Solar thermal energy (STE) is a technology for harnessing solar energy for thermal energy (heat). Solar thermal collectors are defined 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 creating hot water 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.