Solar Energy Glossary

What is solar energy? Here are some common solar terms

Solar energy can be a bit complicated or confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have been looking to install a solar system for your home or business, you’ve probably heard some unfamiliar words. Sunline wants to simplify your solar experience and have created this A – Z glossary, to help you learn about clean and renewable energy.

Solar Energy Terms A to Z

Alternative energy – Energy generated in forms that are less harmful to the environment because they are not dependent on natural resources, such as natural gas, coal or oil. Some examples of alternative energy include wind, biomass, hydroelectric, geothermal and solar.

Array – Numerous solar cells make up a solar panel, and numerous panels can be wired all together and form a solar array. The more solar panels you install in your home or business, the more energy you will generate, but depending on the efficiency of your panels. The better the quality of panels the fewer amounts you will need.

Balance of System (BOS) – All other physical parts that make up a solar system that are not part of the panels: wiring, mounting hardware inverters and monitoring system.

Efficiency – When it’s referring to a solar panel or a solar cell, efficiency refers to the percentage of sunlight captured and turned into usable electricity.

Electric or Utility grid – The interconnected network of equipment that provides electricity from supplier to consumer. Sometimes referred to as “the grid,” the infrastructure is made up of generating stations that produce power; distribution lines that connect to separate customers; high-voltage transmission lines that carry the power from sources to demand centers from where it’s made to your home.

Ground-mounted solar – A solar array that’s installed on land; mostly used for large-scale commercial, homes with no roof space but large yard space and utility-scale solar project such as power plants that generate for a vast majority of businesses and homes.

Interconnection agreement – A contract that’s between a homeowner and their local utility company allowing them to connect their solar energy system to the electric grid. In some places, this will allow the homeowner to receive a credit on their energy bill from the company for any extra electricity their solar power system generates.

Inverter – A solar power system will generate a direct current (DC) electricity, however homes and businesses use alternating current (AC) electricity to power home devices. A solar inverter takes the DC electricity current from the solar energy system and converts it to AC electricity. Inverters are like the brains of the solar system. Alongside converting DC to AC power, they also provide system states that include voltage and current and provide energy production ground fault protection.

Micro-inverterMicro-inverters is one considered to be one of the biggest technology shifts in the photovoltaic (PV) industry. They are placed on the back of each solar panel, unlike central inverters that are for the whole solar system. This will allow every solar panel to perform at its highest potential. This means if there is an underperforming solar panel, it won’t affect the rest of the solar array.

Module – is another term for solar panel.

Mounting hardware – The mounting and racking equipment used to mount and secure the solar panels to rooftops and one another. Ground mounts or power plant installations use trackers. The hardware is made of lightweight aluminum clips and frames that are meant to withstand harsh elements while minimizing any damage to the roof.

Net metering – When a solar system that is grid-tied produces excessive energy and is not needed, the extra power is sent to the electrical grid to be redistributed where it’s needed the most. This is known as “back feeding” the grid. During the night, the grid will provide traditional power for the solar customer’s use. A net meter keeps track of the energy sent compared to the energy received from the grid and will credit the users according to the utility rates and rules. Currently there are forty-four states that use net metering or something close to it.

Operations and maintenance (O&M) – The ongoing operational needs of a solar system, including repairs, replacement parts, panel cleaning, bill management and so forth; mostly refers to large-scale jobs such as commercial.

Photovoltaic (PV)PV technologies convert sunlight to electricity through certain types of materials, which are called semiconductors. When energy particles called photons from the sun hit semiconducting materials such as silicon, electrons are knocked free from their atoms. If conductors are present and attached to the negative and positive side of a solar cell, it then forms an electrical circuit. When electrons flow through the circuit, they will generate electricity, and send the electricity to the rid or power home devices.

Renewable energy – Energy that is generated from sources that occur naturally and continually that renew themselves, such as geothermal, tidal, heat, wind and sunlight.

Solar battery storage – Solar storage systems are made of high-capacity rechargeable batteries that store extra energy that is generated by a connected solar system for use at night or for emergency backup such as rolling blackout, power outages or when the solar power system is not able to generate in real time. Solar batteries are composed of various technologies, such as lithium-ion, lead acid or flow batteries.

Solar canopies/carports – Solar panel arrays that are installed above ground on structures that leave the space underneath usable for purposes such as parking lots.

Solar cell – A single light-capturing device in a PV solar panel; solar cells are made of silicon. Constructed from a negative and positive layer, which when together create an electric field, just like a battery and are light and thin.

Solar panel efficiency – Is the percentage of sunlight that solar panels can convert to usable electricity. For example the first generation of solar panels had about 6% efficiency. Some of the newer higher production panels have a solar panel efficiency of 24.1 efficiency. Solar panel efficiency matters because with high-efficiency solar panels, you will need fewer panels and get a better return on investment.

Solar dealer – A company that sells solar power systems and equipment to homeowners, businesses or any other organizations; they may sell products from one or various manufacturers and can provide installation and maintenance services.

Solar design – The design that contains the layout and orientation of a solar system, optimized for the highest energy production based on land or roof characteristics, the angle of the sun, climate and shading.

Solar installer – A company or a solar expert that specializes in delivering and installing solar panels and equipment on homes and buildings.

Solar monitoring – Software that is specialized to track and manage energy generation, billing, carbon offsets, usage and more; it can be accessible through desktops, laptops, mobile devices or an operation center.

Solar panel/modulePV solar panels are made from an array of solar cells that are linked together to form a circuit and minted in a frame. PV solar panels generate DC electricity, which has to be converted to AC electricity by an inverter because in the U.S. electrical grid uses AC power.

Solar panel cleaning – Rooftop solar panels can sometimes be naturally cleaned by seasonal rains or snow, but sometimes the panels will have excessive buildup of debris or dirt can cause efficiency to be reduced. Panels can be sprayed off with a water hose and gently wiped down with a long squidgy or cloth towel, when they are cooled down, like in the early morning or evening. Owners can also hire a solar cleaning professional to do the cleaning.

Solar panel contractors – Construction professionals who are licensed or work with a licensed company that are specially trained to install solar equipment.

Solar power plant – A large-scale solar array installation that is usually ground-mounted. Mostly for commercial or utility purposes.

Solar shingles/tiles – Thin-film photovoltaic tiles or strips that can be applied to roofing cloth, like roofing shingles. These solar shingles capture sunlight and then convert it to electricity but are not efficient.

Thin-film solar – PV solar technology construction with thin layers of material made of PV to create a flexible and lightweight sheet of solar energy-producing modules. Thin-film solar is overall cheaper and more versatile than conventional panels, but it degrades quickly and it becomes less efficient.

Tracker – Mounting hardware used in power plants installs enabling panels to move and follow the sun throughout the day, thus increasing solar production.

Zero net energy – (ZNE) recognizes homes or buildings that generate energy that they consume, mostly in a combination of green building techniques that involves a solar energy system.

Do you have a solar term that you didn’t see listed here above? Let us know and we will add it to the list.

If you are ready to make the switch to solar energy, contact us and see how much you can save.