Solar Industry Terms

New to the world of solar? Below is a list of terms you may encounter while learning if solar is right for you.

If you’ve been looking for solar panels for you home, chances are you’ve come across some solar buzzwords or jargon that you didn’t totally understand. We’re here to help! Below you will find a glossary of solar terms and definitions you can use to learn more about the solar industry. 

Our solar consultants are experts in the field and will ensure you understand your system before you decide whether solar is right for you. Click here to get started with solar.

Solar panels on roof

The top Solar Buzzwords and Terms to Know in 2024

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy is a term used to refer to any energy source that is not derived from fossil fuels. Examples of alternative energy sources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower, and nuclear power. These energy sources can be used for electricity generation, transportation, and heating and cooling buildings.

Alternative energy sources are considered environmentally friendly and sustainable because they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuel-based sources. Learn more and compare energy sources in our recent article.

Array

A solar panel consists of multiple solar cells. A solar array is a group of solar panels that are connected together to generate power. Solar arrays can vary in size and capacity depending on their purpose and location. The larger the array, the more energy it can produce.

Balance of System (BOS)

All of the components of a solar system outside of the panels. This includes inverters, mounting hardware, and wiring. 

Efficiency

Efficiency is a measure of how much solar energy a panel is able to convert into usable electricity. It is typically described as a percentage, such as 15% efficiency or 20% efficiency, and it takes into account factors such as the type of solar cell used in the panel, and any losses due to conversion or heat. Solar panels with higher efficiency ratios can generate more power for less cost.

Energy Audit

An energy audit is the assessment of a home or business’s current energy usage. The process also includes educating the property owner of various ways they can reduce their energy usage. In the long run, an energy audit can help you save a considerable amount of money and conserve energy.

Grid (Utility or Electric Grid)

Often referred to as “the grid”, it is the interconnected network of equipment that delivers electricity from the power company to your home or business. (See also Smart Grid)

Ground Mounted Solar

Ground mounted solar is a type of solar installation where panels are installed on a ground mount instead of on a roof or other surfaces. Ground mount systems can be used for residential, commercial, or utility-scale applications and require different types of mounting hardware to keep the panels in place. They have an advantage over roof mounted installations because they allow for more flexibility with panel orientation and placement, which can result in increased efficiency and higher power output.

Interconnection Agreement

An interconnection agreement is an agreement between a utility provider and a solar energy system owner that defines the terms of how the solar energy system will be connected to the utility’s grid. This agreement outlines the requirements for connecting to the grid, operational guidelines for safety, responsibilities of each party, any applicable fees or metering requirements, and other important details related to the use of the power produced by the solar energy system. (See also Net Metering)

Inverter

A solar inverter is a device used in solar systems to convert the direct current (DC) electricity produced by the solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity that can be used in most homes or businesses. Solar inverters are essential components of any solar energy system, as they allow for the efficient use of solar-generated electricity. Inverters may include additional features such as energy monitoring, remote device control, adjustable voltage output levels, and other safety features.

Micro-Inverter

Unlike traditional inverters, micro-inverters are installed on each individual photovoltaic module or solar panel instead of all modules being connected to a single string. This allows for higher system efficiency, as each panel produces its own AC output independent from other panels in the system. Additionally, micro-inverters help prevent power losses due to shading issues or faults on a single panel, and allow for easier monitoring and maintenance of each individual panel.

Monocrystalline Panel

A monocrystalline solar panel is composed of a single-crystal silicon and is known for its distinct black appearance. Monocrystalline solar panels are highly efficient, as they can generate more electricity per square centimeter due to their higher density. They tend to cost more than polycrystalline panels but offer better performance in lower light environments and are generally considered to be the highest quality type of solar cell.

Mounting Hardware

Mounting hardware is the racking and mounting equipment that is used to secure solar panels to a roof or ground mounted system. These are typically made of aluminum or other lightweight materials that are capable of withstanding harsh elements while minimizing impact to the installation location.

Net Metering

Net metering is a billing system that allows customers who generate their own electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar panels to feed energy back into the electric grid in exchange for credits against their electricity bill. The credits offset the cost of electricity used from the utility, resulting in lower energy bills.

NEM 3.0

NEM 3.0 is a new Net Energy Metering policy that affects solar panel systems installed in California after April 15, 2023. It features a 75% reduction in export rates (The value of the excess energy you sell back to the grid), which reduces the overall cost savings of solar systems in increases the return on investment. Fortunately, California residents can install a solar battery and store their excess energy in their own home and avoid all export rates.

Photovoltaic (PV)

Photovoltaics (PV) is a method of generating electricity by converting sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. PV systems use solar panels or photovoltaic cells to convert the sun’s energy directly into electricity, which can then be used to power homes and businesses. Photovoltaic systems work by using a special material such as silicon, which absorbs light from the sun and generates electrons that create an electrical current. The electrical current generated by the system is then connected to an inverter, which converts it into alternating current (AC) for use in homes and businesses.

Polycrystalline Panel

A polycrystalline solar panel is a type of photovoltaic (PV) panel composed of multiple crystals or grains of silicon, hence the name. These panels have a distinctive blue/purple hue and are generally less expensive than other types of PV cells due to their simpler manufacturing process. Polycrystalline solar panels tend to produce slightly less power than monocrystalline panels.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is energy generated from natural resources such as the sun, wind, water, and biomass. Renewable energy sources do not produce the same level of emissions as non-renewable fossil fuels such as coal, gas or oil, making them an ideal choice for reducing air pollution. Additionally, renewable energy sources are sustainable — they are replenished by nature on a regular basis and are therefore considered an unlimited source of power.

Smart Grid

A smart grid is an intelligent electric power grid that uses advanced sensors and technology to monitor, measure, and manage the production, delivery, and consumption of electricity. Smart grids can help utilities better manage energy demand by monitoring customer energy usage in real-time and using predictive algorithms to forecast future needs. Smart grids also incorporate advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) which helps further improve energy efficiency by providing utilities with granular data on customer energy use that can be used to implement optimized pricing structures.

Smart Meter

A smart meter is an advanced digital device that records and transmits electricity consumption data to utility companies. Unlike traditional analog meters, smart meters can communicate this information in real-time. This allows utility companies to monitor real-time electricity production and usage. 

Solar Battery

A solar battery is a device that stores electricity generated from solar panels for future use. Solar batteries are typically used in conjunction with off-grid solar systems to store excess energy during the day for use at night, when solar panels aren’t producing power. Solar batteries come in a variety of sizes and types, including lead-acid, lithium ion, nickel-cadmium, and flow batteries.

Solar Cell

A single light capturing unit on a solar panel. A solar cell is a device that converts sunlight into electricity. Solar cells are made from semiconductor materials such as silicon, and when exposed to light, they generate an electric current. When multiple solar cells are connected together, they form a solar module, which can then be used to power lights and other electrical devices.

Solar Monitoring

Specialized software used to track and manage energy production, usage, carbon offsets, and more. Solar monitoring can be accessed from your mobile device or desktop computer. 

Solar Panel Cleaning

Over time, dirt, water stains, and debris can reduce the efficiency of your solar panels. Regular cleaning is a good way to maximize panel efficiency and get the most out of your investment. 

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