COMMON SOLAR TERMS

Going solar is a great idea, and if you’re shopping around for quotes you’re going to hear a lot of new terms, and it might feel intimidating to understand them in order to understand what you’re investing in. But Hi Power Solar is here to help with this list of common solar terms!

Common Solar Terms

Solar System: A complete system, made up of the various components required to generate, convert, and supply a home with usable electricity.

Solar: Using the sun to generate energy. There’s 2 major types: Photovoltaic & Thermal.

Photovoltaic Solar: Turning light into electricity, PV (for short) is used to power homes.

Thermal Solar: Turning light into heat. Typically applied to water for water heaters or pools.

Module: An individual solar panel, either type can be referred to as a module or a panel.

Array: A group of solar panels. Homes can have multiple Arrays if more than one area of the roof is to have modules placed on it.

Mount: The sealed bracket that penetrates the roof & is secured to the rafters of a home.

Racking: The metal racks that panels and micro inverters (see below) are fastened to. These are connected to the mount

Conduit: The plastic PVC-like tubing which houses & protects the wires from weather exposure as they run from the roof into the home.

DC Power: Direct Current, a type of electricity. PV panels generate DC

AC Power: Alternating Current, the other type of electricity. The power in your outlets has AC.

Inverter: An electrical component which turns DC from the panels on your roof into AC which powers your home.

Central Inverter: A type of inverter that all panels feed into, and the traditional way to wire a solar system.

Micro Inverter: A newer type of inverter that turns DC into AC on a per panel basis. Every panel has it’s own micro inverter in this type of system.

System Size: The total output of your panels in DC Power.

Sun Hours: The duration of peak sun hours your home experiences. Sun Hours vary by your home’s location.

Shading: The amount of shade your roof experiences. Typically caused by trees & taller buildings nearby.

INCLUDE PHOTO DIAGRAM OF SOLAR SYSTEM WHICH LABELS SOME OF THE PARTS EXPLAINED ABOVE.

Common Home Terms

Circuit: A group of outlets. For example a bathroom, living room, or kitchen are all usually on their own circuits.

Circuit Breaker Box: The box that houses fuses that protects hour home’s circuits from pulling too much power and becoming a fire hazard. This is the thing you have to flip back on if only part of your home doesn’t have power. These are usually located inside a home.

Load Panel: The box that houses the main breakers for your house circuits and supplies power to the Circuit Breaker Box. These usually support 100,125, or 200 Amp service.

Electric Meter: The box on the side of your house that monitors your power consumption. They send power to your Load Panel to power your home. These are located outside the home and is the “property line” between you and the utility.

Overhead Connection: If the wires from the power line that run to your electric meter are visible and strung through the air you have an Overhead Connection.

Underground Connection: If the wires from the power line that run to your electric meter run underground you have an Underground Connection.

Revamp: An electrical service upgrade to your electric meter. PV solar systems require additional breakers to be installed & if your box doesn’t have any extra slots you need to revamp your meter.

Upgrade: The amount of power going to your house from the power lines. Older homes typically have 100 or 125 Amp Service (Amps are explained next). Newer builds usually come with 200 Amp service, letting you run more or more powerful electronics at the same time. Upgrades are more expensive with an Underground Connection since a trench must be dug to support stronger wire to carry this increased electrical service.

Common Electricity Terms

Volts: Volts are electrical pressure. Think about volts like the width of the pipe.

Amps: Amps are the actual electricity, and Amps are like the water running through the pipe. This determines how much power you can use at a time.

Watts: Watts is a measurement of usable power. Volts x Amps = Watts.

Kilowatt: A Kilowatt is 1000 watts.

Kilowatt Hour: A Kilowatt Hour (kWh) is using 1000 watts for 1 hour. Microwaves usually come in 800 or 1,200 watt sizes, so that would be 0.8 or 1.2 kWh if you were to run it for an hour. This is the unit in which you are billed by the utility.

Solar Warranty Terms

Production Warranty: Also known as a Workmanship Warranty, this will guarantee how well a product is made & guarantees it not falling apart. Depending on the component and manufacturer they can vary from 5 – 25 years.

Performance Warranty: This warranty will guarantee how well a product will perform for a certain length of time. It will do the job the manufacturer will say it will do. These also vary from 5 – 25 years.

Labor Warranty: This warranty will cover the installation labor cost should you have a component failure that is covered by the Production or Performance warranty.

What is Time of Use in Hawaii?

Time of Use can be defined as a varying retail rate a utility charges customers and based on time of consumption, on a daily or monthly schedule. If Time of Use in Hawaii becomes a real thing, it’s going to effect a lot of people, and not in a great way.

This is typically at times of high consumption called Peak Hours, which are usually in the morning and evening. There can be multiple prices per day, and prices or times can vary seasonally.

Here’s what a rate schedule for California Summertime looks like for Summer & Winter:

INSERT TOU GRAPH PHOTO, make sure to give source credit

Why is This Important?

Peak Hours are when most people use most of the power they use in a day. So if power gets more expensive their bill will most certainly go up. Do you use power in the mornings & evenings? We know we do.

Here’s how most people use their power and a look at when solar power is generated by homes:

Currently the price of electricity is about 25.5¢/kWh, and has historically risen 5% per year over the last 15 years. Hawaii also has the most expensive electric utility rates in the country.

Is Time of Use in Hawaii Coming?

The utility has already worked with the Public Utilities Commission to create a voluntary program where residents can

opt-in to be charged less in the daytime but pay more in the evening. It benefits some, who use most of their power

during the day and less at night.

Proposed Time of Use in Hawaii rates and times are as high as 38¢/kWh (49% increase) for the evening peak, a daytime rate of 13.4¢/kWh (47% decrease), and an overnight rate of 16¢/kWh (37% decrease).

So Why is This Happening?

The reason for such an increase is due to the fluctuating cost of oil and how the plants actually have to generate that power needed.

A lot of power is needed in a short time to cover peak loads and that kind of power generation is expensive. Sort of like flooring the gas pedal on a car as opposed to steady but normal acceleration to reach a certain speed, just on a larger scale.

One reason for this is the power generated by solar in the daytime going back onto the grid for others to use. The utility doesn’t have to generate as much power in the daytime with all the solar out there because of the extra power and all the people who have solar don’t need power in the daytime anymore. Double whammy.

This is great for the environment because most of our power here in Hawaii is generated from burning oil.

This is great for solar system owners because their power bills are a low flat rate for the utility interconnection fee.

Is The Future Bright?

Much is uncertain at this point. The hours could change, there could only be 2 peaks, the rates could change as well. One thing is clear, the utility is pursuing this avenue and it will likely lead to widespread bill amount increases.

There is one way to protect yourself though: Go Solar. And if you already have solar great.

If you have an approved NEM or DER agreement from the utility, don’t let it go to waste! You can’t afford NOT to get solar, especially if you have a NEM.

Check out this recent blog post explaining NEMs & DERs. (LINK TO NEM/DER BLOG POST)

Even a small battery in your solar system would definitely offset Time of Use in Hawaii increases in utility rates. Your home would be using power from there first, and would only pull from the grid when the battery’s charge was depleted.

Ideally, you’d want to power your home from 4:00pm till 12:00am (the highest rate time) off solar or a battery, and pull from the grid when it is cheaper. Your home constantly uses power, even when you’re asleep, but at least you won’t be getting charged more even when you’re not actively using it.

You’ll also have power in an outage, and be able to have power everyday during any repairs needed during extended grid failure (like after a hurricane). Here’s a bunch more advantages to having a home battery here. (INSERT LINK TO BATTERY ADVANTAGE BLOG)

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