Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic power are similar in that both use the sun as an energy source, and both are renewable. However, there are quite a few differences between them, including price, type of energy output, and the things that energy can be used for in your home.  The table below should give you a good idea of the pros and cons of both types of solar power.

Solar Photovoltaic Solar Thermal
Price of a typical home system $17,394 Varies wildly depending on type chosen, usually a lot lower.
Ease of doing it as a ‘do it yourself’ project Cannot make panels easily, difficult, requires skill with electrical wiring easier and cheaper
Form of energy output electricity heat
Uses to which energy can be put Electricity, heating, transport, other Water or air heating
Nature of associated dangers Electrocution if badly installed or damaged, can be dangerous to fire crews if they aren’t properly trained. Heavy weight of water on roof in many designs, and the usual cautions when dealing with large amounts of hot water
Use in cold climates Yes, energy depends on hours and angle of sunlight Yes, but only certain types
Weight on roof Yes if roof mounted, less than many thermal hot water Yes if roof mounted, not suitable for all roofs
Price per kWh sunny climate 36.36cents/kWh N/A
Price per kWh cloudy climate 79.99cents/kWh N/A

Prices are global average for July 2009 and are US denomination. They exclude rebates your government may give. They assume the system is grid-tied.

The Pros and Cons of Solar Energy: Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Power

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