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AC — see alternating current.
Alternating Current (AC) — A type of electrical current, the direction of which is reversed at regular intervals or cycles. In the United States, the standard is 120 reversals or 60 cycles per second. Electricity transmission networks use AC because voltage can be controlled with relative ease.
Ambient Temperature — The temperature of the surrounding area.
Amorphous Semiconductor — A non-crystalline semiconductor material that has no long-range order.
Amorphous Silicon — A thin-film, silicon photovoltaic cell having no crystalline structure. Manufactured by depositing layers of doped silicon on a substrate. See also single-crystal silicon an polycrystalline silicon.
Ampere (amp) — A unit of electrical current or rate of flow of electrons. One volt across one ohm of resistance causes a current flow of one ampere.
Ampere-Hour (Ah/AH) — A measure of the flow of current (in amperes) over one hour; used to measure battery capacity.
Ampere Hour Meter — An instrument that monitors current with time. The indication is the product of current (in amperes) and time (in hours).
Angle of Incidence — The angle that a ray of sun makes with a line perpendicular to the surface. For example, a surface that directly faces the sun has a solar angle of incidence of zero, but if the surface is parallel to the sun (for example, sunrise striking a horizontal rooftop), the angle of incidence is 90°.
Annual Solar Savings — The annual solar savings of a solar building is the energy savings attributable to a solar feature relative to the energy requirements of a non-solar building.
Anode — The positive electrode in an electrochemical cell (battery). Also, the earth or ground in a cathodic protection system. Also, the positive terminal of a diode.
Antireflection Coating — A thin coating of a material applied to a solar cell surface that reduces the light reflection and increases light transmission.
Array — see photovoltaic (PV) array.
Array Current — The electrical current produced by a photovoltaic array when it is exposed to sunlight.
Availability — The quality or condition of a photovoltaic system being available to provide power to a load. Usually measured in hours per year. One minus availability equals downtime.
Azimuth Angle — The angle between true south and the point on the horizon directly below the sun.
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Balance of System — Represents all components and costs other than the photovoltaic modules/array. It includes design costs, land, site preparation, system installation, support structures, power conditioning, operation and maintenance costs, indirect storage, and related costs.
Battery — Two or more electrochemical cells enclosed in a container and electrically interconnected in an appropriate series/parallel arrangement to provide the required operating voltage and current levels. Under common usage, the term battery also applies to a single cell if it constitutes the entire electrochemical storage system.
Battery Capacity — The maximum total electrical charge, expressed in ampere-hours, which a battery can deliver to a load under a specific set of conditions.
Battery Cycle Life — The number of cycles, to a specified depth of discharge, that a cell or battery can undergo before failing to meet its specified capacity or efficiency performance criteria.
Battery Energy Storage — Energy storage using electrochemical batteries. The three main applications for battery energy storage systems include spinning reserve at generating stations, load leveling at substations, and peak shaving on the customer side of the meter.
Battery Life — The period during which a cell or battery is capable of operating above a specified capacity or efficiency performance level. Life may be measured in cycles and/or years, depending on the type of service for which the cell or battery is intended.
BIPV (Building-Integrated Photovoltaics) — A term for the design and integration of photovoltaic (PV) technology into the building envelope, typically replacing conventional building materials. This integration may be in vertical facades, replacing view glass, spandrel glass, or other facade material; into semitransparent skylight systems; into roofing systems, replacing traditional roofing materials; into shading "eyebrows" over windows; or other building envelope systems.
BTU (British Thermal Unit) — The amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit; equal to 252 calories.
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Capacity Factor — The ratio of the average load on (or power output of) an electricity generating unit or system to the capacity rating of the unit or system over a specified period of time.
Cathode — The negative pole or electrode of an electrolytic cell, vacuum tube, etc., where electrons enter (current leaves) the system; the opposite of an anode.
CdTe — see cadmium telluride.
Cell (battery) — A single unit of an electrochemical device capable of producing direct voltage by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. A battery usually consists of several cells electrically connected together to produce higher voltages. (Sometimes the terms cell and battery are used interchangeably). Also see photovoltaic (PV) cell.
