Which is Better, Solar or Wind Power?

Wind-and-solar-smaller-225x300Greetings. I was clearing my solar panels yesterday, when my neighbor stopped in. He was curious about my wind generator.

His question, one that many of us ask, was “Which is better, solar or wind power?” That’s a valid question and one that each of us should take a look at. After all, if we’re going to put in some sort of alternate power system, it should be the best we can do.

Solar power has gained the distinction of being the number one “green” or “alternate” energy source; at least here in the United States. On a worldwide basis, it looks like it might be so as well, with many countries installing solar power systems to augment their more traditional fossil fuel power plants. But popularity doesn’t make something better, even though it can be a pretty good indicator of how good some things are.

Solar has the advantage of being available just about anywhere. Unless you live in Washington State or Oregon, where they have rain 400 out of the 365 days in a year, you can pretty much count on having sunlight to power your solar panels, no matter where you live.

The other nice thing about solar power is that once it is installed, it’s good for 20 years or more. You don’t have to do any maintenance work on it at all; just enjoy clean, free (once the costs of the solar panels are covered) power. But solar has its drawbacks too… mostly the high cost of putting in enough solar panels to really make a difference in your home.

Wind, on the other hand, doesn’t work everywhere. You have to have about ten miles per hour of wind to turn a wind generator. While there are plenty of places in the country with fairly consistent wind, that’s not universal. There are a lot of places where you’ll rarely see any wind at all. Obviously, installing a wind turbine where there is little to no wind isn’t going to provide you with the electrical power your family needs.

But wind is generally cheaper than solar, with a single wind turbine providing as much power as a number of solar panels. So, if you’re looking for efficient use of space or trying to develop a system for the minimal possible investment, you’re probably better off with solar.

There’s another consideration you have to make with wind though, which you don’t have to make with solar. That’s the noise factor. Wind turbines can be rather noisy, especially the horizontal wind turbines (the traditional design, like a windmill). Vertical axis wind turbines are much quieter, but they aren’t anywhere near as common. You’d have a hard time finding one that you could buy commercially. Because of the noise factor, before deciding on wind power, you need to check whether your city even allows it.

Solar only works when there is sunlight and wind only works when there are wind. That actually means that there are more hours per day in which a wind turbine can work, as solar can only work during the daytime hours. But again, this depends on the climate where you live, especially how consistent the wind is where you live.

So what do you do? Each has its pros and cons. Neither is perfect. Making the wrong decision could mean that you only have power sometimes, rather than all the time. Considering the high cost of putting these systems in, you don’t want that happening to you.

There is no perfect answer to this question, because everyone’s situation is different. You have to make the choice based upon what’s going to work best where you are and a lot of that will depend on the climate you have. If you have a lot of sun, then solar may appear to be the best solution. But if you have a lot of wind, you might be better off with a wind turbine.

Actually, the best solution, if you can do it and if your climate makes it practical, is to have both. That way, if you have a day without wind, you will probably have plenty of sun, so your solar panels can provide you with power. If it’s stormy and your solar panels aren’t going to work, you’ll probably have plenty of wind, so you’ll still have power. By combining the two, you have the greatest chance of having power available at any moment in time.

Of course, any alternate power system should be connected to a battery backup, so that you have a more consistent supply of electrical power. That battery backup will allow you to run your equipment all the time, even in those rare instances when you aren’t receiving it from either the sun or the wind. At the same time, it acts as a line conditioner, ensuring that your power level remains consistent.

Keep in mind that you can save a lot of money by building these systems yourself, rather than buying them. On the average, you can save about 50% by building your own solar panels. When it comes to wind power, you can save even more. So, if you’re the handyman type, get to your workshop and start building.

In the mean time, keep your powder dry and your survival equipment close at hand.


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