Glossary of Terms
AC (Alternating Current) The direction of electrical current reverses, usually as many as (60) times per second. Electricity transmission networks use AC because voltage can be controlled with relative ease.
AMPERE (amp) A unit of electrical current or rate of flow of electrons. One volt across one ohm of resistance causes a current flow of one ampere. One ampere is equal to 6.235 x 10 18 electrons per second passing a given point in a circuit.
ARRAY Any number of Photovoltaic modules connected together electrically to provide a single electrical output. An array is a mechanically integrated assembly of modules or panels together with support structure (including foundation and other components, as required) to form a free-standing field installed unit that produces DC power.
CELL (battery) A single unit of an electrochemical device capable of producing direct voltage by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. A battery usually consists of several cells electrically connected together to produce higher voltages. (Sometimes the terms cell and battery are used interchangeably).
CELL (solar) The smallest, basic Photovoltaic device that generates electricity when exposed to light.
DC Direct Current A one way flow of electric current. Typical sources of direct currents are electric cells, rectified power units and direct current generators. This is the current flow produced by a solar system. To be used for typical 120 volt or 220 volt household appliances, it must be converted to AC (alternating current).
EFFICIENCY The ratio of power output of a Photovoltaic cell to the incident power from the sun or simulated sun sources under specified standard insolation conditions.
ELECTRIC CURRENT The rate at which electricity flows through an electrical conductor, usually measured in amperes (amps).
ELECTRICITY Energy resulting from the flow of charge particles, such as electrons or ions.
ELECTRONS A negatively charged particle. The movement of electrons in an electrical conductor constitutes an electric current.
FULL SUN The full sun condition is the amount of power density received at the surface of the earth at noon on a clear day – about 100 mW/cm2. Lower levels of sunlight are often expressed as 0.5 sun or 0.1 sun. A figure of 0.5 sun means that the power density of the sunlight is one-half of that of a full sun.
GRID Transmission line network used to distribute electric power.
GRID LINES Metallic contacts fused to the surface of the solar cell to provide a low resistance path for electrons to flow out to the cell interconnect wires.
HYBRID SYSTEM A power system consisting of two or more power generating subsystems (e.g., the combination of a wind turbine or diesel generator and a photovoltaic system).
INCIDENT LIGHT The incident light is the amount of light reaching an object.
INVERTER A device that converts electricity from DC to AC.
JUNCTION BOXA PV generator junction box is an enclosure on the module where PV strings are electrically connected and where protection devices can be located, if necessary.
JUNCTION DIODEA semiconductor device with a junction and a built-in potential that passes current better in one direction than the other. All solar cells are junction diodes.
KILOWATT (kW) 1000 watts.
KILOWATT-HOUR Unit of energy used to perform work (energy and work are equivalent in units, energy being the potential value and work the achieved value). Fuel equivalents:
One barrel of crude contains roughly 1700 kWh
One ton of coal contains roughly 7500 kWh
One gallon of gasoline contains roughly 37 kWh
One cubic foot of natural gas contains 0.3 kWh
One ton of uranium ore contains 164 million kWh 1.34 horsepower-hours.
Thermal Unit: One kWh = 3400 BTU. Can be compared to 860 calories (food value)
LOAD Refers to equipment that is powered by electricity. Usually expressed in terms of amperes or watts. In an electrical circuit, any devise or appliance that uses power (such as a light bulb or water pump).
MAXIMUM POWER The power at the point on the current-voltage characteristic where the product of current and voltage is a maximum (measured in watts).
MODULE The smallest non divisible, self-contained and environmentally protected physical structure housing interconnected Photovoltaic cells and providing a single DC electrical output.
MULTICRYSTALINE Material that is solidified at such a rate that many small crystals (crystallites) form. The atoms within a single crystallite are symmetrically arranged, whereas crystallites are jumbled together. These numerous grain boundaries reduce the device efficiency. A material composed of variously oriented, small individual crystals. (Sometimes referred to as polycrystalline or semicrystalline).
