How To Speak Solar

Do you work for a living? Have some unique hobbies? You’ve gotta have a library’s worth of jargon that means absolutely diddly to the layperson. Regardless of whatever industry they might be employed in or how they spend spare time, everyone speaks their specialty. Solar is no exception.

We’ve posted about this before, but here’s an expanded list for your benefit.

BASIC TERMINOLOGY

  • Kilowatt (kW)

    One thousand watts, or a measurement of power as potential energy.

    Every solar array is measured in kW size, or potential output. For example, the average residential home can fit a system between 4kw to 8kW. That will offset most, or all, of their energy usage, which is measured in…

  • Kilowatt-hours (kWh)

    The measurement of energy consumed over time.

    Take a look at your utility bill. It will tell you how many kWh you used last month, and what the price per kWh is based on the amount you used. Most utility companies will charge one of two ways. Your bill will show either a) total monthly usage, in increasingly-expensive blocks or tiers, or b) time-of-day/demand charges when there are spikes in usage.

    Solar panels will produce plenty of kWhs over time, based on the total kW size and the weather. Better yet, our Production Guarantee means you know exactly how many kWhs you can expect annually. Our energy experts can show you what system size will suit your needs. If you use more than 900 kwhs in the average month (or about ~$75 worth of power), we can probably help.

  • Modules or mods

    Solar panels.

    Each panel is a module composed of multiple cells, usually either 60-cell for residential or 72-cell for commercial. The individual wattage or potential power output can vary from around 300W (0.3 kW) and up.

    Efficiency rating around 20% or higher is the current scientific benchmark, but that doesn’t actually matter for homeowners. Total wattage of your system, based on individual panel output, is what’s important.

  • Cell or wafer

    The part of the solar panel that captures light.

    Monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon wafers are the two most common types of cell produced today, although other elements are being researched all the time for photovoltaic potential. While some have set new efficiency milestones, none have broken the economic barrier of affordability for the average homeowner.

    • Monocrystalline - Refers to a single unbroken block of silicon. The type of solar cell cut from this usually appears completely black or very dark.

    • Polycrystalline - Refers to silicon mashed together from multiple crystals. These solar cells resemble “fractured” shiny blue glass.

  • Grid-tied or net-metered

    When your solar array is integrated or supplemented by the power company.

    Most homes are connected to a utility meter when they fall inside the boundaries of civilization. Solar is effectively a clean, quiet power plant on your roof. You become a supplier for the greater energy ecosystem of your community - no longer “just another consumer”. Utilities will take your excess kWh production and distribute it to the local grid, then bank the appropriate credit on your account for later use, per a net-metering agreement.

  • Inverter

    A device that converts solar panel energy into electricity for your home.

    Solar panels create DC current, which needs to be changed to AC current, before it gets sent through your home’s electric breakers and then out to the grid. There are two types of inverter that accomplish this:

    • String or central inverter - The type common for larger arrays pointed in the same direction. Panels run in series, like Christmas lights. If one goes out, they all go out. If multiple arrays are joined together on different roof spaces, or shading conditions vary between locations, then each panel will require an extra device called an….

      • Optimizer - An additional device that plugs into each panel to reduce string inverter power loss. Panels producing less than others on the same string will be pulled out of the mix. Or, you could just go with the other type of inverter, called a…

    • Microinverter - The type that plugs into each panel to create an independent “engine” for energy conversion. Each panel will operate to its full capacity regardless what its neighbors are doing. They have a much longer lifespan than string inverters. They also don’t leave bulky, high-voltage conduit running along the exterior of your roof.

We install both, but the vast majority of systems that Auric installs use microinverters, because they are hassle-free for a number of reasons and backed by a great company called Enphase.

COMMON PHRASES

  • “Size your system”

    Determining the appropriate kW system size for a homeowner or business owner. This is based on power bills or usage history, available roof space, and environmental conditions like shading and weather data. “Let’s size your system to find out what kind of savings and incentives you can take advantage of.”

  • “Throw some mods”

    Installer slang for putting panels on a roof. Translation: “Let’s go install these panels, as per design specifications, in a safe and timely manner.” (Actually throwing the panels is never attempted, nor recommended.)

  • It’s a no-brainer

    Direct quote from many Auric customers. “I’m already paying a rent check to the power company, but you’re telling me I can just pay that towards solar instead? It’s a no-brainer!”

  • “Spin sunlight into gold”

    A metaphor: the common sunbeam will put money back in your pocket, if you know how. “Are you going to let all those photons slap into some old asphalt shingles? No way, you’re going to spin sunlight into gold with the best solar panel technology available!”

  • Going off-grid

    Disconnecting from all service providers, electric or otherwise. Common request from homeowners who value independence, perhaps due to dissatisfaction with their local utility provider.

    Batteries and generators are viable solutions, but round-the-clock grid isolation is an expensive goal. We do solar because it saves money, not because it unplugs you from the world. If anything, you’re giving back to your local community by going solar - no one is an island!