Glossary

Absorption chillers. Chillers that use heat energy from any source (solar, biomass, waste heat, etc.) to drive air conditioning or refrigeration systems. The heat source replaces the electric power consumption of a mechanical compressor. Absorption chillers differ from conventional (vapour compression) cooling systems in two ways: 1) the absorption process is thermochemical in nature rather than mechanical, and 2) the substance that is circulated as a refrigerant is water rather than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), also called Freon. The chillers generally are supplied with district heat, waste heat or heat from co-generation, and they can operate with heat from geothermal, solar or biomass resources.

Auction. See Tendering.

Bagasse. The fibrous matter that remains after extraction of sugar from sugar cane.

Behind-the-meter system. Any power generation capacity, storage or demand management on the customer side of the interface with the distribution grid (i.e., the meter).

Biodiesel. A fuel produced from oilseed crops such as soy, rapeseed (canola) and palm oil, and from other oil sources such as waste cooking oil and animal fats. Biodiesel is used in diesel engines installed in cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles, as well as in stationary heat and power applications. Most biodiesel is made by chemically treating vegetable oils and fats (such as palm, soy and canola oils, and some animal fats) to produce fatty acid methyl esters (FAME). (Also see Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and hydrotreated esters and fatty acids (HEFA).)

Bioenergy. Energy derived from any form of biomass (solid, liquid or gaseous) for heat, power and transport. (Also see Biofuel.)

Biofuel. A liquid or gaseous fuel derived from biomass, primarily ethanol, biodiesel and biogas. Biofuels can be combusted in vehicle engines as transport fuels and in stationary engines for heat and electricity generation. They also can be used for domestic heating and cooking (for example, as ethanol gels). Conventional biofuels are principally ethanol produced by fermentation of sugar or starch crops (such as wheat and corn), and FAME biodiesel produced from oil crops such as palm oil and canola and from waste oils and fats. Advanced biofuels are made from feedstocks derived from the lignocellulosic fractions of biomass sources or from algae. They are made using biochemical and thermochemical conversion processes, some of which are still under development.

Biogas/Biomethane. Biogas is a gaseous mixture consisting mainly of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the anaerobic digestion of organic matter (broken down by microorganisms in the absence of oxygen). Organic material and/or waste is converted into biogas in a digester. Suitable feedstocks include agricultural residues, animal wastes, food industry wastes, sewage sludge, purpose-grown green crops and the organic components of municipal solid wastes. Raw biogas can be combusted to produce heat and/or power; it also can be transformed into biomethane through a process known as scrubbing that removes impurities including carbon dioxide, siloxanes and hydrogen sulphides, followed by compression. Biomethane can be injected directly into natural gas networks and used as a substitute for natural gas in internal combustion engines without risk of corrosion.

Biomass. Any material of biological origin, excluding fossil fuels or peat, that contains a chemical store of energy (originally received from the sun) and that is available for conversion to a wide range of convenient energy carriers.

Biomass, traditional (use of). Solid biomass (including fuel wood, charcoal, agricultural and forest residues, and animal dung), that is used in rural areas of developing countries with traditional technologies such as open fires and ovens for cooking and residential heating. Often the traditional use of biomass leads to high pollution levels, forest degradation and deforestation.

Biomass energy, modern. Energy derived from combustion of solid, liquid and gaseous biomass fuels in high-efficiency conversion systems, which range from small domestic appliances to large-scale industrial conversion plants. Modern applications include heat and electricity generation, combined heat and power (CHP) and transport.

Biomass gasification. In a biomass gasification process, biomass is heated with a constrained amount of air or oxygen, leading to partial combustion of the fuels and to production of a mix of combustion gases that, depending on the conditions, can include carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen and more complex materials such as tars. The resulting gas can be either used for power generation (for example, in an engine or turbine) or further purified and treated to form a “synthesis gas”. This then can be used to produce fuels including methane, alcohols, and higher hydrocarbon fuels, including bio-gasoline and jet fuel. While gasification for power or heat production is relatively common, there are few examples of operating plants producing gas of high-enough quality for subsequent synthesis to more complex fuels.

Biomass pellets. Solid biomass fuel produced by compressing pulverised dry biomass, such as waste wood and agricultural residues. Pellets typically are cylindrical in shape with a diameter of around 10 millimetres and a length of 30-50 millimetres. Pellets are easy to handle, store and transport and are used as fuel for heating and cooking applications, as well as for electricity generation and CHP.