Cell Junction — The area of immediate contact between two layers (positive and negative) of a photovoltaic cell. The junction lies at the center of the cell barrier or depletion zone.
Charge — The process of adding electrical energy to a battery.
Charge Controller — A component of a photovoltaic system that controls the flow of current to and from the battery to protect it from over-charge and over-discharge. The charge controller may also indicate the system operational status.
Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) — A method of depositing thin semiconductor films used to make certain types of photovoltaic devices. With this method, a substrate is exposed to one or more vaporized compounds, one or more of which contain desirable constituents. A chemical reaction is initiated, at or near the substrate surface, to produce the desired material that will condense on the substrate.
Cleavage of Lateral Epitaxial Films for Transfer (CLEFT) — A process for making inexpensive Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) photovoltaic cells in which a thin film of GaAs is grown atop a thick, single-crystal GaAs (or other suitable material) substrate and then is cleaved from the substrate and incorporated into a cell, allowing the substrate to be reused to grow more thin-film GaAs.
Conductor — The material through which electricity is transmitted, such as an electrical wire, or transmission or distribution line.
Contact Resistance — The resistance between metallic contacts and the semiconductor.
Conversion Efficiency — See photovoltaic (conversion) efficiency.
Converter — A unit that converts a direct current (dc) voltage to another dc voltage.
Crystalline Silicon — A type of photovoltaic cell made from a slice of single-crystal silicon or polycrystalline silicon.
Current — See electric current.
Current at Maximum Power (Imp) — The current at which maximum power is available from a module.
Cutoff Voltage — The voltage levels (activation) at which the charge controller disconnects the photovoltaic array from the battery or the load from the battery
Cycle — The discharge and subsequent charge of a battery.
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Days of Storage — The number of consecutive days the stand-alone system will meet a defined load without solar energy input. This term is related to system availability.
DC — See direct current.
DC-to-DC Converter — Electronic circuit to convert direct current voltages (e.g., photovoltaic module voltage) into other levels (e.g., load voltage). Can be part of a maximum power point tracker.
Deep-Cycle Battery — A battery with large plates that can withstand many discharges to a low state-of-charge.
Design Month — The month having the combination of insolation and load that requires the maximum energy from the photovoltaic array.
Diffuse Insolation — Sunlight received indirectly as a result of scattering due to clouds, fog, haze, dust, or other obstructions in the atmosphere. Opposite of direct insolation.
Diffuse Radiation — Radiation received from the sun after reflection and scattering by the atmosphere and ground.
Diffusion Length — The mean distance a free electron or hole moves before recombining with another hole or electron.
Diode — An electronic device that allows current to flow in one direction only. See blocking diode and bypass diode.
Direct Beam Radiation — Radiation received by direct solar rays. Measured by a pyrheliometer with a solar aperture of 5.7° to transcribe the solar disc.
Direct Current (DC) — A type of electricity transmission and distribution by which electricity flows in one direction through the conductor, usually relatively low voltage and high current. To be used for typical 120 volt or 220 volt household appliances, DC must be converted to alternating current, its opposite.
Direct Insolation — Sunlight falling directly upon a collector. Opposite of diffuse insolation.
Discharge — The withdrawal of electrical energy from a battery.
Disconnect — Switch gear used to connect or disconnect components in a photovoltaic system.
Distributed Energy Resources (DER) — A variety of small, modular power-generating technologies that can be combined with energy management and storage systems and used to improve the operation of the electricity delivery system, whether or not those technologies are connected to an electricity grid.
Distributed Generation — A popular term for localized or on-site power generation.
Distributed Power — Generic term for any power supply located near the point where the power is used. Opposite of central power. See stand-alone systems.
Distributed Systems — Systems that are installed at or near the location where the electricity is used, as opposed to central systems that supply electricity to grids. A residential photovoltaic system is a distributed system.
