Solar and wind energy production has doubled its share of the US market since 2018. However, it remains at only 16% of total power generation.
A growing number of consumers prioritizing clean energy are installing wind turbines and solar panels in their homes. A wind turbine or solar panels can be good options. They have differences in how they work and the best installation location.
Learn more about solar vs. wind power and which might be the best choice for you.
How Does a Wind Turbine Work?
A wind turbine is essentially a modern windmill. It captures the kinetic energy in the wind.
The energy in the wind turns propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to a drive shaft. The shaft spins a generator that turns the kinetic electricity into electrical energy.
You can connect home wind turbines to the energy grid. Wind turbines can also be off-grid, in which case they need a deep-cycle battery bank.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
Solar panels capture solar radiation and turn it into electrical energy. The most common type of residential solar panels uses photovoltaic (PV) technology.
A single PV device is called a cell. A solar panel is made from several cells connected in a chain. Panels can be connected to form an array.
Photovoltaic cells have a thin semiconductor wafer often made from layers of silicon. One layer has a positive charge, and one has a negative charge. This creates an electrical field.
When solar energy hits the cell, it energizes it. Electrons come loose from the silicon. The motion of the electrons creates an electrical current.
An inverter transforms the DC electricity from the solar panel into AC electricity that you can use in your home. Most residential solar systems connect to the regular power grid. Using a battery bank to store energy is another option.
Types of Solar Panels
The three types of photovoltaic solar panels are:
Mono-crystalline solar panels are the most efficient. They’re also the most expensive.
Polycrystalline solar panels are less efficient but more affordable. Thin-film panels generate the least electricity. They’re best suited for small installations like a shed or garage.
Installing a Wind Turbine vs. Solar Panels
Solar panels are much more common than wind turbines for residential use. One reason for this difference is the installation. The correct placement is essential for getting the most power generation.
Finding an ideal location for a residential solar array can be easier than finding the same for a wind turbine. Professional installers will help ensure you have the best placement for your solar panels, as seen on this informative page.
Where to Install a Wind Turbine
Wind turbines produce the most power in areas with few obstacles. The average annual wind speed should be 10 mph or more.
You want to place a wind turbine where it will catch the prevailing winds. You need to know the direction of the prevailing winds on your property. You need to know the annual wind speeds.
Obstacles like trees, houses, or outbuildings can block the wind. A wind turbine should be upwind of these obstacles. It must be at least 30 feet higher than anything within a 300-foot radius.
These requirements make installing a wind turbine difficult in most urban or suburban areas. Wind obstructions are common. Zoning laws often have height restrictions.
Where to Install Solar Panels
Solar panels are more compact than wind turbines. They have a low profile. They fit more readily into urban and suburban neighborhoods.
The roof needs to be in good condition. You don’t want to install solar panels and then discover that you need to replace the roof.
The slope of the roof should be between 15º and 40º. You’ll need a large enough surface to mount your solar array.
Solar panels usually have the best power generation on roofs that face south. Excessive shade will reduce your power generation. Solar panels can still produce energy on cloudy days, though.
The Efficiency of Solar vs. Wind Power
Solar power and wind power differ in their efficiency. Efficiency refers to the percentage of solar or wind energy that the system converts into electricity. Solar panels are an excellent renewable energy source but are less efficient than wind turbines.
Solar Panel Conversion Efficiency
Residential solar panel efficiency has risen steadily. This progress has partially resulted from the growth of mono-crystalline panels. Other factors like the increasing use of passivated emitter rear-cell technology have contributed.
Residential systems have an average efficiency of 20%. Some manufacturers offer premium efficiency panels that are even more efficient.
Wind Turbine Efficiency
The theoretical maximum efficiency of a wind turbine is 59%. This is called the Betz Limit. In practice, turbines convert 30-50% of the wind energy that passes through the rotors.
Several solar panels would be necessary to equal the power generation from one wind turbine.
Cost of Installing a Wind or Solar Power System
A wind turbine or solar panel system is a significant investment. The upfront costs are high for both types of power generation. Federal and state tax credits can help offset some of those expenses, though.
The total cost of a solar panel array depends on several factors. The type of solar panels affects the price. Labor costs, operational costs, and equipment like inverters also contribute to the cost.
One factor in the cost of a wind production system is the size of the turbine. Additional components like controllers, poles, and batteries are other factors. The total cost also includes the price of labor for the installation.
Beyond the upfront cost of solar vs. wind power installation, you should consider the total cost of ownership. The maintenance needs of each system are essential factors.
Wind turbines are complex, moving mechanisms. They need regular maintenance and repairs. A specialized wind turbine technician must perform the work.
Solar panels require very little maintenance. They have no moving parts that could wear out or break. A light cleaning periodically will keep solar panels working well.
Solar panels are more accessible and less expensive to maintain than wind turbines.
The Best Source of Clean Energy Production for Your Home
A wind turbine or solar panels can be good sources of clean energy for your home. They differ in how they work and where you should place them to generate the most power. They have different maintenance needs.
Wind turbines are more efficient for energy production. However, solar panels are easier to install and maintain in many urban and suburban settings. You can find the option that best fits your home and your lifestyle.
Check out the rest of our articles for more practical insights like this.
Also published on Medium.