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What Is the Difference Between Passive Solar Systems and Active Solar Systems?

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The article discusses the differences between passive and active solar energy systems and their respective benefits. Passive systems rely on the design and structure of the building to capture and utilize solar energy, while active systems require more involvement and use external devices like solar panels to convert sunlight into energy.

Passive systems are more straightforward and cost-effective but may not provide enough heat in colder climates. Active systems are more versatile and reliable, especially in areas with limited sunlight or colder winters. Combining both passive and active systems can maximize the benefits of solar energy, but the choice between them depends on factors like location, climate, and building design. Active systems are generally more expensive but offer greater control and efficiency.


As more and more people become aware of the benefits of solar energy, the demand for solar systems is soaring. However, to get the most from a solar system setup, you must understand the terminology that’s often used.

Solar energy can be harnessed in different ways, either actively or passively. So, what is the difference between passive solar systems and active solar systems? Is one ever preferable to another? How do you benefit from using both?

In the guide below, we explain the differences between passive and active solar energy, and how you can use both to your advantage. We also look at the pros and cons of each of these energy resources.

The Difference Between and Passive Solar Systems

Passive and active solar systems perform the same basic function in that they convert the energy from the sun onto electricity. The difference lies mainly in their setup and the way that they work. 

However, although they offer the same basic benefits such as heating, certain types of buildings are better suited to one system over another. 

Whereas the passive system relies on heat from the sun, active systems need only irradiance from the sun to work. What does this mean for you and your unique needs? 

Let’s explain this further through a look at each system, and its advantages as well as disadvantages.

Passive Solar Systems

Passive solar heating systems use the power of the sun for heating and rely on the build and design of the business or residence. Passive solar energy collectors harness and convert the sun’s rays to transfer heat. 

This is done by absorbing the sun’s light and heat through walls, glass windows, and even the floors of your structure. 

As this system is dependent on the laws of thermodynamics, the placement of windows and the materials used for walls and floors are crucial. Your architect and builder need to take this into account when designing buildings in areas with extreme temperatures. 

We all make use of passive solar energy without even realizing it. For example, when you open your curtains, window shutters, or window blinds on a sunny day. 

what is the difference between passive solar systems and active solar systems

In doing so, you let the sunshine in, and thus you are enjoying the benefits of passive solar energy. This is a free source of heating (and light) during the day. 

Pros of Passive Solar Systems

  • No external solar devices are required.
  • Passive solar energy is free to use and requires no maintenance.
  • Passive solar heating is ideal for heating smaller homes and offices. 

Cons of Passive Solar Sytems

  • Passive solar heating relies on the type, design, and placement of your windows and the mass/material of walls and floors.
  • Overheating can also become an issue in climates with extremely high temperatures.
  • In colder climates, passive solar heating systems may not produce enough heat in the winter.

Active Solar Systems

An active solar system also relies on the rays of the sun, but more involvement is required to capture and use this energy. An example of an active solar system is a solar panel setup, which depends on an array of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. 

These PV solar panels contain photovoltaic cells that convert the sunlight hitting the panels, into energy. They are usually roof-mounted, and their size, design, and angle of tilt can all affect the efficiency of your system.

The sun’s rays, no matter how particularly hot it is, are all that is needed for your DIY home solar panel kits to generate solar electricity. An active solar system that is not providing efficient power can also be tweaked by adjusting the panels or making other changes.

what is the difference between active solar systems and passive solar systems

In colder climates, where sunlight is available but there is not much warmth (especially in winter), active solar systems are the way to go. Liquid or air may be used in solar collectors in an active solar system. This gets stored and transferred as heat throughout your home or business. 

Active solar heating utilizes mechanical equipment such as fans, pumps, blowers, and air ducts to distribute the stored heat through your indoor spaces. 

Pros Of Active Solar Systems

  • An active solar system is, unlike a passive system, dependent solely on external devices rather than the design of the structure. No large windows are required.
  • An active solar system’s PV panel array can be connected to the existing power grid.
  • Therefore, any type of building could theoretically use an active solar system for power and heat.
  • You have more control over the heating produced through active solar heating systems.

Cons Of Active Solar Systems

  • The initial cost outlay for an active solar heating system will be higher than for a passive one.
  • Some maintenance of active solar system equipment will also be required. 

Passive vs Active Solar Heating - Which Is Best?

If you’re still undecided about whether or not passive or active solar heating is best for you, consider your location and needs. 

what's the difference between passive solar systems and active solar systems

Is your home or business situated in a cold or warm climate? Do you have very cold winters? How many hours of sunshine, on average, do you get per day? 

And most importantly, could you benefit from a cost-effective system that provides both heat and power for your home?

When Passive Heating Alone Will Do the Job

If you are building your home from scratch, with the help of an architect knowledgeable about passive solar energy, that’s great! 

The sun’s warmth will do the trick, as long as the correct materials have been used. But your orientation has to be optimized for maximum exposure to the sun. This is generally the south end of a building. 

Passive solar heating relies on energy retained during the day as thermal mass will be sufficient for heating as the sun goes down. It requires careful planning during the design and building of your structure.

In a climate that’s not excessively cold, where slight heating is all that is required, you’ll be fine. However, if you live in a colder climate or have very cold winters, you’re better off investing in active solar energy.

When an Active Solar Heating/ Power System Is Best

An active system offers the benefits of additional electricity for your home. It isn’t reliant on the sun’s heat alone, as with a passive system. The sun’s light will do the trick. 

In such a scenario, an active solar heating system is far more reliable than a passive solar system. Even on cooler days, as long as there’s some light hitting your solar panels, you’ll have the heat and energy you need.

Active Solar Systems Are More Versatile 

An active solar system can be adapted to your building’s specific needs and design. It is also far more cost-effective and safer than the usual fuels used for heating. 

the difference between active solar systems and passive solar systems


Ideally, a combination of both passive and active solar energy will provide the maximum heat and energy for your structure. However, this isn’t always possible due to location and building design. 

An active solar system is far more versatile and dependable. So contact us to reap the benefits of solar heating and electricity, with affordable systems that you can install yourself. 

You’ll get everything you need to harness the free and abundant energy from the sun, like a pro. We are happy to assist you with any further queries you may have, so give us a call today.

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