When we say "solar panels", we're talking about photovoltaic (PV) panels that produce electricity from sunlight. However, solar energy can be captured and used in several forms via different means.
Solar Electricity (Photovoltaics)
Photovoltaic solar arrays provide electricity to the home, and reduce or replace the homeowner's monthly electric bill. Energy Service Partners currently installs this type of solar electric system exclusively. We've got tons of other FAQ's about how this works, so we'll move on!
As any Californian knows, sunlight gets hot! The concept of using the sun to heat a living space dates back thousands of years. Chinese manuscripts from 6,000 years ago describe how to lay out the ideal home based on the season and changing angles of the sun. The ideal space never gets too hot in the summer, and stays warm in winter, thanks to the low angle of the sunlight coming through strategically-placed openings. Greenhouses and off-grid homes often use "thermal mass" walls or floors to capture sunlight and create a radiant heat source.
Solar Hot Water (Hydronics)
The use of water heated by the sun goes back to ancient times as well. Greek baths were heated with solar tiles that collected the heat from the sun throughout the day and kept things nice and steamy for hours. Solar hot water heaters gained popularity in the early 1900s and remain a popular and cost-effective option in California. There are a variety of models that all accomplish the same result with high reliability, but you have to know a good plumber or contractor to make sure nothing starts leaking!
One last application of solar is by concentrating the rays of the sun to a small focus point, usually for cooking, starting a fire, or creating very intense heat (much hotter than human comfort).