As we search for ways to become a more green society, the first thing that often comes to mind is solar energy. Harnessing the sun’s power to provide energy seems fairly innocuous to the environment, right? That is not always true. Actually, large amounts of fossil fuels are used in the manufacture of some of the panels, and the disposal of the waste metals not used present their own set of problems. Mercury and chromium are two of the most toxic.
What options do we have? Are there differences within the panels and the way they are manufactured and utilized? There are two types of solar panels, one being solar thermal and the other, photovoltaic. Photovoltaic or PV panels convert sunlight to electricity which can be used to supplement or replace the electricity supplied by the grid.
Solar thermal uses flat collector plates to harness the sun’s energy to heat water. Although their appearance and even installation are similar to the PV panel, solar thermal collectors do not convert sunlight to electricity, but transfer the energy directly to the water. Solar thermal systems replace the electricity or natural gas that would otherwise be required to heat your water.