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Solar Energy Terms & Glossary

Solar energy doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated. If you’ve been looking at solar systems for your home, business or school, you’ve probably heard some unfamiliar industry jargon. Fear not the words. We’re here to simplify your solar experience with this A-to-Z glossary, helping you learn more about this source of clean renewable power.

The Suntuity Solar Glossary provides simple definitions for some of the most common terms you can expect to hear when learning about solar panels systems for your home. These definitions are for general purposes only and should not be used for legal purposes. Please check with a Suntuity solar consultant to see if these terms apply in your area.

    • Alternative Energy

      Alternative Energy

      Every Suntuity Solar system is customized and engineered for the needs of each homeowner. Our mission is to deliver the best quality products and services that maximize both solar output and electricity savings. Qualified homeowners typically save up to 30% or more every month with Suntuity Solar.

    • Array


      Multiple solar cells make up a solar panel, and multiple panels can be wired together to form a solar array. The more panels you install, the more energy you can expect to generate, but depending on the efficiency of your panels, you may be able to make the same amount of energy with fewer panels.

    • Azimuth


      The direction that your roof faces (in the context of solar). The azimuth is measured in degrees, representing the angle between your roof and true north.

    • Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV)

      Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV)

      Solar panels that can be integrated with a building’s roof tiles, rather than mounted on top of the roof. Also known as a solar shingle.

    • Balance of system (BOS)

      Balance of system (BOS)

      All of the other physical parts that make up a solar system outside of the panels: inverters, wiring, mounting hardware, monitoring system.

    • Community solar

      Community solar

      A solar power plant whose electricity is shared by more than one household. Often framed as an alternative to rooftop solar. Also known as a solar garden or shared renewable energy plant.

    • Efficiency


      When referring to a solar cell or a solar panel, efficiency refers to the percentage of sunlight captured and converted into usable electricity.

    • Electrical (or electric or utility) grid

      Electrical (or electric or utility) grid

      The interconnected network of equipment that delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers. Often called “the grid,” this infrastructure is made up of generating stations that produce electrical power; high-voltage transmission lines that carry power from distant sources to demand centers; and distribution lines that connect individual customers to the system. In other words, the poles and wires that transport electricity from where it’s made to your home or business.

    • Federal investment tax credit (ITC)

      Federal investment tax credit (ITC)

      Commonly referred to as the solar tax credit, the ITC effectively reduces the total cost of your solar energy system by 30 percent with a credit to your federal taxes. It is regarded as the most significant financial incentive for solar in the U.S.

    • Grid parity

      Grid parity

      The point at which power generated by solar panels costs the same or less than power from conventional resources like natural gas. Solar is already at grid parity in 20 states.

    • Ground-mounted solar

      Ground-mounted solar

      A solar array installed on land; used primarily for large-scale commercial and utility-scale solar projects such as power plants that generate power for thousands of homes and businesses.

    • Inverter


      Component of a solar panel system that converts the electricity generated by solar panels into a format that can be used to power your home.

    • Interconnection agreement

      Interconnection agreement

      A contract between the homeowner and the local utility allowing the homeowner to connect their solar power system to the electric grid. In some areas, this enables the homeowner to receive a credit on their electricity bill from the utility for any surplus electricity their solar power system generates.

    • Kilowatt-hour (kWh)

      Kilowatt-hour (kWh)

      Standard unit for electricity. In 2014, the average U.S. home used 911 kWh per month.

    • Levelized cost of energy (LCOE)

      Levelized cost of energy (LCOE)

      The per-unit cost of energy from a solar energy system. LCOE is calculated by dividing the out-of-pocket cost for the system by the estimated total amount of energy the system will produce over its lifetime.

    • Micro-inverter


      The introduction of micro-inverters is one of the biggest technology shifts in the photovoltaic (PV) industry. Placed on the back of each solar panel, a micro-inverter optimizes energy production for each individual solar panel, not just for an entire solar system, as central inverters do. This enables every solar panel to perform at its maximum potential. It means one underperforming solar panel won't drag down the performance of entire solar array, as opposed to central inverters that optimize for the weakest link.

    • Module


      Another name for a solar panel.

    • Mounting hardware

      Mounting hardware

      The racking and mounting equipment used to secure solar panels to rooftops (or to trackers in ground mounted power plant installations) and to each other; often made with lightweight aluminum frames and clips capable of withstanding the elements while minimizing impact to the roof.

    • Net metering

      Net metering

      A practice that credits you for the excess electricity generated by your solar panels, which you can then draw upon when your panels don’t produce enough electricity to match your use. With net metering, you effectively use the electric grid to “store” excess electricity for later use.

    • Off grid

      Off grid

      Completely disconnected from the electricity grid, with no access to utility-generated electricity. Homes that go off grid need to generate all of their electricity on-site.

    • Operations and maintenance (O&M)

      Operations and maintenance (O&M)

      The ongoing operational needs of a solar system, including cleaning, repairs, replacement of parts, bill management and so on; primarily refers to larger-scale commercial and utility-scale solar systems.

    • Photovoltaic (PV)

      Photovoltaic (PV)

      A type of device that generates electricity directly from sunlight. Solar panels are photovoltaic devices.

    • Power rating

      Power rating

      Represents the theoretical power output of a solar panel in ideal conditions. While power rating is a good indicator of quality, most solar panels don’t experience ideal conditions for more than a few moments.

    • Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)

      Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)

      A special type of loan that is repaid through an annual assessment on your property tax bill. PACE financing can be used to install a solar PV system, among other clean energy improvements.

    • Payback period

      Payback period

      Represents how long it takes to “break even” on a solar energy investment. The average payback period for solar homeowners in the U.S. is just over seven years.

