Both of the primary types of solar power are made by capturing energy from sunlight. Photovoltaic solar energy is the most common type and is produced when photons contained in sunlight hit a silicon solar panel. The other type of solar energy is called solar thermal, which is made by using the heat from the sun to heat water.
Once the sunlight hits the solar panel in photovoltaic solar energy, the photons then excite the silicon molecules, causing them to move around, which generates electricity. The electricity generated by photovoltaic solar panels is then either transferred directly to the electrical grid or stored in a battery until it's needed.
Solar thermal energy can be used to provide hot water for homes and swimming pools; there are a number of solar thermal power plants around the world. Solar thermal power plants use an array of mirrors to concentrate the heat of the sun on a container of fluid. When the fluid boils, it releases steam, which is then used to power a traditional steam generator like those found in coal power plants.
Although many people use photovoltaic solar panels to generate energy for their homes, they can also be used to create large-scale power plants as well. However, photovoltaic solar plants require much more space than concentrated solar thermal plants, which can generate more energy in a much smaller area.