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The Many Faces of Solar Thermal

Solar panels produce electricity. Literally, when sunlight hits them, photons start moving around and generating an electric current. This is why the technical name for them is photovoltaics: light + electricity. But there is another kind of solar power that tends to get short shrift: solar thermal. Solar thermal can be applied in many different ways, so it's not quite as easy to stick a label on as photovoltaics. All the methods use energy from the sun to heat fluid, but the next steps (and applications) can vary widely.

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Cooling Off With Solar

The phrase "solar energy" carries a heavy connotation of electricity generation, and it is indeed shorthand for the power generated by photovoltaics panels. But you can harness energy from sunlight in a number of different ways: the second most well-known is solar thermal, or solar hot water heating. This can either directly heat hot water for domestic use, or be part of indirect radiant heat systems. It can also power an air conditioner.

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