Donor — In a photovoltaic device, an n-type dopant, such as phosphorus, that puts an additional electron into an energy level very near the conduction band; this electron is easily exited into the conduction band where it increases the electrical conductivity over than of an undoped semiconductor.
Donor Level — The level that donates conduction electrons to the system.
Dopant — A chemical element (impurity) added in small amounts to an otherwise pure semiconductor material to modify the electrical properties of the material. An n-dopant introduces more electrons. A p-dopant creates electron vacancies (holes).
Doping — The addition of dopants to a semiconductor.
Downtime — Time when the photovoltaic system cannot provide power for the load. Usually expressed in hours per year or that percentage.
Dry Cell — A cell (battery) with a captive electrolyte. A primary battery that cannot be recharged.
Duty Cycle — The ratio of active time to total time. Used to describe the operating regime of appliances or loads in photovoltaic systems.
Duty Rating — The amount of time an inverter (power conditioning unit) can produce at full rated power.
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EIA — Energy Information Agency (developed by the US Department of Energy)
Electric Circuit — The path followed by electrons from a power source (generator or battery), through an electrical system, and returning to the source.
Electric Current — The flow of electrical energy (electricity) in a conductor, measured in amperes.
Electrical grid — An integrated system of electricity distribution, usually covering a large area.
Electricity — Energy resulting from the flow of charge particles, such as electrons or ions.
Electrode — A conductor that is brought in conducting contact with a ground.
Electrolyte — A nonmetallic (liquid or solid) conductor that carries current by the movement of ions (instead of electrons) with the liberation of matter at the electrodes of an electrochemical cell.
Electron — An elementary particle of an atom with a negative electrical charge and a mass of 1/1837 of a proton; electrons surround the positively charged nucleus of an atom and determine the chemical properties of an atom. The movement of electrons in an electrical conductor constitutes an electric current.
Electron Volt (eV) — The amount of kinetic energy gained by an electron when accelerated through an electric potential difference of 1 Volt; equivalent to 1.603 x 10^-19; a unit of energy or work.
Energy — The capability of doing work; different forms of energy can be converted to other forms, but the total amount of energy remains the same.
Energy Audit — A survey that shows how much energy used in a home, which helps find ways to use less energy.
Energy Levels — The energy represented by an electron in the band model of a substance.
Epitaxial Growth — The growth of one crystal on the surface of another crystal. The growth of the deposited crystal is oriented by the lattice structure of the original crystal.
Equinox — The two times of the year when the sun crosses the equator and night and day are of equal length; usually occurs on March 21st (spring equinox) and September 23 (fall equinox).
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Fill Factor — The ratio of a photovoltaic cell's actual power to its power if both current and voltage were at their maxima. A key characteristic in evaluating cell performance.
Fixed Tilt Array — A photovoltaic array set in at a fixed angle with respect to horizontal.
Flat-Plate Module — An arrangement of photovoltaic cells or material mounted on a rigid flat surface with the cells exposed freely to incoming sunlight.
Float Charge — The voltage required to counteract the self-discharge of the battery at a certain temperature.
Float Life — The number of years that a battery can keep its stated capacity when it is kept at float charge.
Frequency — The number of repetitions per unit time of a complete waveform, expressed in Hertz (Hz).
Full Sun — The amount of power density in sunlight received at the earth's surface at noon on a clear day (about 1,000 Watts/square meter).
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Ga — See gallium.
Gallium (Ga) — A chemical element, metallic in nature, used in making certain kinds of solar cells and semiconductor devices.
Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) — A crystalline, high-efficiency compound used to make certain types of solar cells and semiconductor material.
Gigawatt (GW) — A unit of power equal to 1 billion Watts; 1 million kilowatts, or 1,000 megawatts.
Grid — See electrical grid.
Grid-Connected System — A solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) system in which the PV array acts like a central generating plant, supplying power to the grid.
Grid-Interactive System — Same as grid-connected system.
Grid Lines — Metallic contacts fused to the surface of the solar cell to provide a low resistance path for electrons to flow out to the cell interconnect wires.
