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Clean Energy Glossary of Terms


Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

A naturally occurring gas, and also a by-product of burning fossil fuels and biomass, as well as land-use changes and other industrial processes. It is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas that affects the Earth's radiative balance. It is the reference gas against which other greenhouse gases are measured and therefore has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 1. 

Carbon Footprint

A measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. It is meant to be useful for individuals and organizations to conceptualize their personal (or organizational) impact in contributing to global warming.


Carbon Neutral

A product or process that, over its lifecycle, does not contribute to the addition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Also, a term applied to individuals, businesses, or organizations whose practices do not contribute any incremental carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. This can be achieved by reducing or avoiding carbon-emitting activities such as driving and electricity use and by mitigating one's emissions through the use of carbon offsets.


Carbon Offsets

Market-based instruments created by the development and management of carbon offset projects whose purpose is to reduce, avoid or capture greenhouse gases. Projects include production of renewable energy, afforestation, capture and destruction of methane and other greenhouse gases and energy-efficiency projects.


Clean Power Generator

A company that produces electricity from sources that are cleaner than traditional sources, including nuclear, wind, solar and hydroelectric.


Climate Change

Any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate change may result from: natural factors, such as changes in the sun's intensity or slow changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun; natural processes within the climate system (e.g. changes in ocean circulation); human activities that change the atmosphere's composition (e.g. through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g. deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification, etc.)


Conventional Fuel

Fossil fuels including coal, oil, and natural gas.



The substance discharged into the air.


Energy Conservation

To reduce oravoid the consumption of an energy resource or commodity.


Energy Efficiency

A measure of the ratio of the energy delivered by a machine to the energy supplied for its operation. For example, a device is said to be more energy efficient when it uses less fuel to deliver the same amount of energy as compared to another similar device.



All external conditions that affect an organism or other specified system during its lifetime.  


Fossil Fuels

A general term for buried combustible geologic deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, heavy oils or sand tar by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth's crust over hundreds of millions of years.


Geothermal Energy

Energy produced by the internal heat of the earth which includes: hydrothermal convective systems; pressurized water reservoirs; hot dry rocks; manual gradients; and magma. Geothermal energy can be used directly for heating or to produce electric power.


Global Warming

The progressive gradual rise of the earth's surface temperature thought to be caused by the greenhouse effect and responsible for changes in global climate patterns. An increase in the near surface temperature of the Earth. Global warming has occurred in the distant past as the result of natural influences, but the term is most often currently used to refer to the warming predicted to occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases.


Green Power

A term for electricity produced from clean, renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar energy. 


Greenhouse Effect

The effect produced as greenhouse gases allow incoming solar radiation to pass through the Earth's atmosphere, but prevent part of the outgoing infrared radiation from the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere from escaping into space. This process occurs naturally and has kept the Earth's temperature about 59 degrees F warmer than it would otherwise be. Current life on Earth could not be sustained without the natural greenhouse effect.


Greenhouse Gases (GHG)

Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include, but are not limited to, water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), ozone (O3), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).



A common term referring to an electricity transmission and distribution system.


Hydroelectric Power

Electric energy made by the conversation of energy produced from water.


Kilowatt (kW)

A standard unit of electrical power equal to 1,000 watts.


Kilowatt-hour (kWh)

A unit or measure of electricity supply or consumption of 1,000 watts over the period of one hour.



One thousand kilowatts, or 1 million watts; standard measure of electric power plant generating capacity.


Megawatt-hour (MWh)

A measurement of a quantity of electricity consumption equal to one thousand kilowatt-hours.


Metric Ton (Mt)

The common international measurement for the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions equal to about 2,205 pounds or 1.1 short tons.


Renewable Energy

Electricity produced from hydroelectric, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and tidal and wave energy. This type of electricity is therefore generated from natural resources that are naturally replenished.


Renewable Energy Certificate (REC)

The environmental benefits of renewable energy is transferred to businesses and consumers through Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). RECs are also referred to as Green Tags or Renewable Energy Credits. A REC represents the environmental benefits of producing 1,000 kWh (or one megawatt-hour) of electricity from a renewable energy source and the avoidance of the emission of approximately 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide.


Solar Energy

Energy derived from the sun in the form of solar radiation. Electricity from the sun can be produced in two ways: photovoltaic electricity and solar thermal electricity. Solar radiation is a renewable resource.


Wind Energy

Energy available from the movement of the wind across a landscape. The sun's energy creates wind by heating the earth, oceans and atmosphere. 


Wind Turbine

Wind turbines are structures that use moving air to generate electricity (wind power) through the use of blades (called rotors) that are easily turned by the wind. This rotating motion is converted inside the turbine into an electric current, which is then interconnected to a nearby electric grid.