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Cleantech Glossary: Industry Terms and Definitions

Frequently Used Cleantech Terms and Definitions

A

Adaptation

The process of a region, community, building, person, etc. adjusting their surroundings and behavior to climate change. Examples of this include sea walls, air conditioning, irrigation systems in drought-stricken areas, more robust emergency planning, and more. If climate change is a wound, adaptation is a bandaid.

B

Batchable Computing

A computing process that can be paused or ramped up and down within seconds; also known as flexible or pausible computing. Batchable computing centers can help manage the load on the grid by powering down in a time of high demand or powering up when there is low demand and excess supply. You can learn more in this article on Solar Power World.

Battery Storage

A system of batteries, usually lithium-ion batteries, that can be charged by renewable energy. These batteries can store energy for several hours and release it onto the grid when demand increases. Also referred to as battery energy storage systems (BESS).

C

Clean technology/cleantech

Comprises a diverse range of products, services, and processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduce the use of limited natural resources, and reduce or eliminate pollution and toxic wastes.

Conference of the Parties (COP)

The annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, usually followed by a year; i.e. COP22

Curtailment

When energy supply exceeds demand and no energy storage is available; also known as wasted energy. This is caused by an outdated grid system. In 2021, an estimated 14.9 TWh of otherwise viable renewable energy was curtailed. This is the equivalent of $610 million in lost revenue or enough energy to power the city of Chicago for a year. You can learn more in this article in Solar Power World.

Critical Issues Analysis (CIA)

When building a solar or wind farm, developers must analyze a chosen parcel of land for its suitability. Developers will usually hire an environmental consultant to assess the land via a “critical issues analysis”, or CIA. The CIA will account for endangered species, flood and fire risks, impact on the local community, and more. The average CIA takes several weeks to perform, and almost 90% of land parcels will be deemed unsuitable for building. Some developers are moving towards automated environmental due diligence software to provide this information quickly; otherwise, the CIA stands as a major barrier to implementing more renewable energy projects.

D

Demand Side Management (DSM)

Demand Side Management, also called demand side response or just demand response, is a strategy used by utilities to encourage customers to alter their energy demand and use patterns. This is done to ensure that demand does not exceed supply, thereby stabilizing the grid and preventing the need for scheduled blackouts. This can be done by homeowners using appliances such as smart thermostats or other smart technology, like some electric vehicle chargers. Larger companies may use similar Al software to curb use, or mechanisms such as batchable computing as a long-term DSM strategy.

Deregulated Electricity Market

Demand Side Management, also called demand side response or just demand response, is a strategy used by utilities to encourage customers to alter their energy demand and use patterns. This is done to ensure that demand does not exceed supply, thereby stabilizing the grid and preventing the need for scheduled blackouts. This can be done by homeowners using appliances such as smart thermostats or other smart technology, like some electric vehicle chargers. Larger companies may use similar Al software to curb use or mechanisms such as batchable computing as a long-term DSM strategy.

E

EEI

Edison Electric Institute - Association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric utilities.

EIA

U.S. Energy Information Administration - An independent arm of the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.

EIS

Environmental Impact Statement - Under United States environmental law, is a document required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for certain actions "significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.

Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is an organization that operates Texas' electrical grid, which supplies power to more than 25 million Texas customers and represents 90 percent of the state's electric load. ERCOT is a nonprofit governed by the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature. Texas is the only state with a separate grid, and it cannot send or receive electricity from other states.

Embodies carbon

The CO2 emissions associated with the entire lifecycle of a product, building, or service. This can include the manufacturing process, shipping, installation, maintenance, and end-of-life/disposal stage. Also called embedded emissions.

EV

Electric motor vehicle - A motor vehicle powered by an electric motor that draws current from rechargeable storage batteries, fuel cells, photovoltaic arrays, or other sources of electric current.

F

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is a federal agency that regulates the price, terms and conditions, transmission, and wholesale sale of electricity and natural gas between states and also regulates the transportation of oil by pipeline. FERC is the federal counterpart to state utility regulatory commissions.

G

GHG

Greenhouse Gases - Gases such as methane and carbon dioxide which absorb infrared radiation and trap the heat in the atmosphere, thus contributing to global warming.

Gigawatt (GW)

1,000 megawatts.

Gigawatt-hour (GWh)

1,000 megawatt-hours.