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Heterojunction — A region of electrical contact between two different materials.
High Voltage Disconnect — The voltage at which a charge controller will disconnect the photovoltaic array from the batteries to prevent overcharging.
Hole — The vacancy where an electron would normally exist in a solid; behaves like a positively charged particle.
Homojunction — The region between an n-layer and a p-layer in a single material, photovoltaic cell.
Hybrid System — A solar electric or photovoltaic system that includes other sources of electricity generation, such as wind or diesel generators.
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Incident Light — Light that shines onto the face of a solar cell or module.
Infrared Radiation — Electromagnetic radiation whose wavelengths lie in the range from 0.75 micrometer to 1000 micrometers; invisible long wavelength radiation (heat) capable of producing a thermal or photovoltaic effect, though less effective than visible light.
Input Voltage — This is determined by the total power required by the alternating current loads and the voltage of any direct current loads. Generally, the larger the load, the higher the inverter input voltage. This keeps the current at levels where switches and other components are readily available.
Insolation — The solar power density incident on a surface of stated area and orientation, usually expressed as Watts per square meter or Btu per square foot per hour. See diffuse insolation and direct insolation.
Interconnect — A conductor within a module or other means of connection that provides an electrical interconnection between the solar cells.
Intrinsic Layer — A layer of semiconductor material, used in a photovoltaic device, whose properties are essentially those of the pure, undoped, material.
Inverter — A device that converts direct current electricity to alternating current either for stand-alone systems or to supply power to an electricity grid.
Ion — An electrically charged atom or group of atoms that has lost or gained electrons; a loss makes the resulting particle positively charged; a gain makes the particle negatively charged.
Irradiance — The direct, diffuse, and reflected solar radiation that strikes a surface. Usually expressed in kilowatts per square meter. Irradiance multiplied by time equals insolation.
I-V Curve — A graphical presentation of the current versus the voltage from a photovoltaic device as the load is increased from the short circuit (no load) condition to the open circuit (maximum voltage) condition. The shape of the curve characterizes cell performance.
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Joule — A metric unit of energy or work; 1 joule per second equals 1 watt or 0.737 foot-pounds; 1 Btu equals 1,055 joules.
Junction — A region of transition between semiconductor layers, such as a p/n junction, which goes from a region that has a high concentration of acceptors (p-type) to one that has a high concentration of donors (n-type).
Junction Box — A photovoltaic (PV) generator junction box is an enclosure on the module where PV strings are electrically connected and where protection devices can be located, if necessary.
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Kilowatt (kW) — A standard unit of electrical power equal to 1000 watts, or to the energy consumption at a rate of 1000 joules per second.
Kilowatt-Hour (kWh) — 1,000 thousand watts acting over a period of 1 hour. The kWh is a unit of energy. 1 kWh=3600 kJ.
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Lattice — The regular periodic arrangement of atoms or molecules in a crystal of semiconductor material.
Lead-Acid Battery — A general category that includes batteries with plates made of pure lead, lead-antimony, or lead-calcium immersed in an acid electrolyte.
Life — The period during which a system is capable of operating above a specified performance level.
Life-Cycle Cost — The estimated cost of owning and operating a photovoltaic system for the period of its useful life.
Line-Commutated Inverter — An inverter that is tied to a power grid or line. The commutation of power (conversion from direct current to alternating current) is controlled by the power line, so that, if there is a failure in the power grid, the photovoltaic system cannot feed power into the line.
Load — The demand on an energy producing system; the energy consumption or requirement of a piece or group of equipment. Usually expressed in terms of amperes or watts in reference to electricity.
Load Circuit — The wire, switches, fuses, etc. that connect the load to the power source.
Load Current (A) — The current required by the electrical device.
Load Resistance — The resistance presented by the load. See resistance.
Low Voltage Disconnect — The voltage at which a charge controller will disconnect the load from the batteries to prevent over-discharging.
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Maintenance-Free Battery — A sealed battery to which water cannot be added to maintain electrolyte level.
