Solar vs Wind Energy: Which one is better?
Both wind and solar are sustainable and renewable sources of energy.
Adopting renewable energy is one of the best ways to reduce your electricity bills.
Also, by doing this you not only can reduce your carbon footprints but also contribute to save the environment.
In 2019, U.S. annual energy consumption from renewable sources exceeded coal consumption for the first time in over 130 years.
Below graph from EIA shows the trends of renewable energy consumption over the years:
And, if we see the consumption by the energy source, coal was once commonly used in the industrial, transportation, residential, and commercial sectors.
But, According to EIA (Energy Information Administration), In 2019, U.S. coal consumption decreased for the sixth consecutive year to 11.3 quadrillions.
Below are the stats showing renewable energy consumption by source:
Since 2015, the growth in U.S. renewable energy is almost entirely attributable to the use of wind and solar in the electric power sector.
Before comparing both energies, first, understand what they are and how they are produced.
Wind energy is generated by wind turbines. These turbines have a large vaned wheel that is rotated by the wind to generate electricity.
Horizontal Axis designs are windmills with a long thin base and have 2-3 blades extending outwards from the top of the windmill which rotates as the wind blows.
When the blades spin, it rotates a shaft inside the turbine and the moving shaft spins a generator to create electricity.
Wind energy has many advantages; And, that is why it is one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world.
Advantages of wind energy are:
- Wind energy is not only a clean energy source but also produces no pollution.
- Cost-effectiveness is one of the advantages of wind energy.
- Wind power is also sustainable.
- Occupy less space as compared to other energy resources.
- Wind power systems are highly efficient.
Each energy source has both advantages and disadvantages. Challenges of adopting wind energy include:
- Wind power plants can impact birds and local wildlife eg. Sometimes, birds are killed due to flying into spinning turbine blades.
- Wind turbines cannot be used in highly populated areas.
- It causes noise pollution up to 100 dB.
- Wind plants can impact local wildlife
Solar energy is generated using Solar panels. These solar panels are made up of semiconductor materials, primarily, Silicon is used.
These panels absorb the sun’s rays and convert them to generate electricity or heat.
Photovoltaic panels capture sunlight and convert it into direct current.
The inverters are used to convert the DC output of solar panels into AC (alternating current) power suitable for your homes and small businesses.
The conversion of solar energy into electricity is possible only because of the photovoltaic effect which we have discussed in our previous post.
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use mirrors and lenses to focus the sun’s light energy and convert it to heat. The heat creates steam which will turn a turbine creating energy.
The benefits of solar energy are:
- The availability of solar panels is easy.
- Solar power systems require low maintenance.
- No Noise Production
- It is a clean and sustainable energy source.
Below are some of the top challenges of using solar energy:
- Higher initial investment.
- Occupy large spaces.
- Solar panels have less efficiency.
- Weather dependency
Solar vs Wind Energy: Comparison
Today, Solar and wind are the fastest growing renewable options.
Since, we have already discussed the brief introduction of both solar energy and wind energy and also the benefits and challenges of adopting them.
We will now compare solar energy and wind energy on the following aspects:
- Life cycle
- Installation Ease
- Cost Analysis
You will have a better understanding of comparison from the below table:
|Maintenance||The cost of maintenance is very high.||This system requires minimal maintenance.|
|Life Cycle||Last about 20 years to 25 years||Last about 30 years|
|Installation Ease||Wind power systems cannot be installed in highly populated areas. Also, it produces noise pollution up to 100db.||Solar panels are far easier to install than wind turbines.Rooftop installations are also available.|
|Efficiency||Wind turbines can convert almost half of the wind hitting it, into electricity.||The most efficient solar panels can convert 20-22% of sunlight into electricity.|
|Cost Analysis||Depend on factors likeSize of the wind turbines,utility connections andheight of the tower.||Depend on factors like the type of solar panel, utility connection, and storage selection.|
|Location||Wind power systems do well in plain states||Solar power systems do best in the locations near the equator.|
For the generation of electricity, the wind turbines rotate and, hence, these rotating parts need maintenance after a certain time. And, the cost of maintenance is very high.
Solar panels are stable and have no moving parts as wind power systems have, and hence, solar power systems require minimal maintenance. Even after 20 years of use, it produces 80% power.
2. Life Cycle
Wind turbines last about 20 years to 25 years depending on your site i.e how windy or turbulent your site is.
Also, the maintenance cost will increase as the wind turbines get older.
Life span of solar panels is about 30 years and it depends particularly on the selection of its type.
panels are made of pure silicon have more life than any other that is made of impure silicon or any other semiconductor.
3. Installation Ease
Wind power systems cannot be installed in highly populated areas.
Some reasons are:
- They need skyscraping positions for installation that should be greater than buildings and trees.
- These can also harm the birds.
- These produce noise pollution.
Hence, generally, wind power systems are set up far away from the cities to avoid these problems.
Solar panels are far easier to install than wind turbines. Why is this so?
- Solar panels can be installed on the rooftop.
- These are easily available and lighter weight than wind turbines.
- Today, there are a variety of solar panels available in the market whereas there are no such options for wind turbines.
The efficiency of any power system is defined by how much energy it can produce at a given unit of time.
A single wind turbine can generate electricity which will be equal to electricity generation by thousands of solar panels.
Wind turbines can convert almost half of the wind hitting it, into electricity, that is these are approximately 50% efficient.
But, because of the discontinuation of getting winds, these systems can produce less electricity.
The most efficient solar panels (made of monocrystalline silicon) can convert 20-22% of sunlight into electricity.
But, despite having less efficiency than wind power, solar panels can produce more electricity than wind turbines.
5. Cost Analysis
However, the cost of both solar power systems and wind power will vary, and it depends on the country you are living in.
Yet, the initial cost of both energy sources is approximately the same.
Cost of a wind power system depends on the following factors:
- Size of the wind turbines
- Utility connections
- Height of the tower
Cost of a solar power system depends on the following factors:
To decide which energy source will work best for you, you need to first analyze the geographical location of the installation.
Wind power systems do well in plain states since they need wind speeds of at least 12 miles per hour.
Solar power systems do best in the locations near the equator.
Yet, the availability of sun is everywhere and we can generate electricity by installing solar panels facing the sun.
So, we can say that it will be easier to generate electricity using solar power.
Generally, large scale or utility operators use wind power systems while homeowners prefer solar since it is easier in installation.
You should consider your preferences for location, space, and usage before adopting any renewable energy.
I have discussed all the aspects of the comparison of solar and wind energy.
Hope you get a better understanding of wind vs solar energy.
So, adopt renewable sources of energy and contribute to a better future.
Do let us know, which one is better for you?
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