A growing number of homeowners in the United States are turning to renewable energy sources in order to provide power for their homes. The most practical renewable energy systems are photovoltaic (PV) solar energy and small-scale windmills.
Both sources depend on the forces of nature, but overall, solar panels are a great option for consistent electricity generation. Additionally, solar energy systems don't include moving components that require frequent maintenance like large moving wind turbines do.
Lifestyle Solar will walk you through the key differences between wind and solar power to help you determine which clean energy option makes sense for your residential electricity needs.
Which is more efficient – solar power or wind power?
In the United States, most homeowners have historically preferred to use rooftop solar panels as a sustainable energy option to power their homes, while an increasing number of commercial entities are moving toward large-scale wind farms.
The one benefit of wind over solar for your home is that wind turbines can generate power 24 hours a day since they aren't dependent on sunlight. A single wind turbine can generate the same amount of electricity in kWh (or kilowatt-hours) as thousands of solar panels.
So technically, wind power is more efficient than solar panels, but it is not as easy to capitalize on wind resources as it is to utilize the sun’s energy.
Wind would make sense for homeowners only if they have a large plot of land and live in an area with a lot of wind that can power the turbines.
Can you combine solar and wind energy?
Combining solar and wind energy offers a unique opportunity. This is really only practical if you have many acres of land, such as a farm, you practice energy efficiency, and want to be off-grid.
By incorporating both solar and wind energy generation, you can be confident that your home will always be supplied with power when you’re off the grid. If there isn’t a lot of sun, wind can help you get your power. Conversely, if it isn’t windy, the sun will provide power for your home.
With hybrid systems like this (and especially if you go off-grid), it makes sense to install a solar battery for excess energy storage. This stored power can help provide energy if your renewable sources do not produce enough electricity during days with less-than-optimal weather conditions.
A combined system will definitely be pricey, but there is the potential to sell extra energy back to the grid in a process called net metering.
Combining solar and wind really only makes sense for rural communities with plenty of space to spare.
Solar energy pros and cons as compared to wind power
Solar panels are a great way to provide renewable energy but come with a few disadvantages, most notably being their need for sun in order to generate electricity.
Solar energy pros and cons as compared to wind power
Where does solar power work best?
‘Solar power’ is a term used to define the process of solar panels’ internal solar cells converting sunlight into usable electricity. Solar panels are a great option for your home because the amount of panels that you will need to provide all of the power generation for your electricity can easily fit on your roof.
The sun is one of the most abundant sources of energy, although some places are naturally exposed to more hours of sunlight than others. Sunnier states like Texas and California allow solar panels to generate more electricity than states like Washington, where it is cloudy more often.
The directions in which the solar panels are installed can also increase or decrease efficiency. In the northern hemisphere, it is best to place your solar panels facing south with no shade cover over the panels.
While solar systems installed in any state can provide the amount of power your home needs, if you live in a cloudier state, remaining connected to the grid or installing a backup battery can help you run on clean electricity all day.
Wind energy pros and cons as compared to solar power
While wind energy offers terrific potential at the utility scale, there are some downsides.
Wind power pros and cons as compared to solar power
Where does wind power work best?
Wind turbines capture the wind’s energy, which powers a generator within the turbine, and turns that energy into electricity. Wind isn't always available, but it does have a slight advantage over solar because it can generate electricity at night when the wind blows.
The efficiency of wind power is measured by the actual amount of kinetic energy that's converted - which means when wind hits the turbine, the turbine moves to make energy. Most wind turbines can convert about half of the wind hitting them into electrical power, with a higher conversion rate for offshore wind turbines because of higher wind speeds.
When considering using wind turbines, geography is the most important factor. Wind systems require environments that are almost barren of large windbreaks and buildings, so positioning them out in the ocean, in the US great lakes or in the midwest, makes the most sense.
Based on the most recent data in 2018, the US generated 275 million megawatt-hours of wind energy. Due to their windy environments, half of this power was generated in Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kansas.
Wind power is becoming more popular throughout the US and is beginning to be incorporated both offshore and onshore.
Solar vs. wind energy: which is best for homeowners?
Ultimately, solar panels make the most sense because solar is more popular, it is much easier to find solar installers than wind turbine contractors. Additionally, more homes can easily add solar panels but not every home can have a wind turbine installed to generate electricity.
Both methods offer clean, reasonably-priced alternatives to the escalating costs of fossil fuel energy, both financially and environmentally. Renewable energy allows you to be in charge of your own energy production and saves you money over the long term without generating pollution.
Future electric grids will have both wind and solar, but the role of wind will mainly be utility-scale, because installing and maintaining a wind turbine is not as financially practical as solar. For homeowners looking for a cost-effective renewable energy choice, solar panels remain the best option.