Maximum Power Point (MPP) — The point on the current-voltage (I-V) curve of a module under illumination, where the product of current and voltage is maximum. For a typical silicon cell, this is at about 0.45 volts.
Maximum Power Point Tracker (MPPT) — Means of a power conditioning unit that automatically operates the photovoltaic generator at its maximum power point under all conditions.
Maximum Power Tracking — Operating a photovoltaic array at the peak power point of the array's I-V curve where maximum power is obtained. Also called peak power tracking.
Megawatt (MW) — 1,000 kilowatts, or 1 million watts; standard measure of electric power plant generating capacity.
Megawatt-Hour — 1,000 kilowatt-hours or 1 million watt-hours.
Modified Sine Wave — A waveform that has at least three states (i.e., positive, off, and negative). Has less harmonic content than a square wave.
Modularity — The use of multiple inverters connected in parallel to service different loads.
Module — See photovoltaic (PV) module.
Module Derate Factor — A factor that lowers the photovoltaic module current to account for field operating conditions such as dirt accumulation on the module.
Multicrystalline — A semiconductor (photovoltaic) material composed of variously oriented, small, individual crystals. Sometimes referred to as polycrystalline or semicrystalline.
Multijunction Device — A high-efficiency photovoltaic device containing two or more cell junctions, each of which is optimized for a particular part of the solar spectrum.
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National Electrical Code (NEC) — Contains guidelines for all types of electrical installations. The 1984 and later editions of the NEC contain Article 690, "Solar Photovoltaic Systems" which should be followed when installing a PV system.
NEC — See National Electrical Code.
Normal Operating Cell Temperature (NOCT) — The estimated temperature of a photovoltaic module when operating under 800 w/m2 irradiance, 20?C ambient temperature and wind speed of 1 meter per second. NOCT is used to estimate the nominal operating temperature of a module in its working environment.
N-Type — Negative semiconductor material in which there are more electrons than holes; current is carried through it by the flow of electrons.
N-Type Semiconductor — A semiconductor produced by doping an intrinsic semiconductor with an electron-donor impurity (e.g., phosphorus in silicon).
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Ohm — A measure of the electrical resistance of a material equal to the resistance of a circuit in which the potential difference of 1 volt produces a current of 1 ampere.
One-Axis Tracking — A system capable of rotating about one axis.
Open-Circuit Voltage (Voc) — The maximum possible voltage across a photovoltaic cell; the voltage across the cell in sunlight when no current is flowing.
Operating Point — The current and voltage that a photovoltaic module or array produces when connected to a load. The operating point is dependent on the load or the batteries connected to the output terminals of the array.
Orientation — Placement with respect to the cardinal directions, N, S, E, W; azimuth is the measure of orientation from north.
Overcharge — Forcing current into a fully charged battery. The battery will be damaged if overcharged for a long period.
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Panel — See photovoltaic (PV) panel.
Peak Demand/Load — The maximum energy demand or load in a specified time period.
PPA - Power Purchase Agreement.
Peak Power Current — Amperes produced by a photovoltaic module or array operating at the voltage of the I-V curve that will produce maximum power from the module.
Peak Power Tracking — see maximum power tracking.
Peak Sun Hours — The equivalent number of hours per day when solar irradiance averages 1,000 w/m2. For example, six peak sun hours means that the energy received during total daylight hours equals the energy that would have been received had the irradiance for six hours been 1,000 w/m2.
Peak Watt — A unit used to rate the performance of solar cells, modules, or arrays; the maximum nominal output of a photovoltaic device, in watts (Wp) under standardized test conditions, usually 1,000 watts per square meter of sunlight with other conditions, such as temperature specified.
Phosphorous (P) — A chemical element used as a dopant in making n-type semiconductor layers.
Photocurrent — An electric current induced by radiant energy.
Photon — A particle of light that acts as an individual unit of energy.
Photovoltaic(s) (PV) — Pertaining to the direct conversion of light into electricity.
Photovoltaic (PV) Array — An interconnected system of PV modules that function as a single electricity-producing unit. The modules are assembled as a discrete structure, with common support or mounting. In smaller systems, an array can consist of a single module.