    • Performance-based incentive (PBI)

      Performance-based incentive (PBI)

      Financial incentive for solar that pays a homeowner based on the energy production of their solar system. PBIs are typically paid per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. Feed-in tariffs are a type of PBI.

    • Power purchase agreement (PPA)

      Power purchase agreement (PPA)

      Contract with a solar company to have a solar energy system installed on your roof. With a solar PPA, you agree to pay the company a per kilowatt-hour rate for the electricity produced by the solar panels.

    • Renewable energy

      Renewable energy

      Energy generated from sources that naturally continually renew themselves, such as sunlight, wind, geothermal heat or tidal movement.

    • Solar panel efficiency

      Solar panel efficiency

      Represents how well a solar panel converts sunlight into electricity. Most solar panels have 14 to 16 percent efficiency; high-efficiency panels are rated just above 20 percent.

    • Solar-plus-storage


      Industry term referring to a solar energy system that also includes a battery to store excess energy. Informally referred to as solar batteries.

    • Solar lease

      Solar lease

      Contract with a solar company to have a solar energy system installed on your roof. With a solar lease, you agree to pay the company a fixed monthly fee to “rent” the system in exchange for the benefits (i.e., the electricity) the system provides.

    • Solar lease escalator

      Solar lease escalator

      A clause of most leases and PPAs that increases payment rates by a fixed amount per year. A typical escalator is 2.9 percent. Solar loan: A loan provided by a bank, credit union, or specialty provider to finance the cost of buying a solar PV system.

    • Solar loan

      Solar loan

      A loan provided by a bank, credit union, or specialty provider to finance the cost of buying a solar PV system.

    • Solar renewable energy credit (SREC)

      Solar renewable energy credit (SREC)

      For every unit of electricity that a solar panel system generates, an associated SREC is also created. In some states, you can sell your SRECs for additional revenue.

    • Solar batteries (or storage)

      Solar batteries (or storage)

      Solar storage systems are comprised of high-capacity rechargeable batteries (or battery banks) that can store excess energy generated by a solar system for use at night or as a backup during emergency grid outages or other times when the solar system cannot generate energy in real time. Batteries suited for solar incorporate a variety of technologies, including lead acid, lithium-ion or flow batteries.

    • Solar canopies

      Solar canopies

      Solar panel arrays that are raised above the ground on structures that leave the land underneath usable for other purposes, such as parking lots.

    • Solar carports

      Solar carports

      Solar panel arrays that are raised above parking lots to provide both shade and energy production.

    • Solar dealer

      Solar dealer

      A company that sells solar equipment to homeowners, businesses and other organizations; may sell products from one or many manufacturers and may also provide installation and maintenance services.

    • Solar design

      Solar design

      The layout and orientation of a solar system, optimized for maximum energy production based on roof or land characteristics, the angle of the sun, shading, climate and aesthetic appeal.

    • Solar installer

      Solar installer

      An expert or company that specializes in delivering and physically installing solar equipment on buildings and homes.

    • Solar monitoring

      Solar monitoring

      Specialized software used to track and manage energy generation and usage, billing, carbon offsets and more; can be accessed via a mobile device, home computer or a remote operations center.

    • Solar panel (or module)

      Solar panel (or module)

      PV solar panels are made up of many solar cells linked together to form a circuit and are mounted in a frame. PV solar panels generate DC electricity, which must then be converted to AC electricity by an inverter because the U.S. electrical grid uses AC power.

    • Solar panel cleaning

      Solar panel cleaning

      Rooftop home solar panels usually are naturally cleaned by seasonal rains or melting snow, but excessive build up of dirt or debris can reduce efficiency. Panels can be sprayed off when they’re cool (in the early morning or evening) with a garden hose and gently wiped with a soft sponge or cloth – or owners can hire a cleaning professional for the job.

    • Solar panel contractors

      Solar panel contractors

      Construction professionals who are specially trained to install solar equipment.

    • Solar power plant

      Solar power plant

      A large-scale, usually ground-mounted solar array built for utility or commercial use.

    • Solar shingles (or tiles)

      Solar shingles (or tiles)

      Thin-film photovoltaic strips or tiles that can be applied directly to roofing cloth, just like regular roofing shingles. These solar shingles capture sunlight and convert it to electricity but do so less efficiently.

    • Temperature coefficient

      Temperature coefficient

      Represents how well a solar panel can perform in high-heat conditions. As with all electronics, high heat can negatively affect solar panel performance.

    • Third-party owner (TPO)

      Third-party owner (TPO)

      In a lease or PPA, the owner of the solar energy system (typically a solar corporation). By entering into a solar lease or PPA, you sign an agreement with the third-party owner.

    • Thin-film solar

      Thin-film solar

      PV solar technology constructed with very thin layers of PV material to create lightweight, often flexible sheets of solar energy-producing modules. Thin-film solar is generally cheaper and more versatile than conventional solar panels, but it is also less efficient and degrades more quickly over time.

    • Tracker


      Mounting hardware used in power plant installations enabling solar panels to move and follow the sun throughout the day, increasing solar electricity production.

    • Zero net energy

      Zero net energy

      Zero net energy (ZNE) (also referred to as net zero energy) identifies homes or buildings that generate as much energy as they consume, usually via a combination of green building techniques that include a solar energy system.

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*Suntuity is a registered trademark of Natural Power Sources LLC D|B|A Suntuity. A solar power system is customized for each home, so pricing and savings vary based on location, system size, roof condition and roof space, azimuth, tree location, government rebates, and local utility rates. Savings on your total electricity cost is not guaranteed. Financing terms and warranties vary based on location and are not available in all areas.

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