Solar vs. Wind Energy
As renewable energy sources continue to grow and increase their contribution to the U.S. energy grid, it is increasingly common to see solar farms or wind farms across the nation. You may come across a massive wind farm where hundreds of wind turbines dot the landscape for as far as the eye can see. While there are other sources of clean energy, such as hydroelectric and geothermal energy, both solar and wind are the most commonly recognized forms and most available for individuals, businesses, or religious organizations looking to make the switch to clean, sustainable renewable energy. Interested in comparing wind and solar options? The below fact sheet can help you decide which way to go.
Pros and Cons of Solar Energy Compared to Wind Energy
- An abundant source of energy, even in winter
- The cost of equipment solar installation has dropped
- Easier to put in residential areas as they don’t cause visual or sound pollution
- Very predictable source of energy
- Easier to implement on a wide-scale power system
- Require little maintenance once they’ve been built
- There are no moving parts, also, the solar system is less susceptible to lightning and high wind damage
- Shade/clouds create a drop in efficiency
- The startup cost is still significant
- Only operate during the day
- Generates less electricity than wind turbines
Solar vs. Wind: Which is Expensive?
Historically, wind power has been considered a less expensive option for producing renewable energy, especially on a commercial level. However, as solar panel technology continues to evolve, today commercial scale solar farms can produce solar energy for as low as 450.20 per watt, and that number could continue to drop. This puts commercial scale solar energy on par with large wind farms in terms of cost.
Few homeowners or communities, however, are going to have the financial resources to invest millions of dollars in hundreds of wind turbines or acres of solar panels. On a smaller, household level, a 5kW wind turbine should cost you about 32,000, including installation and all other necessary equipment. If placed in an area with a decent amount of year-round wind, this turbine could generate approximately 8,900 kWh per year. While community wind farms programs have yet to emerge the way Community Solar farms have, this might be an option in the near future for communities who live in areas where there is a steady source of wind. Because the wind is arguably less predictable than the sun, the variations in wind production can produce varying degrees of risk.
On the other hand, for a similar amount of energy production, a household would need a 7 kW solar array. With the average cost of installed solar at 3.50 per watt, this would come to between 20,650 and 24,500 before the solar tax credit.
The 26% solar tax credit, which is still available in 2020 would further reduce those costs, however, it is important to note that the Federal Government will be eliminating the solar tax credit by 2022. For many people, this might seem like a costly option. Furthermore, suppose you don’t own your home or don’t have the conditions necessary for installing solar panels on your roof or a massive wind turbine in your backyard. In that case, Community Solar farms are another option worth exploring that can drastically reduce the cost of accessing renewable, clean, energy.
Because the cost per watt with solar panels is much cheaper for larger scale projects, both homeowners and renters can choose to participate in a Community Solar Program. Clearway Community Solar is one company that operates Community Solar farms in several areas around the country, including Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Minnesota. By participating in a Community Solar program, customers can not only avoid having to assume the often prohibitive upfront costs that come with installing either solar panels or a large wind turbine, but will benefit from a reduced monthly electricity bill. This is because solar energy is almost always less expensive than the fossil fuel energies that continue to be a staple of the electricity offered by municipal utility companies.
People who choose to participate in a Community Solar program, such as those offered by Clearway Community Solar might find instant savings from the reduced cost on their monthly utility bills.
Another important consideration when comparing the costs of wind and solar energies is that wind turbines typically have more maintenance costs. While solar panels come with extended warranties of up to 25 years, most wind turbines only come with 10 year warranties, meaning that there is a good chance there will be a large amount of money in upkeep. Considering this, the actual cost per kWh is probably significantly less with solar power.
Solar vs. Wind: Which is the Better Alternative?
The answer to this question will largely depend on your particular budget, the climate and region you live in, and your goals for renewable energy generation. The wind only blows steadily in certain areas. Especially in urban and suburban areas, to get the most energy from a wind turbine, you would ideally need to locate the wind turbines in areas where the wind is more constant, generally in higher elevations. The sun, however, shines almost everywhere. For homeowners whose roof is not correctly oriented towards the south or who have problems with excessive shading, participating in a Community Solar project is a better option for accessing renewable solar energy.