Photovoltaic (PV) Cell — The smallest semiconductor element within a PV module to perform the immediate conversion of light into electrical energy (direct current voltage and current). Also called a solar cell.
Photovoltaic (PV) Conversion Efficiency — The ratio of the electric power produced by a photovoltaic device to the power of the sunlight incident on the device.
Photovoltaic (PV) Device — A solid-state electrical device that converts light directly into direct current electricity of voltage-current characteristics that are a function of the characteristics of the light source and the materials in and design of the device. Solar photovoltaic devices are made of various semiconductor materials including silicon, cadmium sulfide, cadmium telluride, and gallium arsenide, and in single crystalline, multicrystalline, or amorphous forms.
Photovoltaic (PV) Effect — The phenomenon that occurs when photons, the "particles" in a beam of light, knock electrons loose from the atoms they strike. When this property of light is combined with the properties of semiconductors, electrons flow in one direction across a junction, setting up a voltage. With the addition of circuitry, current will flow and electric power will be available.
Photovoltaic (PV) Generator — The total of all PV strings of a PV power supply system, which are electrically interconnected.
Photovoltaic (PV) Module — The smallest environmentally protected, essentially planar assembly of solar cells and ancillary parts, such as interconnections, terminals, [and protective devices such as diodes] intended to generate direct current power under unconcentrated sunlight. The structural (load carrying) member of a module can either be the top layer (superstrate) or the back layer (substrate).
Photovoltaic (PV) Panel — often used interchangeably with PV module (especially in one-module systems), but more accurately used to refer to a physically connected collection of modules (i.e., a laminate string of modules used to achieve a required voltage and current).
Photovoltaic (PV) System — (a.k.a. Solar Energy System or Solar Electric System) A complete set of components for converting sunlight into electricity by the photovoltaic process, including the array and balance of system components.
P-I-N — A semiconductor photovoltaic (PV) device structure that layers an intrinsic semiconductor between a p-type semiconductor and an n-type semiconductor; this structure is most often used with amorphous silicon PV devices.
Plates — A metal plate, usually lead or lead compound, immersed in the electrolyte in a battery.
P/N — A semiconductor photovoltaic device structure in which the junction is formed between a p-type layer and an n-type layer.
Polycrystalline — See Multicrystalline.
Polycrystalline Silicon — A material used to make photovoltaic cells, which consist of many crystals unlike single-crystal silicon.
Power Conversion Efficiency — The ratio of output power to input power of the inverter.
Projected Area — The net south-facing glazing area projected on a vertical plane.
P-Type Semiconductor — A semiconductor in which holes carry the current; produced by doping an intrinsic semiconductor with an electron acceptor impurity (e.g., boron in silicon).
PV — See photovoltaic(s).
Pyranometer — An instrument used for measuring global solar irradiance.
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Qualification Test — A procedure applied to a selected set of photovoltaic modules involving the application of defined electrical, mechanical, or thermal stress in a prescribed manner and amount. Test results are subject to a list of defined requirements.
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Rated Module Current (A) — The current output of a photovoltaic module measured at standard test conditions of 1,000 w/m2 and 25 degree celcius cell temperature.
Rated Power — Rated power of the inverter. However, some units can not produce rated power continuously. See duty rating.
Rectifier — A device that converts alternating current to direct current. See inverter.
Regulator — Prevents overcharging of batteries by controlling charge cycle-usually adjustable to conform to specific battery needs.
Remote Systems — See stand-alone systems.
Reserve Capacity — The amount of generating capacity a central power system must maintain to meet peak loads.
Resistance (R) — The property of a conductor, which opposes the flow of an electric current resulting in the generation of heat in the conducting material. The measure of the resistance of a given conductor is the electromotive force needed for a unit current flow. The unit of resistance is ohms.
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Seasonal Depth of Discharge — An adjustment factor used in some system sizing procedures which "allows" the battery to be gradually discharged over a 30-90 day period of poor solar insolation. This factor results in a slightly smaller photovoltaic array.