Biomethane. Biogas can be turned into biomethane by removing impurities including carbon dioxide, siloxanes and hydrogen sulphides, followed by compression. Biomethane can be injected directly into natural gas networks and used as a substitute for natural gas in internal combustion engines without risk of corrosion. Biomethane is often known as renewable natural gas (RNG), especially in North America.

Blockchain. A decentralised ledger in which digital transactions (such as the generation and sale of a unit of solar electricity) are anonymously recorded and verified. Each transaction is securely collected and linked, via cryptography, into a time-stamped “block”. This block is then stored on distributed computers as a “chain”. Blockchain may be used in energy markets, including for micro-trading among solar photovoltaic (PV) prosumers.

Building energy codes and standards. Rules specifying the minimum energy standards for buildings. These can include standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency that are applicable to new and/or renovated and refurbished buildings. See Renewable building codes.

Capacity. The rated power of a heat or electricity generating plant, which refers to the potential instantaneous heat or electricity output, or the aggregate potential output of a collection of such units (such as a wind farm or set of solar panels). Installed capacity describes equipment that has been constructed, although it may or may not be operational (for example, delivering electricity to the grid, providing useful heat or producing biofuels).

Capital subsidy. A subsidy that covers a share of the upfront capital cost of an asset (such as a solar water heater). These include, for example, consumer grants, rebates or one-time payments by a utility, government agency or government-owned bank.

Carbon neutrality. The achievement of a state in which every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere is compensated for by an equivalent tonne removed (e.g., sequestered). Emissions can be compensated for by carbon offsets. Carbon neutrality refers to net zero emissions of only carbon dioxide, whereas climate neutrality indicates a broader focus on net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases.

Circular economy. A closed-loop system in which the waste from one process is a resource that can be used as input for another. By having a flow of resources that is circular rather than linear, the production of waste is minimised.

City. No international criteria or standards exist to determine what a city is. Most definitions of “cities” rely on settlement density and/or population numbers, although the criteria vary widely across countries. Generally, the term “urban area” refers to settlement areas that are more densely populated than suburban or peri-urban communities within the same metropolitan area. The term “city”, meanwhile, has broader meanings: according to the United Nations, it can connote a political or civic entity, a geographic unit, a formalised economy or an infrastructure bundle. In some instances, local communities, neighbourhood associations, urban businesses and industries may be subsumed under the term “city”. Throughout the report, municipal and city government refers to the local decision-making bodies and government authorities (the mayor’s office, city council, etc.), unless noted otherwise. “Local government” is a more generic term that can refer to different sub-national levels of public administration, including also counties, villages and other intermediate levels of government. In addition to municipal governments, key city-level stakeholders include individual citizens, groups of citizens and private enterprises, as well as various civil society groups that are active within the city.

City-wide. Extending or happening in all parts of a city.

Combined heat and power (CHP) (also called co-generation). CHP facilities produce both heat and power from the combustion of fossil and/or biomass fuels, as well as from geothermal and solar thermal resources. The term also is applied to plants that recover “waste heat” from thermal power generation processes.

Community choice aggregation (CCA). Under a CCA, municipalities themselves (independently or in partnership with an agency running the CCA) aggregate their residents’ and businesses’ electricity demand and set out to procure electricity for all participating customers city-wide through direct contracts with energy producers or through third-party energy providers. By enabling local communities to procure their own electricity, CCAs can be an attractive option for cities that want more local control over their electricity mix, for instance to increase the share of renewable electricity.

Community energy. An approach to renewable energy development that involves a community initiating, developing, operating, owning, investing and/or benefiting from a project. Communities vary in size and shape (for example, schools, neighbourhoods, partnering city governments, etc.); similarly, projects vary in technology, size, structure, governance, funding and motivation.

Competitive bidding. See Tendering.

Concentrating solar collector technologies. Technologies that use mirrors to focus sunlight on a receiver (see Concentrating solar thermal power). These are usually smaller-sized modules that are used for the production of heat and steam below 400°C for industrial applications, laundries and commercial cooking.

Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) (also called solar thermal electricity, STE). Technology that uses mirrors to focus sunlight into an intense solar beam that heats a working fluid in a solar receiver, which then drives a turbine or heat engine/ generator to produce electricity. The mirrors can be arranged in a variety of ways, but they all deliver the solar beam to the receiver. There are four types of commercial CSP systems: parabolic troughs, linear Fresnel, power towers and dish/engines. The first two technologies are line-focus systems, capable of concentrating the sun’s energy to produce temperatures of 400°C, while the latter two are point-focus systems that can produce temperatures of 800°C or higher.

Crowdfunding. The practice of funding a project or venture by raising money – often relatively small individual amounts – from a relatively large number of people (“crowd”), generally using the Internet and social media. The money raised through crowdfunding does not necessarily buy the lender a share in the venture, and there is no guarantee that money will be repaid if the venture is successful. However, some types of crowdfunding reward backers with an equity stake, structured payments and/or other products.

Demand-side management. The application of economic incentives and technology in the pursuit of cost-effective energy efficiency measures and load-shifting on the customer side, to achieve least-cost overall energy system optimisation.

Demand response. The use of market signals such as time-of-use pricing, incentive payments or penalties to influence end-user electricity consumption behaviours. Demand response is usually used to balance electrical supply and demand within a power system.

Digitisation. The conversion of something (for example, data or an image) from analogue to digital.

Distributed generation. The generation of electricity from dispersed, generally small-scale systems that are close to the point of consumption.

Distributed renewable energy. Energy systems are considered to be distributed if 1) the systems are connected to the distribution network rather than the transmission network, which implies that they are relatively small and dispersed (such as small-scale solar PV on rooftops) rather than relatively large and centralised; or 2) generation and distribution occur independently from a centralised network. Specifically for the purpose of this report, “distributed renewable energy” meets both conditions. It includes energy services for electrification, cooking, heating and cooling that are generated and distributed independent of any centralised system, in urban areas.

Distribution grid. The portion of the electrical network that takes power off the high-voltage transmission network via sub-stations (at varying stepped-down voltages) and distributes electricity to customers.

Ecodistrict. A district relying on integrated urban planning that encompasses the objectives of sustainable development and social equity and is aimed at reducing the ecological footprint of a neighbourhood, urban area or region.

Electric vehicle (EV) (also called electric drive vehicle). A vehicle that uses one or more electric motors for propulsion. A battery electric vehicle is a type of EV that uses chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs. A plug-in hybrid EV can be recharged by an external source of electric power. Fuel cell vehicles are EVs that use pure hydrogen (or gaseous hydrocarbons before reformation) as the energy storage medium. Also see Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Energy. The ability to do work, which comes in a number of forms including thermal, radiant, kinetic, chemical, potential and electrical. Primary energy is the energy embodied in (energy potential of) natural resources, such as coal, natural gas and renewable sources. Final energy is the energy delivered for end-use (such as electricity at an electrical outlet). Conversion losses occur whenever primary energy needs to be transformed for final energy use, such as combustion of fossil fuels for electricity generation.

Energy audit. Analysis of energy flows in a building, process or system, conducted with the goal of reducing energy inputs into the system without negatively affecting outputs.

Energy efficiency. The measure that accounts for delivering more services for the same energy input, or the same amount of services for less energy input. Conceptually, this is the reduction of losses from the conversion of primary source fuels through final energy use, as well as other active or passive measures to reduce energy demand without diminishing the quality of energy services delivered. Energy efficiency is technology-specific and distinct from energy conservation, which pertains to behavioural change. Both energy efficiency and energy conservation can contribute to energy demand reduction.

Energy intensity. Primary energy consumption per unit of economic output. Energy intensity is a broader concept than energy efficiency in that it is also determined by non-efficiency variables, such as the composition of economic activity. Energy intensity typically is used as a proxy for energy efficiency in macro-level analyses due to the lack of an internationally agreed-upon high-level indicator for measuring energy efficiency.

Energy poverty. In poor countries, the term refers to the lack of access to modern energy services (for example, electricity and clean cooking). In wealthier countries, fuel poverty is associated with having energy costs above typical levels and mostly affects low-income households.

Energy service company (ESCO). A company that provides a range of energy solutions including selling the energy services from a (renewable) energy system on a long-term basis while retaining ownership of the system, collecting regular payments from customers and providing necessary maintenance service. An ESCO can be an electric utility, co-operative, non-governmental organisation or private company, and typically installs energy systems on or near customer sites. An ESCO also can advise on improving the energy efficiency of systems (such as a building or an industry) as well as on methods for energy conservation and energy management.