Both wind and solar offer certain advantages in some contexts, but also face challenges. If you live in an area where the wind blows regularly, investing in a wind turbine might be the best option. Solar power, on the hand, is available anywhere, from Antarctica to northern Canada and is most likely the most economically friendly option for renewable energy generation on a small scale.
Today, it is also possible to find hybrid solar panels and wind turbines. These systems allow homeowners and communities to enjoy the relatively constant source of energy from the sun during daylight hours and also continue to produce energy in the nighttime when winds are present.
Both solar and wind energies are fundamental to helping move our society towards an autonomous, carbon neutral and non-polluting energy grid. In some countries such as Norway where constant coastal winds are present, government and private industry investment in massive offshore wind farms might make economic sense. In almost every region, however, there are areas where solar energy can be harnessed for the local grid. Community Solar programs are usually the most cost-effective option and the most efficient way to produce a renewable, carbon emissions-free source of energy.
Solar vs. Wind Energy: Which One’s Better?
Wind and solar power are massive players in the renewable energy arena. They not only cut carbon emissions from fossil fuels, but they’re also inexhaustible energy sources and — best of all — free. Clearly, they have an edge-up over fossil fuels, but what happens when you compare them to each other?
It’s clear that wind and solar power are greatly beneficial to our energy future. However, determining which one is “better” or “more promising” starts to get a little gray, as the energy industry is complex with lots of moving parts. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each so we can finally give an answer to this hotly debated topic.
Pros and Cons of Solar Energy
It’s no secret that fossil fuels are the primary source of carbon emissions in the world. 1 Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides, are emitted into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels to generate energy.
Solar energy, on the other hand, generates no carbon emissions when it creates electricity. It replaces the need for fossil fuels and helps lessen the strain on the energy grid. over, solar panel systems can be installed practically anywhere that receives consistent sunlight — on rooftops, in fields, on cars, on bikes and even on traffic lights. Solar panels can even provide power on rainy days, though their generating capacity may be reduced. Best of all, the fuel — our sun — is absolutely free. There’s no limit to how much sun there is.
That said, we realize solar energy may not be perfect — right now, at least. For residential customers who want rooftop panels, an investment in solar is like buying a car, averaging 13,000 for each installation. 2 Thankfully, retail electricity providers like Chariot and other companies front that cost so you can still enjoy solar without the hefty premium that comes with owning your own panels.
Solar also doesn’t generate electricity at night, and any energy storage system — not just solar — can be expensive. Plus, solar power systems require the use of some metals that are both difficult and ecologically fraught to unearth.
Thankfully, all of these challenges are being addressed as we speak! We have more information in our article discussing the pros and cons of solar.
Pros and Cons of Wind Energy
Wind and solar share several of the same benefits. Like solar, wind energy generates no greenhouse gas emissions when producing electricity, thus reducing your carbon footprint. Wind also received federal assistance, and the wind itself has no price — it’s totally free like the sun.
They’re practically identical in every way. However, wind has one big advantage over solar in that it can create electricity at night. Wind doesn’t stop when the sun goes down, but what you gain in nighttime generation, you lose in terms of consistency and location.
Why you haven’t seen these wind turbines around (yet)
Currently, wind turbines are confined to areas like the West Texas plains — wide-open spaces where wind can build up speed. If you build in a more populated area, you risk losing money because less-windy areas are not energy efficient.
Think of it like installing solar panels in the shade. You’ll get some generation, but not as much as if you placed them in direct sun. Additionally, the wind doesn’t blow all the time, and we can only predict the weather so much.
Finally, wind turbines can affect wildlife, like birds, bats, and other airborne creatures. However, the number of birds killed annually by cats — 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds — towers in comparison to deaths caused by turbines, around 140,000 to 500,000. 3
Our Final Answer?
Solar and wind each have their own benefits and disadvantages. Solar, for example, can’t create electricity at night, while wind can — along with hydropower, geothermal, and more. However, solar is just more consistent and more accessible than the other sources.
So, our solution to the renewables question is simple: Achieve a balance of them all.
Take a look at this graph:
Today, wind is the primary renewable energy resource in use for that 11% above, but each energy source plays an important role in reducing the large chunk of the emissions pie. Fossil fuels still outrank renewables, but coal is increasingly becoming less common as renewables grow.
Our key takeaway? Both solar and wind energy play an important role in diversifying our energy mix, and they shouldn’t compete with each other. Instead, think of them on the same team, trying to reach a collective goal of a brighter future for us all — a great life lesson we should all learn.
