What Is A Solar Thermal System

Do you know what a solar thermal system is used for and why you should have one? This article will provide you with the necessary information you need.

In recent years, solar power technology has advanced, with many of these improvements have helped reduce the cost of the equipment needed.

Another method to create hot water for your home is installing a solar thermal system since it doesn’t reduce your environmental impact.

I will explain what it is and how you can use and maintain it to fully understand a solar thermal system.

So, read on as I give you all the information.

Solar Thermal System: A Rundown

Solar Thermal System_ A Rundown

The most obvious image that comes to mind when you think about solar energy is the solar panel, also known as a photovoltaic (PV) system. However, the solar thermal system is not like that.

The solar thermal system uses the 3Cs (concentration, collecting, and conversion) principle to create energy.

Therefore, you can also call it Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), even though it is not the same as a photovoltaic system.

Simply put, a solar thermal system harvests solar energy by concentrating sunlight to generate enough heat to generate electricity.

Unlike PV systems, solar thermal systems use mirrors as reflectors to focus sunlight onto the receiver.

Thermal energy is used to heat a thermodynamic fluid (water) into steam, which is used to power a thermodynamic machine (a steam turbine).

Plus, a thermal energy storage system can be added to a solar thermal system to generate even when there is no sunlight.

How Does Solar Thermal Work?

How Does Solar Thermal Work_

The glass refracts sunlight as it goes through a panel. In addition, it traps and generates heat since it changes the wavelength of light.

The heat is transferred to a hot cylinder via a fluid. Between the panel and the storage cylinder is a closed loop of fluid containing antifreeze, which is usually a 50/50 combination of water and glycol.

This is called an indirect system which means the fluid in the panels never makes it to the taps in the house.

Indirect systems use a twin coil storage cylinder. The cylinder must be larger than a regular cylinder, ranging from 200 and 350 liters.

Lastly, while the sun is shining, a huge cylinder permits the system to store as much heat as possible.

Types Of Solar Thermal Systems

Types Of Solar Thermal Systems

For your residential property, there are two types of solar thermal systems. They are:

The Flat Panel

This is the most popular type of solar thermal system, with an area of around 1m x 2m. You can also call it a collector.

It comes with a series of serpentine and a metal plate on top, in which a highly absorbent blueish substance coats the panel.

Also, it carries the fluid in the pipes to a storage cylinder in the house because the sun heats the metal absorber plate.

In addition, you can place the panels either in a landscape or portrait orientation on a roof.

Evacuated Tube

There are copper tubes within a glass tube. You can form a panel by connecting 10 and 30 of them with a header pipe.

There’s a vacuum in the glass you can use as insulation because evacuated tubes are more efficient than flat panels.

The Components Of A Solar Thermal System

The Components Of A Solar Thermal System

You can mount it on the roof of your property because the collector is the most important part of a solar thermal system.

The collector comes with a coated reinforced glass that can be converted to heat to capture the sun’s radiation.

Also, the pipes will be encased in an insulated container to prevent heat energy from being lost.

The fluid will circulate through the collector and hot water tank since it is an environmentally friendly antifreeze.

In this case, there are two kinds of hot water tanks. You’ll use the first one to heat water since it has a steel tank filled with water and a heat exchanger.

The second tank is a combination that provides both drinking water and hot water for your heating system.

The dual system comes with two smaller tanks that separate the water for various purposes.

As a result, one is for the collectors and the other for the boiler since there are two exchangers.

The upper exchanger would be connected to the boiler, while the lower exchanger would be connected to the solar thermal system.

Additionally, a solar thermal controller can control the entire system through automation.

Finally, the controller activates the pump, which transfers the heated fluid in the collector to the hot water tank when the temperature in the collectors gets to a certain level above the temperature in the storage tank.

Applications For Solar Thermal Systems

Applications For Solar Thermal Systems

Although, you can use this technology in a commercial setting. A suitable application for this technology is in your home, where it will reduce your energy expense.

The facilities with the greatest cost savings will have high energy demands and expensive operating heating systems.

Therefore, integrating a solar thermal system into an existing hot water supply is straightforward.

