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Solar Panel Photovoltaic vs Solar Thermal Technology

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Thermal Power Station

You may be aware that there are two types of solar panels: solar PV (photovoltaic systems) and thermal. Both function on harvesting solar energy and converting it into power for your home. While both are often used on rooftops, the similarities end there. So, let’s compare a solar PV system with a thermal solar system to determine how the different solar panels work and meet your energy demands.

Solar Thermal Solar Panels

Thermal image of home with solar panels

Image: Thermal Imagery of Residential House

Solar thermal power is typically used to heat water, but it may also heat your home. The technology’s operation is basic. First, the direct sunlight is collected by the panels installed on your roof. This then heats the liquid in the tubes before transporting it to a cylinder where it can be used.

Advantages of Solar Thermal Energy – In a Nutshell

Solar thermal energy is renewable and sustainable, so it will never be depleted. According to reliable sources, we can use it for as long as the sun’s energy is around, approximately another 5 billion years.

Non-renewable energy sources (such as coal, oil, and gas) will eventually be depleted. This is where solar thermal technology excels. We’ll be able to use it to heat water indefinitely.

Reduces reliance on fossil fuels. Because solar thermal can lessen our reliance on fossil fuels is like our first advantage. This factor is critical in extending the useful life of non-renewable energy sources for future generations.

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels also contributes to increased energy security and protects us from changes in the price of a finite commodity. On the other hand, as we deplete the remaining reserves of fossil fuels, they will become more expensive.

Solar thermal, like solar PV systems, are environmentally favourable. It can be used to heat water without requiring the use of natural resources. This lowers the number of greenhouse gases discharged into the environment.

We can aid in cutting carbon dioxide emissions, enhancing air quality, and mitigating the effects of climate change by utilising more solar thermal technologies when having solar panels installed.

Solar thermal lower heating costs. Solar thermal energy, like solar power, can help you save money on your heating and energy bills in general. This is especially true if you use a secondary energy source to heat your water (such as natural gas.) In addition, solar thermal energy can help you save money on your utility bills when you use energy to heat your water and become more energy efficient.


      • Because solar thermal heat water and solar photovoltaics (solar PV) create energy, installing both systems can be beneficial. In addition, combining these technologies can potentially lower your energy expenditures significantly.

      • Domestic solar hot water systems take very minimal area and are often installed on roofs. Dropping the need for additional solar thermal collectors in your home (such as your garden.)

      • While solar hot water systems might be costly to build, they are relatively inexpensive to operate. While they need more upkeep than solar PV panels, they remain a low-maintenance choice.

      • The solar energy technology is well-established, dating back to 1896 in the United States when solar water heating was originally conceived. While the early solar thermal collectors were crude, technology has advanced significantly over the years, particularly in the UK.

      • Over their lifetime, solar thermal energy systems can generate a return on investment (ROI). You will save money on your water and heating bills because of this. These savings are likely to exceed the cost of your solar system.


    With all this talk about home hot water systems, you might believe solar thermal has no place in the power industry – but you’d be incorrect. Power plants that produce solar thermal power already exist, helping utility companies with generating electricity using the technology.

    Solar thermal power plants focus on the sun’s rays to heat a liquid. The heat of this liquid is then transferred to water until it boils. This generates steam, which can subsequently be used to power a turbine.

    Disadvantages of Solar Thermal Energy – In a Nutshell

    Solar hot water system installation, like solar panels, is costly. Although the technology is still less expensive than solar PV panels, you will most likely incur additional costs when installing solar panels. These costs could include the following:


        • Plumbing services

        • Storage tank installation

        • Traditional water heating systems are far less expensive to install but require traditional energy sources to function. Unfortunately, the upfront cost of solar hot water keeps the technology out of reach for many of us.

        • Solar thermal systems are not permitted to be utilised at night. This is one of the most significant drawbacks of solar energy technologies. However, you can save hot water for later use, although this method has limitations.

        • While hot water can be stored, it must be kept at the proper temperature and ready for use. Domestic hot water systems employ repeated cycles to keep water at a reasonable temperature. The issue with solar thermal panels is that they cannot operate at night.


      As a result of this limitation, if your solar panel system does not have an emersion or backup heater, you will most likely run out of hot water a few hours after the sun goes down. Solar PV systems, however, can store excess energy and solar electricity generated throughout the day in solar battery units at night. This surplus electricity can then be sold back to the National Grid with grid connected systems that are part of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme, creating an additional benefit.


