Most Commonly Used Terms with Solar PV

If you’re planning to invest in a Solar system it’s important to understand the different terms that are used when working with this technology. Here are some of the most commonly used terms you should know when buying solar panels or just trying to understand how solar energy systems work in general.

Photovoltaic or PV Panels

Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic or PV panels, convert sunlight into electricity. There are two main types of solar panels, monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline panels are more efficient than polycrystalline, but they’re also more expensive.

Kilowatt-hour (kWh)

It is also an important term when it comes to your energy bill. A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a unit of energy equivalent to 1,000 watts of electricity for one hour. So if you have a 100-watt light bulb that’s on for 10 hours, that’s equal to 1 kWh of energy used. This term is also used to measure how much energy solar panels produce.

Grid-tied & off-Grid system

Another term you’ll hear when it comes to solar power is a grid-tied or off-grid system. Grid-tied refers to a system that sends excess electricity back into your utility company’s grid, while an off-grid system uses battery storage for power backup. Off-grid systems are generally only used in remote locations where there isn’t access to a traditional power source.


Customers who install their own solar panels can actually be credited by utility companies for any electricity they generate and put back into public energy grids. This is called net-metering, a pretty awesome thing, especially since it encourages more customers to transition to solar. It’s worth noting that not all states have implemented net-metering systems yet, but hopefully that will change soon. If you live in an area where you can benefit from net metering, you should talk to your local electric company about signing up.

Balance of System (BOS)

A component or system in a photovoltaic (PV) solar energy system that is not included in the actual photovoltaic module. Typical BOS components include mounting structures, racking, wiring, inverters, and more. The balance of system costs can make up a significant portion of your total cost for installing solar panels on your home. You have to learn about it as you are considering going solar.

Energy Audit

A very interesting term that is used in many ways. In general, an energy audit is a process of evaluating your home’s energy use and identifying ways to improve it. This is usually performed by a qualified individual who will walk through your house looking for areas where energy is being wasted. It could be as simple as turning off lights when not needed or replacing light bulbs with more efficient ones. An energy audit can also help you determine if solar panels are right for you.

Solar Inverter

It is the main device in the solar system which converts direct current (DC) from solar panels into alternating current (AC) that can be used by your home appliances. Without an inverter, you will not be able to use any of the energy produced by your solar panels. A good inverter should have low noise and high-efficiency levels. A pure sine wave inverter is best for solar systems as it produces a smooth AC power supply without spikes or dips in voltage.

Solar efficiency and Peak Sun Hours

Although you may hear these terms used interchangeably, they are actually two different measurements of solar energy. Peak sun hours refer to how many hours of peak sunlight is received per day and efficiency is a measurement of how much power a photovoltaic (PV) system can generate from that light. A 20% efficiency means that a solar panel will produce 20 watts of electricity for every 100 watts of sunlight it receives.