The fundamental concept behind photovoltaic (PV) solar panels and their thermal counterparts is essentially the same: both systems soak up energy from the sun and convert it into usable power.
In PV solar systems, electricity is the main energy produced, whereas thermal panels use the sun's rays directly to heat up water or air. For homeowners, the two setups can be used very efficiently alongside each other, meaning there is no need to decide between the two. If you own a commercial enterprise, however, how you generate income is a major consideration and there are other issues to contemplate. Here we explore the benefits of both thermal and PV solar systems.
The installation costs of PV panels may be greater but feed-in tariffs mean this can be offset, even following government cuts, so they are still a great long-term investment. The major advantage that they bring over thermal systems is their ability to generate large amounts of electricity. This allows many business owners to create extra income as any electricity you don't need can be sold back to the National Grid.
It used to be the case that solar thermal systems were far cheaper than PV systems to install but recent government incentives, such as feed-in tariffs, mean that prices are now broadly similar. Therefore, the big advantage of opting for a solar thermal setup from a business point of view is that it takes up significantly less space. A PV system, for instance, may cover an area of around 10m² on your roof, whereas a comparable thermal system would take up only 3 - 4m². The reason behind this is that thermal panels run at around 80 - 90% efficiency; PV panels need a lot more space in order to create the same amount of energy, which may be a major consideration if you don't have a huge amount of commercial capacity.
As both types of solar panels have significant benefits, many home and business owners are installing both in parallel. Hybrid panels combine the technology behind both systems, simultaneously heating water and producing electricity, and are becoming more and more popular. As they do not qualify for government incentives, however, those with a commercial interest will need to consider the pros and cons of this new technology with care.