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Solar Jargon: What Business Executives Need to Know to Understand Operations & Engineering

Wordle of solar terms

Solar is no different than any other industry....we use lots of technical terms.  While many words are not necessary to understand basic solar chit chat, some are key to understanding how solar actually works. If your organization is evaluating solar and you are part of those discussions, read on:

 

"The Grid" or electrical grid — Another word for the traditional utility electricity distribution system.

Inverter — A device that converts direct current (DC) electricity produced from solar panels to alternating current (AC) that can be used to power households and businesses.

"ITC" —  The common acronym for a federal Investment Tax Credit allowing residents and businesses that invest in a solar system to deduct 30% of the system cost (dollar for dollar) off of their tax obligation.  This is a great way to reduce tax liabilities and redirect that money to a capital investment that will provide 30+ years of green energy.

Kilowatt (kW) — A standard unit of electrical power equal to 1,000 watts. The standard measure of a small solar electric system's generating capacity.

Kilowatt-hour (kWh) — The kWh is a unit of energy. 1,000 watts acting over a period of 1 hour.  1 kWh=3,600 kJ

Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) — The cost of energy produced by a solar system measured in cents per kWh. The LCOE is calculated based on the system's installed price, its total lifetime cost, and its lifetime electricity production. It is a simple effective rate that can be directly compared to the utility rate. Utility rates typically rise over time, while the LCOE is locked in for the life of the system.

Megawatt (MW) — 1,000 kilowatts, or 1 million watts; the standard measure of a large electric power plant's generating capacity.

Module — Just another word for "panel."  The terms 'solar panel' and 'solar module' are interchangeable.

Net-Metering  Net-metering is a utility company program that allows the solar system owner to send excess electricity back to the grid. The electric meter actually spins backwards! The utility company bills their customer with solar only for their net usage (kWh used – kWh generated). While most utilities will not refund cash if there is excess generation, many will carry forward a credit toward the next month's bill.

Orientation — Placement of the solar panels with respect to the cardinal directions, N, S, E, W; azimuth is the measure of orientation from north.

Peak demand/load — The maximum energy demand or load during a specified time period.

Photovoltaic (PV) array — An interconnected system of PV modules (panels) that function as a single electricity-producing unit. The modules are assembled and wired together in arrays with mounting or racking structures.

Photovoltaic (PV) cell — The smallest semiconductor element within a PV module (panel) to perform the immediate conversion of light into electrical energy (direct current voltage and current). Also called a solar cell.

 

After reading this blog, you might not be ready to be a solar engineer, quite yet. But before you know it, you will be impressing your colleagues deciphering that solar feasibility study.

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