What is the difference between thermal and solar energy?

Question by Posion Oak: What is the difference between thermal and solar energy?
I know that solar energy is energy from the sun converted into elctrical energy and all that great stuff, but if you heat a sheet of flashing copper, put it in the sun and it makes a little more energy than it did in the shade, is that thermal or solar energy
OK I think the real question I’m asking is how is thermal energy converted into elctricity

Best answer:

Answer by Kcirtap N
like you said solar energy is energy form the sun converted into electrical energy but thermal energy is heat

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2 Responses to “What is the difference between thermal and solar energy?”

  1. Solar energy is energy from the sun.

    There are many forms of energy.
    – Plants use photosysthesis to convert solar energy into chemical energy.
    – Solar cells convert solar energy into electricity.
    – Evaporated and condensed water, thermals, and winds convert solar energy to mechanical energy.
    – Copper flashing, like most things sitting out in the sun, convert solar energy to heat.

    So, its solar energy until it is absorbed by the copper, then it is thermal energy (heat).

    Edit: I know 2 ways to convert thermal energy to electrical. First is a thermoelectric generator. These tend to be costly, delicate, and have low efficiency. Check out the links below the article, especially the HZ-14 one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermoelectric_effect

    2nd way is to use an engine or turbine. Concentrating sunlight with mirrors onto a small boiler creates high pressure steam. It is used in a turbine to make electricity. Some experimental units have actually been deployed by utility companies in sunny areas. While they depend on government subsidies, with enough emprovement, the technologies may stand on their own. You can also use solar energy to heat air or other working fluid inside an engine to convert the thermal energy to mechanical motion that drives an electrical generator. The most efficient such engine is called a carnot engine, which is unfortunately impractical to make economically.

    Finally, things like windmills and waterpower actually convert solar to mechanical power, which is then used to drive generators. These are actually variations of the 2nd point.

    BTW, if you’re asking how to make a simple solar cell from copper, see link: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=Apf5WS6KKGtoGDDSwRyFbIsAxgt.;_ylv=3?qid=20080520203652AAT6UzD

  2. Sometimes solar *is* thermal. They just use the sun to heat the fluid instead of coal.
    http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=SEGS&gbv=2
    has pictures. Usually they do it for large installations, and it is about twice as efficient as photovoltaic (PV), which is solid-state. PV is simpler, and lasts longer, with less maintenance, but costs a lot for the amount of electricity you get.

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