What is The Difference Between Solar Pv and Solar Thermal?

The end product is the primary difference between these two technologies. Photovoltaic creates electricity while thermal solar power produces heat. Both require panels to collect energy from the sun. One form of panel converts that energy to voltage and the other to thermal units. Thermal panels are larger than PV and tend to produce more energy.

What is Photovoltaic Solar?

Photovoltaic, or PV, technology converts power from the sun into electricity. This is what most visualizes when they think of solar power. The concept was first developed in the late 1800s, and designers have been refining the process ever since. PV relies on semiconducting material to create the photoelectric effect that occurs when sunlight hits metal.

Application of PV Solar

Generating Electricity Running water pumps, appliances, industrial equipment Lighting, traffic lights, road maintenance signs Remote locations where electricity not available (Cabins)Recreational Vehicle (RV)Electrical back-up in emergency cases. Also used in Telecommunication systems


  • Main Source of Energy for all appliances Long life Sturdy, and do not break easily. Good choice for RVs.Weather resistance Low profile Evolving technology offers new features
  • More government initiatives
  • Could be saved for future use
  • Excessive power could be sold to local utility providers
  • Utility savings are attractive Can be tilted automatically to follow sun


  • Expensive and complex
  • Requires knowledge of electricity and trade certificate
  • Roof appearance is affected
  • Large area (usually roof) is needed
  • Obstacles, neighbor building, North/South
  • Orientation Clear sky in winter time reduces the efficiency
  • Do-It-Yourself needs mechanical, electrical, and electronic skills
  • Local regulation (City Hall) license and By-laws
  • Hot environment reduces the efficiency by some degree

What is Solar Thermal?

Solar thermal is a newer technology most often associated with hot water and swimming pool maintenance. Thermal takes solar energy and creates heat. There are many types of solar thermal designs. One collects and stores energy from the sun. Instead of constantly moving air throughout a home, thermal systems pull in air from the outside and uses solar power to heat it. For hot water systems, the design features a solar collector that heats fluid.

Application of Solar Thermal

Heating up the Hot Water Tank, Pool heating, Industrial processing factories, Hot water for remote areas (Cabins)


  • Easy concept and technology (Comparing with electrical devices)
  • Still reasonably functional in cold weather with clear sky
  • Can be installed on balcony or back yard
  • The more household members, the more economically beneficial
  • Hot environment increases the efficiency


  • Less expensive than Photovoltaic systems
  • Heat energy can’t be reserved for a long period of time
  • Can’t be sold back to utility companies
  • Do-It-Yourself needs mechanical and plumbing skills
  • Not easy to automate sun tracking
  • Underground plumbing and insulation
  • Heavier than PV (Roof load consideration) Local regulation (City Hall) license and By-laws

Should You Get Thermal or Photovoltaic Solar Panels?

You’ve made the big decision to go solar, and you’ve looked up all the information regarding grants and so on. Now it is time to figure out which type of is right for your home. Solar technology comes two main formats – photovoltaic and thermal. Each has a role to play in a green home. Picking apart the mystery of solar will guide you in creating an eco-friendly environment.

Which Technology is Right For Me?

There is no way to know which of these two innovative forms of energy are right for your home. It depends on what you need to accomplish with the solar panels. The right answer might be both. Many home designs include both forms of energy collection. You could use just one to provide for most of your energy needs, but it may not be the most efficient way to go.

When it comes to heating hot water, thermal wins out. You can also use solar thermal panels for heating your home and cooking. PV is the best option for creating electricity to run lights. There are even hybrid panels available that combine the two.

For sheer practicality, thermal collectors are larger – 40 sq. ft vs. 15 for PV. This means you will get more energy from a thermal system. Thermal works more efficiently, converting as much as 50 percent of what it collects to energy. PV gets around 15 percent. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need all the energy.

A contractor who specializes in solar energy can provide an assessment of your property and current system to determine which format is right for you. The important thing is now is the time to make the change to solar. Between the environment concerns and the dwindling fossil fuel sources, going green will save you money on monthly bills and increase the value of your home.

1 thought on “What is The Difference Between Solar Pv and Solar Thermal?”

  1. This is a great article. All the information on solar PV vs. solar thermal was a little confusing and even though they seem to have very different advantages, you did a great job and explaining. Hybrid solar panels sounds like a great option, I’ll have to look more into it. Thanks for sharing!


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