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What do these common solar terms mean? A Solar glossary

There’s no avoiding it, there is a lot of jargon used in the solar industry. Between the acronyms and new technology, you’ll likely come across terms you haven’t heard before. 

That’s why we’ve put together a quick solar glossary of common terms. We want to make your solar research as easy as possible, so you can feel confident understanding the information.

Solar PV

The ‘PV’ stands for photovoltaic. PV is a technology that uses semiconductors to capture and convert the energy in sunlight into electricity. When you hear people discuss ‘solar’ they are usually talking about solar PV.

Solar panels

Also known as solar modules, they are the primary component of a solar PV system. Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. Typically mounted on the roof or on a ground-mounted rack, and can come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Take a look at the range of solar panels we use or read more about how they work.

Solar array

A group of solar panels that are wired together form a solar array. The size and configuration of a solar array will depend on the energy needs and the available space.

Inverter

Also known as a string inverter. A device that converts the DC electricity produced by the solar panels into AC electricity that can be used by your home or business. String inverters are typically installed in a central location and are connected to multiple solar panels in a series, or “string.” Inverters are the workhorse of your solar system, so getting a quality one is important. Take a look at the range of inverters we use or read more about picking a good inverter.

Micro inverters

Micro inverters are small inverters that are installed on each solar panel. They work in a similar way to string inverters, but with the benefit of optimising the performance of each panel independently. This ensures an underperforming solar panel won’t impact the performance of the entire solar array. 

However, using micro inverters is more expensive and you have more components that may fail. They also don’t offer the same real time monitoring that you can get with a central inverter. Micro inverters work well in some situations but aren’t something we recommend for most installs.

MPPT

Maximum power point tracking (MPPT), is a feature of some inverters that help to optimise the performance of the solar panels by adjusting the voltage and current. MPPTs continuously re-assess what’s happening with your panels, then change the voltage to squeeze the most power out of them. The quality of the trackers can vary depending on the quality of the inverter. Check out Fronius Dynamic peak manager for more on how a good tracker works.

Efficiency

When talking about solar panels, efficiency is how much sunlight a solar panel can convert into electricity. The higher the efficiency, the more usable power you can get from your solar panel. How important is solar panel efficiency? Read our advice here.

The photovoltaic effect

As mentioned, photovoltaic is the ‘PV’ in solar PV. If someone is talking about the photovoltaic effect they are referring to the process by which sunlight is converted into electricity by the solar panels. It occurs when photons of light hit the surface of the photovoltaic cells and knock loose electrons, which flow through the cell and generate an electrical current.

Self consumption

The amount of solar energy that is used on-site, rather than being sold back to the grid. Maximising your self consumption can help reduce your energy costs and increase the overall ROI of your system. Many solar PV systems are designed to help you do this through things like load control.

Racking

The structure that holds the solar panels in place. There are several different types of racking available, including ground-mounted and roof-mounted options.

Performance Warranty

A performance warranty is a guarantee from the manufacturer that the solar panels will produce a certain amount of energy for a certain period of time. For example, the Jinko panels we use have a 30 year performance warranty. If the panels do not perform as promised, the manufacturer will replace or repair them at no cost to the homeowner.

Product Warranty

A product warranty is a guarantee from the manufacturer that the solar panels will be free from defects for a certain period of time. Product warranty length can vary from 5 to 40 years, depending on the manufacturer and the specific panel. For example, the SunPower Maxeon panels we use comes with a huge 40 year product warranty. If any defects are discovered during the warranty period, the manufacturer will repair or replace the panels at no cost to the homeowner.

When looking at a warranty, consider the track record of the company and how they will actually deal with warranty issues. 


Is there a solar term you’ve been wondering about that isn’t in our solar glossary? Feel free to get in touch and we will be more than happy to talk you through it.