The words ‘solar panels’ are usually used interchangeably to describe solar PV panels, solar thermal panels, and solar hybrid systems, when, in reality, they are all different things.
If you’re not sure whether you’d be better off getting solar pv panels, solar thermal panels or a solar hybrid solar panel system, here’s a guide with tips from Skylamp Solar on what you need to know about each one.
Solar PV panels
Solar PV panels, often just called solar panels, are arguably the most common type of solar panels. Solar PV panels are a great option for those looking for energy independence and a chance to reduce their carbon footprint.
What are solar PV panels?
Solar PV – solar photovoltaic – panels are renewable energy sources that convert sunlight into electrical energy. They contain photovoltaic cells (solar cells) that work to convert light into a direct current in a process known as the photovoltaic effect.
The photovoltaic cells can do this because they are made of silicon (or a similar semiconductor) that absorbs photon energy from the light. This releases electrons and creates a steady flow of them: an electric current.
This current is a direct current (known as DC), and is then pushed through a solar inverter to convert the current to an alternating current (AC) that can be used by the electric grid and household appliances. DC is not suitable for household use as it generates excess heat.
In some solar PV panel systems, the electrical energy produced can be stored in a battery storage system for later use by the fuse box. In others, excess energy is sent back to the national grid.
What are the advantages of solar pv systems?
There are a number of advantages of installing this kind of solar panel and using it to generate electricity, and they are:
- Solar pv panels can provide an entire house with electricity. They will generate electricity that can be used for household appliances, water heating, and lighting across an entire home.
- Solar pv panels are renewable, meaning they are much better for the planet than using alternative power sources like fossil fuels.
- Solar pv panels allow people to reduce their energy bills by reducing the amount of energy they take from the national grid. In some situations (i.e., if a battery is not installed), people can even make money by selling solar energy back to the electric grid.
What are the disadvantages of solar pv systems?
In addition to their benefits, solar pv cells do have a few disadvantages. They are:
- Solar panels are expensive. They cost a lot to purchase and install. The price depends on the budget you have, which type of photovoltaic panel you opt for, and how many you need. Adding a battery for storage will cost extra.
- Solar panels are not the most stylish addition to a home, and as a result many people choose not to have solar panels installed, despite the benefits they might have.
- Not everyone has the roof space for a solar pv system. You have to have a significant amount of room on your roof, and be sure that you do not want to re-roof or store anything else up there.
Solar thermal panels
Thermal panels are another type of solar panel. They’re just as useful, and can still help households to decrease their carbon footprint. They are, however, distinctly different solar panels to the solar photovoltaic panels.
What are solar thermal panels?
Solar thermal panels also create energy, but instead of using solar energy to generate electricity, they use solar energy to heat a property.
They do this in a similar way to solar photovoltaic panels, but where a standard solar pv panel has semiconductors, solar thermal collectors use a heat transfer fluid to capture energy.
A solar thermal system is a great, efficient and environmentally friendly way to heat your home, as it does not rely on the use of fossil fuels whatsoever.
Typically, a residential solar thermal system will use flat plate collectors that consist of a dark, flat surface in an insulated box. Some solar thermal systems may use an evacuated tube collector instead.
These systems are used most commonly to heat water tanks or to heat buildings through radiant heating. Sometimes, the heat generated can be used to produce steam which when it pushes a turbine can be used to produce electricity.
What are the advantages of solar thermal systems?
There are a few advantages of having a solar thermal system installed in your house, for example:
- Solar thermal systems are incredibly efficient when it comes to heating a home
- Solar thermal panels are a really environmentally friendly way to heat a property
- Solar thermal systems can dramatically reduce your energy bills
What are the disadvantages of solar thermal panels?
There are still some disadvantages of solar thermal systems, however. For example:
- Thermal systems aren’t efficient or ideal for home electricity generation. They are much less efficient than solar photovoltaic cells
- Thermal systems cannot provide radiant heating to many properties, as radiant heating systems must be installed during the construction process
Hybrid solar panels
Hybrid solar panels, sometimes called solar pvt panels, are a combination of solar PV and solar thermal. They feature solar photovoltaic cells and a solar thermal element.
How do hybrid solar panels work?
Hybrid solar panels have solar photovoltaic cells and a solar thermal element within them, meaning that as the sun shines on the solar pvt panels, the heat is absorbed by both.
The heat transfer fluid then heats up, making it useful for heat, and the photovoltaic panel absorbs the photons. An added benefit is that the heat transfer fluid keeps the photovoltaic panels cool, making them more efficient.
What are the advantages of combining solar pv and solar thermal?
Solar panels have advantages and disadvantages, and a hybrid system is no different. The advantages are:
- Hybrid solar panels take up less space on a roof as you have a few hybrid panels instead of two full systems of solar panels
- Hybrid solar panels are efficient, with the heat transfer fluid increasing the efficiency of the photovoltaic elements
- Hybrid panels provide renewable heat and electrical energy
What are the disadvantages of solar pvt panels?
Of course, there are still some downsides to these panels. They are:
- A hybrid solar panel is expensive. They are new, and so the materials are costly.
- Hybrid solar panels can be hard to source