Energy subsidy. A government measure that artificially reduces the price that consumers pay for energy or that reduces the energy production cost.

Ethanol (fuel). A liquid fuel made from biomass (typically corn, sugar cane or small cereals/grains) that can replace petrol in modest percentages for use in ordinary spark-ignition engines (stationary or in vehicles), or that can be used at higher blend levels (usually up to 85% ethanol, or 100% in Brazil) in slightly modified engines, such as those provided in “flex-fuel” vehicles. Ethanol also is used in the chemical and beverage industries.

Fatty acid methyl esters (FAME). See Biodiesel.

Feed-in policy (feed-in tariff or feed-in premium). A policy that typically guarantees renewable generators specified payments per unit (e.g., USD per kWh) over a fixed period. Feed-in tariff (FIT) policies also may establish regulations by which generators can interconnect and sell power to the grid. Numerous options exist for defining the level of incentive, such as whether the payment is structured as a guaranteed minimum price (e.g., a FIT), or whether the payment floats on top of the wholesale electricity price (e.g., a feed-in premium).

Final energy. The part of primary energy, after deduction of losses from conversion, transmission and distribution, that reaches the consumer and is available to provide heating, hot water, lighting and other services. Final energy forms include, among others, electricity, district heating, mechanical energy, liquid hydrocarbons such as kerosene or fuel oil, and various gaseous fuels such as natural gas, biogas and hydrogen.

(Total) Final energy consumption (TFEC). Energy that is supplied to the consumer for all final energy services such as transport, cooling and lighting, building or industrial heating or mechanical work. Differs from total final consumption (TFC), which includes all energy use in end-use sectors (TFEC) as well as for non-energy applications, mainly various industrial uses, such as feedstocks for petrochemical manufacturing.

Fiscal incentive. An incentive that provides individuals, households or companies with a reduction in their contribution to the public treasury via income or other taxes.

Generation. The process of converting energy into electricity and/or useful heat from a primary energy source such as wind, solar radiation, natural gas, biomass, etc.

Geothermal energy. Heat energy emitted from within the earth’s crust, usually in the form of hot water and steam. It can be used to generate electricity in a thermal power plant or to provide heat directly at various temperatures.

Green bond. A bond issued by a bank or company, the proceeds of which will go entirely into renewable energy and other environmentally friendly projects. The issuer will normally label it as a green bond. There is no internationally recognised standard for what constitutes a green bond.

Green building. A building that (in its construction or operation) reduces or eliminates negative impacts and can create positive impacts on the climate and natural environment. Countries and regions have a variety of characteristics that may change their strategies for green buildings, such as building stock, climate, cultural traditions, or wide-ranging environmental, economic and social priorities – all of which shape their approach to green building.

Green energy purchasing (also called green tariffs). Voluntary purchase of renewable energy – usually electricity, but also heat and transport fuels – by residential, commercial, government or industrial consumers, either directly from an energy trader or utility company, from a third-party renewable energy generator or indirectly via trading of renewable energy certificates (such as renewable energy credits, green tags and guarantees of origin). It can create additional demand for renewable capacity and/or generation, often going beyond that resulting from government support policies or obligations.

Heat pump. A device that transfers heat from a heat source to a heat sink using a refrigeration cycle that is driven by external electric or thermal energy. It can use the ground (geothermal/ ground-source), the surrounding air (aerothermal/air-source) or a body of water (hydrothermal/water-source) as a heat source in heating mode, and as a heat sink in cooling mode. A heat pump’s final energy output can be several multiples of the energy input, depending on its inherent efficiency and operating condition. The output of a heat pump is at least partially renewable on a final energy basis. However, the renewable component can be much lower on a primary energy basis, depending on the composition and derivation of the input energy; in the case of electricity, this includes the efficiency of the power generation process. The output of a heat pump can be fully renewable energy if the input energy is also fully renewable.

Hydropower. Electricity derived from the potential energy of water captured when moving from higher to lower elevations. Categories of hydropower projects include run-of-river, reservoir-based capacity and low-head in-stream technology (the least developed). Hydropower covers a continuum in project scale from large (usually defined as more than 10 MW of installed capacity, but the definition varies by country) to small, mini, micro and pico.

Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and hydrotreated esters and fatty acids (HEFA). Biofuels produced by using hydrogen to remove oxygen from waste cooking oils, fats and vegetable oils. The result is a hydrocarbon that can be refined to produce fuels with specifications that are closer to those of diesel and jet fuel than is biodiesel produced from triglycerides such as fatty acid methyl esters (FAME).

Inverter (and micro-inverter), solar. Inverters convert the direct current (DC) generated by solar PV modules into alternating current (AC), which can be fed into the electric grid or used by a local, off-grid network. Conventional string and central solar inverters are connected to multiple modules to create an array that effectively is a single large panel. By contrast, micro-inverters convert generation from individual solar PV modules; the output of several micro-inverters is combined and often fed into the electric grid. A primary advantage of micro-inverters is that they isolate and tune the output of individual panels, reducing the effects that shading or failure of any one (or more) module(s) has on the output of an entire array. They eliminate some design issues inherent to larger systems, and allow for new modules to be added as needed.

Investment. Purchase of an item of value with an expectation of favourable future returns. In this report, new investment in renewable energy refers to investment in: technology research and development, commercialisation, construction of manufacturing facilities and project development (including the construction of wind farms and the purchase and installation of solar PV systems). Total investment refers to new investment plus merger and acquisition (M&A) activity (the refinancing and sale of companies and projects).

Investment tax credit. A fiscal incentive that allows investments in renewable energy to be fully or partially credited against the tax obligations or income of a project developer, industry, building owner, etc.

Joule. A joule (J) is a unit of work or energy equal to the work done by a force equal to one newton acting over a distance of one metre. One joule is equal to one watt-second (the power of one watt exerted over the period of one second). The potential chemical energy stored in one barrel of oil and released when combusted is approximately 6 gigajoules (GJ); a tonne of oven-dry wood contains around 20 GJ of energy.

Light commercial vehicle. Vehicle used for commercial purposes that has a gross vehicle weight of less than 3,500 kilograms.

Low-emission vehicle zone. A type of vehicle restriction that limits or prohibits the access of certain types of fossil fuel vehicles in defined city areas.

Mandate/Obligation. A measure that requires designated parties (consumers, suppliers, generators) to meet a minimum – and often gradually increasing – standard for renewable energy (or energy efficiency), such as a percentage of total supply, a stated amount of capacity, or the required use of a specified renewable technology. Costs generally are borne by consumers. Mandates can include renewable portfolio standards (RPS); building codes or obligations that require the installation of renewable heat or power technologies (often in combination with energy efficiency investments); renewable heat purchase requirements; and requirements for blending specified shares of biofuels (biodiesel or ethanol) into transport fuel.

Market concession model. A model in which a private company or non-governmental organisation is selected through a competitive process and given the exclusive obligation to provide energy services to customers in its service territory, upon customer request. The concession approach allows concessionaires to select the most appropriate and cost-effective technology for a given situation.

Micromobility. A range of small, lightweight vehicles such as bicycles and scooters often used by individuals to travel short distances in cities.

Mini-grid/Micro-grid. For distributed renewable energy systems for energy access, a mini-grid/micro-grid typically refers to an independent grid network operating on a scale of less than 10 MW (with most at very small scale) that distributes electricity to a limited number of customers. Mini-/micro-grids also can refer to much larger networks (e.g., for corporate or university campuses) that can operate independently of, or in conjunction with, the main power grid. However, there is no universal definition differentiating mini- and micro-grids.

Monitoring. Energy use is monitored to establish a basis for energy management and to provide information on deviations from established patterns.

Municipal operations. Services or infrastructure that are owned and/or operated by municipal governments. This may include municipal buildings and transport fleets (such as buses, police vehicles and refuse collection trucks).

Municipal solid waste. Waste materials generated by households and similar waste produced by commercial, industrial or institutional entities. The wastes are a mixture of renewable plant and fossil-based materials, with the proportions varying depending on local circumstances. A default value that assumes that at least 50% of the material is “renewable” is often applied.

(Re-)Municipalisation. Legal process by which municipalities assume control of their electricity procurement and distribution assets, generally through purchase from private entities.

Net metering / Net billing. A regulated arrangement in which utility customers with on-site electricity generators can receive credits for excess generation, which can be applied to offset consumption in other billing periods. Under net metering, customers typically receive credit at the level of the retail electricity price. Under net billing, customers typically receive credit for excess power at a rate that is lower than the retail electricity price. Different jurisdictions may apply these terms in different ways, however.