          • It’s no secret that the winter months have less solar energy produced than the summer months. This disadvantage applies to both solar power and solar hot water, but it is especially significant with the latter.

          • Solar PV technology is far more popular than solar hot water technology. As a result, there is a scarcity of installers skilled in installing solar thermal systems.


        While this disadvantage is becoming less of an issue as more houses install solar hot water systems, it is still relevant today.


          • Solar thermal electricity is inappropriate for application in a household environment due to the land and financial requirements. Solar PV systems, on the other hand, can generate enough solar generated electricity to power a single home. For example, this might power an electric heating system or a water heater, reducing reliance on traditional energy suppliers.

          Solar PV Solar Panels

          Image: Solar Water Heater on the Roof of House

          Solar PV is a considerably newer technology when compared to solar thermal. Solar PV technology is classified into three kinds.

          They are as follows:


              • Unicrystalline (most efficient and most expensive)

              • Thin-film solar cells (lowest efficiency and cheapest. Also, most adaptable)


            These capture sunlight and convert it into power using the silicon-based technology they are created with.

            Advantages of solar PV – in a nutshell


                • PV cells generate clean, renewable energy. In addition, with no harmful greenhouse gas emissions during power generation with PV panels, solar PV is ecologically beneficial and helps you decrease your carbon footprint.

                • Because solar energy is derived from nature, it is both free and abundant!

                • Solar energy can be produced any place there is sunlight.

                • Solar energy is ideally suited to smart energy networks with distributed power generation – DPG is the power network topology of the future!

                • The cost of solar panels is now falling. Moreover, it will continue falling in the next years, implying that solar PV panels have a bright future regarding economic viability and environmental sustainability. Get a solar panel quote today.

                • Photovoltaic panels directly generate power through the photoelectric phenomenon.

                • PV panel operating and maintenance expenses are regarded as inexpensive and negligible when compared to the prices of other renewable energy systems.

                • PV panels, except sun-tracking mechanical bases, have no mechanically moving parts; as a result, they have significantly fewer breakages and require far less maintenance than other renewable energy systems (e.g., wind turbines)

                • PV panels are completely silent, emitting no noise; as a result, they are an ideal choice for urban and residential applications.

                • Because solar energy coincides with cooling energy needs, PV panels can supply a useful solution to energy requirement peaks, particularly during the hot summer months when energy demand is high.

                • The prices of solar energy panels have dropped dramatically in recent years and continue to fall.

                • Solar photovoltaic panels are one of the main renewable energy methods promoted through government subsidy funding (tax credits, FITs, etc.)

                • Residential solar panels are simple to install on rooftops or the ground without disrupting daily living.


              Disadvantages of Solar PV – in a nutshell


                  • Solar energy, like all renewable energy sources, has intermittent concerns; it may not shine at night and may be cloudy or rainy during the day.

                  • As a result of the intermittent and unpredictable nature of solar energy, solar energy panels are a less reliable choice.

                  • To be used on the power grid, solar energy panels require extra equipment (inverters) to convert the direct current (DC) to alternating electricity (AC).

                  • Photovoltaic panels require inverters and storage batteries for a continuous supply of electric power, especially for on-grid connections, significantly increasing the investment cost for PV panels.

                  • For land-mounted PV panel installations, generally, large areas are required for deployment; often, land space is committed for this purpose for 15-20 years – or even longer.

                  • Solar panel efficiency levels are lower than other renewable energy sources (between 14% and 25%).

                  • Though PV panels have no significant maintenance or running costs, they are delicate and can be damaged very easily; so, additional insurance fees are critical to protecting a PV investment.


                Solar Power Summary

                Solar thermal and solar PV technology are excellent kinds of green energy that can supply you with an ecologically friendly alternative.

                Of course, choosing between the two solar panel installations can be a challenging task. Solar PV is the newer of the two, but it is expected to be quite successful in the future. It is the ideal answer for your electrical energy consumption and to help reduce the cost of your electricity bills. However, if you want to heat your water, you should invest in solar thermal equipment.

                Another factor to consider is that solar thermal systems, particularly in the UK climate, may not supply all of a property’s hot water needs, particularly during winter. Therefore, a Thermodynamic hot water system is a superior investment if you want to generate all your hot water needs using a solar-assisted heat pump.

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                Oliver Creevy
                Ollie Creevy has over three years of expertise in the home improvements and solar panels sectors by writing content across multiple websites. He is highly knowledgeable about the latest trends, technologies and practices in this industry, and is passionate about sharing his insights with others. Ollie's writing has been featured in numerous publications, including MSN, Bustle, and

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