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AC - Alternating Current, the standard form of electrical current supplied by the utility grid and by most fuel-powered generators. The polarity (and therefore
the direction of current) alternates. In U.S.A, standard voltages for small water pumps are 115 V and 230 V. Standards vary in different countries. See inverter.

DC - Direct Current, the type of power produced by photovoltaic panels and by storage batteries. The current flows in one direction and polarity is fixed, defined as positive (+) and negative (–). Nominal system voltage may be anywhere from 12 to 180 V. See voltage, nominal.

Current - The rate at which electricity flows through a circuit, to transfer energy. Measured in Amperes, commonly called Amps. Analogy: flow rate in a water pipe.

Efficiency - The percentage of power that gets converted to useful work.
Example: An electric pump that is 60 % efficient converts 60 % of the input energy into work - pumping water. The remaining 40 % becomes waste heat.

Energy - The product of power and time, measured in Watt-Hours. 1,000 Wh = 1 kWh. Variation: the product of current and time is Ampere-Hours, also called Amp- Hours (abbreviation: AH). 1,000 W consumed for 1 h = 1 kWh. See power.

Converter - An electronic device for DC power that steps up voltage and steps down current proportionally (or vice-versa). Electrical analogy applied to AC: See transformer. Mechanical analogy: gears or belt drive.

Inverter - An electronic device that converts low voltage DC to high voltage AC power. In solar-electric systems, an inverter may take the 12, 24, or 48 V DC and convert it to 115 or 230 V AC, conventional household power.

Power - The rate at which work is done. It is the product of Voltage times Current, measured in Watts.1,000 W = 1 kW. An electric motor requires approximately1 kW per Horsepower (after typical efficiency losses). 1 kW for 1 h = 1 kWh

Three-Phase AC - Three phase power is AC that is carried by three wires. Power waves are applied in a sequence. Three-phase is used for large industrial motors and variable-speed motors. Similar principles are incorporated in advanced DC brushless solar water pump motors where a controller is used to digitally create a DC commutated signal to drive a brushless motor.

Transformer - An electrical device that steps up voltage and steps down current proportionally (or viceversa). Transformers work with AC only. For DC, see
converter. Mechanical analogy: gears or belt drive.

Utility Grid - Commercial electric power distribution system. Synonym: mains.

Voltage - The measurement of electrical potential. Analogy: Pressure in a water pipe.

Voltage Drop - Loss of voltage (electrical pressure) caused by the resistance in wire and electrical devices. Proper wire sizing will minimize voltage drop, particularly over long distances. Voltage drop is determined by 4 factors: wire size, current (amps), voltage, and length of wire. It is determined by consulting a wire sizing chart or formula available in various reference tests. It is expressed as a percentage. Water analogy: Friction Loss in pipe.

Voltage, Nominal - A way of naming a range of voltage to a standard. Example: A “12 V Nominal” system may operate in the range of 11 – 15 V. We call it “12 V” for simplicity.



Charge Controller - A device that regulates the charge current to a battery in order to prevent overcharge. It prevents excessive voltage and maximizes the longevity of a battery. It may also contain other control functions (see Low Voltage Disconnect).

Deep Cycle Battery - Batteries that are designed to discharge as much as 80% of their capacity, hundreds of times. They differ from engine-starting batteries by having thicker plates and different metal alloys.

Low Voltage Disconnect - A control function in a battery- based power system in which the load or loads are disconnected before the battery gets over-discharged. Over-discharge will damage a lead-acid battery. Typical settings for a 12 V system are 10.5 or 11 V disconnect and 12.5 or 13 V reconnect.

Photovoltaic - The phenomenon of converting light to electric power. Photo = light, Volt = electricity.
Abbreviation: PV.

PV - The common abbreviation for photovoltaic.

PV Array - A group of PV (photovoltaic) modules (also called panels) arranged to produce the voltage and power desired.

PV Array-Direct - The use of electric power directly from a photovoltaic array, without storage batteries to store or stabilize it. Most solar water pumps work this way, utilizing a tank to store water.

PV Cell - The individual photovoltaic device. Most PV modules are made with around 36 or 72 silicon cells,  each producing about ½ volt.

PV Module - An assembly of PV cells framed into a weatherproof unit. Commonly called a “PV panel”. See PV array.

Solar Tracker - A mounting rack for a PV array that automatically tilts to follow the daily path of the sun through the sky. A “tracking array” will produce more energy through the course of the day, than a “fixed array” (non-tracking) particularly during the long days of summer.

Voltage, Open Circuit - The voltage of a PV module or array with no load (when it is disconnected). A “12 V Nominal” PV module will produce about 20 V open circuit. Abbreviation: Voc.

