Solar thermal energy (STE) technology captures solar energy and uses it for heat. There are three different categories of STE collectors: low, medium, and high temperature.3

Low-temperature collectors use either air or water to transfer heat energy collected by the sun to the location that needs to be heated. They may come in the form of glazed solar collectors that heat air to be transferred through a building, metal walls, or roof-mounted water bladders that are warmed by sunlight. They are most commonly used for small spaces or to heat swimming pools.

Medium-temperature collectors work by moving a non-freezing chemical through a series of pipes that collect sunlight to heat water and air in residential and commercial buildings.

High-temperature collectors use a series of parabolic mirrors to efficiently convert solar energy into high-temperature heat that can then generate electricity. The mirrors capture the sunlight and focus it into what’s called the receiver. This system then heats contained fluids and circulates them to produce steam. Much like conventional electrical generation, the steam then turns a turbine, which creates power for a generator to produce the desired electricity.

The mirrors that collect the sunlight must be able to follow the path of the sun throughout the day in order to maximize efficiency. These large systems are mostly used by utilities to create electricity to send through the power grid. 

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