Add Your Name
Sign up to receive regular updates on renewable energy news in Montana. Just add your name and e-mail address to our list of News & Notes subscribers.

Hosted at NCAT

Powered by the Sun

Glossary of Renewable Energy and Electrical Terms


Alternating Current (AC): electricity delivered by U.S. utilities at 60 Hz, and 120 volts.

Amp: electrical current; a measure of flowing electrons.

Amp-hour: measure of flowing electron for a period of time.

Audit: an energy audit seeks energy inefficiencies and prescribes improvements.

Battery: A collection of cells that store electrical energy; each cell converts chemical energy into electricity or vice versa, and is interconnected with other cells to form a battery for storing useful quantities of electricity.

BTU: British Thermal Unit, the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit; 3411 BTUs equals one kilowatt-hour.

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL): a modern light bulb with an integral ballast using a fraction of the electricity used by a regular incandescent light bulb.

Direct Current (DC): the complement of AC, or alternating current, presents one unvarying voltage to a load. This is standard in automobiles.

Efficiency: a narrow mathematical I concept describing the proportion of a resource that can actually be converted' into useful product or work; for example, sunlight falling on a PV module contains a given amount of energy, but the module can only convert a percentage of it into electricity.

Electronic Ballasts: an improvement over core/coil ballasts used to drive fluorescent lamps.

Embodied Energy: Literally the amount of energy required to produce an object in its present form; an inflated balloon's embodied energy includes the energy required to manufacture it and inflate it.

Generator: any device that produces electricity.

Grid: a utility term for the network of wires that distribute electricity from a variety of sources across a large area. The "grid" powers most homes and offices across the country.

Heat Exchanger: device that passes heat from one substance to another; in a solar hot water heater, for example, the heat exchanger takes heat harvested by a fluid circulating through the solar panel and transfers it to domestic hot water.

Hydronic: contraction of hydro and electronic, usually applied to radiant in-floor heating systems and their sensors and pumps.

Incandescent Bulb: a light source that produces light by heating a filament until it emits photons.

Insolation (or incident solar-radiation): the amount of sunlight failing on a place.

Insulation: a material that keeps energy from crossing from one place to another: on electrical wire, it is the plastic or rubber that covers the conductor; in a building, insulation makes the walls, floor, and roof more resistant to the outside (ambient) temperature.

Inverter: the electrical device that changes direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC).

Kilowatt: 1000 watts.

Kilowatt/hour: one kilowatt of power used for one hour. A typical house uses 750 kW/hrs per month.

Light Emitting Diode (light emitting diode): An efficient source of electrical lighting, typically lasting 50,000 to 100,000 hours.

Load: an electrical device, or the amount of power required by such a device.

Megawatt (MW): 1,000,000 watts.

Modules: the manufactured panels of photovoltaic cells; a module typically houses thirty-six cells in an aluminum frame covered with a glass or acrylic cover and provides a junction box for connection between itself, other modules in the array, and the solar electric system.

Net metering: a desirable form of buy-back agreement in which the line-tied house's electric meter turns in the utility's favor when grid power is being drawn, and in the system owner's favor when the house generation exceeds its needs and electricity is flowing into the grid. At the end of the payment period, when the meter is read, the system owner pays the utility the difference between what was used and what was produced.

"Off-the-grid": not connected to the power lines: electric self-sufficiency.

Passively Heated: a shelter that has its space heated by the sun without using any other energy.

Petroleum: an oily, flammable liquid composed of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons occurring in many places in the upper strata of the earth. A fossil fuel.

Phantom Loads: appliances that draw power 24 hours a day, even when you turn them off. TVs, VCRs, microwave ovens with clocks, and plugs with the integrated little black box all contain phantom loads.

Photovoltaics (PVs): A technology for using semiconductors to directly converts light into electricity.

R-value: resistance value, used specifically for materials used for insulating structures. Three inches of fiberglass insulation has an R-value of 11.

Renewable Energy: an energy source that renews itself without, effort; fossil fuels, once consumed, are gone forever, while solar energy is renewable in that the sun we harvest today has no effect on the sun we can harvest tomorrow.

Renewables: shorthand for renewable energy or material sources.

Sustainable: material or energy sources that, if managed carefully, will provide at current levels indefinitely.

Volt: measure of electrical potential, 110-volt house electricity has more potential to do work than an equal flow of 12-volt electricity.

Watt: measure of power (or work) equivalent to 1/746 of a horsepower.


Back to TopBack to Top