar Clipping

    Solar clipping happens when a photovoltaic system’s solar panels produce more electricity than its inverter can handle. The inverter “clips” the output at its maximum capacity, which may lead to a slight loss of potential energy production, usually on very sunny days.

    Solar Window

    The solar window refers to the time of day and the time of year during which sunlight can be captured effectively for solar power generation. The solar window varies depending on geographic location and the orientation of the solar panels.

    Solar Carport

    A solar carport is a structure that provides shelter for one or more cars and is fitted with a roof made of solar panels. Solar carports offer the dual benefit of generating electricity and providing shade for vehicles.

    Total Solar Resource Fraction (TSRF)

    Total Solar Resource Fraction is a metric that represents the proportion of the total solar energy available to be converted into electricity by a photovoltaic system at a specific location. TSRF takes into account both the direct and diffuse solar irradiance, as well as the impact of shading from nearby obstructions. A higher TSRF means more solar power potential.

    Solar Canopy

    A solar canopy is a structure similar to a carport, but it’s typically built to cover a larger area like a parking lot. Solar canopies turn otherwise unused spaces into power-generating assets without impacting the usability of the area.

    Solar Easement

    A solar easement is a legal agreement that ensures a homeowner’s access to sunlight for solar energy generation. It restricts neighboring properties from doing anything that would obstruct access to sunlight. Solar easements can be critical for homeowners who invest in solar power.

    Grid Parity

    Grid parity occurs when an alternative energy source can generate power at a cost that is less than or equal to the price of purchasing power from the electricity grid. Achieving grid parity is considered to be the point at which an energy source becomes a contender for widespread development without subsidies.

    Solar Charge Controller

    A solar charge controller is an essential component of your photovoltaic system, used to regulate the voltage and current coming from your solar panels. It’s placed between the solar panels and the battery to prevent overcharging, thereby ensuring the longevity and efficiency of your battery.

    Solar Carving

    Solar carving is a method used in architecture to shape a building’s form to allow more sunlight into a certain area. This technique is often used in urban environments where buildings might block sunlight from reaching some areas.

    Solar Farm

    A solar farm or solar park is a large-scale photovoltaic system designed for the supply of merchant power into the electricity grid. They are differentiated from most building-mounted and other decentralised solar power applications because they supply power at the utility level, rather than to a local user or users.

    Solar Thermal Collector

    A solar thermal collector collects heat by absorbing sunlight. It is a device designed to absorb sunlight and convert it into usable heat. The heat is normally absorbed by water, or a freeze-proof water mix, which can then be used to supplement hot water heating, space heating and space cooling via use of absorption chillers.

    Ground Mount Solar Racking System

    Ground Mount Solar Racking System refers to solar panel mounts that are set up on the ground as opposed to being attached to a building. This kind of setup is versatile and can be scaled to accommodate any size of solar energy project. They are ideal for locations where roof mounts are not practical or desired.

    Roof Mount Solar Racking System

    Roof Mount Solar Racking Systems are setups where solar panels are mounted and installed on the roof of a residential or commercial building. These systems make use of existing structures and save space, making them a popular choice for urban environments or where ground space is limited.

    Pole Mount Solar Racking System

    Pole Mount Solar Racking Systems involve mounting solar panels on poles that are firmly fixed in the ground. They often allow for panels to be elevated to a higher level above the ground and may provide options for tracking the sun, both of which can increase energy production.

    Flush Mount Solar Racking System

    Flush Mount Solar Racking Systems are used for installing solar panels on a pitched roof. Panels are mounted parallel to the roofing surface, creating a sleek, low-profile look. However, they offer less flexibility for angling panels towards the sun compared to other mounting options.

    Tilt Mount Solar Racking System

    Tilt Mount Solar Racking Systems are used for flat roofs or ground mount applications. They allow for panels to be angled to an optimal degree towards the sun, increasing solar energy production. They may be adjustable or fixed.

    Solar Carport Mounting System

    A Solar Carport Mounting System is a structure that creates covered parking areas with the rooftop serving as a mounting platform for solar panels. It provides dual benefits of generating electricity while providing shade for vehicles.

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