Home Solar Panels
In 2022, modern solar panels are either installed on a roof or ground-mounted to convert sunlight into energy. Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells (or solar cells) that use the semi-conductive material silicon to create an electric current. The electricity that the panels produce is direct current (DC), and it is converted by an inverter into AC electricity, which is what we use to power our homes.
The best solar panels these days average between a power capacity of 250 to 400 watts, and the most efficient solar panels reach efficiency levels around 20%, meaning 20% of the energy that strikes the panel is converted into electricity. A typical solar array ranges anywhere from 10 to 30 solar panels (or more), with the average being around 20 to power an American household.
The average cost of a solar installation is between 20,000 to 40,000, varying with the complexity of an installation, location, and the size and energy needs of a home. This is a steep barrier to entry, and it remains one of the largest challenges to solar’s growth (which is why some companies have began offering ‘free’ options). However, for those able to afford the upfront cost or take out a solar financing loan, solar provides decades of energy savings and can top even 50,000 of lifetime savings in the right location.
Most homes with solar will remain grid-tied, meaning you won’t lose your connection with your local utility. However, off-grid solar can be used in small-scale applications.
Not only does residential solar help homeowners offset their electricity usage, but installations help homeowners lower their dependence on fossil fuels and public utilities, yielding a number of personal and community benefits.
Home Wind Turbines
Wind turbines can also be used to generate electricity. Rather than using the photovoltaic effect, the blades of wind turbines spin to turn an inner rotor. The rotor sends kinetic energy to a generator that converts it into AC electricity, similar to an inverter in a solar array. Also like solar, wind power can be grid-tied or the resulting energy can be stored in a battery.
Unlike solar panels, in the wind turbine world, bigger is better, as winds generally increase as altitudes increase.
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the hub height for utility-scale, land-based wind turbines has increased 59% since 1998, measuring about 295 feet in 2020 (about the same height as the Statue of Liberty). And the hub height for offshore turbines in the U.S. is projected to be even taller.⁹ Because turbines are so large, local zoning ordinances usually present challenges to residential wind installations.
This dependence on size contributes most to what differentiates wind from solar power. Wind power takes up far more space to be most effective, and as a result, most wind turbines are used on a commercial or industrial scale rather than residential. However, wind turbines harness about 50% of the energy that passes through them, compared with the 20% efficiency of the top residential solar panels.¹⁰ And unlike solar panels, wind turbines can produce energy at any time of day, making them very effective when implemented properly.
In closing, location is key for wind as source of energy. Wind turbines work best in large expanses of land without trees, buildings or other obstructions. States like Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas and Illinois are leading the nation in wind energy, and coastal states such as Virginia, Massachusetts and New Jersey have invested heavily in offshore wind power, a promising avenue for growth.
Benefits of Solar Panels and Wind Turbines for the Home
Though the road has been bumpy with squeezed supply chains and inflation, the cost of renewable energy technologies is near the lowest it has ever been, eclipsing that of traditional sources like coal and natural gas. Solar and wind installations continue to grow exponentially, and technological advances and low costs have made residential clean energy sources extremely in-demand.
Generally speaking, however, wind installations are in almost every case used on a commercial or industrial scale, while solar has proved its value in the residential market. Let’s go over the biggest benefits and drawbacks of each.
Pros and Cons of Solar Power
As mentioned, solar panel installations offer tremendous opportunities as a residential-scale energy source. Here are the main reasons why:
Pros and Cons of Wind Power
Wind power, rather, is much more practical at the utility scale.
Wind and Solar Are Better Together
November 7, 2016 — What’s keeping solar and wind power from fully taking over the electric grid? For starters, the sun only shines during the day. Wind blows intermittently, is seasonally variable, and is not always blowing when the energy is needed. But what if solar and wind work together? “Wind resource tends to complement solar resource,” says Sarah Kurtz of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Here in Colorado, for instance, the windiest time is during the winter and spring months. In winter, we don’t have as much sunshine, but we tend to get more wind and stronger wind.”
A handful of enterprising renewable energy developers are now exploring how solar and wind might better work together, developing hybrid solar–wind projects to take advantage of the power-generating strengths of each — with the two technologies in tandem serving as a better replacement for climate-warming fossil fuels than either could be alone.