PARALLEL CONNECTION A wiring configuration used to increase current (amperage). Parallel wiring is positive to positive (+ to +) and negative to negative (- to -). Opposite of a series connection.
PEAK POWER POINT Operating point of the I-V (current-voltage) curve for a Photovoltaic cell or module where the product of the current value times the voltage value is a maximum.
PEAK WATTS The measurement of electricity produced by a solar generator at noon on a sunny day, under predetermined standard conditions.
PHOTON The actual (physical) particle unit of light, as the electron is of electric charge and the atom and molecule are of matter. Light has both wave properties and particle properties. Violet light has relatively short wavelength and higher energy in its photons; red light has longer wavelength, lower-energy photons. The wavelength and/or energy spectrum of the sun extends in both directions beyond the visible range of light, of course, and the silicon module solar cell can capture some energy in both of these invisible zones. Photons not captured by the cell are either reflected or converted to heat in the solar array.
PHOTOVOLTAIC CELL A device composed of specially prepared semiconductor material or material combinations exhibiting the ability to convert incident solar energy directly into electrical energy.
PHOTOVOLTAIC EFFECT The phenomenon that occurs when photons, the “particles” in a beam of light, knock electrons loose from the atoms they strike. When this property of light is combined with the properties of semiconductors, electrons flow in one direction across a junction, setting up a voltage. With the addition of circuitry, current will flow and electric power will be available.
PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM An installed aggregate of solar arrays generating power for a given application.
POWER CONDITIONER The electrical equipment used to convert power from a photovoltaic array into a form suitable for subsequent use. Loosely, a collective term for inverter, transformer, voltage regulator and other power controls.
RENEWABLE ENERGY Flows of energy that are regenerative or virtually inexhaustible. Most commonly includes solar (electric and thermal), biomass, geothermal, wind, tidal, wave, and hydro power sources.
SEMICONDUCTOR A material such as silicon, which has a crystalline structure that will allow current to flow under certain conditions. Semiconductors are usually less conductive than metals but not an insulator like rubber.
SERIES CONNECTION A wiring configuration used to increase voltage. Series wiring is positive to negative (+ to -) or negative to positive (- to +). Opposite of parallel connection.
SILICON A non-metallic element, that when specially treated, is sensitive to light and capable of transforming light into electricity. Silicon is the basic material of most beach sand, and is the raw material used to manufacture most photovoltaic cells.
SINGLE-CRYSTAL STRUCTURE A material having a crystalline structure such that a repeatable or periodic molecular pattern exists in all three dimensions.
SOLAR CELL The basic photovoltaic device which generates electricity when exposed to sunlight.
SOLAR PANEL A collection of solar modules connected in series, in parallel, or in series- parallel combination to provide greater voltage, current, or power than can be furnished by a single solar module. Solar panels can be provided to furnish any desired voltage, current, or power. They are made up as a complete assembly. Larger collections of solar panels are usually called solar arrays.
STAND-ALONE SYSTEM (SA) A system which operates independently of the utility lines. It may draw supplementary power from the utility but is not capable of providing power to the utility.
STORAGE BATTERY A device capable of transforming energy from electric to chemical form and vice versa. The reactions are almost completely reversible. During discharge, chemical energy is converted to electric energy and is consumed in an external circuit or apparatus.
TILT ANGLE A fixed angle measured from the horizontal to which a solar array is tilted. The tilt angle is chosen to maximize the array output. Depending upon latitude, season and time of day this angle will vary.
TRACKING ARRAY An array that is mounted on a movable structure that attempts to follow the path of the sun. Some tracking arrays are single axis while others are dual.
VOLTAGE A measure of the force or “push” given the electrons in an electrical circuit; a measure of electrical potential. One volt produces one amp of current when acting against a resistance of one ohm.
WATT Unit of power. Power is the rate of using energy to do work.