Green Hydrogen

Hydrogen is used as a fuel by heavy industry. Fuel cells create hydrogen through a chemical reaction called electrolysis, which creates water and heat as byproducts. When the electricity used to catalyze electrolysis is renewable, the result is referred to as 'green hydrogen.' Learn more about the colors of hydrogen in Greentech Media's guide here.

Ground-Mounted Solar System

A solar array that is installed into the ground using steel poles. This can be done in any large open space. Compared to roof mounting, ground mount can be positioned at any angle and utilize solar trackers.

H

Heat Pump

A heating and cooling device that can be installed in a home. A heat pump works by transferring heat from outdoors to indoors in the winter and transferring heat from indoors to outdoors in the summer. Heat pumps are energy efficient, and can help lower energy use as well as emissions. You can learn more in this short explainer video from BC Hydro.

I

Independent System Operator (ISO)

An Independent System Operators is an independent and federally regulated entity that coordinates regional electric transmission and ensures customer access to a stable electric grid. ISOs were formed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to encourage utilities to work together and avoid discriminatory or inflationary practices. There are also Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs), which cover more geographic area. Together, there are 7 ISO and RTOs in the United States.

Investor-Owned Utility (IOU)

An Investor-Owned Utility is a utility company, usually large, that is owned by investors and/or is publicly traded.

IPP or NUG

Independent Power Producer or Non-Utility Generator - An entity, which is not a public utility, but which owns facilities to generate electric power for sale to utilities and end-users... may be privately held facilities, corporations, cooperatives such as rural solar or wind energy producers, and non-energy industrial concerns capable of feeding excess energy into the system.

K

Kilowatt

1,000 watts. Roughly what is produced by 3 solar panels at a given time. A typical refrigerator requires 300-800 watts to run.

Kilowatt-hour

The amount of energy produced by a kilowatt in one hour.

L

Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE)

Levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generator over its lifetime. This is used to compare traditional energy sources against renewables like wind and solar, which have high initial building costs but zero ongoing fuel cost. The measure is often used to determine if a particular energy project is a good investment and to compare different sources of energy on a regular basis.

Lithium-ion Battery

According to the Clean Energy Institute, "A lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery is an advanced battery technology that uses lithium ions as a key component of its electrochemistry. During a discharge cycle, lithium atoms in the anode are ionized and separated from their electrons. The lithium ions move from the anode and pass through the electrolyte until they reach the cathode, where they recombine with their electrons and electrically neutralize." The electric vehicle market and energy battery storage systems (BESS) primarily use lithium-ion batteries.

Load Shifting

Involves shifting load from peak to off-peak periods. Popular applications include the use of storage water heating, storage space heating, cool storage, and customer load shifts to take advantage of time-of-use or other special rates.

M

Megawatt (MW)

One million watts. Roughly equivalent to the amount of energy 3,000 solar panels would produce at a moment of peak sunlight. Roughly equivalent to the average power demand of 1,800 American homes. This unit represents demand or capacity — the amount of power that can be produced/used at a given time.

Megawatt-hour (MWh)

The amount of energy that a 1MW power source produces over the course of an hour. If running non-stop, a 1MW power source will produce 24 MWh over the course of one day. This is just [energy x time]. Though they will produce the same amount of energy under ideal conditions with full sun exposure, a 1MW solar farm in New Mexico will produce many more MWh over the course of a year than a 1MW solar farm outside Seattle, as the solar farm in New Mexico will receive more hours of sunlight.

Microgrids

Localized power-grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously and help mitigate grid disturbances to strengthen grid resilience.

Mitigation

Actions taken to reduce greenhouse gases emissions and increase carbon sinks to combat climate change. Examples include reducing the use of fossil fuels, planting trees, restoring ecosystems, installing energy efficient technology, building renewable energy plants, etc. If climate change is a wound, mitigation is the healing process.

N

Net Metering

Arrangement for utility customers to get credit for electricity they put out onto the grid (usually in the context of residential solar). If your home is generating more power than it's using at any given time, the meter spins backwards. So if your panels net out 1 kWh of electricity into the grid, that's 1kWh deducted from your bill. Each state is different, but usually the net calculation is done yearly: total electricity consumed minus total electricity added to the grid from panels.

Net Metering Wars, The

Series of utility campaigns (particularly APS in Arizona) to end net metering, or make it financially unattractive through added fees or unfavorable rates. They claim that regular ratepayers are unfairly forced to subsidize solar customers. Disputes over net metering legislation have occurred Arizona, California, and Florida.