A solar thermal system will increase efficiency above a typical system and last for over twenty years.

The following are the components of a typical solar water heating system:

By using brackets and frames, you can place solar thermal panels or collectors on your roof or the ground.

A mixture of these two components is water and ethylene glycol (antifreeze) for heat transfer fluid.

This cylinder will replace your old cylinder and give you a backup coil for extra heating water when you need it because it comes with a water cylinder with a coil heat exchanger.

The main electricity powers the pump, but a small photovoltaic cell can also power the heat transfer fluid pump, circulating the panels and cylinder.

Also, flow and return piping are insulated pipes that connect the panels to the water cylinder.

The system control panels supply you with information on the performance of the system and any problem it develops.

You must get a Renewable Heat Incentive payment which measures the system’s output on the heat flow generation meter.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Solar Panel

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Solar Panel

Geographic Location

The location determines the position of your solar panel because some areas receive less or more sun throughout the year than others.

In comparison to individuals who live on or near the equator, those near the poles have less access to sunlight at different times throughout the year.

You can install extra solar panels to make up for the lower power generation if you reside in a foggy area or in a place that gets less sunlight.

Lastly, you will get less sun throughout the year if you live in the northern states of the US than if you dwell in the desert and southern states.

Roof Condition, Materials, and Layout

Currently, solar panels can survive for many years since they are extremely durable. First, however, you’ll need to assess the state of your roof and the materials they used in constructing your roof.

Roofs that are common such as asphalt roofs can last for 20 years, although solar panels can last up to 30 years.

Also, make sure your asphalt roof is in good shape before installing solar panels to avoid costly repairs down the road.

Furthermore, solar panel removal and reinstallation for roof repairs are difficult and expensive.

Finally, these materials make solar panel installations more difficult if you have a flat roof made of ceramic or concrete tiles.

Orientation and Inclination of Solar Thermal Systems

The sun’s accessibility determines the position of your solar panel. The sun follows a particular path depending on your area.

As a result, the azimuth, or exact angle, is a significant issue for solar power generation.

The inclination is the best angle for efficient solar power generation, while the orientation is the direction your compass is relative to the sun is placed.

Available Space

The available space determines the location of your solar panels. The amount of solar energy and the number of panels that you can install determine the size of your roof.

Mismatch losses will occur due to improper azimuth angles and orientation if the area available for your solar panels is irregular.

The amount of space available for your solar panel installation determines the types, number, and location of inverters.

The amount of space available helps because you’ll need a backup system to handle the increasing load during peak hours.

The size of your backyard restricts ground systems, but they minimize the risk of mismatch losses because all panels on the ground face the same direction.

Near-Shadings of Solar Thermal Systems

One of the factors to consider when installing solar panels is the presence of shades. Also, solar panels’ exposure to the sun will be limited because of shades.

In essence, with a shadow that constantly interrupts the array, solar panels cannot generate power forever.

Furthermore, trees, antennas, residences, or chimneys that could cast shade on your panels should be considered.

Additionally, near-shading losses should be kept below 10% per year for maximum power generation.

Finally, to evaluate the impact of near-shadings before installing solar panels, there are advances in computer systems to help 3D modeling.

Panel Options

Roof-mounted solar panels are the most common type of solar panel. However, you can go for a ground-mounted panel if you don’t have enough roof space or your roof faces away from the sun.

However, ground-mounted solar panels are more expensive because they need more labor and materials.

Also, if you want to put a tracker on your solar panel so that it can track the sun, you can consider it.

Plus, the cost of installing a solar panel will increase if you use a tracker. Look for panels that are efficient as possible.

Above all, if you want to be more modest, you can use solar shingles instead of traditional solar panels.

Eligibility for Rebates

Rebates and tax credits are necessary for lower installation expenses while the cost of installing solar panels has increased over the years.

Also, factors such as permits, insurance, and warranties can slow down your project. Don’t go for the cheapest panels.

Lastly, before you decide on your solar installation and placement, look into the federal and state alternatives in your area.

