So, you’ve decided to get off the grid for energy in your home.
Awesome! That’s a great first step.
Of course, now you’ve got to do your homework and figure out what the best ways of doing that are. And that means you want to start with a study on solar vs wind energy.
Once you’ve compared these two primary renewable energy sources, you’ll be able to better decide which is best suited to your particular home situation.
Or, you may determine that either/or works for you, or that you want to do a combination of both to get the most for your investment and be as truly power-grid independent as possible.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
Solar energy is one of the most popular forms of renewable energy in multiple areas of the world, including the USA. The reason? Solar panels and setups are easy-to-install, more budget-friendly than some options, and don’t require much maintenance.
But as you look into whether or not solar energy is for you, you should understand at least the basics on how this technology works.
The simple explanation is that solar panels are made up a series of photovoltaic cells that we often refer to as solar cells. These cells are made of silicon and positioned in a grid-like pattern into a metal frame – often aluminum – and covered with weather and heat resistant glass.
The solar panels must be placed in direct or near direct sunlight where they can draw in energy from the sun. Once the cells pull in this power, they then convert the solar radiation into electricity. The solar inverter converts DC energy into usable AC power. The electricity is then translated into a generator, device, or the external wiring that then powers your electronics or appliances.
If you live in an area where you have lots of sunlight and/or daylight, you will do well with solar power energy systems. If you do not, there are some alternatives beyond the “standard” solar power system that can still work for you. More on that below.
How Does Wind Energy Work?
But if you’re also considering wind power, you need to understand how exactly that energy source works. You’ve seen paintings of windmills from hundreds of years ago, and these employ this long-known energy source. But is it still viable and powerful enough to be worth considering?
Let’s take a look.
Wind energy is technically a type of solar energy. All right, you might now need to ask how is wind energy related to solar energy?
Let me explain.
This wind energy is created by heat aspects of solar radiation rather than light waves. You see, the sun unevenly heats the atmosphere of the earth, which concurs with the irregularities of the earth’s surface, placement of the earth and rotation of the planet.
These three elements work together to create wind. This wind is then used to create usable forms of energy through various means. For example, wind can power a sailboat without any type of electrical needs – it pushes the sails, which in turns moves the boat forward. Wind energy can also turn the blades of a windmill or wind turbine, which can create electricity or mechanical power.
Wind energy is a source of kinetic energy, which literally is the energy of motion. Wind turbines and windmills use this kinetic energy from the wind and convert it into mechanical power or electricity via a generator. The wind the turbine does this by turning the wind energy into electricity via the aerodynamic force that rotator blades create, kind of like an airplane propeller works.
The wind blows across the blades, the air pressure decreases on one side of the blade, and this creates a different pressure across the two. This results in drag and lift. So, when these rotors are attached to a generator, the energy speeds up the rotation and translates this aerodynamic force into the generator’s components that rotate in turn. And this is what creates the electricity that can then power your home appliances.
Which Should You Use? Solar vs Wind Power for Home
Now that you have the basic understandings of how solar energy and wind energy are produced, we’re ready to start making some comparisons by looking at various solar energy vs wind energy facts.
I’ve compiled a list of information on each of the topics that can help you make this wind turbine vs solar panel decision, from cost to installation time to the pros and cons of both.
Solar Vs Wind Cost Per Watt of Power
Much as we’d all like to be “green first,” we do have some considerations when it comes to money that help us make decisions on which route we need to take in this solar vs wind energy comparison. The easiest way to break down this aspect of the debate is at a per-watt-of-power figure.
I cannot give an exact estimate on your cost per watt for a number of reasons – different equipment costs different amounts, installation fees vary, rebates from the government vary, etc. – but I have created a few example charts based on averages across the USA for a specific fictional client who’s heavily debating this option.
There are various charts and ways of viewing the overall costs of energy per watt by various types of sources and regions of the world. These may help you take a more in-depth view and determine further what you’re looking at. But I’ve got a basic breakdown for average costs across the United States to get you started.
Solar Energy Cost Per Watt
The average cost per watt of solar energy is about $3.05 for installation. This includes only panels and the cost of installation by a professional, however, so you’ll have to factor in generators, wiring, and other components of the system.
- Solar panels – $80 to $200 per 100-watt panel
- Solar wiring – $25 to $100 per 12-feet
- Solar power inverter – $190 to $450
- Digital monitoring unit – $15 to $25
- Solar generator or batteries – $130 (low Wh) to $500 (high Wh)
- Mounting hardware – $10 to $50 – many solar panels and kits include this
- One-off solar devices – This varies widely from $10 for pathway lights to $500 for specific, high-end pieces like solar security setups
If you’re able to do the installation yourself, you’ll need to factor together the exact costs of your panels and other equipment, but typically you’re looking at $1-2 per watt, plus the wiring, inverters, etc.