NYSERDA

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. NYSERDA offers analysis, information, and programs to help New Yorkers increase their energy efficiency. NYSERDA collaborates with a host of stakeholders to help reduce emissions, create clean energy jobs, and protect the environment.

P

Poly or Polysilicon

A high-purity form of silicon used in the first step of creating a solar panel. Polysilicon is melted at high temperatures to create ingots, which are then sliced into wafers. Much of the current polysilicon production in the global solar supply chain is a high-carbon process. Several producers are changing the energy mix of their factories, materials, and processes to create low-carbon polysilicon. Learn more about the global solar supply chain at ultralowcarbonsolar.org

Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)

With a physical PPA, the energy buyer agrees to purchase power from a renewable energy project at a pre-arranged price. The power is physically delivered to the buyer from the generation site.

PPA

A long-term (years to decades) energy contract between two parties. The energy buyer agrees to purchase power from an energy project (and associated RECs) at a pre-arranged price. The power is physically delivered to the buyer from the generation site.

PTC

Production Tax Credit - A "federal incentive that provides financial support for the development of renewable energy facilities," often used for wind power and providing a credit of 2.3 cents per kWh for the first 10 years of a project's operation.

PV

Photovoltaic - A method of converting solar energy into direct current electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect.

R

Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)

When renewable energy producers generate electricity, they earn RECs, which represent the clean energy characteristics of that electricity. RECs can be purchased by utilities to help them meet clean energy goals (such as a Renewable Portfolio Standard) mandated by their state, or by companies looking to offset their emissions.

S

Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC)

A federal-level "dollar-for-dollar reduction in the income taxes that a person or company claiming the credit would otherwise pay the federal government. The ITC is based on the amount of investment in solar property. Thus, both the commercial and residential ITC are credits equal to 26 percent of the basis that is invested in eligible property that have projects that began in 2021 and 2022. It drops to 22 percent in 2023 and drops to 10% after that.

Scope 1 Emissions

The greenhouse gases emitted by a company's direct operations -- this can be their product, the company office, company cars, etc. Scope emissions are used by companies to evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions, or pollution, from their entire value chain. The definition of each scope was developed by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the world's most widely used accounting system for tracking emissions.

Scope 2 Emissions

The greenhouse gases emitted by a company's indirect operations — namely emissions from the purchased electricity it uses. Scope emissions are used by companies to evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions, or pollution, from their entire value chain. The definition of each scope was developed by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the world's most widely used accounting system for tracking emissions.

Scope 3 Emissions

The greenhouse gases emitted by a company's upstream and downstream activities — transportation, the customer use of the product, investments, and the end-of-life disposal or recycling process. Scope emissions are used by companies to evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions, or pollution, from their entire value chain. The definition of each scope was developed by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the world's most widely used accounting system for tracking emissions.

Solar piles

Adjustable steel poles used to mount solar panels. These come in different sizes and are specifically tailored to a project.

T

Tracker or Solar Tracker

A specialty mounting platform and software that tilts solar panels throughout the day to maintain maximum exposure to sunlight.

U

Ultra low-carbon solar

While solar energy produces no emissions in its operations, the way the components of a solar panel are produced (polysilicon, ingot/wafers, cells, modules) can vary in their emissions. A solar panel produced in a factory that operates on coal, for example, has a higher level of embodied carbon than one produced in a hydro, wind, or solar-powered facility. In fact, how solar PV is produced can have as much as a 50% impact on the total embodied carbon of a solar panel. Most of the current solar supply chain is located in China, which has a high carbon footprint. There is a new movement spearheaded by groups like the Clean Energy Buyers Alliance and the Ultra Low-Carbon Solar Alliance to start manufacturing more solar in low-carbon economies, such as the US, the EU, South America, and other countries that have a high percentage of renewables in their energy mix.

Utility-Scale Solar

Solar power that is normally produced on the ground ("ground mounted") and fed into the grid, usually to a utility and with a PPA.

V

Virtual Power Purchase Agreement (VPPA)

You can buy renewable energy “virtually” along with RECs through a Virtual Power Purchase Agreement. In a VPPA, the energy buyer and seller agree on a pre-arranged price for the power coming out of a renewable project. But that power is sold into the market rather than traveling to the buyer (as with a physical PPA). If the market rate for power exceeds the VPPA price, the producer sends the buyer the difference. If the market rate is less than the VPPA price, the buyer covers the difference.