When you decide to go solar, there are two types of direct solar energy types that you’ll find: thermal solar, also called hot water solar, and photovoltaic or PV solar. Both solar technologies collect the sun’s rays and convert them into energy that you can use to power your home. But while both rely on the sun for energy, how they create energy differs dramatically. 

Our team at SolarMates discusses the difference so you can decide what’s best for your needs. 

Photovoltaic Solar 

Photovoltaic (PV) energy is the byproduct of the process called the photovoltaic effect in which photons (an elementary particle of light) bounce against a solar panel that is composed of mostly silicon-based semiconductors. When the photons impact the semiconductors, they release electrons. This reaction then generates electricity through exposure to light. 

In PV solar systems, the panel’s semiconductors are shaped into thin layers that produce an electrical current and effectively comprise the core element of the solar cells. Semiconductors capture the electrical current and convert it into energy that your home or business can use.

PV Solar advantages include:

  • Can provide clean energy for 30 years 
  • Incredibly long lifespan
  • Can cover around 60% of your energy needs
  • Very efficient in the summertime
  • They will not freeze in cold temperatures, rather they are more efficient
  • Can cover the needs of high energy users such as dryers, refrigerators, etc. 
  • Federal tax rebates, grants, PACE financing, etc. are available 

Disadvantages of a PV system:

  • Large initial investment 
  • Require a large space for installation 

Learn More > Types of Solar Panels Compared 

Thermal Solar 

Thermal solar power is usually used to heat water and is quite simple. The solar panels on your roof collect sunlight and heat water or other liquid in the tubes inside which is then transported into a cylinder ready for use. A thermal solar system differs from a PV system in that thermal solar power generation works by concentrating the heat absorbed from the sun instead of the light. The heat that is generated drives a heat engine which then turns a generator to create electrical energy.

Thermal solar systems usually work in tandem with a central heating system (gas or fuel) and starts working when the temperature in the water tank falls below a certain value. These systems can produce how water year-round, even in cold climates. 

Alternatively, thermodynamic solar systems can heat water with a built-in compressor which allows you to establish a fossil fuel-independent system. 

Thermal Solar System Components 

These are some of the most important components of the thermal solar system:

Collectors: These capture the sun’s rays and transform them into heat. These special glass pipes are embedded in an insulated container, which helps to prevent heat loss. 

Heat Transfer Fluid: In the glass pipes, there is heat transfer fluid which is either water, ethylene glycol, or a mix of the two. This fluid circulates through the hot water tank and the collector. 

Advantages of thermal solar include: 

  • More space efficient than PV systems
  • Can be up to 70% more efficient than PV systems
  • Less complex than PV systems 
  • Perfect for heating water
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Downsides of thermal solar:

  • Can be less effective in the winter months when sunlight is less strong
  • Less versatile than PV systems
  • Have a shorter lifespan than PV systems
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Advantages of PV and Thermal Solar Together

Many households want their solar panels to also provide them with hot water to bathe with, wash clothing or dishes with, and even heat their pools, so many people are installing both kinds of solar panels. 

Some people decide to install an array of PV solar panels to generate electricity to power their home, and then a couple of thermal solar panels for hot water, allowing them to harness even more energy from the sun for their home’s energy needs. 

There are even new hybrid panels on the market that use both PV and thermal solar within the same unit that will offer homeowners unique ways to meet their energy needs in the future. 

Install PV or Thermal Solar Today

Whether you want to install a Photovoltaic or Thermal solar system, we have the right solutions for your energy needs at SolarMates. Take back your energy independence and give us a call for an energy evaluation and solar consultation today—727-316-6000!