Net-zero carbon building / Net-zero energy building / Nearly zero energy building. Various definitions have emerged of buildings that achieve high levels of energy efficiency and meet remaining energy demand with either on-site or off-site renewable energy. For example, the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment considers use of renewable energy as one of five key components that characterise a net-zero building. Definitions of net-zero carbon, net-zero energy and nearly zero energy buildings can vary in scope and geographic relevance.

Net-zero strategy. Policy or plan to achieve carbon neutrality by a certain date. In most cases, this involves reducing community-wide emissions as much as possible, for instance through improvements in energy efficiency and a transition to renewable energy, while investing in carbon mitigation options or offsets elsewhere in the world.

Ocean power. Refers to technologies used to generate electricity by harnessing from the ocean the energy potential of ocean waves, tidal range (rise and fall), tidal streams, ocean (permanent) currents, temperature gradients (ocean thermal energy conversion) and salinity gradients. The definition of ocean power used in this report does not include offshore wind power or marine biomass energy.

Off-take agreement. An agreement between a producer of energy and a buyer of energy to purchase/sell portions of the producer’s future production. An off-take agreement normally is negotiated prior to the construction of a renewable energy project or installation of renewable energy equipment in order to secure a market for the future output (e.g., electricity, heat). Examples of this type of agreement include power purchase agreements and feed-in tariffs.

Off-taker. The purchaser of the energy from a renewable energy project or installation (e.g., a utility company) following an off-take agreement.

Pay-as-you-go (PAYGo). A business model that gives customers (mainly in areas without access to the electricity grid) the possibility to purchase small-scale energy-producing products, such as solar home systems, by paying in small instalments over time.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. This differs from a simple hybrid vehicle, as the latter uses electric energy produced only by braking or through the vehicle’s internal combustion engine. Therefore, only a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle allows for the use of electricity from renewable sources. Although not an avenue for increased penetration of renewable electricity, hybrid vehicles contribute to reduced fuel demand and remain far more numerous than EVs.

Positive energy district (PED). An area within a city that is capable of generating more renewable energy than it consumes.

Power. The rate at which energy is converted into work, expressed in watts (joules/second).

Power purchase agreement (PPA). A contract between two parties, one that generates electricity (the seller) and one that is looking to purchase electricity (the buyer).

Primary energy. The theoretically available energy content of a naturally occurring energy source (such as coal, oil, natural gas, uranium ore, geothermal and biomass energy, etc.) before it undergoes conversion to useful final energy delivered to the end-user. Conversion of primary energy into other forms of useful final energy (such as electricity and fuels) entails losses. Some primary energy is consumed at the end-user level as final energy without any prior conversion.

Primary energy consumption. The direct use of energy at the source, or supplying users with unprocessed fuel.

Product and sectoral standards. Rules specifying the minimum standards for certain products (e.g., appliances) or sectors (industry, transport, etc.) for increasing energy efficiency.

Production tax credit. A tax incentive that provides the investor or owner of a qualifying property or facility with a tax credit based on the amount of renewable energy (electricity, heat or biofuel) generated by that facility.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing. Provides access to low-interest loans for renewable energy that can be repaid through increases on property taxes.

Prosumer. An individual, household or small business that not only consumes energy but also produces it. Prosumers may play an active role in energy storage and demand-side management.

Public financing. A type of financial support mechanism whereby governments provide assistance, often in the form of grants or loans, to support the development or deployment of renewable energy technologies.

Pumped storage. Plants that pump water from a lower reservoir to a higher storage basin using surplus electricity, and that reverse the flow to generate electricity when needed. They are not energy sources but means of energy storage and can have overall system efficiencies of around 80-90%.

Regulatory policy. A rule to guide or control the conduct of those to whom it applies. In the renewable energy context, examples include mandates or quotas such as renewable portfolio standards, feed-in tariffs and technology-/fuel-specific obligations.

Renewable building codes. Building energy codes that mandate that a certain amount of energy demand be met by renewable energy (e.g., solar obligations). They differ from green building codes, which tend to focus on improving the performance of buildings by using materials, equipment and components that enhance energy efficiency. See Green building.

Renewable energy. This includes all forms of energy produced from renewable sources, including solar, wind, ocean, hydropower, biomass, geothermal resources and biofuels.

