Understanding solar power language

With recent technology advances and the constant push towards affordability, solar panels are quickly becoming a common sight across the country. South Africa boasts some of the highest solar power potential in the world, with more than double the solar radiation output of Europe.


With more and more homeowners beginning to make use of this fantastic renewable energy, keeping up with the technical jargon can often be quite daunting. Feeling like a solar power installer is speaking a completely different language to you, as they attempt to explain the process, can leave you feeling dazed and confused.


With technical terms and endless solar power abbreviations, it is easy to feel lost. In an attempt to allow you to speak about solar power confidently, let’s discuss some of the more common terms that you may come across.


Photovoltaics (PV)


Photo refers to light, while volt refers to electrical potential. PV is a method of converting solar energy into direct current electricity. When light shines on certain materials, such as silicon, an electrical current is generated.


Photovoltaics (PV) Array


This is the technical term for the completed solar power system. A PV array refers to an interconnected system of PV modules and panels that function as a single electricity-producing unit.




Most PV arrays make use of an inverter to convert the Direct Current (DC) power produced by the panels into Alternating Current (AC) power. AC power is consistent with the voltage and power quality requirements of the utility grid. Solar inverters can be classified into three broad types:


  • Stand-alone inverters, which do not need to be connected into a solar panel. These draw DC power from batteries that are charged by PV arrays or other resources, such as generators or wind turbines.
  • Grid-tie inverters, which convert DC voltage from the solar panels directly into AC power to match the grid. Power produced by the solar panels subtract from what you are using from Eskom. Grid-tie inverters do not provide backup power during utility outages.
  • Battery backup inverters, which are specially designed to draw energy from a battery as well as manage the battery charge via the onboard charger. These inverters are capable of supplying AC energy to selected loads during a utility outage.


Watt and kWh


Watt (W) refers to the unit of electric power, or amount of work (Joule), done in a unit of time. One Ampere of current flowing at a potential of one Volt will produce one Watt of power.


Kilowatt-hour, or kWh, represents a 1,000 Watt load operated over a period of one hour. This is used to define the amount of energy used over a one-hour period. For example, a 60-Watt incandescent light bulb switched on for one hour would use 60 Watt-hours of energy.

Electricity rates are most commonly expressed in cents per Kilowatt-hour.     


Photovoltaic (PV) conversion efficiency


The conversion efficiency of a solar cell refers to the percentage of the solar energy that is actually converted into electrical energy. The main push of solar energy research is to improve this conversion efficiency. The more efficient solar cells can be, the less space they will need to take up.

This research will also help to make PV technologies more cost-competitive with traditional sources of energy.


Further Questions


We hope that this has helped you to become better acquainted with the world of solar energy and the solar power abbreviations attached. If you have any further questions or inquiries about turning your home into a solar powered safe haven, please do not hesitate to contact Soventix here.


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