Solar Energy Glossary: 10 Terms to Know Before Going Solar

Are you confused by solar energy terminology? The terms commonly used in the industry can sound jargon-y if you aren’t hip to the lingo.

Check out our photovoltaic glossary for easy-to-understand definitions of 10 of the most common technical terms.

Solar energy glossary

No. 1: Balance of System

Photovoltaic systems need more than solar panels to generate electricity. The balance of system (BOS) refers to everything else involved in a PV array installation. Design, mounting and wiring components, battery storage, operations and all related costs are considered part of the balance of system.

No. 2: Conversion Efficiency

Solar panels aren’t capable of harnessing all the sun’s energy. The conversion efficiency of a photovoltaic panel tells you how much of the solar energy hitting a PV array is converted into useable electricity.

No. 3: Grid-Tied PV System

For electricity when the sun isn’t shining, most photovoltaic systems remain connected to the utility grid. A solar array of this type is called a grid-tied PV system.

No. 4: Hybrid PV System

These days, many grid-tied PV arrays also have backup sources of power, including battery banks, wind turbines and diesel or solar generators. Hybrid PV system is the term used to refer to this type of photovoltaic setup.

No. 5: Interconnection

Connecting a PV array to the utility grid isn’t a simple matter of wiring. Photovoltaic installers also have to meet certain utility and government requirements, fill out the right paperwork and have the solar energy systems inspected to get hooked up to the grid.

No. 6: Inverter

Photovoltaic panels only capture the sun’s energy — they don’t convert it into electricity. For that, you need an inverter. An inverter takes the DC solar energy and turns it AC power, the type needed for electronics and appliances in the United States.

No. 7: Net Metering

When grid-tied solar panels produce more energy than needed, the excess is sent over to the grid for utility company use. Net metering requires the utilities to issue credit for this extra electricity. Net metering laws vary by state, but many states do not even have any.

No. 8: Off-Grid PV System

Not everyone chooses to connect their photovoltaic system to the utility grid — some people rely on battery banks or generators for backup power. This type of solar array is referred to as a stand-alone or off-grid PV system.

No. 9: Peak Sun Hours

Over the course of the day, the amount of solar energy that reaches any particular location varies. Peak sun hours is essentially a calculation of how much time the sun is shining at maximum intensity.

No. 10: Solar Energy Storage

When photovoltaic panels capture extra electricity, the excess can be funneled to the utility grid — or it can be sent to a solar storage system. Battery banks and solar generators are commonly used as electricity storage for hybrid and off-grid PV systems.

Do you need explanations for other photovoltaic industry terminology? The professionals at Intermountain Wind & Solar, the region’s leading residential and commercial solar contractor, can give you clear answers. For more information, or to schedule a free solar energy consultation, contact us today.