Voltage, Peak Power Point - The voltage at which a photovoltaic module or array transfers the greatest amount of power (watts). A “12 V Nominal” PV module will typically have a peak power voltage of around 15 – 17 V. The solar array for a PV array-direct solar pump should reach this voltage in full sun conditions, or a multiple of this voltage. Abbreviation: Vpp.



Booster Pump - A surface pump used to increase pressure in a water line, or to pull from a storage tank and pressurize a water system. See surface pump.

Centrifugal Pump - A pumping mechanism that spins water in order to push it out by means of centrifugal force. See also multi-stage.

Check Valve - A valve that allows water to flow one way but not the other.

Diaphragm Pump - A type of pump in which water is drawn in and forced out of one or more chambers, by a flexible diaphragm. Check valves let water into and out of each chamber.

Float Switch - An electrical switch that responds to changes in water level. It may be used to prevent overflow of a tank by turning a pump off, or to prevent a pump from running dry when the source level is low.

Float Valve - A valve that responds to changes in water level. It is used to prevent overflow of a tank by blocking the flow of water.

Foot Valve - A check valve placed in the water source below a surface pump. It prevents water from flowing back down the pipe and “losing prime”. See check valve and priming.

Helical Rotor Pump - A pump with a helix-shaped rotor that fits closely into a rubber stator that has a helical groove. It forms sealed cavities that trap water. As the rotor turns, the cavities move toward the outlet. See positive displacement pump. Synonyms: progressive cavity pump, screw pump.

Impeller - The device that spins inside of a centrifugal pump, in order to develop centrifugal force.

Jet Pump - A surface-mounted centrifugal pump that uses an “ejector” (venturi) device to augment its suction capacity. In a “deep well jet pump”, the ejector is down in the well, to assist the pump in overcoming the limitations of suction. (Some water is diverted back down the well, causing an increase in energy use.)

Multi-Stage Centrifugal - A centrifugal pump with more than one impeller and chamber, stacked in a sequence to produce higher pressure. Conventional AC deep well submersible pumps and some solar submersibles work this way.

Positive Displacement Pump - Any mechanism that seals water in a chamber, then forces it out by reducing the volume of the chamber. Examples: piston,
diaphragm, helical rotor, vane. Used for low volume and high lift. Contrast with centrifugal. Synonyms: volumetric pump, force pump.

Priming - The process of hand-filling the suction pipe and intake of a surface pump. Priming is generally necessary when a pump must be located above the water source. A self-priming pump is able to draw some air suction in order to prime itself, at least in theory. See foot valve.

Pulsation Damper - A device that absorbs and releases pulsations in flow produced by a piston or diaphragm pump. Consists of a chamber with air trapped within it or a length of flexible tube.

Pump Jack - A deep well piston pump. The piston and cylinder is submerged in the well water and actuated by a rod inside the drop pipe, powered by a motor at the surface. This is an old-fashioned system that is still used for extremely deep wells, including solar pumps as deep as 1000 feet.

Self-Priming Pump - See priming.

Submersible Pump - A motor/pump combination designed to be placed entirely below the water surface.

Surface Pump - A pump that is not submersible. It must be placed no more than about 20 ft. above the surface of the water in the well. See priming.
(Exception: see jet pump)



DC Motor, Brush-Type - The traditional DC motor, in which small carbon blocks called “brushes” conduct current into the spinning portion of the motor. They are used in most solar surface pumps and in some low-power solar submersibles. The motor chamber must be filled with air and perfectly sealed from moisture. Brushes naturally wear down after years of use, and must be replaced periodically.

DC Motor, Brushless - High-technology, very efficient motor used in more advanced solar submersibles. An electronic system is used to precisely alternate the current, causing the motor to spin. A submersible brushless motor is filled with water and requires no maintenance.

DC Motor, Permanent Magnet - All DC solar pumps use this type of motor in some form. Being a variable speed motor by nature, reduced voltage (in losun) produces proportionally reduced speed, and causes no harm to the motor. Contrast: induction motor

Induction Motor (AC) - The type of electric motor used in conventional single-phase AC water pumps. It requires a high surge of current to start, and a stable voltage supply, making it relatively expensive to run from by solar power. See Inverter.

Linear Current Booster (LCB) - An electronic device which varies the voltage and current of a PV array to match the needs of an array-direct pump, especially a positive displacement pump. It allows the pump to start and to run under low sun conditions without stalling. Electrical analogy: variable transformer. Mechanical analogy: automatic transmission. Also called pump controller. See pump controller .

Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) - An added refinement in some linear current boosters, in which the input voltage tracks the variations of the output voltage of the PV array to draw the most possible solar power under varying conditions of temperature, solar intensity and load.

Pump Controller - An electronic device that controls or processes the power to a pump. It may perform any of the following functions: stopping and starting the pump; protection from overload; DC-to-AC conversion; voltage conversion; power matching (see linear current booster). It may also have provisions for low-water shutoff and full-tank shutoff devices, and status indicators.



