A growing number of homeowners in the United States are turning to renewable energy sources in order to provide power for their homes. The most practical renewable energy systems are photovoltaic (PV) solar energy and small-scale windmills.
Both sources depend on the forces of nature, but overall, solar panels are a great option for consistent electricity generation. Additionally, solar energy systems don’t include moving components that require frequent maintenance like large moving wind turbines do.
We will walk you through the key differences between wind and solar power to help you determine which clean energy option makes sense for your electricity needs.
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Combining solar and wind energy is possible, but it is the most practical with large plots of land available. Image source: Inside Climate News
What is the efficiency of solar panels?
The efficiency of solar panels is a measure of how well certain panels can absorb and convert the sun’s power to electricity.
For example, if we assume that all of the solar irradiation that falls on a particular spot on the earth can be turned into 100% energy, a typical solar panel system should be able to convert 15-22% of that energy into electrical power.
The most efficient solar panels on the market, from brands like SunPower and Panasonic, convert around 22% of the sun’s energy into power. However, it is usually cheaper to purchase a larger amount of less efficient solar panels than fewer more efficient solar panels.
Let’s say you’re looking to install a 5 kW solar panel system. You can choose between installing 13 high efficiency solar panels at a higher price, or 18 low efficiency solar panels at a lower price.
If you have a large roof, it makes more sense to buy the less efficient solar panels, as they won’t cost you as much money to install. However, if you have limited roof space, purchasing the high efficiency panels would be a better choice, to make sure the system fits on your roof.
What is the efficiency of wind power?
The efficiency of wind power is measured by the actual amount of kinetic energy that’s converted – which means when wind hits the turbine, the turbine moves to make energy.
Most wind turbines can convert about half of the wind hitting them into electrical power, with a higher conversion rate for offshore wind turbines.
The ability to convert wind to energy depends on the levels of wind and the wind speed hitting the turbine. If it is not very windy, less energy will be generated. Bigger and taller wind turbines are more efficient because more wind at higher speeds can reach these turbines, thereby producing more energy.
Which is more efficient – solar power or wind power?
In the United States, most homeowners have historically preferred to use rooftop solar panels as a sustainable energy option to power their homes. But, an increasing number of commercial entities are moving toward wind farms.
In fact, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), solar and wind can easily replace fossil fuels to combat climate change without major infrastructure overhauls within the energy industry.
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. A single wind turbine can generate the same amount of electricity in kWh (or kilowatt-hours) as thousands of solar panels.
So technically, wind power is more efficient than solar panels, but it is not as easy to capitalize on wind resources as it is to utilize the sun’s energy.
Wind would make sense for homeowners only if they have a large plot of land and live in an area with a lot of wind that can power the turbines.
Can you combine solar and wind energy?
Combining solar and wind energy offers a unique opportunity. This is really only practical if you have many acres of land, such as a farm, you practice energy efficiency, and want to go off-grid.
By incorporating both solar and wind energy generation, you can be confident that your home will always be supplied with power when you’re off the grid. If there isn’t a lot of sun, wind can help you get your power. Conversely, if it isn’t windy, the sun will provide power for your home.
With hybrid systems like this (and especially if you go off-grid), it makes sense to install a solar battery for excess energy storage. This stored power can help provide energy if your renewable sources do not produce enough electricity during days with less-than-optimal weather conditions.
A combined system will definitely be pricey, but there is the potential to sell extra energy back to the grid in a process called net metering.
Combining solar and wind really only makes sense for rural communities with plenty of space to spare.
Where does solar power work best?
The sun is an abundant energy resource, although some places are naturally exposed to more hours of sunlight than others. Sunnier states like Texas and California allow solar panels to generate more electricity than states like Washington, where it is cloudy more often.
The directions in which the solar panels are installed can also increase or decrease efficiency. In the northern hemisphere, it is best to place your solar panels facing south with no shade cover over the panels.
While solar systems installed in any state can provide the amount of power your home needs, if you live in a cloudier state, remaining connected to the grid or installing a backup battery can help you run on clean electricity all day.
Where does wind power work best?