Pros And Cons Of Solar Thermal System

Pros And Cons Of Solar Thermal System


Operation Around The Clock

Firstly, this thermal system can give you a steady and continuous energy source by working 24 hours a day.

You can boil water anytime to generate power, even when the sun is not shining, because the heat from the sun is stored in insulated molten salt tanks.

Solar thermal systems have this benefit over photovoltaic (PV) systems and wind energy, which are both unpredictable.

Technology That Saves Space

In terms of space management, solar thermal systems are more efficient. Unlike PV systems, parabolic reflectors are set to track the sun’s movements.

As a result, it can generate enough electricity for domestic usage because the installation can be anywhere.

In addition, you can install it on top of a building since its dish-shaped structure is so flexible.

Technology That Is Both Cost-Effective And Efficient

A strong industrial background allows for low-cost, large-scale production because this system is built on well-established technology.

Furthermore, they are efficient in terms of operation and maintenance aside from the initial installation expenses.

Lastly, compared to photovoltaic panels, it can operate for decades with no maintenance since it is a simple technology.

Environment-Friendly Technology

This solar energy does not release any carbon dioxide or other harmful gases because it uses safe technologies for the environment.

It uses mirrors that have a lower carbon footprint than toxic materials, which they use in producing solar panels.

Solar thermal systems help reduce greenhouse gas emissions if you use them regularly.


Solar thermal systems have certain limits, despite their specific benefits.

High Initial Investment

In terms of initial investment, it is more expensive even though the solar thermal system has the feature of being very simple and versatile during installation.

Furthermore, in terms of energy storage and heat-exchange system integration, it needs extra investments.

As a result, its high beginning cost makes it less competitive against cheaper natural gas.

Thermodynamic Fluid Issue (Water)

To generate electricity, a solar thermal system heats a thermodynamic fluid, such as water.

Furthermore, for a large-scale electricity generation and a perfect operation, it needs a large amount of water.

However, it won’t be easy to operate such a solar thermal system in desert areas where water is already scarce.

In addition, you can make a trade-off between solar radiation and water availability in this situation.

Ecological Issues

It will get the most sun radiation over a large area, that’s why the solar thermal facilities are located in desert settings.

Furthermore, one of the major causes that drive rapid deforestation is the expansion of such solar thermal facilities.

It Requires A Large Space

Thermal systems need greater installation sites to receive the highest radiation from working at total capacity.

Building larger power plants in residential and commercial areas is neither possible nor environment friendly.

To increase the operation, you’ll link the power to the main energy grid and erect new transmission lines and substations.

Weather Dependent

Although a solar thermal system with heat storage tanks can operate 24 hours, its effectiveness depends on the weather.

As a result, the decrease in thermal system efficiency is more evident at night and on overcast or rainy days.

To generate electricity, the water needs to remain hot. The system can go off after the sun sets if there’s no backup heater.

Also, it makes large-scale electricity generation difficult which causes the system to operate in an unstable way.

Therefore, you can not use a solar thermal system as a stand-alone system.

My Conclusion

My Conclusion; Thermal System

To meet our energy requirements, it is essential to implement a more environmentally friendly and long-term solution.

Recent improvements and developments are lowering the cost of CSP systems despite that in terms of application. However, the solar thermal system has limits.

Overall, a solar thermal system has a bright future as it makes its way into the electricity generation mainstream.

Governments worldwide offer subsidies and incentives to businesses that run on solar thermal systems.

Furthermore, solar thermal system electricity is the only sustainable alternative to fossil fuels in the long run.

Plus, the worldwide solar thermal potential is enough to supply global electricity consumption, according to predictions.

Above all, while maintaining energy production, we can reduce our carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, I hope you found this PowerVersity guide helpful?

If you found it helpful, kindly share your thoughts with the “Leave a Reply” form found towards the end of this page.

Finally, you may want to read other articles like this; visit our below pages.

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Akpan Iniobong
Akpan Iniobong is a Technical Writer for PowerVersity.com. She has a B.A in Religious Studies. She loves hiking, reading, and socializing. In PowerVersity.com, she writes buying guides and product best picks.


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