April 1

Solar PV vs Solar Thermal: What’s the Difference?

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There are two main types of solar energy technology today. A Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System, and a Solar Thermal System. While the science and the details may be complicated, the difference between the two is rather simple. A solar PV system is one where the light hits a solar panel and is turned into electricity. On the other hand, a Solar Thermal System absorbs sunlight and uses the energy to heat your office or water.

A PV System creates electricity but is efficient enough that it can create more electricity than needed, such as in the summertime. It is rather common for a PV system, in the right circumstances, to do more than fulfill your electricity needs. In addition to this, it can also possibly become a source of income. This income would come from excess electricity being used elsewhere on the grid.

#DidYouKnow It is rather common for a PV system, in the right circumstances, to not only fulfill your electricity needs but to possibly become a source of income. 

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Both a PV System and a Solar Thermal System benefit the environment and have their specific uses, so which is better? This answer depends on your expenses, location, and of course which system best suits your specific circumstances.

solar panels over grass field

They Come in All Shapes and Sizes

In terms of the amount of space each system can take up, it varies. A Solar PV System could take up to 10m2 of roof space as opposed to just 3m2-4m2 for a Solar Thermal System. This is due to its high efficiency. Solar thermal can turn around 90% of radiation into heat, whereas solar PV has an efficiency of between 15% and 20%. Improvements in solar panel technology are seeing this number consistently increase. It is also notable that a Solar Thermal System takes up some interior space if you were to use it to heat water. A Solar PV System mainly takes up space for the solar panels and hardly any space on the interior. As well, a PV System would merely add some cables and a transformer indoors, which does not require much space.

Solar thermal power is used for heating water, although it can also be used to heat your home. The technology is quite simple. The panels installed on your roof collect sunlight, which heats the liquid in the tubes. This is then transported into a cylinder where it is ready for use.

solar panels over grass field aerial view


While a Solar Thermal System may be more efficient, particularly in heating water, it comes with some hassle. Solar Thermal Systems tend to require more maintenance, have a shorter lifespan, and have more general complications. Think of it this way, a Solar Thermal System is more complex. It absorbs light, turns it into energy, and heats your space or water. Opposed to the PV System, which creates electricity to be used broadly. More parts to a solar thermal system mean more things going on and more potential for issues and expenses.

Naveco offers an innovative solution to this issue. We can provide energy savings at a lower cost while being a “one-stop-shop” for all your solar needs. Naveco manages everything from a needs assessment to operations and maintenance.

Go Solar, At All Costs

The average price for a Solar Thermal System is between $7,000 and $10,000 before incentives. The PV powered heat pump water heater will cost between $1,000 and $2,000 for the heat pump plus labor. If you need an additional solar PV system that’s tied to an existing grid, that’s between $3,500 and $6,000. That brings the total installed cost between $5,000 and $8,500 before incentives.  A heat pump water heater combined with a PV system may be more interesting for some. This can be seen in terms of upfront costs, as well as overall efficiency. One may say it seems to be the best of both worlds.

In conclusion,

A PV System and a Solar Thermal System are both fantastic renewable energy choices that have economic benefits as well. If your heat and water bill is higher in our Canadian winters, then perhaps the solar thermal system is best. However, if you would like to turn your electricity bill into a possible source of income, then perhaps you should choose a solar PV system. Both systems benefit your various utility expenses and will save you money in the long-term. This also begs the question, why not have a combination of the two? This is indeed possible, and certainly covers all of your utility concerns. You can turn the headache that is your utility bill into something you smile looking at each time. This concept may have a hefty up-front cost, but will provide you with long-term savings. Coupling this with the knowledge that you are protecting our environment and future generations, certainly levels out the cost. As well, this turns it into savings and plausibly earnings for you not far down the road.

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