As with any technology-focused industry, ours has its own terms, phrases, and buzzwords. Below are a few of the more common ones:
Battery Bank: A series of batteries that store electrical energy produced by your wind or solar system. This energy can then be used when the power grid is down, or at night in off-grid systems.
Breaker Box/Breaker Panel: This box or panel divides your main electrical supply into circuits, which route the power to specific devices in your home like appliances, lights, etc.
Charge Controller: A device that protects your batteries from overcharging and over-discharging.
Differential Controller: Also called a Temperature Differential Controller, this device provides temperature pump control for solar thermal hot water and pool systems.
Generator: This device generates electricity you can use to power your home during a grid outage. Generators are commonly powered by natural gas, propane, or diesel. They can easily be integrated into either a solar or wind energy system.
Grid: Also called the power grid or utility grid, this is the term commonly used to refer to a large network of power generating and power consuming sites (i.e., power plants and homes/businesses, respectively). It can refer to an entire country’s electrical system, or merely a regional or local utility’s network, depending on the context.
Heat Exchanger: A device that transfers heat from one medium to another. In solar hot water applications, it transfers heat from a propylene glycol/distilled water solution and into a large storage tank for your use.
Heat Transfer Pump: Pumps the propylene glycol/distilled water solution through the solar hot water collectors located outside.
Heat Transfer Reservoir: The container that holds heated (expanded) heat transfer fluid in a solar thermal hot water system.
Hot Water Tank: This usually refers to your existing conventional (electric, natural gas, or propane powered) hot water heater and integrated storage tank. A solar hot water systems takes over the bulk of the work these devices perform, leaving them in reserve for periods of prolonged cloudy, cold weather.
Inverter: This device converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). Power stored in batteries, generated by solar panels, and some power produced by wind turbines is DC and must be changed over to AC before appliances in your home/business can use it.
Meter: This device measures the amount of energy you’ve used from your utility’s grid. This is how the electric company knows how much to bill you.
Photovoltaic (PV): Refers to the photovoltaic effect, or direct conversion of sunlight into direct current. Depending on the context, it can refer to any number of things including entire solar panels, individual solar cells inside a panel, or the field of physics dealing with the materials that exhibit the photoelectric effect.
Solar Array: A grouping of solar panels.
Solar Cell: The thin wafers of silicon doped with other elements inside a solar panel that produce direct current.
Solar Collector: Also called a hot water collector, these are the panels that collect the sun’s thermal energy for use in a solar hot water system or a solar pool heating system.
Solar Grid-Tie System: The simplest, most common type of solar electric system. Basically a bunch of solar panels wired in series and either connected to a central/string inverter or installed with microinverters on the back of each solar panel. These systems leave their owner tied to the grid and do not usually function in a power outage (some systems can power small loads even in an outage).
Solar Grid-Tie System With Battery Backup: Same as a grid-tie system, but with the addition of a battery bank that powers critical loads such as your refrigerator, lights, heater blower, and certain other dedicated outlets in a power outage.
Solar Off-Grid System: This is the rarest type of solar electric system and is typically a lifestyle choice, as opposed to a financial investment. An off-grid system allows its owner the option to be completely disconnected from a utility provider- but many so-called “off-grid” systems retain this connection anyway in order to put less strain on the battery backup that is integral to these types of systems. Most off-grid systems serve as lifestyle insurance policies, guaranteeing you electrical power regardless of natural disasters or other disruptions to the electrical grid.
Solar Panel: Typically this refers to a photovoltaic (PV) module that is capable of converting the sun’s energy into electricity. Devices that capture the sun’s thermal energy are usually referred to as “collectors.”
Solar Seasonal Pool Heating/Cooling System: Seasonal pool heating and cooling systems are the simplest type of solar energy system available. These systems must be shut down during freezing months, but can conveniently heat and cool pool water 220 days out of the year. These systems consist of two main components: solar collectors and a temperature differential controller. Click here to see how they work.