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Solar Collectors VS Solar Panels | Which One Is Better?

Solar collectors versus solar panels

Australia is blessed with an abundance of sunlight, making it a great place to harness solar energy. This now begs the question: Solar collectors vs solar panels… which one is better for your home?

Truthfully, there’s no one answer to this. Both of them have their similarities and differences, after all.

To help you make your decision, however, I will be discussing both of them. Listed below are the topics I’m covering. I recommend reading from the top but feel free to tap on any of the topics to skip sections.

What are solar collectors?

Solar collectors, also known as solar thermal collectors, are devices designed to capture sunlight and convert it into heat. This heat is then used for various purposes such as hot water and space heating.

How do solar collectors work?

How Do Solar Collectors Work
An infographic illustrating how Solar collectors work.

Solar thermal collectors work by absorbing sunlight and converting it into heat. This heat is then transferred to a fluid, usually water or air, that circulates through the collector. The heated fluid can then be used directly or stored for later use.

There are different types of solar collectors, including flat plate collectors, tube collectors, and parabolic dish collectors, but they all work on the same principle I described above.

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What are the pros and cons of solar collectors?

Pros:

1. Requires less space: Solar thermal collectors are generally more efficient than solar panels, which means you need less roof space to generate the energy you need.

2. Cheaper: The upfront cost of solar collectors is usually lower than that of panels largely because, well… you won’t need as many.

3. Shorter payback period: Due to lower upfront costs and higher efficiency, solar collectors usually have a shorter payback period than panels.

Cons:

1. Does not work well in cold weather: Solar collectors are less effective in cold weather as they rely on heat from the sun.

2. Can only be used for water and space heating: Solar collectors can only be used to generate heat, not electricity. This limits their applications.

3. More maintenance required: Solar collectors usually require more maintenance than panels.

What are solar panels?

Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic panels or solar PV panels, are devices that convert sunlight into electricity. They are made up of many small solar cells, each made of semiconducting material, silicon being the most common.

How do solar panels work?

Solar PV panels work by using sunlight to excite electrons in the solar cells. This excitement creates DC electricity which is sent to an inverter where it’s converted to the AC electrical energy that you and I use for our homes.

This electrical energy can also be stored in solar batteries for later use or converted to credits via net metering.

If you want to read more about how solar panels work, we have a more in-depth article about that. But, for now, let’s move on to the next topic.

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What are the pros and cons of solar panels?

Pros:

1. Generates electricity instead of heat: This means you can use PV solar panels to power all of the appliances in your home, charge your electric vehicle, or even sell excess electricity back to the grid.

2. Virtually no maintenance required: Once installed, solar PV systems require very little maintenance. Rain does most of the cleaning. And, if necessary, cleaning is only done twice per year.

3. Independence from the power companies: Generating your own electricity can reduce your reliance on the power grid which, in turn, reduces your power bills.

Cons:

1. Higher upfront cost: The initial investment required for solar PV panels is usually higher than for solar collectors. A solar system will generally cost roughly $1000 per kW.

2. Less efficient: Solar panels are generally less efficient than solar collectors, which means you need more roof space to generate the same amount of energy.

Do solar panels and collectors increase my home’s value?

Absolutely! Both solar collectors and solar panels increase your home’s value because they lead to smaller utility bills and a smaller carbon footprint, which are attractive features for potential buyers.

If you want numbers and other more specific information about increasing your home’s value through solar PV panels, we have a deeper discussion about that on another blog.

Conclusion: Which one is better?

To recap, a solar collector will use the sun’s heat to generate thermal energy which, in turn, can be used to heat water and your home. A solar panel, on the other hand, will harness the sun’s energy to produce electricity.

Here’s how that works out in the real world:

A solar thermal collector doesn’t come with a hefty upfront cost but it needs more maintenance and isn’t as versatile. In contrast, a solar photovoltaic system is more expensive upfront but it also comes with significantly more versatility.

Both choices will save you money and increase your home’s value, though. And, ultimately, the choice will be up to you.

Now, if you’re leaning more toward a solar photovoltaic system, we can help. We have a network of pre-vetted installers ready to give you 3 FREE quotes right away.