Glossary of Solar Power Terms

AC (alternating current) power Electricity that alternates the direction it flows in. The electricity in your house is AC. It changes the direction it flows in 60 times per second.
Ampere or "Amp" A unit of measurement for the amount of electricity flowing in a system.
Circuit A collection of wires and components in a device where electricity flows. It controls all the blinking lights and sounds in the device.
Combiner box A box that takes all the wires from each solar panel and combines them into one bigger wire.
Conventional utility power Regular AC Power that you use everyday in your home.
Current See electric current.
Current transformers A device that changes the amount of electricity flowing in a system.
DC (direct current) power Electricity that flows in one direction only.
Electric current The amount of electricity flowing in a system, usually measured in amperes or amps for short.
Electric fields Also called a magnetic field, it is the area around electricity where magnetic forces are produced. When electricity flows through a wire, it causes the wire to turn into a magnet. The more wire, or the more electricity flowing through the wire, the stronger the magnet. Electric motors use this property to turn.
Electricity The movement of electrons through a medium. Electricity is the energy source that powers nearly all modern technology. Your own body uses electricity to tell your muscles when to turn on.
Electrons Negatively charged subatomic particles. These particles are so small, they can barely be seen with the most powerful microscopes. The movement of these particles is what we call electricity.
Energy efficiency The level of efficiency which a device operates or converts one form of energy into another. An inverter's efficiency is measured based on the amount of power it consumes verses the amount of power it puts out (power out / power in * 100 percent = % efficiency). A solar panel's efficiency is calculated the same, but the 'power in' is the amount of solar energy on the surface of the solar panel.
Fossil fuel-based
energy sources
Oil, which is refined into gasoline, is a product of fossilization. Millions of years ago the dinosaurs died and many were buried by sediment. Great underground pressure transformed the dinosaur remains into fossils and then after much more time, it eventually turned into oil.
Global climate change With all the excess heat in the atmosphere (see greenhouse gas emissions) the world is slowly getting warmer. As the world gets warmer, our climate changes. In some cases this change is good because it can mean a warmer winter. In other cases the warmer weather is destroying crops and causing unstable and dangerous weather.
Greenhouse gas emissions Carbon dioxide, the most common of greenhouse gases, is created from the burning of fossil fuel. It traps excess heat in the atmosphere much like the glass in a greenhouse. This in effect turns the whole planet into a giant greenhouse.
Grid-tie inverters Devices used to change DC Power into AC Power. AC Power is electricity we use in our houses. Grid tie inverters are different from regular inverters because they are designed to 'feed-into' the existing electric supply to your building.
Grid-tie solar systems A complete solar powered system that is designed to feed power into your home or school. This system uses the existing hydroelectric power company as a 'bank'. When power is created but not being used, it feeds AC Power back into your city's power "grid" so that someone else may use the power. This also offsets some of the costs of the electricity.
Inverter A device that converts DC Power into AC Power. The electricity in your house is AC. This device cannot be plugged into a system that is supplied by the city's power (for that you need a Grid Tie inverter).
Kilowatt One thousand watts. A watt is a measure of energy (Joules) per second.
Load centre The "nerve centre" of any electrical system. All machines plugged into the system get their power from here. This is where all sources of electricity for the system plug into.
Module A unit that contains a number of other pieces or components. A solar panel is sometimes called a "solar module" because it has dozens of solar cells within it.
Panel A large flat surface. In this case, it refers to a solar panel.
Particles Tiny bits of matter. These tiny bits of matter could be anything such as dust, dirt, water, even radiation.
Photovoltaic This word is used to describe any device that creates electricity from light. A solar panel is said to be photovoltaic because it takes light (photo) and turns it into electricity (volts).
Power transducer A device capable of measuring large amounts of electricity and providing the information to a device that is not.
Semiconductor A device or material that only partly conducts electricity. This is different from a resistor, which restricts the flow of electricity. All modern electronics use these devices. Silicon is a type of semiconducting material.
Silicon One of the basic elements from the periodic table (atomic symbol Si). This element is the primary material used to make solar panels.
Solar array A number of solar panels linked together is called a solar array.
Solar calculators A program or device that can be used to determine how much solar power will be needed in a particular application. That value is then used to determine the number of solar panels that will be needed.
Solar cells Solar cells are typically made of silicon, and when several solar cells are put together, they form a solar panel. A typical solar panel is made of dozens of small solar panels.
Solar energy Regular sunlight.
Solar energy generation The process of generating electricity from sunlight.
Solar power Electricity that is generated from regular sunlight.
Solar power stations A complete solar system that is capable of supplying power to a device or several devices.
Three (3) phase electricity A type of electricity used almost exclusively in motor and generator applications. Simply put, it is 3 different AC Power sources that are alternating at different times. This type of power means that a motor will have better power for every part of its rotation and thus, be more powerful. An electric motor must be specially designed to use this type of power.
Utility power Electricity that is supplied by your city's electricity provider. This power is commonly conventional utility power. Or, in the case of the Province of British Columbia, Canada, it is commonly referred to as "Hydro", as much of our power is produced by hydro-electric dams.
Voltage A measurement of the strength of electricity in a system; the short form of the word is "volts". Volts is also called "electromotive force". The more voltage there is, the more likely electricity will flow. Lighting involves voltages 1000 times greater than you find in your home, that's why it can jump right through thin air.