Understanding Solar Thermal Systems

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Photovoltaic Systems Vs. Solar Thermal Systems

When most people think of ways in which the limitless power of the sun can be harnessed to provide eco-friendly power, they think of photovoltaic systems. Active photovoltaic solar panels have become an increasingly common sight on neighborhood rooftops in recent years, due to the rising costs of traditional energy sources, and a gradual but encouraging trend toward reducing one’s carbon footprint.

And, photovoltaic systems have plenty to recommend them. They are much greener than burning coal to produce electricity, and they eventually pay for themselves.

While photovoltaic systems are heating up, strangely enough, solar thermal systems still seem to be flying under the radar. Considering their many advantages, it’s actually quite surprising that environmentally-conscious home and business owners are not installing them in greater numbers. So, what is a solar thermal system? How does it differ from an active, photovoltaic-style solar system? And, what are the advantages of solar thermal systems?

Gathering Steam

Solar thermal systems utilize rooftop solar collectors to absorb the power of the sun. This radiant energy is then used to heat the water contained in a storage tank, which is designed to retain the thermal energy until it is needed. It can later be used to provide hot water and heat the home when needed. In contrast, a photovoltaic system converts the sun’s energy into electricity.

A Money-Saving, Low-Tech Solution

Compared to photovoltaic systems, solar thermal systems pay for themselves relatively quickly. Because they are simpler in construction, they are less costly than a typical photovoltaic solar setup. And, while their use is generally limited to providing hot water and warm indoor temperatures, they can provide substantial energy savings, nonetheless.

Those two items might not sound like much, but they often account for as much as half of a home’s energy consumption. For households or businesses that use a lot of hot water, solar thermal energy is definitely a smart choice.

As Green as the Grass

If you are considering a solar system of any type for your home or business, you’re either thrifty, concerned about the environment, or both. We’ve already established that solar thermal systems can lower energy costs, but what about their environmental impact? How do they measure up?

As it turns out, they’re quite eco-friendly. The operational lifespan of a solar thermal system is figured to be about 35 years. Over that time-period, it is estimated that the average system will reduce C02 emissions by anywhere from 367,500-735,000 lbs. That’s a truly respectable carbon footprint reduction for something that, in the long run, is a relatively minimal investment.

[Photo Via: Aqua Care Solar]

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