No – solar thermal doesn’t generate electricity. Unlike solar PV, solar thermal panels harness the sun’s energy and convert it into heat which is then transferred into your home.
You can have evacuated tube solar thermal panels or flat plate collectors; evacuated tubes are thought to be more efficient that flat plate collectors. They both work by using the sun’s rays to heat a transfer fluid, usually made from water and a type of antifreeze, which is pumped to a heat exchanger inside a water tank in your home. The heat from the exchanger heats the water inside your tank, then when the liquid releases its heat it’s transferred back to the collectors to start the whole process again.
You’ll need to use your solar thermal panel system with a boiler, collector or immersion heater. This is so that the water can be stored and used for your hot water and heating, and also because in the UK, people generally need to rely on another source of heating in the winter. There are fewer sunlight hours in the winter months, so it’s not often possible for solar thermal panels to generate enough heat from the sun to get your water up to temperature.
Whatever the time of year it is, you might want to heat the water up further than your solar panels can manage. That’s why you’ll still need a form of traditional hot water heating, but you should see savings on your energy bills. If you’re currently using natural gas, you can expect savings of around £60 per year on your fuel bills, while if you’re using LPG it could be as high as £100 pr year