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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  1. Henry P. Hudson
    1 year ago

    IN Oklahoma you could do both. Windy nearly all the time with speeds of sustained winds of 40 mph not unusual and even more days than I care for of gust of 75mph-100mph. And the sun shines hear a lot.


  2. Bob
    1 year ago

    Are you integrated into the grid? Many promoters say excess energy produced goes into the grid and you wind up getting money back from the electric utility. But assume solar or wind both produce DC power. How is that integrated into the AC grid? And how does your home-generated DC power work with your AC motors, refrigerator, other appliances??


  3. Kirk
    1 year ago

    Your wind and solar setup looks really clean. You mentioned saving 50% or more by building our own. I am assuming you built yours. Would you be willing to share instructions for building a system such as yours?


  4. Art Peters
    1 year ago

    You have hit the “Spot” on the self-generated energy issues. We presently have two dozen solar panels that are making a big difference here in southern Ohio. We are still studying how to install wind power on the hills where we live as well.

    Thanks
    Art.


  5. Stephen Long
    1 year ago

    Greetings-

    This is the 2nd year of the install of my 6kw grid tie solar array.I love it! In addition this year I will install a 30 evacuated tube solar water heating system.

    I agree with your pros and cons assessment of wind power. Other considerations regarding wind sites, generators to work effectively require a considerable amount of altitude to access the best wind. Most governing bodies require in the event your generator should topple, it must land on your property. This would most likely require a minimum of a 50 foot radius from the base of your mast/tower clear of obstructions. In addition guy wires and anchors may be required and protected from damage.

    Sometimes the cart gets in front of the horse. Getting rid of, or upgrading, the refrigerator in the garage. Upgrading an old inefficient heating system could be very worthwhile. More insulation in the attic sealing cracks to eliminate the outside air infiltration or heat loss. Obtaining a good watt meter and hunting down those latent power drains. For instance if you have a meter that records your power consumption like a whole house meter from Effergy or other vendor you can switch off circuits one at a time to identify the devices that are using kw’s in the background 24hrs 7 days a week. If you are using 200-400 watts baseline 24hrs a day it adds up to 14-28 dollars a month with very little useful value. You may not be able to eliminate all of it but saving even 50 watts an hour/day can add up to 3 or 4 dollars a month @ .10 a kwh.

    For those who do not live in areas with access to natural gas you might consider the extremely efficient mini split heat pump systems. Unlike conventional ducted forced air systems these heat pumps provide a high percentage of their heating capacity at temperatures up to 13 degrees below zero. Mitsubishi seems to be the standard bearer for these type systems. Yes, I do have two of these heat pumps installed in my home.

    Some final comments regarding batteries and off the grid systems. I have heard that there is work being done to develop utility grade “battery walls” for storage of climate limited power generation. Like all new technologies it is not inexpensive but in the future they might be a consideration. Current lead/acid batteries have quite a few limits. 1. They require fairly large capacities to store a relative small portion of average consumption. 2. They are relative expensive with a much shorter life than a PV solar collector. 3. Their limited life can be severely reduced if discharge rates exceed 50% of their rated capacity. This means to have a useful amount of storage it must be considerably oversized in proportion to the design load to be practical. 4. Batteries need to be protected from freezing and require careful charging to work properly prevent overheating and extend their life. They can be low maintenance but they are not maintenance free.


  6. Stephen Long
    1 year ago

    In response to Bob. All grid tie systems require utility approved pure sine wave inverters in order to be connected to the grid. These inverters convert DC power from the collectors to AC power for home and utility use.Your grid tie system is also required to automatically disconnect from the power grid in the event of a utility power outage. This is a safety requirement to protect power company maintenance people from electrocution. Manual disconnects accessible to utility personnel are also required. If you are counting on having power when the power is out, you must have a separate power system that is independent of the grid and with some form of battery backup and a different type/style inverter and charge controller.


  7. Joe Graham
    1 year ago

    I live in Vancouver Washington, on the north side of the river to Portland Oregon.
    Believe it or not, this area is part of the Willamette-Valley climate-zone that covers a large area.
    Yes, we do get plenty of dark clouds and rain out here in the winter time, but the growing season is about 280 out of 365 days here; that is if the rain doesn’t mold late crops first.
    I’ve grown Crimson-sweet Water-melons here in southern exposure with black plastic to 25-Lbs!
    So obviously we do get plenty of sun.

    I have a friend not too far away that has been totally off-grid for years.
    He does both wind & solar. He generates enough power to run a machine shop & welding equipment! The system is entirely DC, making use of forklift Batteries, and AC Inverters.


  8. sandy pfaff
    1 year ago

    But couldnt you charge batteries with solar and it would work all hours?????


  9. Diane
    1 year ago

    I think it depends on not only where you live, but what is the terrain around the home? Also, what is the position of the home? If you have tall trees around the house, solar may not be a very good option. Secondly, if the house is positioned on the lot so that the sun doesn’t hit the roof at the right angle or not very well, it doesn’t pay to go solar. Trees also affect wind generators, but at least they will get some of the benefit of the wind in spite of the trees.

    Here, I have charted the breezes and we get about 4 per day at fairly regular times. So sometimes wind is the better option. They are also easier to build for anyone who wants to go the DIY route. The one thing I don’t like about the wind generators is the possibility of birds running into them. They can be fixed so that does not happen. I have seen some bird-safe ones that fit on the housetop for $500, which is a ridiculous price, as far as I’m concerned.

    As for those living near a creek, they could also have a hydro system. That is an entirely different ball game. But if your creek runs dry, you’re up the creek! Pun intended.


  10. Neil
    11 months ago

    I live in Alaska. During summer I have if it’s not raining 18-20 hrs of sun during the winter same in darkness. I figure I need both. Any ideas on a cheep system?


  11. Patrick
    10 months ago

    I live in the real world, gas and oil are cheap and plentiful also a fraction of the subsidies paid for solar and wind


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