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a wind vs. solar comparison

wind vs. solar

The two main players in the renewable energy game, at least on the residential scale, are wind and solar. Both of these technologies can fulfill your total energy requirements. Both could provide you with an abundance of clean power for years and years.

And with the world turning away from old (f- word) fuels, your investment in these technologies now will pay dividends later. Look ahead a couple of years. Everything is going electric. Think about it… cars, lawn mowers, motorcycles, chainsaws, boats… you name it,  (guilt) free to run.

Heck, electric passenger drones are coming!

I digress.

It’s time to dive into what separates these two technologies. 

wind vs solar pro’s and con’s

Both wind and solar power are renewable. They are both clean. They are both abundant sources of power. So where do they differ?

Let’s take a look see.

wind 

pro’s

  • Capable of producing electricity 24 hrs a day
  • More efficient than solar

con’s

  • Needs unobstructed wind paths
  • Needs regular maintenance

solar

pro’s

  • Low maintenance costs
  • Silent operation

con’s

  • Limited to producing power during sunlight hours only
  • Requires larger physical footprint than a wind turbine

Of course, this is the tip of the iceberg. When harnessing the weather for power, there are far more variables that need to be considered.

a deeper comparison

how much wind, how much sun?

Maximising the efficiency of your household will play a major role in determining your power needs. It is better practice (and more cost effective) to reduce your power consumption, than to ramp up your power production. From energy efficient appliances to building products and changes in how we live, there are many ways which we can reduce our energy needs. But that’s a topic for another day. For now…

wind

Wind is a funny one. It’s not easy to assess the “windy-ness” (or wind power density if you’d like to get a little nerdier) of a specific site by judging it from the ground. There are more factors that go into determining the usable force of the wind than there are calculating the usable energy from the sun. That said, it can be done. And should be.

WINDExchange provides some great resources to help get you started.

solar

Figures differ depending on a range of factors. You’ll want at least 4+ “sun peak hours” a day to hit these puppies. And that’s on the low end. Your power requirements and panel specs will ultimately determine how many sun hours you will need.

Check out this solar panel calculator from PVWatts. Plug in your details to get an idea of what you will require.

*Tip* Grab a recent electricity bill to fill in some of the fields on the calculator. This will provide the most accurate comparison of your usage, requirements and costs. Take the 6 minutes to find your bill and do this…

space

Yard space, roof space, airspace. Let’s take a closer look.

wind

Ever wonder why wind turbines seem so excessively tall? It is so they can escape the turbulent air at ground level to enter the steadier streams above. This facilitates consistent power generation.

A turbine will need to be in the range of 30 feet taller than any of its neighbouring structures that are within 300 feet of it.  Some also require space to lower the mast for maintenance, or for guylines to be  fixed to it for support. What’s located on or near your site will directly impact the dimensions of your turbine, and thus the cost of your system

While these tall but necessary structures look perfectly in context in the vast, wide open landscapes of the countryside, they would be perfectly out of place in an urban setting. Even the odd one in a suburban setting seems to be jarring to the eye. This is where solar shines (pardon the pun).

solar

While wind turbines may be better suited to where space is abundant, solar is considered a better option for more densely populated areas.

Solar panels can be mounted to your roof. This means you don’t have to compromise a square inch of that precious land you paid so much for. An unobstructed roof space is all that is needed to house your panels.  Just ensure you have sufficient insolation at that particular site.

Insolation is a fancy word for “sun exposure”.

There. You just learned something.

cost

There are a crazy number of variables involved in calculating the costs between these two technologies. Equipment, installation, maintenance and extra insurance are but a few. Then there’s the electricity production side and all of the environmental factors. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Let us sum it up for you.

Wind is more expensive than solar. Period.

wind

To power an average sized home you would require a wind turbine around 7 kw or larger, ballparking around the $50,000 mark for purchase and install. Not to mention up to $1000 annually to maintain the thing. After all, you just dropped a good chunk of change on it… you want that thing running as efficiently as possible, for as long as possible.

So how long do they live? Well… how much did you spend? You’d be hoping to get 20-30 years out of your shiny new windmill. I’ll let you do that maintenance equation.

Oh, and before we move on to solar, you might want to think about insuring your turbine and whatever’s around it. These things are large… and if things went awry, the ensuing damage could be large too, both to the machine and its surroundings.

solar

In the solar realm, a similar 7 kw system will run somewhere in the area of $20,000, installed. Tucked neatly away on your roof for you to forget about, these systems need little more maintenance than a hose off every spring and fall. This will ensure they are running at maximum efficiency.

Why such a difference in maintenance?

Solar has no moving parts. Meaning no wear. Meaning longer lifespans and less replacement pieces. Not to mention downtime.

…All resulting in lower costs.

Plus many home insurance policies view your system as part of the house, meaning the coverage you have could suffice.  You can add the 20-30 years of (ever inflating) saved insurance premiums into your calculations.

Also, have we mentioned the warranties are better for solar?

Yup. The fact that there are no moving pieces to wear down allow manufacturers to back their products more solidly.

And there’s nothing we like more than a company willing to back its products for the long haul. It screams confidence.

the final thought

Both wind and solar power are renewable. They are both clean. They are both abundant sources of power.

The bottom line is that wind is best suited for rural properties and commercial applications. Open landscapes help to facilitate their optimal operating conditions. That said, it is more factor reliant for steady generation than solar.  But if the sun ain’t shinin’ for 6 months of the year where you live… then perhaps they are the way to go.

Solar on the other hand provides a little more flexibility when it comes to ticking the parameters boxes. Couple that with lower startup cost, maintenance costs and better warranties and we feel that the decision is a no brainer.

 

Happy futur-ing

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m.j.johnston@icloud.com

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Hey folks, I'm mj. I live in a gorgeous inland temperate rainforest in BC, where i get to enjoy countless facets of nature on the daily. This setting allows me to play in the outdoors in every season with my beautiful family. I'm on a mission to play a role in helping preserve our natural world, so that our collective progeny may also enjoy it for years to come.