Common Solar Energy Terms - Glossary

Q&A from our 'Learn about Solar' series.

There are so many complicated terms thrown around when researching solar panels and solar energy. They can get confusing, but we are here to help. This page attempts to take complicated solar energy words like 'Interconnection' or 'Photovoltaic' and put them in terms we all can understand.

  • Albedo: Albedo is the fraction of solar energy reflected from objects back up towards space. It is a measure of the reflectivity of the earth's surface. Ice, especially with snow on top of it, has a high albedo: most sunlight hitting the surface bounces back (and potentially twoards your solar panels).
  • Direct Radiation: Direct radiation is also sometimes called 'beam' or 'direct beam' radiation. It is used to describe solar radiation traveling on a straight line from the sun down to the surface of the earth.
  • Grid-tie: Interconnection standards allow you to grid-tie your solar system to the electric company's electric. This allows you to use power company electric when your solar panels are not generating enough. The alternative is when you use a battery backup for storing excess solar-generated energy to use instead of falling back to the electric company.
  • HELOC: Home Equity Loan of Credit. You can use a HELOC to come up with the cash needed to finance a solar panel installation.
  • Interconnection: Interconnection standards are the legal rules and procedures for "plugging" a renewable energy system back into the power grid. Interconnection is needed in order to grid-tie (see above) your solar panel system.
  • kWh: kWh = KilaWatt Hours. A kilawatt hour is a standard derived unit of energy. For example, if the energy is being transmitted or used at a constant rate over a period of time, the total energy in kilowatt-hours is the product of the power in kilowatts and the time in hours.
  • Net Metering: Net Metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a solar (PV) system on the home's rooftop, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. The selling back of the extra electricity is net metering.
  • Peak Sunlight Hours: A Peak Sunlight Hour is one which the sun is at its highest point and creates the most Direct Radiation. Solar panels work best when they have the most peak sunlight hours to work with.
  • Photovoltaic: Photovoltaic is the science behind what makes solar panels work. The photovoltaic effect is the creation of voltage or electric current in a material upon exposure to light and is a physical and chemical phenomenon.
  • Renewable Energy: Any energy that is collected from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.
  • Solar Radiation: Solar energy is radiant light and heat that is harnessed from the Sun.

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