A homeowner napping in the sun in front of an array of passive solar panels

Energy bills seem to keep increasing as each year goes by. Despite the times, there’s no need for despair. 

Passive solar energy enables you to save money while at the same time heating your home more efficiently, reducing your energy consumption.

This article will discuss the basics of passive solar energy, how it’s generated, some examples, and how it works. We’ll also explore how you can use passive solar energy to heat your home, other uses, and the benefits.

So let’s get into it!

What Is Passive Solar Energy?

Passive solar energy is the indirect use of solar energy for heating or cooling. For example, heating your home through solar thermal systems, thermal mass, or passive solar heating. Passive solar energy makes for an efficient and sustainable heating approach.

Passive solar energy harnesses energy from the sun. This energy is a type that doesn’t require the use of mechanical or electrical devices to heat or cool a building.

According to National Geographic, roughly 30% of the solar energy reaching the earth gets reflected into space, with the rest absorbed in the atmosphere. 

Passive solar energy is created when the planet absorbs the sun’s heat, then the earth heats up, generating heat. This heat is finally transported through the air to the building through windows or other means.

Ideally, passive solar strategies rely on sunlight to perform their functions. These techniques can be as simple as orienting a building to take advantage of the sun’s natural heating or using materials that absorb and store heat. Some passive solar technologies can even support the generation of electricity.

The interior of a passive solar home with the sun shining in brightly through a floor-to-ceiling set of windows

How is Passive Solar Energy Generated?

The generation of passive solar energy requires using natural elements to collect, store, and distribute it. 

You can do this in several ways, including:

  • Using solar thermal collectors to collect solar radiation and convert it into heat.
  • Capitalizing on photovoltaic (PV) cells to convert sunlight into electricity.
  • Harnessing solar energy through passive solar buildings designed to collect and store solar energy.

If you’re interested in generating passive solar energy for your home or business, there are a few factors you’ll need to consider.

  • First, you’ll need to determine how much sunlight your property receives.
  • Second, you’ll have to install solar panels and thermal collectors.
  • Finally, you’ll need to hook your solar panels to an electricity source like the grid or a battery.

While there are several technologies you can use to generate passive solar energy for your home, solar panels are the most common. 

As explained by the US Energy Information Administration, solar panels consist of solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity. You can use this electricity to power your building or store it for future use.

Examples of Passive Solar Energy

Passive solar energy manifests in several different forms, including:

  • Solar water heating solar water heaters use the sun’s energy to heat water. The hot water is then circulated through the building.
  • Solar air heating – solar air heaters use the sun’s energy to heat air in your space. The air is then circulated through the space to provide warmth.
  • Solar cookers use the sun’s energy instead of electricity to cook food.
A full solar cooker setup in a field

What Elements Support Passive Solar Energy?

A passive solar system is designed to collect heat from the sun and store it in materials with a high thermal mass. 

Therefore, a building that uses passive energy must have these elements:

Properly Aligned Windows 

Properly aligned windows are vital in collecting solar energy. The sun’s rays must be perpendicular to the window’s surface to maximize the sunlight reflected in the room.

 Additionally, windows should be positioned away from the natural shade of trees or other buildings.

By following these guidelines, you can maximize the amount of solar energy your home collects.

Thermal Mass

Thermal mass is a material that can store heat energy. Australia’s Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Homes explains how thermal mass collects solar energy by absorbing and releasing heat slowly. This makes it ideal for solar heating systems, as it can help to even out temperature fluctuations.

Thermal mass can come from various materials, including concrete, stone, brick, tile, and water. These materials can absorb heat from the sun or warm air in buildings.

Heat Distribution System

There are different distribution systems for collecting solar energy, from small-scale systems for individual homes to large-scale systems for commercial and industrial buildings.

The most common type of system is a photovoltaic (PV) system, which uses solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity.

A worker installing solar panels on the roof of a home

Other systems include solar thermal systems that use mirrors to focus sunlight onto a central receiver to heat water or other fluids.

Similarly, concentrating solar-thermal power systems use mirrors to focus sunlight onto a central receiver to generate electricity.

Control Mechanisms

You can regulate solar heat coming into your home by:

  • Making use of tinted windows – tinted windows can help to keep your home cooler during the summer months.
  • Controlling the heat that comes into your home through the use of awnings. GreenNewton reveals how window awnings can help reduce up to 77% of solar heat gain during summer. You can place them over windows to help keep the sun out and create shade in your yard.
Solar panels installed as a window awning to create a more eco-friendly plastic window
  • Capitalizing on electronic sensing devices – these may include thermostats and dampers. Thermostats can help maintain a consistent temperature, while dampers are ideal for preventing moisture from accumulating.

These strategies can help you keep your home comfortable and prevent potential damage from excess solar energy.

How to Heat Your Home With Passive Solar Energy 

While passive solar energy is an efficient way to heat your home, you can still maximize its use in the best way possible.

Use Passive Solar Energy To Heat the Air in Your Home

Passive solar energy can heat the air in a home through solar panels or solar thermal collectors. Solar panels absorb the sun’s rays and convert them into heat, which is then transferred to the air in the home.

