Solar Terminology 101

Modern pool house rendering with large solar panel system installed on roof

When you are investigating solar and if it is the right choice for your home, you may wonder which solar terms you’ll need to know. One laboratory analysis service offers a 23-page pdf worth of solar terminology, detailing everything from basic concepts like array and voltage to complex terminologies like building‐integrated photovoltaic and tilt angle.


While you do not need to know every term listed, it is useful when researching solar options to know what you’re reading. At Blue Raven Solar, we understand how daunting these terms can be and have created a brief solar terminology guide with those terms you’re most likely to encounter when it comes to renewable energy.

Solar panel installer on roof in safety gear aligning solar arrays together

Solar Hardware & Equipment

Solar Cell

Dating back to the selenium cell in 1876, a solar cell is the basic unit of a solar panel and is what generates a small electrical charge as sunlight strikes the layers of a panel. You may also see the term solar module, which is often used interchangeably with solar cell.

Solar Panel

A collection of solar cells aligned on a flat plane, typically 5 feet by 3 feet in dimension.

Solar Array

The combination and layout of solar panels wired together and mounted on rooftop racking, which turns sunlight into energy to power your home.

Solar System

The complete and installed set of hardware and equipment necessary to generate direct current (DC) electricity from sunlight, convert the power into alternating current (AC) electricity, and route it through your meter to power your lights, household appliances, and other electronic systems and devices in your home.

Monocrystalline Panels

A type of both solar cells and panels dating back to the 1950s. Made of pure silicon wafers, these panels have the longest history of development, research, and engineering and the highest efficiency rates in residential solar panel technology. These panels typically have a lifespan of up to 25 years or longer.

Polycrystalline Panels

A more recent production method of solar cells and panels, this panel type is made of fused silicon crystals. Less efficient than monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels also have a shorter average lifespan but are cheaper to produce. These are typically the best option for large solar farms.

Thin Film Solar Panels

The newest solar cells and panels production method, this panel type is made of layers of silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide. These panels can be 350 times thinner than monocrystalline panels, meaning they’re much lighter, but they also do not produce solar power as efficiently as the other panel types. These panels typically have a lifespan between 10-20 years.


A piece of hardware, typically installed at the junction between your solar system and your meter, designed to convert the DC electricity created by your solar panels and convert it to AC electricity. There are different types of inverters available.


A small device installed on the back of each individual solar panel, which optimizes energy production for each panel throughout the solar system. It allows each solar panel to independently convert DC power into AC electricity for your home, allowing for panel-specific monitoring and makes troubleshooting easier, especially if you wish to add panels to your system later.


The framework upon which your solar panels are mounted. This system includes mounts, flashings, rails, clamps, and grounding hardware to ensure stability, efficiency, and safety.

Junction Box or Combiner Box

Your solar panel junction box is a watertight encasement which protects the connections between your solar panels and the rest of your electrical system.

Modern pool house rendering with large solar panel system installed on roof

Solar Energy

Solar Power

Solar energy and solar power are often used interchangeably, but there are certain situations where the difference is key. Solar power refers to the output of anything converting energy from the sun into electricity.

Solar Energy

Solar energy refers to the energy and radiation the sun emits. Your solar system generates solar power by working with the sun’s solar energy.

Solar Efficiency

Your system’s solar efficiency is its capacity to turn the sunlight hitting its panels into DC electricity. While solar technology has advanced in the last decade, most of the sunlight striking a solar panel is reflected off. Most systems with monocrystalline panels generate power at an efficiency rate of 15%-22%. Research and development often focus on improving this conversion efficiency to convert more solar energy with fewer solar panels over time.

Daily Peak Sun Hours

The hours when sunlight can best be absorbed by a solar system’s panels. Daily peak hours are typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but these hours are influenced by the sun’s position in the sky, the Earth’s tilt, and the diffusion of sunlight through the atmosphere.

Off-Peak Solar Hours

The hours outside of the typical daily peak sunlight hours, when the sun’s light strikes at lower angles with more atmosphere to travel through or at night when the sun is down. Solar generation is typically lower than the expected average and can be mitigated with the use of battery backups.

Direct Current (DC)

Description of the flow of electricity where an electric charge flows in a single direction. Many electronics operate on this type of electric current, and this is the type of power created by PV panels before being converted to alternating current (AC).

