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An In-Depth Guide to What Is Solar Thermal Energy

An In-Depth Guide to What Is Solar Thermal Energy

Have you heard of solar thermal energy? Unlike photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight directly into electricity, solar thermal systems capture and transfer heat for practical uses such as water heating, industrial processes, and space heating. In this blog, we will explore how solar thermal energy systems work, their key differences from photovoltaic systems, and provide insights on planning and installation. Read on to learn more!

What Is Solar Thermal Energy?

Solar thermal energy is from sunlight. It produces heat by harnessing the sun's rays, which can be utilized for various applications such as water heating, space heating, and even electricity generation through steam turbines. By capturing the sun's heat using mirrors or solar collectors, this renewable energy source offers an efficient way to meet heating demands with minimal environmental impact. Solar thermal systems are distinct from photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, making them a versatile component of sustainable energy solutions.

How Does a Solar Thermal Energy System Work?

Before learning how a solar thermal energy system works, it’s necessary to understand what is a solar thermal system. Solar thermal systems typically include solar collectors, heat transfer, and storage units. The solar collectors, often installed on rooftops or open land, capture sunlight and convert it into heat. This heat is transferred to a fluid, which then circulates through a system of pipes.

So How does this system work? As the fluid absorbs heat, it can be used in several ways. For domestic hot water systems, the heated fluid transfers its energy to water in a storage tank, providing hot water for household use. In space heating applications, the heat can be distributed through radiators or underfloor heating systems. For electricity generation, the heated fluid drives a turbine connected to a generator.

In solar thermal power plants, the system scales up significantly. Large arrays of mirrors or lenses focus sunlight onto a central receiver. This receiver heats a fluid to high temperatures, generating steam to drive turbines. These power plants can store excess heat in thermal storage units, allowing for electricity generation even when the sun is not shining.

What Are the Key Differences between Solar Thermal Energy System and Photovoltaic Systems?

While both solar thermal and photovoltaic systems like a balcony power plant harness the sun's energy, they do so in fundamentally different ways. Solar thermal systems excel in applications requiring heat, while photovoltaic systems are ideal for electricity generation. Here’s a comparative look:


Solar Thermal Systems

Photovoltaic Systems

Energy Conversion

Converts sunlight into heat

Converts sunlight directly into electricity

Main Components

Solar collectors, heat transfer system, storage unit

Solar panels, inverters, battery storage (optional)


Heating water, space heating, electricity generation

Electricity generation


Generally higher efficiency for heating applications

Lower efficiency compared to thermal systems for heating


Thermal energy storage (e.g., molten salts)

Battery storage systems


Varies based on system size and application

Generally decreasing costs for solar panels and batteries

How to Plan and Install a Solar Thermal Energy System?

Wondering what is solar thermal energy installation process looks like? Installing a solar thermal energy system requires careful planning and execution. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help homeowners get started:

  1. Assess Your Energy Needs

Begin by evaluating your household's energy requirements. Determine the hot water and heating needed, and consider potential future demands.

  1. Site Evaluation

Evaluate your property to identify the best location for solar collectors. Ideally, the site should have maximum exposure to sunlight, free from shading by trees or buildings.

  1. Choose the Right System

Select a solar thermal system that meets your energy needs. Systems vary in size and complexity, so choosing one that suits your household’s requirements is important.

  1. Obtain Permits and Approvals

Check with local authorities for any required permits or approvals. Compliance with building codes and regulations is necessary before installation.

  1. Professional Installation

Hire a qualified installer to set up the system. Professional installation ensures that the system operates efficiently and safely.

  1. Connect to Existing Systems

Integrate the solar thermal system with your existing heating or hot water systems. This may involve modifying plumbing or installing additional equipment.

  1. Monitor and Maintain

Regularly monitor the system’s performance and schedule routine maintenance. Keeping the system in good condition ensures long-term efficiency and reliability.

The Economic and Environmental Benefits of Solar Thermal Energy

Solar thermal energy represents a compelling alternative to traditional energy sources. By investing in this technology, homeowners can enjoy numerous economic and environmental benefits while contributing to a sustainable future, such as:

  • Cost Savings. Solar thermal systems can significantly reduce energy bills by providing a free and abundant energy source. Over time, the initial investment pays off through lower heating costs.
  • Energy Independence. By using solar thermal energy, homeowners can decrease their dependence on fossil fuels and the fluctuating prices of conventional energy sources.
  • Reduced Carbon Footprint. Solar thermal systems produce minimal greenhouse gas emissions, creating a cleaner and healthier environment.Just like what a solar photovoltaic system such as Anker SOLIX balcony power plant
  • Low Maintenance. Solar thermal systems require relatively low maintenance. Once installed, they can operate efficiently for many years with minimal upkeep.
  • Increased Property Value. Homes equipped with solar thermal systems often increase in value. Potential buyers recognize the long-term cost savings and environmental benefits.


Now you must have had a better understanding about what is solar thermal energy. From efficient heating and reduced energy bills to environmental sustainability, solar thermal energy offers a practical and eco-friendly solution. You can contribute to a greener future by harnessing the sun's heat while enjoying reliable and cost-effective energy. Explore solar thermal systems today and transform your home's energy landscape.


Where Is Solar Thermal Energy Used?

Solar thermal energy is used in various residential and industrial applications. In homes, it heats water for domestic use and provides space heating. In industrial settings, it can generate steam for processes like pasteurization and sterilization. Solar thermal plants also generate electricity on a large scale, contributing to the grid.

Is Thermal Energy Better Than Solar Energy?

Each of these types of energy excels in different aspects. Solar energy generally refers to photovoltaic systems that generate electricity, while solar thermal energy produces heat. Each has unique benefits and ideal use cases. Solar thermal energy excels in heating applications, offering high water and space heating efficiency. Photovoltaic systems are better for electricity generation, providing power for various devices and applications.