What is the Difference between Solar Thermal and Solar PV?

Applications of Solar Energy can be broadly classified into two: Solar Thermal and Solar PV (Photovoltaics).

Let’s compare the two technologies in order to get a better understanding of how different they are from one another.

Comparison Parameter Solar Thermal Solar PV

What is the principle behind the technology?

  • Converts solar energy into heat.
  • Directly converts solar energy into electricity.
What is the process involved?
  • Solar thermal systems usually come with collectors that face the sun and absorb heat. This heat is then transferred to either water or another heating fluid.
  • Solar PV consists of arrays of cells made of semiconductor materials that are designed to convert sunlight into electricity.
What is the application of the technology?
  • Solar thermal systems are most commonly used for direct heating applications. Solar water heater is the most common application of solar thermal systems.
  •  These systems can also be used for power generation where a heated fluid is used to drive a generator to deliver electricity.
  • Solar PV systems are used for power generation as an alternative source of energy.
What is the efficiency of the technology?
  • Solar thermal systems convert sunlight to heat energy with efficiency between 70-90%, depending on the type of system chosen.
  • Solar PV systems convert sunlight to electricity typically within an efficiency rate of 15-21%, though these numbers are expected to rise to some extent with advances in technology.

To summarise, we can say that solar thermal and solar PV are different technologies. Solar thermal systems are a good solution for water heating, and other direct industrial heating applications. Compared to solar thermal, solar PV systems are a relatively new technology and are beginning to be seen as a good alternative for electricity generation in many regions worldwide.

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