solar energy vs. wind energy

Solar Energy vs. Wind Energy: Which Green Energy is Better (2024)

Renewable energy is the power received from natural sources, having a higher supply than the usage rate. However, it is growing popular as the perfect alternative to fossil fuels for various reasons like – environmental concerns, energy security, economic benefits, technological advancements, reduced costs with public demand satisfaction, incentives, and rebates.

Different types of renewable energy sources with different lifespans having minimum impact on the environment require little maintenance:

  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Hydroelectric Power
  • Geothermal
  • Biomass
  • Tidal

Out of these, Solar and Wind are the most popular types of renewable energy sources to generate electricity.

Around 12% of the global electricity supplies were obtained through solar and wind energy in 2022, thereby pushing the world into a new era with the declining fossil fuels generation and falling power sector emissions. Also, the carbon intensity of global energy generation was reduced to a low value of 436 gCO2/kWh.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) report, the wind and solar energy capacity will be efficient and doubled over the next five years. The report estimates that by 2030 the global energy generation from these renewable sources will increase by up to 20% to 41%. Simultaneously, the electricity demand will increase by an average of 3.7% per year from 2021 to 2030 based on the rapid improvement of the electrification process.

After you complete reading this article solar energy vs. wind energy, you will be able to make decisions on which green energy is better by knowing what solar and wind energy are and their pros, and cons. By understanding various factors that influence these energies and efficiency rate, the location and space requirements, varying installation costs, and payback period.

What is Solar Energy?

a big solar farm

Solar energy is the radiation produced from the sun’s radiation to produce heat, cause chemical reactions, or generate electricity.

Photovoltaic (PV) cells to produce electricity and thermal systems to generate heat are the two main methods used to extract solar energy.

In 2022, around 4.5% of total electricity was generated by solar energy in the US, since the global power generation from solar power was enhanced by 270 TWh. Detailed information about solar energy will help you understand all important things about solar power and how solar energy works.

The different types of solar energy include:

  1. Photovoltaic systems convert sunlight into electricity using PV solar cells.
  2. Thermal Systems use solar collectors to absorb sunlight to heat water and living spaces.
  3. Concentrated Solar Power Systems use lenses or mirrors to focus sunlight on a small area to produce heat, which is converted into steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.
  4. Active Solar Systems use mechanical devices like pumps, valves, heat exchangers, and storage tanks for collection, storage, and distribution of solar energy.
  5. Passive Solar Systems integrate with the building orientation, materials, and architectural elements without using any mechanical devices.

Multiple silicon PV cells create an electric current when sunlight strikes the solar panels and excites electrons. Using inverters, the direct current (DC) is converted into alternating current (AC), making it suitable for use in homes, businesses, and electrical grids.

Solar energy is used in applications like the desalination process, food, textiles, water heating, electricity generation, charging electric vehicles (EVs), and several others.

There is a lot more to know about concentrated solar power(CSP), active and passive solar system.

What is Wind Energy?

wind turbines

Wind energy is another renewable source harnessed using windmills or wind turbines to obtain electrical energy.

Typically, the rotors of wind turbines are involved in the conversion process of kinetic to mechanical power to extract wind energy.

In 2022, about 10.2% of total electricity in the USA was produced by wind turbines in farms of entire utility-scale electricity generation.

The different types of wind energy include:

1. Onshore Wind Energy: Often in rural or remote areas, offshore wind farms are located on land and this type of wind energy is straightforward to develop and maintain.

2. Offshore Wind Energy: The offshore wind farms are erected in large water bodies that generate more energy efficiency compared to onshore due to the larger size of turbines.

3. Distributed and small-scale wind energy: The small-scale wind turbines below 100 kilowatts can be used in residential or commercial properties to generate electricity when not connected to the grid or where grid connections are expensive.

The mechanics of wind turbines involve the rotor blades that trap the kinetic energy of the wind and convert it into rotational motion. A Hub connected to the rotor blades rotates when the blades turn, which drives the generator by converting mechanical energy into electrical ones. The Yaw system rotates the nacelle that houses the gearbox, generator, and other components mounted on top of the tower to support rotor blades and a hub that elevates them to higher altitudes.