Secondary Battery — A battery that can be recharged.
Self-Discharge — The rate at which a battery, without a load, will lose its charge.
Semiconductor — Any material that has a limited capacity for conducting an electric current. Certain semiconductors, including silicon, gallium arsenide, copper indium diselenide, and cadmium telluride, are uniquely suited to the photovoltaic conversion process.
Semicrystalline — See Multicrystalline.
Shelf Life of Batteries — The length of time, under specified conditions, that a battery can be stored so that it keeps its guaranteed capacity.
Short-Circuit Current (Isc) — The current flowing freely through an external circuit that has no load or resistance; the maximum current possible.
Silicon (Si) — A semi-metallic chemical element that makes an excellent semiconductor material for photovoltaic devices. It crystallizes in face-centered cubic lattice like a diamond. It's commonly found in sand and quartz (as the oxide).
Sine Wave — A waveform corresponding to a single-frequency periodic oscillation that can be mathematically represented as a function of amplitude versus angle in which the value of the curve at any point is equal to the sine of that angle.
Sine Wave Inverter — An inverter that produces utility-quality, sine wave power forms.
Single-Crystal Material — A material that is composed of a single crystal or a few large crystals.
Single-Crystal Silicon — Material with a single crystalline formation. Many photovoltaic cells are made from single-crystal silicon.
Solar Cell — see photovoltaic (PV) cell.
Solar Constant — The average amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth's upper atmosphere on a surface perpendicular to the sun's rays; equal to 1353 Watts per square meter or 492 Btu per square foot.
Solar Cooling — The use of solar thermal energy or solar electricity to power a cooling appliance. Photovoltaic systems can power evaporative coolers ("swamp" coolers), heat-pumps, and air conditioners.
Solar Energy — Electromagnetic energy transmitted from the sun (solar radiation). The amount that reaches the earth is equal to one billionth of total solar energy generated, or the equivalent of about 420 trillion kilowatt-hours.
Solar-Grade Silicon — Intermediate-grade silicon used in the manufacture of solar cells. Less expensive than electronic-grade silicon.
Solar Insolation — See insolation.
Solar Irradiance — See irradiance.
Solar Noon — The time of the day, at a specific location, when the sun reaches its highest, apparent point in the sky; equal to true or due, geographic south.
Solar Panel — See photovoltaic (PV) panel.
Solar Resource — The amount of solar insolation a site receives, usually measured in kWh/m2/day, which is equivalent to the number of peak sun hours.
Solar Spectrum — The total distribution of electromagnetic radiation emanating from the sun. The different regions of the solar spectrum are described by their wavelength range. The visible region extends from about 390 to 780 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of one meter). About 99 percent of solar radiation is contained in a wavelength region from 300 nm (ultraviolet) to 3,000 nm (near-infrared). The combined radiation in the wavelength region from 280 nm to 4,000 nm is called the broadband, or total, solar radiation.
Solar Thermal Electric Systems — Solar energy conversion technologies that convert solar energy to electricity, by heating a working fluid to power a turbine that drives a generator. Examples of these systems include central receiver systems, parabolic dish, and solar trough.
Specific Gravity — The ratio of the weight of the solution to the weight of an equal volume of water at a specified temperature.
Stand-Alone System — An autonomous or hybrid photovoltaic system not connected to a grid. May or may not have storage, but most stand-alone systems require batteries or some other form of storage.
Stand-Off Mounting — Technique for mounting a photovoltaic array on a sloped roof, which involves mounting the modules a short distance above the pitched roof and tilting them to the optimum angle.
Standard Reporting Conditions (SRC) — A fixed set of conditions (including meteorological) to which the electrical performance data of a photovoltaic module are translated from the set of actual test conditions.
Standard Test Conditions (STC) — Conditions under which a module is typically tested in a laboratory.
Standby Current — This is the amount of current (power) used by the inverter when no load is active (lost power). The efficiency of the inverter is lowest when the load demand is low.
