Difference between Solar Power Plant and Solar Thermal Power Plant

A Power Plant is a setup of various equipment which are connected together to produce electricity. However, there are many technologies evolving day by day to produce electricity, two of them that produces electricity from solar power are solar power plant and solar thermal power plant. A solar power plant is also called a solar photovoltaic power plant.

In this article, we will describe the differences between "solar power plant" and "solar thermal power plant". But, before highlighting their differences, we will see what a solar power plant and a solar thermal power plant are.

What is a Solar Power Plant?

An arrangement of a number of solar panels (made of solar or photovoltaic cells) to absorb the sunlight and convert it into electricity is known as solar power plant. The electricity produced by a solar panel is direct current (DC) which is converted into alternating current (AC) by using a solar inverter for utilization.

A solar power plant is also known solar photovoltaic power plant, because it uses photovoltaic technology for collecting the sunlight and converting it into electricity.

The solar panels used in a solar power plant are made of certain types of semiconductor materials. These semiconductor materials produce electrical energy when sunlight fall on them. The solar power plant is the most efficient and easy to use method for generating electricity from solar power. Hence, it is becoming very common these days.

What is a Solar Thermal Power Plant?

A power generating station which uses concentrated solar energy to produce electricity is known as solar thermal power plant.

In a solar thermal power plant, the sunlight is collected and concentrated to produce the high temperature heat, then this heat energy is used for generating steam, i.e. when concentrated sunlight comes in contact with the water, the water gets evaporated and converted into steam. This steam is used to spin a steam turbine. The turbine drives an alternator (electric generator) coupled to it to produce electricity.

Solar thermal power plants have solar energy collectors with two main components viz.− reflector and receiver.

  • Reflector (mirrors) − To capture and focus the sunlight on a receiver.

  • Receiver − An equipment in which a fluid is heated and circulated and used to produce steam.

Difference between Solar Power Plant and Solar Thermal Power Plant

Both solar power plant (also called solar photovoltaic power plant) and solar thermal power plant use solar power to produce electricity. However, there are several differences between solar power plant and solar thermal power plant that are highlighted in the following table −

Basis of Difference
Solar Power Plant
Solar Thermal Power Plant
A power generating plant which uses photovoltaic cells (solar panels) to produce electrical energy from sunlight is known as solar power plant or solar photovoltaic power plant.A power plant which uses solar collectors to collect and concentrate the sunlight to produce steam, and this steam is then used to spin a turbine and the turbine in turn drives a generator to produce electricity is known as solar thermal power plant.
Solar power plant uses semiconductor or photovoltaic technology to produce electricity.Solar thermal power plant uses solar-thermal technology, i.e. the conversion of heat of sunlight into steam to produce electricity.
Main components
The major components of a solar power plant are: solar panels, storage batteries and solar inverters.The main components of a solar thermal power plant are − solar collector and reflectors (mirrors), receiver, fluid (such as water), steam turbine and alternator.
In a solar power plant, the solar panels receive sunlight and directly produce electricity.In a solar thermal power plant, heat of sunlight is used to raise steam from water which spins a turbine to drive an alternator to produce electricity.
Construction complexity
Solar power plants are simple in construction.The construction of solar thermal power plants is relatively complex.
Electricity(AC or DC)
Solar power plant only produces direct current (DC) electricity.Solar thermal power plant may produce DC as well as AC electricity, which depends upon type of generator used.
Requirement of inverter
Since the solar power plant produces DC power, hence a solar inverter is used for converting DC into AC.In case of solar thermal power plant, there is no need of solar inverter.
The efficiency of solar power plant is less.The efficiency of solar thermal power plant is relatively more.
Power demand
Solar power plants are suitable for low power demand.Solar thermal power plants are suitable for high power demand.
Connected system
Solar power plant can be used for ‘standalone system’ and ‘grid-connected system’.Solar thermal power plant can only be used as ‘grid connected system’.
Power production cost
Solar power plants involve high production cost of power.The production cost of power is comparatively less in case of solar thermal power plant.


In the above table, we have highlighted all the major differences between solar photovoltaic and solar thermal power plants. The most significant difference is that a solar photovoltaic power plant uses solar cells to produce electricity from sunlight, whereas a solar-thermal power plant uses solar energy to raise steam to produce electricity.