A growing number of homeowners in the United States are turning to renewable energy sources to provide power for their homes. Solar power systems only need sunlight to power your home and vehicle, recharge large battery systems, and still allow you to sell extra energy to your utility company. Wind power can perform the same functions by producing energy from wind-powered turbines.
Both depend on often volatile forces of nature, but overall, solar panels provide more consistent energy. Solar panels don't include moving components, as wind production units do. These and other differences play important roles in deciding which renewable energy option is best for you.
What is the efficiency of solar panels?
This depends on how well they measure the amount of sunlight that's converted into actual electricity. For example, if we call all the solar irradiation that falls on a particular spot on the earth 100 percent energy, a solar panel system should be able to convert 15-20% percent of that energy into electrical power.
The most efficient solar panels on the market, being brands like Sunpower and Panasonic convert around 21% of the energy in sunlight to power. However, often it is more cost effective to go with some of the larger volume brands and their typical multi-crystalline solar panels have conversion efficiencies of around 16-17% in 2018
For more information about what solar panel efficiency really means and for a full discussion of each of the most efficient brands of solar panels on the market in the US in 2019
What is the efficiency of wind power?
Wind turbines can convert nearly half of the wind hitting them into electrical power. The efficiency is measured by the actual amount of kinetic energy that's converted. The ultimate conversion rate is estimated to be about 60 percent. If a turbine could absorb 100 percent of the wind's energy, the blades of the turbine would automatically stop turning.
There are further limitations when converting wind into energy because of the way electrical generators are designed and manufactured. They're engineered to only handle a certain amount of energy at one time. The average power conversion rate currently peaks at about 45 percent, but the maximum peak performance might be able to reach 50 percent
Which is more efficient – solar or wind energy?
In the United States, most homeowners have historically preferred to use solar energy roof arrays to power their homes, while an increasing number of commercial entities are moving toward wind power.
The one benefit of wind over solar for your home is that wind turbines can generate power 24 hours a day since they aren't dependent on sunlight. Wind is considered more efficient than solar because these systems use less energy, release less carbon dioxide and produce more overall energy. A single wind turbine can generate the same amount of electricity in kWh or kilowatt-hours) as thousands of solar panels.
But the energy produced by wind turbines doesn't make it a clear winner. The turbines take up space, can't be used in highly populated areas and can take a terrible toll on the birds. These systems require nearly sky-scraping positioning that are a great distance from trees and taller buildings.
Where does solar power work best?
The sun is everywhere, although some places are naturally exposed to more than others. So, geography can influence the efficiency of solar panel conversion. The directions in which the panels are installed can also increase or decrease efficiency. Cloud cover is the worst enemy of solar systems, which is why it's not in wide use in some southeastern states
Where does wind power work best?
Wind isn't always as available in certain places as sunlight. When considering using wind turbines, geography matters more. These systems require environments that are almost barren of large windbreaks and buildings. Any tall growth or structure that can interrupt the steady flow of wind makes using this type of renewable energy source a losing proposition. Additionally, some areas restrict the construction of any type of structure beyond a certain height. Wind power systems do very well in the Plains states.
How much does a wind turbine cost to build?
A typical American home would require a small turbine capable of generating at least 5-kW to meet all its electricity needs. To buy and install a wind system large enough to power an entire home typically costs about $20,000, but the price of this system can also vary greatly due to the size of your home, the type and height of the system you want and any extra related installation costs.
What are the main disadvantages of wind energy?
The main disadvantages of wind energy are;
- It only works when the wind blows and wind is an intermittent resource;
- Because wind turbines have moving parts they require specialized maintenance; and
- Wind turbines need to be high to to have access to less turbulent wind and this creates visual pollution; and
- Wind turbines can make noise and this noise can cause issues near homes; and
- Wind turbines require planning and building approval and their height is often an issue in residential areas;
- It can be difficult to find good sites for wind turbines because they need to be clear from ground obstructions that affect the wind.
What are the main advantages of wind energy over solar?
The main advantage of wind energy over solar is that the wind can blow at night.
Historically it has had a second advantage over solar when it comes to large-scale projects because it was cheaper. However, the cost of utility-scale solar has now fallen to around $1.20 per watt meaning it is cost competitive with wind.
How much does it cost to install a solar system?
The average cost to install a rooftop or ground array solar system changes due to a variety of factors, including the type and number of panels being installed, whether it's a rooftop or ground array, the area of the country in which it will be installed, local pricing and installation fees, and incentives. The unsubsidized monthly cost for financing a rooftop array for an average 2,000 square foot home can range in cost between $87 and $219 per month for materials and installation costs. However, in each case this is less.
OK solar and wind are very different but which one is cheaper in terms of cost per kWh?
On average, a 5 kW wind turbine of decent quality will cost about $20,000 and will generate between 8,000-$12,000 kWh per year. So it costs around $2 per kWh of annual production. So if the wind turbine lasts 10 years then each kWh of power costs $0.20. Keep in mind these are costs for microturbines large-scale turbines are much cheaper.
We will need a 7kW solar system to produce the same amount of power (although this will change with location (see electricity produced per kW of solar panels for each state ).
The national average cost of installing solar in 2018 is 3.08 per watt making the cost of a 7kW system $21,480 before the 30% tax credit.
So wind and solar in 2018 are very similar in terms of the initial cost to get a set amount of kWh of electricity per year. However, wind has far higher ongoing maintenance costs than solar and typically only has a 5 year warranty. This means that over the life of a wind and solar system the actual cost per kWh with solar is less than half the lifetime cost per kWh of wind for small-scale systems.
Solar is the clear winner in most residential applications.
What are the advantages of renewable energy sources?
Both methods offer clean, reasonably-priced alternatives to the escalating costs, financially and environmentally, of fossil fuels. Their affordability doesn't mean that they're on equal ground.
Both wind and solar have a key role to play in our movement towards sustainable living on our planet. Often it is the case that wind and solar can work in well with each other because it is often windy when it is cloudy and the wind can blow at night. Future grids will have wind and solar but the role of wind will mainly be on the utility scale as it is not a great technology for people to own who do not have the skills to maintain them. I have seen a wind turbine explode and shred the walls of a barn like a bomb went off.