solar-alphabet-soup

At Kiterocket, we like to say that we “speak solar,” and that includes our summer intern, Rachael Carroll. Joining us in June, Rachael had to quickly get up to speed on the solar industry’s alphabet soup of acronyms, initialisms and terms. Realizing that there are many new people joining the solar industry, we asked Rachael to write a Solar Marketing Think Tank post that briefly defines some common solar industry acronyms. If you find this list useful, thank Rachael in the comments below!

—Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza, CMO of Solar, Kiterocket

_________________________

By Rachael “Solar Newbie” Carroll

As a sociology student, I’m constantly surprised and intrigued by human beings and our need for community. Community brings us purpose and pride, and provides a way for us to understand our world. Language has a very distinct and powerful way of defining communities. As a native San Diegan, our surf culture is a prime example of this: The terms “swell” and “break” have definitions for surfers that differ drastically from their original meanings. The solar industry also has its share of jargon, acronyms and esoteric terms that are unknown to those outside the industry.

The solar community may be a group of conscious, bright and ambitious individuals, but on entering this vibrant community of world-savers, I often found myself lost in the verbiage. As my Kiterocket colleague Chewy Tang remarked last year, this linguistic disconnect can be harrowing for solar marketing and communication.

After listening intently, taking notes diligently and reading daily on the solar industry over the course of my 12 weeks interning at Kiterocket, I’ve compiled a modest list of essential acronyms and terms necessary to bridge the language gap and assimilate into the culture of the solar industry.

 Key Solar Industry Terms

AcronymWordDefinition
PVPhotovoltaicsThe semiconducting process by which sunshine is converted into energy by way of solar cells and panels. A basic PV system is mainly composed of solar panels, racking, inverter(s) and wires.
ACAlternating currentAlternating current is a type of current that alternates in direction (not just one way).  AC is the current used by most household appliances in our homes.
DCDirect currentDirect current is an electric current that flows in a single, constant direction. Solar panels and batteries generate direct current and must be converted to AC (see above) by “an inverter” in order for the energy to be used by most household appliances.
BOSBalance of systemsBOS encompasses all of the miscellaneous components of a PV system other than the panels, such as racking, wires, nuts and bolts, fuse boxes, and other parts.
WWattThe watt is the basic unit of measurement for power generation.
KWKilowattOne kilowatt = 1,000 watts. When solar installers talk about the size of solar installation (how much power it can generate in full sun), they typically refer to it in KW. For example, the average size of a U.S. home solar system is about 5 KW.
KWhKilowatt-hourA kilowatt-hour measures the rate of energy consumption. One kilowatt-hour is equal to consuming 1,000 W for one hour. When solar installers talk about the amount of solar energy that can be generated over the course of a day, month or year, KWh is used.
MWMegawattOne megawatt = 1,000 kilowatts = 1 million watts. A really big solar farm could be hundreds of megawatts.
GWGigawattOne gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts = 1 billion watts. The U.S. market has become a multi-gigawatt market over the past five years.
EVElectric vehicleAn automobile that runs on electricity. You’ve heard of Tesla, right? More and more, people are charging their EVs via solar systems.
EPCEngineering, procurement and constructionAn EPC is a company that designs the system, engineers the project, procures the components and supplies, and constructs the solar PV systems. The term often applies to commercial- and utility-scale solar installers, but there are residential EPCs as well, such as SolarCity.
O&MOperations and maintenanceO&M companies service solar systems during their 20- to 25-year lifetime. They monitor production, check the equipment for wear, replace parts, maintain the site, and keep the panels clean. O&M is very important for solar system owners, because it ensures that system is generating the most solar power possible—and maximizing the revenues for the system owners. O&M is part of what’s called asset management. Impress’ client Bay4 Energy Services is a leader in this sector.
ITCInvestment tax creditExtended last year by Congress, the 30% U.S. federal tax credit is awarded to residential, commercial and utility owners of solar energy systems.
RPSRenewable portfolio standardAn RPS is a law passed by a state that requires a minimum amount of renewable energy production in the state by a certain date.
PACEProperty- assessed clean energyPACE is a way to finance the installation of renewable energy and energy efficiency for homeowners and businesses. PACE bonds fund clean energy installations within a city or state region. The homeowner receives a solar installation and energy-efficiency loan, which is paid back over a specified time period (usually 20 years). The loan is secured as a tax lien on the property, so PACE bonds are seen as being very secure. If the home or business is ever sold, the PACE loan is automatically transferred to the new landowner until the loan is paid off.
NEM/net meteringNet Energy MeteringNEM is like cellphone rollover minutes for solar. The utility will credit solar owners for any excess energy they send back to the grid. The value of NEM credit is now being heavily debated in every state. It used to be that you could get a full credit for every solar kWh sent back to the grid. Now, utilities are only crediting customers with 25% to 75% of the credit. 

Organizations: 

(CAL)SEIA(California) Solar Energy Industries AssociationAn industry organization of solar companies and advocates working to educate, promote and lobby for solar and renewable energies. http://www.seia.org/about
SEPASmart Electric Power AssociationA nonprofit educational and advocacy group that researches and helps utilities deploy and integrate solar, storage, demand response and other distributed energy resources. http://www.solarelectricpower.org/about-sepa.aspx
IRECInterstate Renewable Energy CouncilIREC is a nonprofit organization that helps facilitate regulatory policy, clean energy best practices, and clean energy workforce training to benefit consumers and renewable energy stakeholders. http://www.irecusa.org/about-irec/
DSIREDatabase of State Incentives for RenewablesDSIRE is a nonprofit that maintains a comprehensive database of state and federal incentives and policies for renewables and energy efficiency. http://www.dsireusa.org/about-us/
GTMGreentech MediaA leading renewable energy publication that reports on solar, storage, grid edge and other renewable technologies, investment and policies, as well as renewable industry growth. GTM’s research group analyzes and reports on various industry sectors and subsectors. https://www.greentechmedia.com/about
ASESAmerican Solar Energy SocietyASES is a longstanding membership community of solar professionals and advocates dedicated to establishing 100% renewable energy in the U.S. http://www.ases.org
FERCFederal Energy Regulatory

Commission

FERC is the agency that regulates interstate energy policy and transmission. http://www.ferc.gov/about/about.asp
EPAEnvironmental Protection AgencyThe EPA is a national government agency dedicated to protecting the environment and human health through research and regulations, and enforces environmental laws passed by Congress. https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa
(C)PUC(California)Public Utilities CommissionOn behalf of ratepayers, PUCs or similarly named agencies in every state, regulate privately owned utilities and other monopolies. PUCs are supposed to be nonpartisan and independent of utilities and ratepayer advocates making regulatory decisions through research, public comments and statements submitted to the commissions before every decision.

The solar industry is a growing and exciting industry, and has become an essential leader in the world’s energy sector. For readers also new to the solar industry, I hope the preceding list helps bring some clarity in your future solar involvement. For seasoned solar experts, feel free to comment with any more definitions that I missed or that were helpful to you when you were first starting out.

Addendum: Surfers define a swell as a pattern of waves during a certain time period; a swell encompasses wave height, speed, power and frequency, and can be affected by ocean currents, wave location on a coastline, seafloor depth and geography. A break, in surfer jargon, refers to a physical obstruction of water that allows for better waves to form as the water bends and flows around the obstruction; breaks are typically coral reefs, shoals or coastal landforms.