Alternating Current (AC)

Description of the flow of electricity where an electric charge can change direction periodically over a medium. This is useful for long-distance transmission and is how all homes are wired.

Photovoltaic (PV)

The conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials. You may also see this abbreviated as PV in your reading.

Photovoltaic Effect

The specific process where voltage is generated in a photovoltaic cell when exposed to sunlight. Two types of semiconductive materials (n-type and p-type) are joined together to create a p-n junction. Sunlight strikes and transfers energy from the sun’s photons to the electrons of the n-type material and creates a conduction band between it and the p-type material—which generates electricity.

Volt (V)

The pressure with which electricity flows from a source to power a device—or the variation in electric charge between two points. The more a household appliance does, the more voltage it requires from the system of power.


The constant electrical current from one point to another. A volt passing through anything which possesses resistance (a wire, for instance) produces a certain amperage.

Watt (W)

A measure for power generated by electricity. Volts multiplied by amps equals wattage and represents the overall output.

Kilowatt (kW)

A measurement of 1,000 watts of energy. This measure is better than listing watts in the many thousands when describing overall power production for large solar arrays such as rooftop-sized solar systems.

Kilowatt-hour (kWh)

A measurement of power in kilowatts over time. There are systems capable of generating a certain amount of kilowatt-hours while in use and appliances which consume energy in kilowatt-hours while operating. Your solar system will generate an average of kilowatt-hours worth of power over the course of a day. This can shift depending on daily peak solar hours.

Father in a green shirt, holding a small child and pointing to a large structure with a row of solar panels on the roof

Purchasing Your Solar System


A solar system purchase plan typically includes a loan and monthly payments with the intent to possess a solar system after the term agreement.

Power Purchase Agreements (PPA)

An arrangement with a solar panel installer where you pay for the power produced by a solar system the company owns at a discounted price compared to utility costs.

Solar Leasing

An arrangement where you pay rent on an installed system from a company and benefit from the power produced.

Net Metering

An agreement with your utility company, often enforced or allowed by your state, in which you may benefit from energy credits or payment for any excess energy your system produces which you do not consume.

Distributed Generation

An alternative program between the state and the utility company based upon an inflow/outflow billing system. Inflow represents the electricity a customer uses from their utility. Outflow is the electricity generated by the customer’s solar system sent to the grid. The distributed generation program measures and prices this electric flow for consistent cost-of-service billing.

Solar Inventives

National, state, and local initiatives to encourage the switch to renewable energy. These incentives may include tax credits, property tax exemptions, rebates, and more.

Solar Panel Installation

Solar Installer

Any company offering solar panel installation services. These may be third-party teams working with a company which sells solar panel systems or they may be an all-in-house company which manages the process from start to finish—selling, designing, and installing your solar system—like Blue Raven Solar.

Site Survey

The step when your solar company evaluates your property, roof size, and energy needs to determine the optimal amount of solar panels to install.

System Design

The step takes into account your financial situation and rooftop angles to determine the best system layout to meet power needs, budget constraints, and local requirements.

Permission to Operate (PTO)

A process, typically the final step before connecting your solar energy system to the utility grid, when your local utility and municipality conducts permit and inspection procedures to approve your newly installed solar system. This is required before energizing your system and creating clean energy with the power of the sun.

Solar Monitoring

Tools included with your solar system such as phone-based apps which allow you to access reports on the minute-to-minute and month-to-month generation of your panels.

Solar Battery Backup

An energy-independent addition to a solar system where any excess energy not used by your home is instead stored on-site in a battery or home storage solution until needed later. These are a popular investment to power your home during off-peak hours, during power outages, or when charging electric vehicles.

Answers with Blue Raven Solar

While there are more terms in each of the categories we’ve outlined, those included here provide a solid base when investigating the benefits of solar energy.


Blue Raven Solar is available to answer your questions about these terms and any others you may find during your research. Feel free to reach out to our dedicated service team. 


If you’re ready to start generating solar power, reach out and receive a free savings estimate from our experts. We’ll consider your needs and evaluate your energy goals to determine how much you can save with the right solar system. We can then walk you through the solar process of purchasing, installing, and energization.


Get your free savings estimate today!

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