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Difference Between Photovoltaic and Solar Panels

Solar power is becoming more popular, but many people are still new to it and may not fully understand how it works. When we say solar panels, for instance, we mean solar photovoltaic and solar heating panels. The way they turn sun power into energy is different, though.

In this post, we will discuss the difference between solar photovoltaic panels and solar thermal panels.

An Overview of Photovoltaic Panels and Solar Panels


Both types of panels use roof space to collect sunshine and turn it into electricity for your home.

They work differently from each other.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems work by using light from the sun to make electricity. To make an electric field, they use two layers of a semiconductor material, usually silicon. Sunshine hitting these layers creates a small voltage.

On the other hand, a solar thermal panel, also called a solar collector, turns light into heat. When exposed to sunlight, the tubes within these panels fill with a fluid that warms up. The liquid is usually glycol mixed with antifreeze. The heat then moves to a copper coil, which warms up your hot water tank.

Solar Thermal Collectors:

Both systems use the sun’s thermal energy for different reasons, so the similarities end here. Photovoltaic panels turn thermal energy into electricity, and solar panels turn heat into electricity. Consequently, these methods are separate from one another. Instead, they can assist each other in improving.

Photovoltaic Panels vs. Solar Panels

When discussing home solar panels, one of the main concerns for households is how efficient the system is.

After all, you want a solar system that can produce electricity that will have enough energy for your needs.

Photovoltaic Panels Efficiency

Solar PV panels typically have an efficiency of only 15 to 20%. Because of this, you’ll need more of these panels to capture and convert sunlight directly into electricity effectively.

These panels consist of multiple solar cells that contain two layers of semiconducting material, usually silicon. When sunlight hits a photovoltaic cell, it creates an electric field through the photovoltaic effect.

An inverter changes the dc electricity to ac electricity for household appliances.

Three main types of solar PV panels exist:

  1. Monocrystalline
  2. Polycrystalline
  3. Thin film solar cells

These panels vary in price, efficiency, and flexibility.

Solar Panels Efficiency

Solar thermal panels boast an impressive efficiency rate of 70%. This means you’ll need less space and fewer thermal panels.

A solar thermal collector contains tubes filled with glycol and antifreeze aligned next to each other. When the liquid heats, it transfers to a copper coil that warms the hot water tank or cylinder.

Low and medium-temperature collectors use flat panels or tubes. High-temperature collectors can be concentrated systems such as solar towers and Fresnel reflectors.

A heat pump moves the liquid through the system to prevent it from cooling the water in the tank on cold days.

How Do Solar Thermal Collectors Work?

Solar thermal collectors take in the solar radiation that reaches the absorber. This energy transfers to a medium, usually water and glycol. 

The medium subsequently conveys heat to the exchanger through hot water. Like photovoltaic systems, commonly used solar panels function optimally when oriented towards the south. However, there’s a notable difference: solar thermal collectors have notable limitations since they exclusively operate in sunny conditions. Consequently, this results in significant heat losses during cold and cloudy days.

Types Of Solar Collectors

Currently, two types of solar thermal collectors exist: flat and vacuum.

Flat Solar Thermal Collectors

The design of flat photovoltaic collectors resembles PV panels in an external appearance. These collectors feature a solar energy absorber designed as a flat metal plate.

Below, it connects to a system of pipes that allow the heating medium to flow. Insulation, like mineral wool, keeps water in a storage tank warm. It helps the system work well. It keeps heat in and helps everything work efficiently.

Vacuum Solar Thermal Collectors

Conversely, vacuum collectors adopt a different approach. In these collectors, the absorber is not a single unit. It comprises separate parts positioned in various vacuum tubes. 

One manifold connects each tube, which lets the heating medium run through them. This makes it easier for the heat from the sun to reach the water in the heat exchanger.

What Are Photovoltaic Panels Types?

This particular panel type consists of polycrystalline silicon formed from a combination of numerous mono-crystals. Sporting a light blue tint and discernible crystal edges, these panels present square-shaped cells. While polycrystalline photovoltaic panels are less efficient and more susceptible to elevated temperatures, they remain popular due to their lower cost than monocrystalline modules.

When analyzing the composition of solar panels, it’s crucial to recognize the role of silicon. The precursor for producing pure silicon is silicon tetrachloride, making it a pivotal component in the photovoltaic industry.

Within the product spectrum of the PCC Group, offerings encompass both silicon tetrachloride and ultra-pure silicon tetrachloride. The latter, boasting a declared purity of 99.9999%, has gained particular prominence. This heightened purity ensures the synthesis of silicon of even superior quality.

Despite its theoretical complexities, the photovoltaic system’s functioning is relatively straightforward. A photovoltaic panel comprises a cell, frame, specialized glass, and film. Thus, the design of photovoltaic panels is relatively uncomplicated.