Wind Turbines are widely used in large-scale farms on land, coastal waters, cities, or rural areas to generate electricity, community-owned wind projects, and many more…

Solar Energy vs. Wind Energy: Pros and Cons

Despite Solar and Wind Energy being the leading forms of renewable energy, both have their common pros and cons:

PROS:

  • Reduced Air Pollution and dependence on fossil fuels and other foreign energy.
  • The solar and wind farms can generate power on a large scale.
  • Low operational costs
  • These resources cannot be depleted easily
  • High sustainability as the fastest growing energy in the world
  • Supplies power to rural and urban areas
  • Enhances infrastructure and economic rate

CONS:

  • Higher upfront costs
  • Emissions of pollutants during the manufacturing process of panels and turbines
  • Integration of Hazardous materials along with rare, expensive earth materials.
  • Complicated disposal and recycling process
  • Heavily dependent on government subsidies
  • Rarely act as inconsistent power sources

Knowing more about pros and cons of solar energy will help you decide whether solar energy will be beneficial for you or not.

Solar Energy vs. Wind Energy: Which One is Better?

When choosing the better forms of renewable energy between solar and wind that can generate electricity by harnessing sunlight and wind, then you should consider various factors such as

  • Location & Space
  • Cost
  • Incentives & Rebates
  • Efficiency
  • Installation
  • Environmental Impact
  • Life Span & Maintenance
  • Payback Period

Location and Space:

Wind and solar energy can be sustainable depending on the location and space availability. Countries like the USA, China, Australia, India, and middle-east are the best-suited locations for installing solar panels with huge space availability having high insolation to ensure sustainability and consistency. Whereas, wind farms can be installed in countries such as the US, China, Germany, India, and UK because the offshore wind farms can generate more consistent winds compared to onshore locations.

Solar panels function well in places with abundant and consistent sunlight, like deserts or other regions closer to the equator with minimum shading. However, these panels can perform in less sunny climates with low efficiency. On the other side, wind energy can be harnessed in areas with consistent and strong winds like coastal regions and planes, thereby requiring significant land or offshore space for wind turbine installations without depending on sunlight.

On average, residential solar panels require at least 325 to 400 square feet (37.16 square meters) of roof space approximately, and utility-scale solar installation might require a few to a hundred acres of land. Typically, wind turbines require more space for installation compared to solar panels which depends upon several factors like turbine size, wind conditions, and land use regulations. For instance, utility-scale wind turbines may require a minimum of half an acre of land.

But, Solar Panels are a more practical option for urban areas than wind turbines they can reduce additional land, and transmission losses and offer electricity in highly densely populated urban areas.

Cost:

The average cost per watt for solar PV installations for residential purposes in the US varies between $2.75-$5 per watt and $0.90-$1.50 per watt approximately for utility-scale projects. Contrarily, the average cost for offshore is $3.00-$4.50 per watt, which is higher than the local cost of $1.20-$2.00 per watt due to complex construction and maintenance.

Despite its lowering cost with technological advances in recent years, Solar energy requires higher upfront costs than wind energy. But, the maintenance costs are higher than solar, which is influenced based on locations. However, solar energy is still affordable for residential installations and small-scale consumers due to the lower average cost per watt.

Incentives and Rebates:

To adopt renewable energy, you can smartly plan for environmental benefits and financial advantages through various incentives and rebates. Especially, the renewable energy tax credit will cover 30% of the qualified solar and wind energy systems installed at your home between 2022 and 2032. The percentage drops to 26 installed in 2033 and 22 in 2034.

Many states offer various incentives and rebates for wind energy systems depending on your location such as cash rebates, property tax exemptions, sales tax exemptions, and performance-based incentives, but it isn’t widely available as solar energy.

Efficiency:

Wind Turbines have a theoretical higher limit of 59.3% and an average efficiency of 30 to 60% than modern solar panels having an average of 15 to 22% by having the highest theoretical limit of 33.16%. Unlike solar panels, wind turbines don’t depend on abundant sunlight to harness the energy.

Several factors affect solar panel efficiency, such as:

  • Type of solar cells
  • Temperature
  • Intensity of sunlight
  • Orientation and Tilt
  • System Design
  • Dust and Dirt

Likewise, certain factors can have an impact on wind energy efficiency:

  • Turbine size
  • Wind speed
  • Location
  • Site conditions

Installation:

The average time for residential solar panel installation is 1 to 3 days, and the commercial system might take several weeks to months without any complications or delays. Installing a wind turbine is more complex and time-consuming than solar panels which typically takes many days to weeks or months depending upon turbine size, tower height, site preparation, and many others.

The installation requirements for solar systems include:

  • Considerable Roof Space and strength
  • Permission and Approvals from local authorities
  • Electrical system compatibility
  • Equipment installation like inverter installations, wiring, and electrical grid connections
  • Net metering systems

Similarly, the wind turbine installation requirements include:

  • Land Availability
  • Site Evaluation like land suitability, zoning regulations, and environmental considerations.
  • Tower Erection
  • Turbine components like rotor, nacelle, and blades
  • Electrical grid wiring

Solar panel installation requires mounting it on rooftops or ground with straightforward procedures with a lower upfront cost than wind turbines that require tall towers involving complex set-up processes and accurate placements to harness maximum energy.

