Solar power is generated when energy from the sun (sunlight) is converted into electricity or used to heat air, water, or other fluids. There are two main types of solar energy technologies:
- Solar thermal is the conversion of solar radiation into thermal energy (heat). Thermal energy carried by air, water, or other fluid is commonly used directly, for space heating, or to generate electricity using steam and turbines. Solar thermal is commonly used for hot water systems. Solar thermal electricity, also known as concentrating solar power, is typically designed for large scale power generation.
- Solar photovoltaic (PV) converts sunlight directly into electricity using photovoltaic cells. PV systems can be installed on rooftops, integrated into building designs and vehicles, or scaled up to megawatt scale power plants. PV systems can also be used in conjunction with concentrating mirrors or lenses for large scale centralised power.
Solar thermal and PV technology can also be combined into a single system that generates both heat and electricity.