Borehole - Synonym for drilled well, especially outside of North America.

Casing - Plastic or steel tube that is permanently inserted in the well after drilling. Its size is specified according to its inside diameter.

Cable Splice - A joint in electrical cable. A submersible splice is protected by a water-tight seal.

Drop Pipe - The pipe that carries water from a pump in a well, up to the surface. It also supports the pump.

Perforations - Slits cut into the well casing to allow groundwater to enter. May be located at more than one level, to coincide with water-bearing strata in the earth.

Pitless Adapter - A special pipe fitting that fits on a well casing, below ground. It lets the pipe pass horizontally through the casing so that no pipe is exposed above ground where it could freeze. The pump may be installed and removed without further need to dig around the casing. This is done by using a 1” threaded pipe as a handle.

Safety Rope - Rope used to secure the pump in case of pipe breakage.

Submersible Cable - Electrical cable designed for in-well submersion. Conductor sizing is specified in square millimeters, or (in North America) by American Wire Gauge (AWG) in which a higher number indicates smaller wire. It is connected to a pump by a cable splice.

Well Seal - Top plate of a well casing that provides a sanitary seal and support for the drop pipe and pump. Alternative: See pitless adapter



Driller’s Log - The document on which well characteristics are recorded by the well driller. In most states, drillers are required to register all water wells and to send a copy of the log to a state office. This supplies hydrological data and well performance test results to the well owner and the public. Synonym: well record.

Drawdown - Lowering of level of water in a well due to pumping.

Drawdown Level - Depth to the water surface in a well while it is being pumped.

Recovery Rate - Rate at which groundwater refills the casing after the level is drawn down. This is the term used to specify the production rate of the well.

Static Water Level - Depth to the water surface in a well under static conditions (not being pumped). May be subject to seasonal changes or lowering due to depletion.

Wellhead - Top of the well. Pump System Engineering

Friction Loss - The loss of pressure due to flow of water in pipe. This is determined by 4 factors: pipe size (inside diameter), pipe material, flow rate, and length of pipe. It is determined by consulting a friction loss chart available in an engineering reference book or from a pipe supplier. It is expressed in PSI or Feet (equivalent additional feet of pumping). Pipe fittings, especially 90° elbows, impose additional friction.

Head - See synonym: vertical lift.

Suction Lift - Applied to surface pumps: Vertical distance from the surface of the water in the source, to a pump located above the surface. This distance is limited by physics to around 20 ft at sea level (subtract 1 ft per 1,000 ft altitude) and should be minimized for best results.

Submergence - Applied to submersible pumps: Distance below the static water level, at which a pump is set.

Total Dynamic Head - vertical lift + friction loss in piping (see vertical lift and friction loss).

Vertical Lift - The vertical distance that water is pumped. This determines the pressure that the pump pushes against. Total vertical lift = vertical lift from surface of water source up to the discharge in the tank + (in a pressure system) discharge pressure. Synonym: static head. Note: Horizontal distance does NOT add to the vertical lift, except in terms of pipe friction loss. NOR does the volume (weight) of water contained in pipe or tank. Submergence of the pump does NOT add to the vertical lift. See total dynamic head.



Cut-In Pressure and Cut-Out Pressure - See pressure switch.

Gravity Flow - The use of gravity to produce pressure and water flow. A storage tank is elevated above the point of use, so that water will flow with no further pumping required. A booster pump may be used to increase pressure. 2.31 ft vertical = 1 PSI. 10 m vertical = 1 bar. See pressure

Head - See vertical lift and total dynamic head. In water distribution, synonym: vertical drop. See pressure.

Open Discharge - The filling of a water vessel that is not sealed to hold pressure. Examples: storage (holding) tank, pond, flood irrigation. Contrast: pressure tank.

Pressure - The amount of force applied by water that is either forced by a pump, or by the gravity. Measured in pounds per square inch (PSI) or bar (atmospheres). PSI = vertical lift (or drop) in Feet/2.31. Metric: 1 bar = vertical lift (or drop) of 10 m vertical.

Pressure Switch - An electrical switch actuated by the pressure in a pressure tank. When the pressure drops to a low set-point (cut-in) it turns a pump on. At a high point (cut-out) it turns the pump off.

Pressure Tank - A fully enclosed tank with an air space inside. As water is forced in, the air compresses. The stored water may be released after the pump has stopped. Most pressure tanks contain a rubber bladder to capture the air. If so, synonym: captive air tank.

Pressure Tank Precharge - The pressure of compressed air stored in a captive air pressure tank. A reading should be taken with an air pressure gauge (tire gauge) with water pressure at zero. The air pressure is then adjusted to about 3 PSI lower than the cut-in pressure (see Pressure Switch). If precharge is not set properly, the tank will not work to full capacity, and the pump will cycle on and off more frequently.


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