Plenty of home services involve technical terminology and jargon, and solar is certainly no exception! At times, solar professionals can be guilty of using words our clients aren’t familiar with, creating headaches and risking alienating enthusiastic newcomers. Here’s a glossary explaining the five most common acronyms and abbreviations you’ll encounter in solar, broken down for regular people:

  1. Solar pv – short for solar photovoltaic. Photovoltaic is a word for what solar cells and panels do: they work by taking light (“Photo” is Greek for light, no flash please!) and turning it into an electric current. (That’s the “volt” part – that would make a shockingly cool name for an electric car!) But photovoltaic has a lot of consonant letters making it hard to say, hence pv.
  2. kW – This is the standard abbreviation for kiloWatts. Watts are a power unit, as in a 60-Watt light bulb. Kilo is a prefix meaning thousand. Put together enough 300-Watt solar panels, and soon you have a 10-kiloWatt solar project. How many? Do the math!
  3. Offset – Offset is a term for describing what is now a very common goal for solar customers – replacing a certain percentage of their utility electric use with solar power from their own system. Some strive for 100% offset – installing a solar project that can produce power equal to what the user typically uses from their electric provider monthly or annually, some are happy with less.
  4. Cells and panels – If you look at a solar energy project, you’ll see 6 foot by 4 foot rectangle shaped segments – these are called panels or modules, and they are manufactured to individually rate at 290-360 Watts. If you look at a panel, it almost looks tiled with small dark squares – either about the size of a hand or subdivided into smaller square shapes – these are cells, which contain silicon and are able to use the photovoltaic effect to make a current when exposed to light from the sun.
  5. Orientation – Relative to solar, orientation refers to the cardinal direction the solar panels will face, when positioned as part of the solar project. For rooftop projects, by assessing whether a plane of a roof points south or some other direction, modern solar energy evaluation tools can estimate how much higher or lower the solar panels’ power production is likely to be.

We seek to empower all our clients and members of the public with more solar knowledge. Feel free to call us with your questions and to get into a no-obligation solar consultation with someone on our staff who can help you understand your solar potential.


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