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Beginner’s Guide to Solar Jargon

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Solar Buyers Cheatsheet: Technical terms

A jumble of letters from a printing press
With so many different acronyms, it's easy to get lost!

In part 2 of this 3-part series, we’ll be honing-in on the many acronyms and technical terms when talking about solar. Read on to become a solar expert and avoid getting confused by a slick, cowboy solar rep!

AC vs DC

Imagine electricity as a river. AC (alternating current) is like a wild, ever-changing stream, constantly switching directions (like a sine wave). Think of it like a push-pull battle, where electrons surge back and forth. This makes AC ideal for powering most of our appliances, from TVs to toasters, because they can easily adapt to the flow’s change.

But DC (direct current) is more like a steady, flowing river, always pushing in one direction (like a straight line). It’s the current used in batteries and solar panels, where the flow needs to be consistent. Think of it as a dedicated worker, always heading towards the same goal.

So, which one’s better? Well, it depends! AC reigns supreme for powering our homes, while DC shines in portable devices and renewable energy. It’s a yin and yang situation, both playing crucial roles in our electrified world. Remember, next time you flip on the light switch, you’re harnessing the power of that ever-changing AC flow! Read more about the current wars here.

kW vs kWh

Imagine your solar panels are a tireless baker churning out fresh bread. But there are two ways to measure their output: kilowatts (kW) and kilowatt-hours (kWh). Think of them like the baker’s speedometer and odometer.

kW is like the speedometer, telling you how fast the oven is churning at any given moment. It’s the raw power your panels produce at that specific time. Say, a sunny afternoon might have your panels humming at 7 kW, baking bread like a champ! But a cloudy morning might only see them at 1 kW, taking a slower, sourdough-like approach.

kWh, on the other hand, is like the odometer, tracking the total bread baked over time. It’s the energy your panels produce over a sustained period. So, that same 7 kW afternoon might translate to 14 kWh of delicious, sun-baked goodness by the end of the day. A whole day of baking at 1 kW an hour could give you 8 kWh for the day, a veritable feast of solar energy!

Here’s a quick analogy to solidify the difference:

kW is like the strength of your biceps. It tells you how much you can lift at one time.
kWh is like the total weight you lift in a workout session. ️‍It’s the total work done over time.
So, when choosing solar panels, kW tells you their peak power output, while kWh tells you how much energy they can generate over a longer period. It’s like knowing how fast your baker can churn out bread and how much they can bake in a whole day.

And remember, just like a baker needs a good oven to thrive, your panels need other components like inverters and batteries to make the most of their kW and kWh potential. But with the right setup, your solar system can be your own personal bakery, churning out clean, delicious energy for years to come!

Single Phase vs Three Phase

Think of your home’s electricity like traffic flow on a highway.

In single phase, it’s like a one-lane road, with all the power flowing through a single conductor. It’s fine for most everyday appliances – lights, TVs, even your coffee maker – but if you throw in some heavy hitters like air conditioners or pool pumps, things can get congested, causing voltage drops and power hiccups.

This is where three phase steps in. Think of it as a highway with three lanes, each carrying its own independent stream of power. It’s like having three traffic cops coordinating the flow, ensuring everyone gets their juice smoothly. Three-phase offers more power and stability, making it ideal for larger homes with heavy appliances, or for powering workshops or even small businesses.

For most homes, single-phase is perfectly adequate, and it’s the standard for domestic connections. But if you’re a power-hungry household, or have plans for bigger appliances down the line, three-phase might be worth considering. It’s a bit like choosing between a zippy motorbike and a spacious SUV – the right choice depends on your needs and future plans for your energy highway!

And when it comes to solar power, both single and three-phase can play a role. Single-phase is typically used for smaller systems, while larger setups benefit from the stability and power of three-phase. Ultimately, the choice depends on your energy consumption, future plans, and even your local grid infrastructure.

So, whether you’re a light-switch flicking minimalist or a power-hungry gadget enthusiast, understanding the difference between single and three-phase can help you navigate the exciting world of home energy and solar power!