Renewable energy certificate (REC). A certificate awarded to certify the generation of one unit of renewable energy (typically 1 MWh of electricity but also less commonly of heat). In systems based on RECs, certificates can be accumulated to meet renewable energy obligations and also provide a tool for trading among consumers and/or producers. They also are a means of enabling purchases of voluntary green energy.

Renewable hydrogen (also referred to as green hydrogen). Hydrogen produced from renewable energy, most commonly through the use of renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyser. The vast majority of hydrogen is still produced from fossil fuels, and the majority of policies and programmes focused on hydrogen do not include a focus on renewables-based production.

Renewable portfolio standard (RPS). An obligation placed by a government on a utility company, group of companies or consumers to provide or use a predetermined minimum targeted renewable share of installed capacity, or of electricity or heat generated or sold. A penalty may or may not exist for non-compliance. These policies also are known as “renewable electricity standards”, “renewable obligations” and “mandated market shares”, depending on the jurisdiction.

Sector integration (also called sector coupling). The integration of energy supply and demand across electricity, thermal and transport applications, which may occur via co-production, combined use, conversion and substitution.

Shore power (also called cold ironing). This entails connecting a maritime vessel to the power grid while at berth in a port so that the electricity demand from the vessel while hotelling is supplied directly by the grid rather than by the generator on the vessel, which typically is diesel powered.

Smart charging. Optimisation of the charging process of an electric vehicle according to external inputs (e.g., user requirements, power system characteristics, grid constraints and renewable energy availability). Smart charging includes unidirectional controlled charging (V1G), bi-directional vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-to-home/building (V2H/B). Developing smart charging brings several advantages for balancing the grid, also helping to integrate renewables into the system and possibly improving operating expenses for consumers. Also see Vehicle-to-grid.

Smart city. A city that utilises digital technologies to collect data that is then used to manage assets, resources and services more efficiently, improve operations across the city and generally increase the quality of life of citizens.

Smart energy system. An energy system that aims to optimise the overall efficiency and balance of a range of interconnected energy technologies and processes, both electrical and non-electrical (including heat, gas and fuels). This is achieved through dynamic demand- and supply-side management; enhanced monitoring of electrical, thermal and fuel-based system assets; control and optimisation of consumer equipment, appliances and services; better integration of distributed energy (on both the macro and micro scales); as well as cost minimisation for both suppliers and consumers.

Smart grid. Electrical grid that uses information and communications technology to co-ordinate the needs and capabilities of the generators, grid operators, end-users and electricity market stakeholders in a system, with the aim of operating all parts as efficiently as possible, minimising costs and environmental impacts and maximising system reliability, resilience and stability.

Solar collector. A device used for converting solar energy to thermal energy (heat), typically used for domestic water heating but also used for space heating, for industrial process heat and to drive thermal cooling machines. Evacuated tube and flat plate collectors that operate with water or a water/glycol mixture as the heat-transfer medium are the most common solar thermal collectors used worldwide. These are referred to as glazed water collectors because irradiation from the sun first hits a glazing (for thermal insulation) before the energy is converted to heat and transported away by the heat transfer medium. Unglazed water collectors, often referred to as swimming pool absorbers, are simple collectors made of plastics and used for lower-temperature applications. Unglazed and glazed air collectors use air rather than water as the heat-transfer medium to heat indoor spaces or to pre-heat drying air or combustion air for agriculture and industry purposes.

Solar home system. A stand-alone system composed of a relatively low-power photovoltaic module, a battery and sometimes a charge controller that can provide modest amounts of electricity for home lighting, communications and appliances, usually in rural or remote regions that are not connected to the electricity grid. The term solar home system kit also is used to define systems that usually are branded and have components that are easy for users to install and use.

Solar photovoltaics (PV). A technology used for converting light directly into electricity. Solar PV cells are constructed from semiconducting materials that use sunlight to separate electrons from atoms to create an electric current. Modules are formed by interconnecting individual cells. Building-integrated PV (BIPV) generates electricity and replaces conventional materials in parts of a building envelope, such as the roof or façade.

Solar photovoltaic-thermal (PV-T). A solar PV-thermal hybrid system that includes solar thermal collectors mounted beneath PV modules to convert solar radiation into electrical and thermal energy. The solar thermal collector removes waste heat from the PV module, enabling it to operate more efficiently.

