Solar thermal energy (STE) is a technology for harnessing solar energy for thermal energy (heat). Solar thermal collectors are classified by the USA Energy Information Administration as low, medium, or high-temperature collectors. Low temperature collectors are flat plates generally used to heat swimming pools. Medium-temperature collectors are also usually flat plates but are used for heating water or air for residential and commercial use. High temperature collectors concentrate sunlight using mirrors or lenses and are generally used for electric power production. STE is different from photovoltaics, which convert solar energy directly into electricity.

The solar thermal method uses energy from the sun directly to generate heat. Solar panels can be used to collect heat from the sun to capture its heat and transfer it for water and space heating in buildings.

Commonly such panels are positioned to maximise absorption of heat from the sun throughout the day and contain tubing through which water circulates. This tubing is known as solar thermal collectors There is also an indirect method where not water but a non-toxic anti-freeze liquid is used. The sun warms this liquid which in turn transfers this heat to water held in a tank. Passive thermal building design is as simple as designing to maximise the sun’s use.