Environmental Impact:

There are several positive impacts of solar and wind energy on the environment, such as

  • Renewable and clean energy sources
  • Less Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Does not generate any pollution during its functioning.
  • Reduces water usage
  • Job Creation in various sectors
  • Efficient Land usage
  • Lower operational costs and long time savings

On the other side, there are negative impacts of both solar and wind energy:

  • Generates air and water pollution during the manufacturing process
  • Higher upfront costs
  • The extraction process of rare earth materials results in Habitat loss
  • Creating large-scale farms results in some rare wildlife species becoming extinct by losing their habitat.
  • Visual impact in scenic areas.
  • Challenging disposal and recycling methods result in the accumulation of contaminated materials.

Other than these impacts there are so many environmental impacts of solar energy.

Lifespan and Maintenance:

The average lifespan of solar panels is between 25 and 30 years and has low maintenance costs compared to other energy systems. On the other side, Wind turbines with 20 to 25 years of average lifespan can be extended with major component replacements and upgrades without compromising on efficiency, unlike solar panels.

Typically, the maintenance for solar panels costs $50-$200 per year approximately, and it is higher than the wind turbines with 10-20% of the total project cost per year for routine maintenance and repairs.

Solar Panel maintenance requirements are straightforward and need only occasional cleaning, monitoring of energy production, and visual inspection for damage or debris. However, wind turbines require mechanical inspections, electrical testing, and structural assessments.

Compared to wind turbines, solar panels are easier to maintain due to their simple design and few moving parts requiring fewer mechanisms.

Payback period:

The investment time to generate substantial savings or returns to cover the initial investment in solar panels or wind turbines is known as the Payback period.

For solar energy systems, the payback period is from 5 to 10 years, which varies for wind turbines with 5 to 15 years,

Several factors affect the payback period for both Solar and wind energy systems, such as:

  • Initial system costs like installation, permits, and financing.
  • Energy consumption and cost
  • Financial incentives by various governments
  • System size and efficiency
  • Maintenance cost
  • Location and Weather

{Video Credit: Constellation}

Conclusion

Both Solar and Wind energy are fantastic renewable energy sources, but they have their pros and cons. Especially solar panels can generate power only during the day with minimum maintenance, but wind turbines can operate 24/7 with higher efficiency by creating more noise pollution.

For individual owners, the solar panel is the ideal choice, requiring only spacious and strong rooftops. Both solar and wind energy can be a viable option for business owners depending on budget, land availability, on-site generation, and energy needs. However, utility projects often win through wind energy due to higher efficiency and larger power generation.

What Are the Pros and cons of Wind Energy?

Wind energy generated by harnessing the power through wind turbines offers various pros and cons to consider.

PROS:

  1. Countless and unlimited resources can be regenerated frequently with a never-ending process that ensures long-term sustainability.
  2. Long-term savings with lower maintenance and operational costs compared to conventional power plants.
  3. Harnessed at various geographical locations globally with varied wind energy potential.
  4. Promotes energy independence and security.
  5. Economic growth and job creation in various sectors like manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and other related sectors.
  6. Produces clean energy without emitting any greenhouse gases while operating.

CONS:

  1. Wind Turbines cause noise pollution due to the movement of rotor blades and other mechanical components.
  2. Intermittent and variable energy with fluctuating speed over time and location.
  3. Higher upfront costs for wind energy projects which include turbine procurement, site preparation, and grid connection.
  4. Conflicts and competition with other landowners like agriculture, recreation, and conservation.
  5. The spinning blades can pose a threat to birds and bats, thereby requiring careful site selection and mitigation strategies.
  6. Affects the visuals of scenic or rural areas.

How efficient are wind turbines?

According to Betz’s limit, wind turbines are efficient with a theoretical maximum limit of 59.3% for converting wind to mechanical energy. Modern wind turbines have an average efficiency of 25 to 45% by considering various factors like friction, gearbox losses, and electrical conversion limit. Various studies conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) indicate that the average efficiency capacity for on-shore turbines ranges between 30-40% and for offshore turbines 50%.

The annual energy production of a wind turbine can be estimated by multiplying the turbine’s rated capacity (in megawatts) and the number of hours in a year. For instance, a 2MW onshore turbine with a 35% capacity factor could produce 6,132 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity yearly.

{Video Credit- Future Galaxy}

+ posts

Ray is an avid reader and writer with over 25 years of experience serving various domestic and multinational private and public energy companies in the USA.

Leave a Comment