Solar thermal energy (STE) is a form of energy and a technology for harnessing solar energy to generate thermal energy or electrical energy for use in industry, and in the residential and commercial sectors. The first installation of solar thermal energy equipment occurred in the Sahara Desert approximately in 1910 when a steam engine was run on steam produced by sunlight.
Because liquid fuel engines were developed and found more convenient, the Sahara project was abandoned, only to be revisited several decades later.
Solar thermal collectors are classified by the United States 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 heating water or air for residential and commercial use.