SPfA Glossary

updated 4/14/19

These definitions are intended to be a reference in relation to the other writing on this site and not a comprehensive list of solar power aesthetics terms. It’s a living list, so more things will be added as needed.

Amperage (Amps, A, or I)

The unit of current.

Applied Photovoltaics (APV)

Applied photovoltaics are applications where the photovoltaic cells or modules are mounted on the exterior of an object, rather than integrated into the structure. The is also commonly used in the context of Building Applied Photovoltaics (BAPV).


Batteries store energy and, like solar cells, use direct current. Battery capacities are typically measured in volts and amp hours.

Chance Operations

Chance operations are systems for determining aesthetic decisions that are not completely determined by the artist.


A circuit is a circular path where electricity travels from an area of high voltage (like the positive side of a solar panel or battery) to an area of low voltage (the negative side).

Circuit Bending

Hacking or modify pre-existing circuits, like instruments and toys, to create unpredictable electronic art.

Direct Current (DC)

Direct current is the type of current produced by a photovoltaic cell and batteries. Direct current moves in one direction, rather than alternating directions like AC current.

Direct Drive

Direct drive refers to circuits without any batteries or large capacitors.


An avant-garde art movement primarily active from the 1950s through 1970s that was concerned with process over finished products.

Flywheel Circuit

A flywheel circuit refers to the use of supercapacitors or other electronics components to buffer power from the source for the purposes of storing small amounts of energy or smoothing output, among other uses. The term originated in regards to mechanical power.

Integrated Photovoltaics (IPV)

Integrated photovoltaics are devices where the photovoltaic cells or modules are mounted in the object, rather than applied on top of the object.


The load is whatever is being powered by the circuit. This could be a motor, an LED, a sound making device, etc.

Parallel Circuit

A parallel circuit is the term used to describe a circuit the branches off at various points.

Photovoltaic (PV)

The property that allows some materials to generate electricity directly from light.

Photovoltaic Module (or PV Panel)

An object designed to absorb sunlight for the production of electricity. This term is frequently used interchangeably with solar module or solar panel.

Power (P or W)

Power is measured in watts. Watts = Amps * Volts

Power Starving

Power starving is a technique where you intentionally underpower a circuit to produce unpredictable results.

Series Circuit

A series circuit is a particular kind of circuit where elements are placed one after another in a line, without branching off.

Solar (or Photovoltaic) Cell

A solar cell is the photovoltaic object that generates electricity. A solar panel is composed of solar cells in various configurations. There a wide variety of types of solar cells. The most common types are either monocrystalline silicon or polycrystalline silicon.

Solar Module (or Solar Panel)

An object designed to absorb sunlight for the production of electricity or heat. This term is most commonly used to refer to photovoltaic modules. Even though this term is fairly general, because it's the most popularly used term, we’ll be using it almost exclusively to refer to photovoltaics. Solar panels are composed of photovoltaic cells in various series and parallel configurations to reach the desired voltage and amperage.

Solar Power

Solar power refers to any type of power generated from the sun. There are primarily two types of solar power; photovoltaic solar power and solar thermal.

Solar Thermal

Solar thermal uses the sun’s heat to generate power.


A high capacity capacitor.

Volts (V)

A measure of electrical potential.

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