Tacking on Solar
On the rolling plains just west of Australia’s Great Dividing Range, construction is expected to begin on a 10-megawatt solar farm adjacent to 73 wind turbines that are already online. According to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency — ARENA, a governmental agency tasked with increasing deployment of renewable energy — which has invested A9.9 million in the project a couple hours’ drive southwest of Sydney, the co-location of solar and wind provides more continuous energy generation than having either technology working alone.
Co-locating wind and solar plants can save money on grid connections, site development and approvals.But that’s not the only benefit. Co-locating wind and solar plants can save money on grid connections, site development and approvals, says ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht. By building the Gullen Solar Farm adjacent to the existing wind project, Frischknecht estimates savings as high as A6 million — reducing the cost of the project by a full 20 percent.
Frischknecht hopes that the Gullen Range project will serve as a model for how tacking solar onto existing wind farms can boost its application. “Scale isn’t as important for competitiveness when plants are co-located, meaning the approach could also unlock new markets for medium-scale solar PV projects,” he says. And just how big could these new markets be? Frischknecht points to an ARENA-funded study that found an estimated 1,000 MW of solar generating potential at existing wind farms in Australia — enough, ARENA calculates, to power 700,000 homes.
“The lessons learned at Gullen Range will be invaluable, as this is the first project of its type in Australia,” Frischknecht says. “It has the potential to cement industry confidence in the approach and provide a blueprint for similar projects to follow.”
Expanding power production and saving money on installation aren’t the only benefits that can come from combining wind and solar. When applied to microgrid systems — local energy grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid and operate autonomously — combined solar and wind can help cut battery costs as well, says NREL’s Kurtz.
According to Kurtz, microgrids are finding application in places like Hawaii and India where utility are exorbitantly high or where communities are too remote to be tied into the macrogrid.
Microgrids powered by photovoltaics require battery storage, since people need power when the sun isn’t shining. The problem is, batteries are still quite expensive. Adding wind can help cut the battery costs, since the wind can (and often does) blow when the sun doesn’t shine.
“If you’re in a location where the wind does blow, and especially where the wind complements solar, until the batteries get cheaper than the wind power itself, you’re going to be better off adding wind [than batteries],” Kurtz says.
The microgrid will still need some form of storage, “because there will always be a night when the wind isn’t blowing,” she adds. But the solar and wind combination “can make battery demand much smaller.”
Combining solar photovoltaics and wind turbines at the same location can actually yield up to twice the amount of electricity as having either system working alone.As these types of hybrid systems are just now coming online — ARENA hopes that the Gullen Solar Farm will start producing power in July 2017 — there isn’t yet a lot of empirical data about how well they actually perform. But solar developers have been wary that the shadows cast by wind turbines could potentially stunt the production of solar power.
Research, however, is allaying some of those fears. Simulations conducted in 2013 by the Reiner Lemoine Institut and Solarpraxis AG, both in Germany, showed that shading losses would be as low as 1 to 2 percent on average. They also suggested that combining solar photovoltaics and wind turbines at the same location can actually yield up to twice the amount of electricity as having either system working alone in the same land area. The Gullen Range project, for its part, avoids shading losses altogether by locating the photovoltaics on a northern facing slope beyond the range of any turbines’ shadows.
The Rise Of Solar Power
In Texas, the Defense Logistics Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense is getting around any potential downsides of co-locating the two technologies another way — by taking a more “virtual” approach to hybrid wind and solar. The agency is working with developer Apex Clean Energy to meet 100 percent of Fort Hood’s electricity needs with onsite solar PV panels that are complemented by additional energy wired in from a wind farm in Floyd County, more than 300 miles northwest of the facility.
Apex put the solar onsite because the Army wanted the grid security provided by local generation that isn’t vulnerable to power outages and other transmission constraints, Apex director of public affairs Dahvi Wilson explains. But Apex and the Army chose to site the turbines where the wind resource was the strongest. The setup illustrates the point that “[a] hybrid project does not necessary have to be co-located,” Wilson says.
Wilson is enthusiastic about how the projects helps make these renewables make sense from an economic as well as environmental standpoint.
“Wind energy offers the cheapest option for new energy construction currently available in the U.S., while solar energy can be more expensive to develop and install,” Wilson explains. “By combining the costs into one product, the blended cost is competitive with other new sources of energy.”
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