In order to power the average home with solar, at 908 kWh per month, and 150 hours of sunlight per month, you’d need to install a 6.7 kW system. At $3.05 per watt, that comes out to roughly $20,435.
Wind Energy Cost Per Watt
Most of the figures available for wind energy is per kilowatt or megawatt, but if we break these down, we can see the basics.
A wind turbine of 10 kilowatts – enough to fully power a large house – will cost about $55,000.
Per watt, this translates into about $5.5 per watt. That’s more than twice the cost per watt of solar energy.
Below we’ll discuss the reasons why people would consider wind energy over solar energy, despite the difference in cost.
908 kWh per month Example
Solar energy for a home to be fully covered would be: 6.7 kW x $3.05/watt = $20,435.
Wind power for a home to be fully covered would be: 6.7 kW x $5.50/watt = $36,850.
Benefits of Wind Energy
So, if wind energy is so much costlier, why would anyone consider using wind instead of solar energy to power their home?
There are a few distinct reasons that solar energy cannot do as well as wind energy.
Terrain and Climate Advantages for Wind Power
Sunny Florida is great for solar power. But if you happen to live in a climate like Alaska on in a spot that sees more shade than daylight, you’ll find solar power is more challenging for fully powering your house. This is one of those places where wind energy is your friend.
If you live in a windy terrain – think Chicago, Kansas, Oregon, or Wellington, New Zealand – you’re going to do well with powering your place with wind energy.
Wind Energy Can Be Produced All Night Long
Unlike solar energy, darkness doesn’t affect how much power your wind turbine produces. This means that wind power is beneficial for locations in low-light areas or for homes that use a lot of power at night.
Solar energy can be saved up during the day to work at night, of course, but if you want to cut back on generators and batteries, wind energy can help with this as well.
Wind Turbines Generate a Lot More Power
Finally, the biggest advantage of wind energy over solar power is that wind turbines produce more energy than solar panels do, generally speaking.
For places that need a heck of a lot of power – think large houses, farms with multiple buildings, et cetera – wind energy is a logical choice, assuming there’s enough space to house the turbine.
Benefits of Solar Energy
On the other hand, solar energy has a lot of benefits and advantages that wind power does not.
Terrain and Climate Advantages for Solar Energy
If you live in an area that’s lined with trees or tall buildings, wind power is going to be restricted by these barriers.
This means that solar energy – assuming you have a climate that provides you with enough bright, sunny days – will be more advantageous to city dwellers.
Solar Energy is More Predictable Than Wind Energy
Solar energy is more consistent and predictable than the wind. You can basically understand how much sun you’re likely to get by a simple perusal of the local almanac or even a website that tells you how much sunshine your location typically receives each year.
Obviously, if you live in a low-light area like Juneau Alaska or Tórshavn Faroe Islands, you’ll need to consider an alternative energy source. But that’s the thing: you can predict if you’ll be able to power solar energy at your home.
Solar Panels are Easier and Cheaper to Maintain Than Wind Turbines
Another advantage of solar energy is that solar panels and equipment usually require little maintenance over time. Wind turbines, however, are much more prone to damage and need repairs more frequently.
Pro and Con Comparison of Solar Vs Wind Power
To make it easier, we’ve created a basic table to compare the pros and cons of solar versus wind power.
|Collects energy night & day
|Works in low-light settings
|Works in urban areas and heavy forests
|Works in rural areas
|Works in urban/suburban areas
|Depending on regulations
|Depending on regulations
|Low operational costs
|Low maintenance costs
|Predictable energy production
|Requires significant space
|Lower cost alternative power source
Why We Recommend a Combination of Solar and Wind Energy in Most Circumstances
Most of us do not have the ideal location for either a fully solar-powered or wind-powered home.
Instead, most locations in the United States, Europe, Canada, et cetera have a “combination” terrain and climate.
Because of this, along with a few other things, a partnership of the two forms of power can be the ideal way to fully power your home without needing to be linked into the power grid.
If you live in a windy or semi-windy area, wind power can help make up for the energy lost to solar energy collection on low-light days.
Suburban areas surrounding Chicago, for instance, would be an ideal location for this combination. Chicagoland can get pretty sunny during summer months, but spring, winter, and autumn bring a lot of cloudy days. If you use amorphous solar panels, you’ll do better during these months, but wind energy production can add significant power to your setup.
Of course, if you live in a sunny location that has alternating wind levels – which is a good portion of the world – you’ll also benefit from this combination setup because you’re more capable of producing enough energy from both sources than by using just one source alone.
And finally, a combination of the two sources of power can potentially cost you less in the long run.
Small wind turbines are much less costly than what you’d need to fully power your house. And if you use a combination of solar-powered devices – such as security cameras, floodlights and outdoor lanterns – that have a single, smaller cost in combination with several solar panels a generator, and a smaller wind turbine, you can power your whole house for much less money.