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Glossary of Terms

Alternating Current:  Electric Current in which the direction of flow is reversed at frequent intervals, 60 cycles per second.  The type of electrical supplied by utility companies.

Ampere:  A measure of electric current; the flow of electrons.

Amorphous:  The condition of a solid in which the atoms are not arranged in an orderly pattern.

Atoms: The smallest particle of an element that can exist either alone or in combination.

Battery:  Rechargeable electric storage unit that operates on the principle of changing electrical energy into chemical energy by means of a reversible chemical reaction.

Break-even:  The cost of a photovoltaic system at which the cost of the electricity it produces exactly equals the price of electricity from a competing source.

Concentrators:  A photovoltaic module that includes an optical component such as a lens or focusing mirror to direct incident sunlight onto a solar cell or panel.

Direct current:  Electric current that always flows in the same direction: positive to negative. Batteries and photovoltaic cells are all DC devices.

Efficiency:  The percentage of available sunlight converted to electricity by a module or cell.

Electric current:  The volume of electricity propelled by the voltage; a flow of electrons.

Electrons:  An elementary particle consisting of a charge of negative electricity.

Grid-connected:  A house or device that receives power from a utility company.

Inverter:  This appliance converts independent DC-power into AC power, or regular household current.

Load:  The lights or appliances run by your electrical system. The amount of electrical power being consumed at any given moment.

Kilowatt:  A thousand watts

Megawatt:  One million watts, 1,000 kilowatts

Off-grid:  See stand-alone.

Peak watts:  The amount of power a photovoltaic device will produce at noon on a clear day with sun approximately overhead when the cell is faced directly toward the sun.

Photovoltaic:  Capable of producing a voltage when exposed to radiant energy, especially light.

Photovoltaic array:  A group of solar electric panels connected together.

Photovoltaic cell:  The basic building block in photovoltaic systems. Sometimes called “Solar Cells.”

Photovoltaic effect:  The conversion of sunlight absorbed by a solar cell directly into electricity.

Photovoltaic module:  A solar electric panel

Semiconductor:  Any material that has limited capacity for conducting an electric curre.

Stand-alone:  An isolated photovoltaic system not connected to a grid.

Voltage:  A measure of the force or “push” given the electrons in an electric circuit, a measure of electric potential.

Voltage regulator:  An electrical device used to keep voltage at predetermined levels.

Watt-hours:  Sometimes called watt. The amount of watts used by an appliance is an hour.

A publication of the Arizona Department of Commerce Energy Office 3800 N. Central Ave, Suite 1200, Phoenix, Arizona  85012, (602) 280-1402, or call toll-free in Arizona (800) 352-5499. Fourth Edition:  July 1992.

Editor - Norma Dulin Gurovich , Written by Norma Dulin Gurovich and Jim Arwood.  Much of this information was Adapted from the following publications: Bringing Solar Electricity to Earth, Electric Power Research Institute, June, 1990. Photovoltaics: Entering the 1990s, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, November 1989.  Solar Energy:  A Powerful Ally, Salt River Project, 198?.  Today’s Photovoltaic Systems:  An evaluation of Their Performance, Sandia National Laboratories, 1987.

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