With the rising demand for a cleaner and environment-friendly lifestyle, renewable energy sources are becoming more important every day. As a result, solar energy is getting a lot of popularity.

On top of that, the UK’s latest Green Homes Grant scheme has put some new light into the discussion. The Green Grant scheme mentions the solar thermal panels, which made it obvious to discuss the distinction between solar panels.

Both solar photovoltaic or solar PV systems and solar thermal panels are able to convert the sun rays into electricity and heat you can use. The principle behind both types of solar panels is the same. However, there are differences.

Despite being two completely different types of renewable energy, they are both derived from the sun. Therefore, they are both in some ways similar too and are extremely reliable. The two types of solar panels make use of different technologies to produce energy, so it is wise to understand the differences.

What Are Solar PV?

When you discuss clean, cheap, and most resourceful energy sources in the world, solar power will be mentioned. The solar energy obtained from the sun via heat and light is converted into electrical and thermal power.

In an ideal situation, solar energy conversion happens either via photovoltaic panels or mirrors that concentrate the solar radiation.

What Is the Difference Between Solar Energy And Solar Thermal Energy?

When the solar rays fall upon the surface of the earth, it creates direct solar power. Now, there are two methods of utilising this solar energy.

Apart from the ability to utilise solar energy, there is not much similarity between the two. In fact, they may even seem to have similar appearances, but their functions are as different as it gets. In simple terms, solar panels generate electricity whilst solar thermal technology creates heat. To understand their differences, let’s know about them briefly.

What Are Solar PV Panels?

One of the systems commonly found on top of solar farms is Solar PV. The technology obtains energy from the sun using photovoltaic cells (PV). The best part about these cells is that they do not even require direct sunlight to function properly.

Roof Solar PanelsTherefore, even under low light conditions, these panels are able to generate substantial power. That means you do not have to worry about cloudy or winter days. The PV cells can convert the sunlight into electricity after obtaining it.

This is the energy that is used to run various household appliances and in lighting. They help bring your energy bills down and reduce your carbon footprint. There is no noise either while generating the power. Moreover, with the UK government’s Renewable Heat Incentive schemes, you can earn money for generating electricity using this method.

There are three types of solar panels out there:

  • Monocrystalline panels
  • Polycrystalline panels
  • Thin-film solar cells

Among these, the monocrystalline panels are the most efficient and expensive ones, while the thin-film solar cells are the least efficient and cheapest.

The Advantages of PV Solar Panels

Solar PV panels may have a higher capital cost compared to solar thermal energy. However, the Feed-in-Tariffs provided by the government offsets this to some extent. In fact, this makes installing these panels a good investment too.


Now, despite the initial high capital cost, solar PV panels can save you the consumption of fossil fuels. This can bring your energy cost down by 70%. Moreover, solar energy itself is a free and renewable energy source. The most interesting part is that installing solar PV panels increases the resale value of your home.


There is no need for too much maintenance as the solar panels can sustain for a very long time. If you compare solar thermal panels, the longevity of the solar PV panels is definitely higher. On average, you can expect a solar PV system to last for up to four decades.

Energy Dependence

Once you install solar PV panels, you will become a lot less dependent on the National Grid for the supply of power. That also means that you will no longer be affected by local power outages or operational errors. This system is useful in producing excess electricity.


Solar Photovoltaic technology not only generates cleaner and greener electricity but it also has various other applications. You can even heat water and charge your RV using these panels.

The Disadvantages of Solar PV panels

Higher Capital Cost

The initial cost of installing a solar system is pretty high. Despite the financial return on investment, this cannot be ignored.


Although most properties are suitable for installing solar PV, there are some factors to keep in mind. Location and availability of ample sunlight are essential for energy production.

Long-term investment

The return on investment on a solar PV panel may take around seven to 20 years. The highly expensive installation, therefore, will take some time to compensate. So, it is only suitable for people with permanent residences.

What Is a Solar Thermal System?

Solar ThermalThe solar thermal power system is also known as a solar collector. Solar Thermal Panels follow the solar thermal heating method when capturing solar energy. Energy obtained in this method can be used to heat water. It is a hugely beneficial way of fulfilling the hot water need at home.

There is not much installation cost involved either. In fact, it costs about the same as it costs installing the PV solar systems. The best part is that you can enjoy hot water all year round with this system installed as the system is fully automated.

Like the solar PV panels, the solar thermal system is also mounted on the roof space. This is done to give them the highest level of sun exposure. Once the sun heats up the device, the liquid inside the tubes warms up. Usually, glycol is used with antifreeze.

This liquid is then transported into the water tank. The installation and functionality are simple and yet highly efficient. Moreover, solar thermal panels are fully compatible with your existing water-heating systems, like boilers and immersion heaters.

The Advantages of Solar Thermal Panels

Solar Savings

Solar thermal panels save you a lot of money on your energy costs. You can enjoy a free, clean and renewable energy source that will cover all your heating



These panels are more efficient than PV panels because heatwaves can carry more energy than sunlight. In fact, these panels tend to be 70% more efficient in collecting sunlight than a solar PV system.

Shorter Payback

The installation is cheaper and provides a shorter payback compared to solar PV panels.

The Disadvantages of Solar Thermal Panels

Initial cost

Whenever you install any solar system, the initial cost will be high. However, you can expect a return on that within a year.

Limited storage

The solar energy collected by PV panels can be stored in batteries. However, this is more difficult for thermal panels since storing hot water longer without any loss of heat is tricky. So, you need to be more mindful when using the water.


Despite its higher efficiency, it is not as effective during winter days. Since the heat from the sun is not sufficient during this time, it makes the device less versatile than PV panels.

Shorter lifespan

When you rely solely on green energy to warm your water, it becomes inconsistent due to various climate conditions.

The Final Verdict: Which One Is Better?

Now, both solar thermal and solar PV panels are good examples of clean, green energy. The solar technology and solar thermal technology has few similarities and many differences. However, making a choice between the two can be difficult.

Since solar PV technology is a relatively new one compared to solar thermal panels, it also has a lot to offer in the future. Solar thermal may be less space-consuming, more efficient, and cheaper than PV panels.

Despite these, solar PV panels come with a better scope of technological development. Moreover, it is the perfect solution to fulfil all of your needs, while providing excess electricity. In a cold UK climate, solar thermal systems may not be able to produce the amount of heat needed.

Therefore, you can use a solar-powered heat pump instead to fulfil your hot water needs. Coupling the PV panels with an immersion diverter acts similar to a solar thermal panel. Plus, this is a more cost-effective and low-maintenance solution.