Wind isn’t always available but it does have a slight advantage over solar because it can generate electricity at night when the wind blows.
When considering using wind turbines, geography is the most important factor. Wind systems require environments that are almost barren of large windbreaks and buildings, so positioning them out in the ocean, in the US great lakes or in the midwest makes the most sense.
Based on the most recent data in 2018, the US generated 275 million megawatt hours of wind energy. Due to their windy environments, half of this power was generated in Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas.
Wind power is becoming more popular throughout the US and is beginning to be incorporated both on and offshore.
What are the main disadvantages of wind energy?
While wind energy offers huge potential, there are some downsides. The main disadvantages of wind energy are:
- Turbines only generate power when the wind blows
- Because wind turbines incorporate moving parts, they require specialized maintenance
- Wind turbines need to be tall to have access to less turbulent wind and finding good sites to place turbines can be difficult
- Wind turbines can make noise and cause visual pollution
How much does a wind turbine cost to build?
Because of the high installation costs of wind turbines, they generally make more sense for large-scale utility projects.
But, for those interested in installing one, the typical American home would require a small turbine capable of generating at least 5kW to meet all its electricity needs based on the US annual electricity consumption average of about 10,972 kWh per year.
The price of a small wind 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. According to the U.S. Department of Energy 2017 Distributed Wind Market Report, the average cost per watt for a wind turbine is $10.12.
How much does it cost to install a solar system?
The average cost to install a rooftop or ground solar system changes due to a variety of factors, including the type and number of panels being installed, the area of the country in which it will be installed, local pricing and installation fees, and incentives.
To get a rough estimate of potential solar cost, you can take the average cost per watt in the U.S., which is $2.60. Based on that price, the cost to install an average 6kW system is about $11,544 after claiming the federal solar tax credit.
This means that solar is a much more cost effective option than installing a wind turbine on your property.
Which one is cheaper in terms of cost per kWh?
Comparing the cost per kWh of wind power versus solar will determine which power source will save you the most money over each of their lifetimes. The more you pay per kWh, the less you will save less on your electric bills; so let’s see how each system stacks up.
On average, a 5kW wind turbine of decent quality will cost about $50,600 and will generate between 8,000-12,000 kWh per year. Wind turbines are built to operate for at least 25 years, however their output degrades by 1.6% each year.
Taking all of these factors into account, the cost per kWh of wind turbines is 20.3 cents.
To produce the same amount of power with solar, a 6kW solar system is necessary and can generate between 6,000 and 10,000 kWh a year. The average cost of a 6kW solar panel system, after the federal tax credit, is $11,544 and the assumed lifetime of a solar panel is also 25 years. The average solar panels degrade at a rate of .5% each year.
Based on these factors, over the lifetime of a solar panel, their cost per kWh is 4.6 cents.
Per kWh, solar panels are cheaper than wind turbines. Not only is solar a cheaper way to generate power, but solar costs less when it comes to long-term maintenance because wind turbines will require more upkeep due to their many moving parts, which are more prone to breaking.
Another key benefit for solar is because solar is more popular, it is much easier to find solar installers than wind turbine contractors. Additionally, solar panels have a better warranty, typically 25 years, whereas typical wind turbine warranties are usually only 2-10 years.
Solar vs. wind energy: which is best for a homeowner?
Both methods offer clean, reasonably-priced alternatives to the escalating costs of fossil fuel energy, both financially and environmentally. Renewable energy allows you to be in charge of your own energy production and saves you money over the long term without generating pollution.
Ultimately, solar panels make the most sense because of the lower cost to install and maintain them.
Future electric grids will have both wind and solar, but the role of wind will mainly be utility-scale, because installing and maintaining a wind turbine is not as financially practical as solar. For homeowners looking for a cost-effective renewable energy choice, solar panels remain the best option.
- Solar panels are the more practical option for homeowners, as wind turbines are too costly and require more maintenance.
- If you want to be off-grid or have a lot of land, combining solar and wind can make sense to provide consistent, clean, renewable power 24/7.
- Wind power has the most potential in places with few structures to block the wind, like in the Great Plains area, where they can provide consistent renewable power.