May 21, 2018

The Definition of Solar Energy Terms You Should Know

Solar Energy

With global warming remaining a hot-button issue in the news, it's likely that you've heard information about the definition of solar energy thrown around. At first glance, it seems like a pretty simple concept. The sun shines on panels that turn that power into electricity that we can use to power coffee pots, phone chargers, and the computer you're reading this on right now. But if you've ever delved further into solar power terms, you likely discovered a whole lexicon of jargon that can be difficult to parse. If you're looking into getting a solar power system installed, you'll need to know some of the basics. Below are a few solar terms and their definitions.

Balance of System

The balance of system refers to all of the physical pieces that make up your solar power system. This can include wiring, nuts, bolts, inverters, mounting software, the monitoring system, and more. The balance of system does not, however, include the solar panels.

Charge Controller

The charge controller regulates the energy going into the battery in your solar power system. Your system may not necessarily have a battery, so be sure to check on that when having your system installed. You need a charge controller because fluctuating charge flowing directly into a battery can damage the battery.


Solar panel efficiency refers to the percentage of sunlight that solar panels can convert into electricity. Initially, solar panels had about a 6% efficiency rate. Now, solar panels are in development that have up to 24% efficiency.

Energy Audit

An energy audit as a process in which you assess how much power your home or business uses. This can also include a list of ways to make your building more energy-efficient. Over time, having an energy audit performed can save you a lot of money and wasted energy.

Grid-Connected System

A grid-connected system is a solar power system that works with an existing electrical grid. If you live somewhere where you may not get enough sunlight to independently power your home, having a grid-connected system can help you make up the balance and ensure that you always keep power. You'll want to talk to your local utility company about setting up a grid-connected solar power system.

Ground-Mounted Solar

As the name might suggest, ground-mounted solar is a solar panel system that that is mounted on the ground. This is as opposed to solar panel systems that are mounted on roofs, which are more common for private solar power systems. Ground-mounted solar power systems are more typically used for mass power generation, such as you would see in a power farm.


When solar panels generate energy, they generate it as direct current, or DC, energy. But most homes and businesses use alternating current, or AC, energy to power electronics. An inverter converts DC energy to AC energy suitable for private use.

National Electric Code

The National Electric Code is a set of guidelines established by the National Fire Protection Association. They control installation codes for electric systems to prevent dangerous malfunctions. You or your solar panel consultant will need to review the National Electric Code guidelines before installing your system.

Net Metering

Net metering is a method of handling any excess power your solar power system may produce. If your electric company will allow it, you may be able to send your excess power back into the grid to be used by other consumers, lowering the amount of fossil fuel usage needed. In some cases, you may even be able to earn a credit for this excess power.

Peak Sun Hours

Although the name may be confusing, peak sun hours do not refer to how long a solar panel is in daylight. Rather, it refers to the quality of daylight being absorbed, and can come up to only three or four hours a day. Peak sun hours are influenced by weather, time of year, proximity to the equator, and a number of other factors.


Photovoltaic effectively refers to the definition of solar energy. Photovoltaic technology uses semiconductors to absorb electrons knocked loose from their atoms by photons from sunlight. Those electrons are then able to be used as electric power, thus allowing us to harness solar power.

Smart Grid

Smart grids are electrical grids that are monitored and controlled by digital technology. They regulate flow of energy between the utility service and end-users. Using smart grids can help increase efficiency and better manage electric flow.

Solar Batteries

Solar batteries are an optional part of a solar power system that allow you to store excess solar energy produced to be used at a later time. If you are planning to establish an independent solar power system, you will absolutely want to have solar batteries. These will allow you to still have power at night or during times when your peak sun hours are lower.

Thin-Film Solar

Thin-film solar is a different way to construct a solar power system. Rather than the traditional, bulky solar panels, thin-film solar uses thin, flexible sheets of material that can harness solar power. These are more versatile and cheaper than traditional solar panels, but they also break down more quickly.

Tracking Mount

A tracking mount is a system that enables solar panels to move, following the sun as it moves across the sky. This helps to increase peak sun hours and can improve solar power system efficiency. These are generally seen on ground-mounted solar power systems.

Zero Net Energy

Zero net energy refers to buildings that produce as much power as they consume. Although solar power systems are certainly integral to earning this designation, maximizing energy efficiency through green building techniques is also key. This is an important designation in many green initiatives.

More Questions About the Definition of Solar Energy?

There are a lot of terms that are important to know if you plan to install a solar power system. The definition of solar energy is complex, and it changes by the day as technologies develop. This list is only the tip of the iceberg in when it comes to solar power terms. If you'd like to learn more about how solar works, visit the rest of our website. Shine Solar offers testimonials, informative articles, and a free solar analysis that will help you determine the right solar solution for you. Contact us today to get started on your own solar system.

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Nick Gorden

Nick Gorden is the Co-founder and CEO of Shine Solar. Nick’s energy, enthusiasm, and leadership is contagious and has contributed to attracting a talented and successful executive team. His time is focused on strategic growth, maintaining profitability and creating the optimal customer experience. Nick has started, managed and sold companies within the communications, mortgage lending, insurance and real estate industries resulting in tens of millions of dollars of market value to investors.

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