STCs vs VEECs vs Feed-in Tariffs

Saving money with solar power is like uncovering hidden treasure in your backyard, and STCs, VEECs, and feed-in tariffs are the trusty maps that lead you there. Let’s break them down!

Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs) are like buried gold coins. As your solar panels diligently soak up sunshine, they earn you these certificates, which you can sell on a market. Each STC represents a certain amount of solar energy generated, and the more you generate, the more treasure you dig up! The best part? You can sell these certificates to others who need them to meet renewable energy targets, putting a nice chunk of change in your pocket.

Victorian Energy Efficiency Certificates (VEECs) are like hidden gem collections scattered around your home. Every time you make energy-efficient upgrades, like installing solar hot water or LED lights, you earn VEECs. These certificates are also traded on a market, and the more energy you save, the more gems you collect. Selling these gems adds another layer of savings to your solar journey.

Feed-in tariffs are like a steady stream of income from your solar power plant. Imagine your panels pumping out electricity, and the grid happily buying it back from you! This “pay-per-watt” system, though not as generous as it used to be, still offers a guaranteed income stream for the energy you generate. Think of it as a bonus treasure chest that keeps refilling every month.

So, STCs, VEECs, and feed-in tariffs are like your solar sidekicks, each contributing their unique treasure to your savings adventure. By harnessing the power of the sun and these financial incentives, you can turn your roof into a money-generating machine, making solar not just good for the planet, but good for your wallet too!

Export Limits and Smart Meters

Export capacity is like a safety valve, allowing you to send your excess energy back to the grid, sharing the sun’s bounty with the neighbourhood, and making money for you in the process.

But here’s the catch: the grid has its own capacity limits, and it can’t handle an uncontrolled flow of solar power. This is where smart meters enter the scene. Think of them as the gatekeepers, monitoring your energy production and ensuring a smooth flow to the grid without overloading it.

Here’s how it works:

Smart meters keep tabs on your energy generation and consumption in real-time. They’re like eagle-eyed watchdogs, constantly monitoring the flow of electricity.
They communicate directly with the grid. This two-way communication allows the grid to adjust its intake based on your export capacity and overall demand.
They prevent overloading. If your home produces more energy than your export limit, the smart meter acts like a traffic light, temporarily pausing the flow until the grid has room for more.
This dance between your solar panels, export capacity, and the smart meter ensures a safe and efficient exchange of energy. It’s like having a smart butler managing your solar power, maximizing its benefit for both you and the broader community.

Now, the benefits of smart meters go beyond just regulating exports. They can:

Give you detailed insights into your energy usage. Imagine having a detailed map of your energy consumption, helping you identify areas for savings.
Enable remote monitoring and control. No more climbing on your roof to check your system! Smart meters allow you to monitor and manage your solar power from anywhere.
Contribute to a smarter grid. The data collected by smart meters helps utilities manage the grid more efficiently and integrate renewable energy sources seamlessly.
So, export capacities and smart meters are like two sides of the same coin, working together to ensure a smooth, efficient, and sustainable flow of solar power. They’re the unsung heroes of the solar revolution, ensuring everyone benefits from the sun’s incredible power.


students throwing their caps in the air.


Armed with the knowledge of AC vs. DC, watts vs. watt-hours, single vs. three-phase power, and the treasure trove of STCs, VEECs, and feed-in tariffs, you’re now a solar savvy superhero! No more glazed over eyes when a sales rep talks about inverters, export limits, or smart meter magic. You can confidently navigate the technical jargon, understand the financial incentives, and ask the right questions to build a solar system that perfectly suits your energy needs and budget. Remember, knowledge is power, and with this newfound solar vocabulary, you’re well on your way to unlocking a brighter, more sustainable future powered by the sun! So go forth, ask questions, and design the solar system that will make your household the envy of the neighborhood. The sun awaits!

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Written By:

Luke Cove
Managing Director
Lightning Energy

luke cove - Founder of lightning solar

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