Solar Decathelon House with PV and Solar ThermalSolar technologies use the sun’s energy to provide electricity, heat, light, hot water, and even cooling for homes, businesses, and industry. More energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year. A variety of technologies convert sunlight to usable energy for buildings and other applications that require electricity or heat.

There are a variety of solar technologies the public sector should consider when evaluating options for new and existing facilities and operations:

  • Solar photovoltaics (PV): Solar PV technologies produce electricity. The most commonly used PV technologies in today’s market are polycrystalline and thin film panels.


  • Solar Thermal: Solar thermal technologies produce heat. This can include solar hot water and also solar hot air. Solar hot water technologies include active systems that utilize collectors such as flat plate collectors, evacuated tube collectors, high-temp parabolic troughs, and other hybrid technologies. Solar hot air technologies can be both active and passive and include a wide array of system types from layered corrugated metal systems integrated into the building to active collectors installed to the exterior of a building.


  • Passive solar: Passive solar strategies include solar design (i.e., Passive Haus) and solar day lighting (i.e., solar tubes).



The National Renewable Energy Lab and the U.S. Department of Energy are the most comprehensive government resources on solar energy and other renewables and efficiency measures.

Solar Research Home Page | NREL

NREL develops renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and practices, advances related science and engineering, and transfers knowledge and innovations to address the nation’s energy and environmental goals. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the only national laboratory solely dedicated to advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies from concept to commercial application. For 35 years, NREL innovations, analysis, and expertise have enabled the emergence of a U.S. clean energy industry and led to numerous success stories from across the laboratory. NREL’s 327-acre main campus in Golden, Colorado, is a living model of sustainable energy. The laboratory also operates the National Wind Technology Center on 305 acres located 13 miles north of its main campus.


SunShot Initiative: Solar Resource Center | U.S. Department of Energy

SunShot, through the Solar Energy Resource Center, maintains a collection of resources on solar technologies and best practices to implement solar, both at the local level and with large-scale deployment. Resources include articles, case studies, fact sheets, how-to guides, model rules and ordinances, presentations, sample government documents, technical reports, tools, and webinars. These resources were developed by industry, local government, university, and national laboratory partners through the support of the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Program.


Solar PV Resources


Solar Photovoltaic Technology Basics | National Renewable Energy Lab

NREL offers a basic overview of solar technologies with links to specific information for market segments and also information about research and testing activities at the lab.


Solar 101 | States Advancing Solar

States Advancing Solar is an initiative by the Clean Energy Group with funding support from the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Program and the Clean Energy States Alliance. This page contains general resources about solar technologies including benefits of solar, history of the technologies, economics of solar, and a solar resources map.


List of Eligible SB1 Guidelines Compliant Photovoltaic Modules | Go Solar California

This list, created by the California State Energy Commission, is one of the most comprehensive, vetted lists of PV equipment. Only modules which are on the SB1 Guidelines compliant module list will be eligible for incentives in California and many other states across the country.


Understanding Solar Technologies | Solarbuzz

This page, produced by a Solar Market and Research and Analysis company, general resources about solar technologies including benefits of solar, history of the technologies, economics of solar, and a solar resources map. It also describes the materials used, technical specs, and current market share for the dominant solar technologies: crystalline silicon and thin films.


Solar Thermal Resources


Solar Water Heating | Whole Building Design Guide

This section of the WBDG provides an overview of solar thermal technologies including technologies, costs, resource assessments, design considerations, and operations and maintenance.


Solar Heating and Cooling | SEIA – Solar Energy Industries Association

This page from the nation’s largest solar industry organization describes how solar heating and cooling technologies collect the thermal energy from the sun and use this heat to provide hot water, space heating, cooling, and pool heating for residential, commercial, and industrial applications.


Solar Thermal Company Search | Solar Rating & Certification Corporation

The SRCC™ is a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to provide authoritative performance ratings, certifications and standards for solar thermal products, with the intention of protecting and providing guidance to consumers, incentive providers, government, and the industry. The link above is for the search page for companies that are currently participating in the SRCC certification program.



SOLARGE is a European co-operation project to open up markets for large collective solar thermal systems for multi-family buildings, hotels, public and social buildings. This initiative lasted three years and completed in 2007. The website includes case studies on commercial scale installations, best practices, and project implementation tools (currently inactive).


Unglazed Transpired Solar Collector Technology Overview | Resources available at the Minnesota Department of Commerce <pdf>

The Unglazed Transpired Solar Collector Technology Overview describes a solar collector that can be used to preheat ventilation air using incident solar energy. The Solar Wall Report is performance analysis done by Minnesota State University, Mankato on solar walls in Minnesota.


Solar Ventilation Air Preheating | Whole Building Design Guide

Solar ventilation air preheating, or solar ventilation preheat, technology uses the energy of solar radiation to preheat ventilation air. Site includes a description of the technology, applications, operations and maintenance, codes and standards, and special considerations relevant to the technology.


Passive Solar Resources


Passive Solar Home Design | U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Savers

Comprehensive resources on passive solar home design including how it works, the five elements of passive solar design, and other climate considerations.


Re-Arch: The Initiative for Renewable Energy in Architecture | University of Minnesota

The Initiative for Renewable Energy in Architecture (reARCH) is a collaboration which brought together the educational and technological expertise of the School of Architecture at the College of Design and the Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota, the American Institute of Architects Minnesota in cooperation with the Committee on the Environment, the Green Institute, the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. re-ARCH’s website provides hands-on knowledge, resources, and tools that design professionals need to integrate renewable energy, assess its economic costs, and determine its environmental benefits. re-ARCH was supported by a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Renewable Energy in Architecture, Passive Solar Fact Sheet

Best Practices in Day Lighting & Passive Systems for Smaller Commercial Buildings

Full List of fact sheets and presentations