Pros and cons

When comparing solar panels and photovoltaics, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons of each technology. Photovoltaic systems offer more versatility than solar thermal collectors. They heat water and provide free solar-generated electricity to electrical devices.

Advantages of Photovoltaic Systems

  • Year-round operation.
  • Facilitation of energy independence.
  • Minimal complex maintenance requirements.
  • Eligibility for subsidies.
  • Utilization of eco-friendly, renewable energy.
  • Potential for reducing electricity expenses.
  • Disadvantages of Photovoltaics
  • System performance is contingent on solar insolation.
  • Initial investment costs can be high.
  • Electricity generation only occurs during daylight hours.
  • The necessity to allocate a dedicated installation space.
  • Legal regulations influence profitability.

Strengths of Solar Thermal Collectors

  • It is capable of producing hot water without activating the heating system.
  • Integration with central heating systems.
  • Energy-efficient operation.
  • Maintenance-free and user-friendly experience.

Weaknesses of Solar Thermal Collectors

  • Predominantly suited for domestic hot water heating.
  • Heat generation is limited to sunny days.
  • Substantial initial investment costs.
  • Risk of panel stagnation or leakage in cases of inadequate hot water usage.

Purchase and Operating Costs

Operating costs are crucial when evaluating photovoltaic panels versus solar thermal collectors. While both systems require an initial investment, solar panels generally entail lower expenses than photovoltaics. The ultimate investment cost depends on cell type, quantity, system capacity, and thermal collector capacity. Flat collectors are more cost-effective than vacuum collectors, and polycrystalline panels are cheaper than monocrystalline cells.

While both systems are virtually maintenance-free, operating costs encompass yearly inspections, maintenance, and potential cell or battery replacements. Economically, the payback period holds significance. Solar panels and photovoltaics can take a while to pay for themselves, depending on the system and financial assistance.

Who Should Choose a thermal solar panel?

Consider Solar Thermal Collectors if:

  • Your primary goal is to heat domestic hot water.
  • You seek a solution that complements your heating system’s operation.
  • You intend to integrate the solar setup with a heat pump or condensation boiler.

opt for Photovoltaic Systems if:

  • Your priority is achieving grid electricity independence.
  • You aim to reduce electricity expenses.
  • You’re seeking an eco-friendly, versatile, renewable energy source for various purposes.

Consider investing in solar thermal collectors to enhance hot water systems and heating. Consider getting a solar PV system for your home to have your energy source. It can help you save money on electricity and use renewable energy.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between solar and photovoltaic panels depends on the homeowner’s needs. Carefully considering how to use the solar system and conducting a cost-benefit assessment is crucial.

Installing solar thermal collectors allows hot water production during the summer without relying on heating equipment. A home solar system gives electricity all year and can store extra energy in the grid. Whatever option you choose, it’s essential to make a well-thought-out decision.


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Solar Earth Inc., with expertise and certifications, empowers your home for enhanced energy generation. Contact us today to transform your home into a sustainable, long-term renewable energy source.


Which Is Better Photovoltaic Cells or Solar Panels?

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, including cost, efficiency, and location. If cost is the primary consideration, then solar panels are the better option. If efficiency is the primary concern, then photovoltaic cells are the better choice. And if location is the primary factor, then both photovoltaic cells and solar panels can be used effectively.

How To Choose The Best Type Of Solar Energy System For Your Home.

Now that you know the basics of how photovoltaic cells and solar panels work, you may be wondering which type of solar energy system is right for your home. The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, including cost, efficiency, and location. If cost is the primary consideration, then solar panels are the better option. If efficiency is the primary concern, then photovoltaic cells are the better choice. And if location is the primary factor, then both photovoltaic cells and solar panels can be used effectively.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

The cost of solar panels has fallen sharply in recent years, making them a more affordable option for homeowners and businesses. The average cost of solar panels is now around $3 per watt, making the payback period for a typical installation just four to six years. In some cases, the payback period can be as short as two years.

Despite the falling costs, solar panels are still a significant investment. The cost of a typical installation will range from $15,000 to $30,000. In some cases, the cost can be as high as $50,000. However, the federal government offers a tax credit of 30% for solar panel installations, which can reduce the cost by thousands of dollars.

How Do I Get Started With Solar Energy?

If you’re interested in installing solar panels on your home or business, the first step is to find a reputable installer in your area. You can use the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Finder tool to find installers in your area. Once you’ve found a few potential installers, be sure to get multiple quotes and compare prices.

You should also check with your local utility company to see if there are any solar rebate programs available. Solar rebates can reduce the cost of installation by thousands of dollars.

If you’re not ready to install solar panels, you can still support the use of solar energy by purchasing green power from your utility company. “Green power” is electricity that is generated from renewable resources like solar, wind, or hydropower. By purchasing green power, you can help to support the growth of renewable energy sources and reduce your carbon footprint.