Solar thermal collectors are similar to solar panels. Still, they use the sun’s heat to generate electricity, which can power a fan that circulates the warm air in your home.

Use Passive Solar Energy in Your Home’s Water Heating System

Passive solar energy can heat water in a home’s heating system. Homeowners can capture this energy using solar panels or solar thermal collectors.

Solar thermal collectors are ideal for heating water directly. They can also heat a fluid that is then used to transfer heat to the water in the home’s heating system.

The clay tile roof of a home retrofitted with a thermal solar panel array

Solar photovoltaic panels, on the other hand, are handy in generating electricity, which you can use to power a water heater.

Use the Energy To Heat Space in Your Home

You can use passive solar energy to heat space in your home by allowing sunlight to enter through windows and warming the house’s interior. This type of energy doesn’t require any mechanical devices to be captured and can be quickly converted into heat.

What Are Other Uses of Passive Solar Energy?

Besides heating, there are many other applications of passive solar energy.

Here are some of the best ways you can use this precious energy:

Watering Plants

As reported by Agri Farming, a solar-powered irrigation system uses less energy than traditional methods and is also more environmentally friendly. In other words, watering plants using passive solar energy is an efficient way of gardening. 

Solar panels can collect energy from the sun and convert it into electricity, which you can then use to run pumps and other irrigation equipment. This can help reduce the amount of water needed for irrigation and the amount of energy used to power the system.

Powering Your Car

Passive solar energy is a great way to power a car. EV owners can do this by using solar panels to collect energy from the sun and convert it into electrical energy.

Electric cars require plugging the vehicle into a charge port and then taking electricity from the grid. The electricity is often stored in rechargeable batteries.

Closeup of a Tesla hood plugged into an electric vehicle charging station

Passive Solar Water Distillation

Water purification involves the sun providing energy to heat the water. The water then evaporates, leaving behind impurities. The water vapor then condenses, providing clean and pure water.

This method of water purification is simple and effective. In addition, it does not require electricity or other energy sources, making it an ideal solution for areas with limited access to clean water.

Supporting Heat Insulation

Did you know improper insulation can make you lose up to 25% of your home’s heat? That means your heating bill could be sky-high, and you might not even realize it. This ineffectiveness can be a big problem in the winter when you need to keep your home warm.

However, you can prevent this problem by ensuring you have the proper insulation and that your home is well-sealed. For instance, you can use passive solar energy during winter to keep your home warm by trapping heat inside. You’ll only need to air seal and use high-quality insulation materials on your rim joist.


A well-designed landscape can add beauty and increase the value of your home while reducing your heating and cooling costs. Additionally, landscaping can help maximize passive solar energy use. 

Moreover, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recommends capitalizing on landscape and climate to save energy.

However, there are a few things to consider when using passive solar energy for landscaping, including:

  • Orientation of your home – if your house faces south, you’ll be able to collect more solar energy than if it’s facing north.
  • The climate – if you live in a region that’s sunny most of the year, you’ll collect more solar energy than in a cloudy environment.
  • Type of materials you use – for example, if you use dark materials, they’ll absorb more heat from the sun than light-colored ones.

Lighting Buildings

There are many ways to light buildings using passive solar energy. One way is to use solar panels to collect and store energy from the sun.

Another way is to use solar reflective materials on the exterior of the building. These materials reflect sunlight onto the interior of the building, providing natural lighting during the day.

Sun’s Energy As Heat Storage

Solar heating systems can seldom function well without sufficient energy storage.

According to Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Science, thermal energy storage, such as hot water tanks, is a promising method of passively storing energy.

A full solar water heater system setup

Ideally, solar thermal systems use the sun’s energy to heat a storage medium. The heat can be stored in several ways, including water, rocks, and even in the ground.

Solar thermal systems are typically used in conjunction with solar PV systems, as the heat can generate electricity when needed. In addition, solar thermal systems are a promising technology since they are relatively simple and efficient.

Why Passive Solar Energy Over Other Forms of Energy?

There are many reasons to choose passive solar energy over other forms of energy.

A few of them include:

  • It is free from the sun, making it a cost-effective energy option.
  • It can heat and cool your home, providing year-round comfort.
  • This energy is renewable, so you can use it repeatedly without running out.
  • Passive solar energy is very efficient, meaning you can generate a large amount of power from a relatively small number of solar panels.
  • You can use passive solar energy to power various devices, from solar-powered calculators to solar-powered cars.
  • Passive solar energy is a clean resource—it doesn’t produce any pollution or greenhouse gasses, so it’s better for the environment than other forms of energy.
  • It is low-maintenance. For instance, regular cleaning or replacing your solar panels is no longer necessary.


Using passive solar energy is an excellent way to regulate the temperature in your home. This type of energy offers an efficient and sustainable heating method that is easy to implement. Besides, you can use it alongside other heating systems and for other purposes. 

Therefore, maximizing the efficiency of your passive solar energy system can benefit you in several ways, including saving on your energy costs.


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