Solar-plus-storage. A hybrid technology of solar PV with battery storage. Other types of renewable energy-plus-storage plants also exist.

Solar water heater. An entire system consisting of a solar collector, storage tank, water pipes and other components. There are two types of solar water heaters: pumped solar water heaters use mechanical pumps to circulate a heat transfer fluid through the collector loop (active systems), whereas thermosyphon solar water heaters make use of buoyancy forces caused by natural convection (passive systems).

Storage battery. A type of battery that can be given a new charge by passing an electric current through it. A lithium-ion battery uses a liquid lithium-based material for one of its electrodes. A lead-acid battery uses plates made of pure lead or lead oxide for the electrodes and sulphuric acid for the electrolyte, and remains common for off-grid installations. A flow battery uses two chemical components dissolved in liquids contained within the system and most commonly separated by a membrane. Flow batteries can be recharged almost instantly by replacing the electrolyte liquid, while simultaneously recovering the spent material for re-energisation.

Target. An official commitment, plan or goal set by a government (at the local, state, national or regional level) to achieve a certain amount of renewable energy or energy efficiency by a future date. Targets may be backed by specific compliance mechanisms or policy support measures. Some targets are legislated, while others are set by regulatory agencies, ministries or public officials.

Tender (also called auction/reverse auction or tender). A procurement mechanism by which renewable energy supply or capacity is competitively solicited from sellers, who offer bids at the lowest price that they would be willing to accept. Bids may be evaluated on both price and non-price factors.

Thermal energy storage. Technology that allows the transfer and storage of thermal energy.

Transmission grid. The portion of the electrical supply distribution network that carries bulk electricity from power plants to sub-stations, where voltage is stepped down for further distribution. High-voltage transmission lines can carry electricity between regional grids in order to balance supply and demand.

Urban form. Refers to a city’s physical characteristics, including size, shape and population density.

Urban freight transport. The movement of goods in to, out from, through or within the urban area made by light or heavy vehicles, including but not limited to service transport, construction material transport and reverse logistics for waste removal.

Variable renewable energy (VRE). A renewable energy source that fluctuates within a relatively short time frame, such as wind and solar energy, which vary within daily, hourly and even sub-hourly time frames. By contrast, resources and technologies that are variable on an annual or seasonal basis due to environmental changes, such as hydropower (due to changes in rainfall) and thermal power plants (due to changes in temperature of ambient air and cooling water), do not fall into this category.

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G). A system in which electric vehicles – whether battery electric or plug-in hybrid – communicate with the grid in order to sell response services by returning electricity from the vehicles to the electric grid or by altering the rate of charging.

Virtual net metering. Virtual (or group) net metering allows electricity utility consumers to share the output of a renewable power project. By receiving “energy credits” based on project output and their ownership share of the project, consumers are able to offset costs on their electricity utility bill.

Virtual power plant (VPP). A network of decentralised, independently owned and operated power generating units combined with flexible demand units and possibly also with storage facilities. A central control station monitors operation, forecasts demand and supply, and dispatches the networked units as if they were a single power plant. The aim is to smoothly integrate a high number of renewable energy units into existing energy systems; VPPs also enable the trading or selling of power into wholesale markets.

Virtual power purchase agreement (PPA). A contract under which the developer sells its electricity in the spot market. The developer and the corporate off-taker then settle the difference between the variable market price and the strike price, and the off-taker receives the electricity certificates that are generated. This is in contrast to more traditional PPAs, under which the developer sells electricity to the off-taker directly.

Watt. A unit of power that measures the rate of energy conversion or transfer. A kilowatt is equal to 1 thousand watts; a megawatt to 1 million watts; and so on. A megawatt-electrical (MW) is used to refer to electric power, whereas a megawatt-thermal (MWth) refers to thermal/heat energy produced. Power is the rate at which energy is consumed or generated. A kilowatt-hour is the amount of energy equivalent to steady power of 1 kW operating for one hour.

Wheeling. Refers to the transport of electric energy from within an electrical grid from one party (the seller) to another party (the buyer). Wheeling deals with the use of the network and the cost of delivering the energy.

Zero-emission vehicle. A vehicle that does not produce tailpipe emissions (the air pollutants emitted during the operation of a vehicle). These emissions often include greenhouse gases, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. The term zero-emission vehicle typically refers to an electric vehicle, although the charging of the vehicle is not necessarily linked with renewable energy.