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What is Difference Between Photovoltaic vs Solar Panels?

Are you considering adding solar panels to your home? If so, you might wonder which is the best option between, photovoltaic vs solar panels .In this guide, we’ll compare and contrast these two options so that you can make the best decision for your needs. Keep in mind that there are pros and cons to both photovoltaic cells and solar panels, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each before making a decision.

At Solar Earth Inc, we believe that informed decisions lead to better outcomes. That’s why we want to help you understand the differences between photovoltaic vs solar panels, and which one may be more suitable for your needs. Let’s dive into the details.


Difference Between Photovoltaic vs Solar Panels?

However, the resemblances conclude at this point, as solar thermal energy serves distinct intentions within the two systems. Photovoltaic panels’ purpose is to transmit thermal energy into electricity, whereas solar panels alter solar radiation into heat. Due to this distinction, these approaches do not vie against each other; rather, they possess the potential to enhance one another mutually.

How Do Solar Thermal Collectors Work?

You are already familiar with the distinction between photovoltaics vs solar panels. Now, let’s delve into the design aspects of these two systems. Solar thermal collectors take in the solar radiation that reaches the absorber. This energy is transferred to a medium, typically a mixture of 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 Collector

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

Flat Solar Thermal Collectors


The design of flat photovoltaic collectors bears a resemblance to PV panels in terms of external appearance. These collectors feature a solar energy absorber designed as a flat metal plate. Underneath, it is linked to a network of pipes through which the heating medium flows, subsequently warming the hot water stored in a tank. The pivotal factor for the efficient functioning of the entire system is the presence of adequate thermal insulation, typically constructed using mineral wool.

Vacuum Solar Thermal Collectors


Conversely, vacuum collectors adopt a different approach. The absorber in these collectors is not a unified unit; instead, it’s divided into components situated within distinct vacuum tubes. Each tube is connected to a manifold through which the heating medium circulates, facilitating the transfer of solar-generated heat to the water stored in the heat exchanger.

PV Panels vs Solar Panels

To comprehensively grasp the distinction between PV panels vs solar panels, it’s essential to delve into the operational principles of the PV system. Solar panels, crafted using silicon, possess the capacity to capture solar energy and subsequently transform it into electricity. 

This harnessed energy finds utility in a wide spectrum of applications, spanning household, office, industrial, and agricultural systems and equipment. Notably, the scope of application for photovoltaics surpasses that of solar thermal collectors, which primarily serve the purpose of generating domestic hot water.

The parameters of the electricity generated by the panels undergo adjustment through the involvement of an essential component known as the inverter. The inverter undertakes the conversion of direct current into alternating current, the type of current compatible with household system outlets. Crucially, the photovoltaic system remains operational not solely on sunny days, but throughout the year, even during periods of reduced insolation. 

Excess energy generated during the summer months can be channeled by the prosumer back to the power company, effectively replenishing some of the stored reserves for use during the less productive fall and winter months. This practice significantly contributes to minimizing electricity expenses.

What Are Photovoltaic Panels Types?

When posed with the query of “solar panels or photovoltaics,” it’s prudent to direct attention, similar to the approach with solar thermal collectors, towards the available types of PV modules in the market. These modules can be categorized into monocrystalline and polycrystalline variants.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels


As the name implies, these panels are crafted from monocrystalline silicon, exhibiting hues that range from dark blue to black. Created through the precision cutting of silicon crystals, they showcase distinctive bevelled corners. Their notable characteristics encompass resilience against mechanical stresses, extreme temperatures, and high efficiency.

Polycrystalline PV Solar Panels


This particular panel type is composed of polycrystalline silicon formed from an amalgamation 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.

In examining the structure of photovoltaic panels, it’s imperative to acknowledge the use 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 juxtaposing technologies such as solar panels and photovoltaics, it’s prudent to assess the merits and drawbacks of each solution. As you are aware, solar thermal collectors lack the versatility of photovoltaic systems, which heat water and furnish various electrical devices with free solar-generated electricity.

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 is confined to daylight hours.
  • The necessity to allocate a dedicated installation space.
  • Legal regulations influence profitability.

Strengths of Solar Thermal Collectors

  • Capability to produce 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 become a crucial consideration 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. Depending on the system type and external subsidy support, the return on investment for solar panels and photovoltaics can span several to several dozen years.

How to Choose Photovoltaic Vs Solar Panels ?

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.

Investing in solar thermal collectors could be favourable if you focus on enhancing hot water systems and supporting heating mechanisms. Conversely, if you aim to gain energy autonomy, trim electricity costs, and embrace an adaptable renewable energy solution, a residential photovoltaic system might be the better choice.

How Do I Get Started With Solar Energy?

While PV panels and solar panels share the same source of energy, there are several differences between them that affect their performance, efficiency, and cost.



PV panels use a direct conversion process that converts photons into electrons through the photovoltaic effect. Solar panels, on the other hand, use various methods to capture and convert the sun’s energy, such as:

Concentrated solar power (CSP) that uses mirrors or lenses to focus the sun’s rays onto a small area, which heats a fluid that drives a turbine and generates electricity. Solar water heating (SWH) that uses a solar collector to heat water for domestic or industrial use. Passive solar heating (PSH) that uses building design and orientation to capture and store solar energy for heating or cooling.



PV panels are more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than solar panels, especially in direct sunlight. However, their efficiency decreases in low light or high temperatures. Solar panels may have lower efficiency but can still generate energy in diffuse light or at different angles.



PV panels are more expensive to produce than solar panels, but their prices have decreased significantly over the years due to technological advancements and economies of scale. Solar panels are generally cheaper than PV panels but may require additional components, such as storage systems, to store or distribute energy.



PV panels are typically used for grid-tied or off-grid power generation, where the electricity is either fed back to the grid or stored in batteries. Solar panels are more versatile and can be used for various purposes, such as heating, cooling, lighting, or transportation.

Solar Photovoltaic Installers

A solar photovoltaic (PV) installer is a professional who installs PV systems on homes and businesses. Solar PV installers typically have experience in the electrical trade and may also have training in solar energy. In some cases, solar PV installers are also certified electricians. Solar Earth INC is the best solar photovoltaic installers company in Santa Barbara, CA for solar panel installation services. 

Photovoltaic Shingles Vs Solar Panels

Solar shingles are solar photovoltaic (PV) cells that can be used to generate electricity for your home or business. Solar shingles are usually made of thin-film PV materials, which are less expensive and more flexible than traditional solar panels.

Solar shingles are an increasingly popular choice for homeowners and businesses looking to go solar because they offer several benefits over traditional solar panels. Shingles are less intrusive than solar panels, and they can be integrated into the design of your roof for a more aesthetically pleasing look. Solar shingles are also less expensive to install than solar panels, offering a longer lifespan and better durability.

Difference Between Photovoltaic Shingles Vs Solar Panels

Photovoltaic shingles are a type of solar cell that is designed to look like ordinary roofing shingles, on other hand solar panels are large, flat panels that are usually mounted on the roof of a home or business. Photovoltaic shingles are more expensive than solar panels, but they are also more aesthetically pleasing. Solar panels are more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, but they are not as easy to install as photovoltaic shingles. Solar shingles may be the right choice if you’re considering going solar.


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.

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.

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.

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.


PV panels and solar panels have different technologies, efficiencies, costs, and applications that make them suitable for different purposes. If you want to generate electricity for your home or business, PV panels may be a better choice, while if you want to heat your water or air, solar panels may be more suitable. It’s important to consult with a professional installer or consultant to determine the best option for your specific needs and budget.

Contact us today to learn more about solar panels

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