Solar Energy vs Hydro Energy: What’s the Difference?

Solar Energy vs Hydro Energy: When it comes to sustainability, green energy sources (like solar, wind energy, hydro power, etc.) seem to have the brightest future.

This is so because these energy sources are renewable and will always be available to us. 

In this post, I am here with an ultimate comparison of solar energy vs hydro energy.

Both solar and hydro energy are renewable & eco-friendly sources of energy. Each of them has their own benefits & drawbacks.

Before comparing solar energy with hydro power, I will give a brief overview of both energy sources with their pros and cons.

At the end of this post, you will also find an infographic that can help you summarize everything.

If you don’t know what are renewable & non-renewable resources, check out our recent post on renewable vs non-renewable resources.

Solar Energy

Sun is the largest source of energy on earth. The energy that we receive from the sun in the form of heat radiations is referred to as solar energy.

Solar Panels Rooftop

With the help of solar panels, this energy is further converted into electric current. The process of conversion of solar energy into electricity is known as the photovoltaic effect.

The best thing about solar energy is that it is renewable & hence sustainable. 

I have listed some major benefits & challenges of adopting solar energy below.

1. Do not pollute the environment.1. Less efficient compared to fossil fuels.
2. It is renewable.2. Affected by weather conditions.
3. Can be used anywhere & increases home value.3. PV panels are location sensitive.
4. Cheap & can be stored.4. High setup cost.
5. Sustainable in nature.5. Longer return on investment.

Hydro Energy

The energy harnessed from water is known as hydro energy. 

In hydro power plants, the accelerated water is used to spin the blades of the turbine. These turbines then convert mechanical energy into electricity.

Hydro power plant

It is quite similar to wind energy. The only difference is that here we use water instead of air.

The water thus required for electricity production is stored in the dams & reservoirs.

Let us also have a look at the benefits & drawbacks of hydro power.

1. Hydro power is renewable.1. Building a hydro power plant is highly expensive.
2. Do not pollute the environment.2. Degrade the marine ecosystem.
3. Highly efficient.3. Longer construction time.
4. Leads to sustainability.4. Cannot be built anywhere.
5. Play a major role in economic development.5. Electricity generation reduces during droughts.

Solar Energy vs Hydro Energy

Till now, we have discussed the concept of solar energy & hydro energy along with their pros & cons. 

Let us now compare both of them & try to find a winner. 

I am considering the following aspects while comparing solar energy vs hydro energy:

  • Availability
  • Environmental Impact
  • Cost associated
  • Efficiency &
  • Maintenance

Let’s dive right in.

1. Availability

Both solar & hydro energy are renewable & sustainable sources of energy.

However, during droughts in hot weather, we might see a downfall in electricity production.

Well, solar panels also lack energy production in fog & cloudy weather.

Overall, both solar & hydro power will always be available to us with a few constraints.

2. Environmental Impact

Both solar energy & hydro energy are green energy sources & have little to no impact on the environment.

According to a study by Vattenfall, solar panels work out around 50 gm of CO2 per kWh of energy produced. It is quite less in comparison to fossil fuels (that produce 1000 gm /Kwh).

Carbon Emissions by Electricity Source

However, in the case of hydro power, the carbon emissions are very few (0-5gm/ kWh).

So, based on the above study we can say that hydro energy is the clear winner.

3. Cost Associated

The initial cost of setting up both solar & hydro power plants is extremely high.

However, if we consider the cost of energy, hydro energy seems much cheaper compared to solar energy.

Here’s why?

According to EIA*, the average cost of hydro energy per MwH in 2011 is around $90.3 which is lesser as compared to that of solar energy ($144.3 per MWh).

*EIA stands for U.S. Energy Information Administration

4. Efficiency

Efficiency refers to the maximum amount of output that can be produced by using the least amount of resources.

Solar panels have an efficiency of around 15-20%. It means only 15 to 20% of solar energy converts into electricity.

Although, modern hydro turbines can convert up to 90% of energy into electricity.

Thus, in terms of efficiency, hydro energy is conquering.

5. Maintenance

Solar panels do not require much maintenance. You just have to clean dirt from their surface periodically so that it won’t block the sunlight.

Meanwhile, hydro power plants are hard to manage & require large manpower for regular maintenance.


What is the difference between solar energy and hydro energy?

The energy that we receive from the sun is called solar energy. While hydro energy is the energy of water that we use to generate electricity.

How is hydroelectric power generated?

In Hydropower plants, accelerated water is used to spin the blades of turbines. These turbines convert mechanical energy into electric current.

Is Solar energy better than hydroelectric?

Both solar & hydroelectric energy have their pros & cons. However, if we take efficiency into consideration hydro power is better compared to solar energy.

Do hydro power plants produce greenhouse gases?

No, the generation of electricity through hydro power plants is pollution-free & eco-friendly.

Up to You!

I have tried my best to compare solar energy vs hydro energy based on factors like availability, cost, efficiency, etc. 

Hydro energy seems to be better in some aspects while solar power is winning on others.

Both solar & hydro energy are renewable & sustainable energy sources.

If you are an individual & want to adopt green energy then you should go for solar energy. It is so because even a mini-hydropower plant will cost you thousands of dollars.  

What do you think? Which energy source is better and why?

Leave a comment to let everyone know!

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  1. Wow! This post was actually extremely informative. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know too much about either solar or hydro energy other than that they were greener options! This was super well written and extremely educational. Great article!

  2. This is all awesome info to know! Eventually I’d like to have solar panels on my house however we do not own this house and it is a little pricey to have them installed.

  3. This was a very informative article! I had no idea that hydro energy degraded the marine ecosystem. I learned some great stuff from this post. Thanks!

  4. You have written a great deal of information about solar energy. In today’s lifestyle, I think every house needs it. thanks for sharing such a detailed post. 👍🏻

  5. In these days of efficiency, this is really helpful! Didn’t know hydro energy costs more than solar energy, but solar is easier to maintain. Interesting.

  6. There are so many things to consider and reading this have truly helped give us more facts on each. Considering climate change and everything bad happening in our environment, corporations should really look into this further!

  7. very interesting and very educational post to me. I didn’t really pay much attention do hydro energy at all, thinking of solar energy as of something the best

  8. Solar power stands out as the process of converting the sunlight through solar panels and into electricity. Whereas hydropower is simply the power acquired from the energy of moving water with the help of turbines.