String — A number of photovoltaic modules or panels interconnected electrically in series to produce the operating voltage required by the load.
Substrate — The physical material upon which a photovoltaic cell is applied.
Subsystem — Any one of several components in a photovoltaic system (i.e., array, controller, batteries, inverter, load).
Superconductivity — The abrupt and large increase in electrical conductivity exhibited by some metals as the temperature approaches absolute zero.
Surge Capacity — The maximum power, usually 3-5 times the rated power, that can be provided over a short time.
System Availability — The percentage of time (usually expressed in hours per year) when a photovoltaic system will be able to fully meet the load demand.
System Operating Voltage — The photovoltaic array output voltage under load. The system operating voltage is dependent on the load or batteries connected to the output terminals.
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Temperature Compensation — A circuit that adjusts the charge controller activation points depending on battery temperature. This feature is recommended if the battery temperature is expected to vary more than ±5°C from ambient temperature.
Temperature Factors — It is common for three elements in photovoltaic system sizing to have distinct temperature corrections: a factor used to decrease battery capacity at cold temperatures; a factor used to decrease PV module voltage at high temperatures; and a factor used to decrease the current carrying capability of wire at high temperatures.
Thin Film — A layer of semiconductor material, such as copper indium diselenide or gallium arsenide, a few microns or less in thickness, used to make photovoltaic cells.
Thin Film Photovoltaic Module — A photovoltaic module constructed with sequential layers of thin film semiconductor materials. See amorphous silicon.
Tilt Angle — The angle at which a photovoltaic array is set to face the sun relative to a horizontal position. The tilt angle can be set or adjusted to maximize seasonal or annual energy collection.
Total AC Load Demand — The sum of the alternating current loads. This value is important when selecting an inverter.
Tracking Array — A photovoltaic (PV) array that follows the path of the sun to maximize the solar radiation incident on the PV surface. The two most common orientations are (1) one axis where the array tracks the sun east to west and (2) two-axis tracking where the array points directly at the sun at all times. Tracking arrays use both the direct and diffuse sunlight. Two-axis tracking arrays capture the maximum possible daily energy.
Transformer — An electromagnetic device that changes the voltage of alternating current electricity.
Two-Axis Tracking — A photovoltaic array tracking system capable of rotating independently about two axes (e.g., vertical and horizontal).
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Ultraviolet — Electromagnetic radiation in the wavelength range of 4 to 400 nanometers.
Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) — The designation of a power supply providing continuous uninterruptible service. The UPS will contain batteries.
Utility-Interactive Inverter — An inverter that can function only when tied to the utility grid, and uses the prevailing line-voltage frequency on the utility line as a control parameter to ensure that the photovoltaic system's output is fully synchronized with the utility power.
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Volt (V) — A unit of electrical force equal to that amount of electromotive force that will cause a steady current of one ampere to flow through a resistance of one ohm.
Voltage — The amount of electromotive force, measured in volts, that exists between two points.
Voltage at Maximum Power (Vmp) — The voltage at which maximum power is available from a photovoltaic module.
Voltage Protection — Many inverters have sensing circuits that will disconnect the unit from the battery if input voltage limits are exceeded.
Voltage Regulation — This indicates the variability in the output voltage. Some loads will not tolerate voltage variations greater than a few percent.
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Watt — The rate of energy transfer equivalent to one ampere under an electrical pressure of one volt. One watt equals 1/746 horsepower, or one joule per second. It is the product of voltage and current (amperage).
Waveform — The shape of the phase power at a certain frequency and amplitude.
Window — A wide band gap material chosen for its transparency to light. Generally used as the top layer of a photovoltaic device, the window allows almost all of the light to reach the semiconductor layers beneath.
Wire Types — See Article 300 of National Electric Code for more information.
Work Function — The energy difference between the Fermi level and vacuum zero. The minimum amount of energy it takes to remove an electron from a substance into the vacuum.
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Zenith Angle — the angle between the direction of interest (of the sun, for example) and the zenith (directly overhead).
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