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Solar Energy Vs. Wind Energy: Which is Better?

Solar and wind energy have become the best bet on green energy to break our dependence on fossil fuels. But, which one is the most promising investment? Which is the practical alternative to electricity?

Solar energy, as its name suggests, is power coming from the sun. Of course, wind energy is produced by wind currents. There are benefits and drawbacks to each. The most reliable systems will likely need both running together.

Here’s a detailed comparison of solar energy versus wind energy.

What Is Solar Energy?

In Wikipedia, solar energy is a “radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of technologies such as solar power to generate electricity, thermal energy, and solar architecture.” (source

Simply put, solar energy is any energy coming from the sun. When nuclear fusion in the sun occurs, it emits enormous energy, far more than needed to power everything on Earth. Hence, it is 100% renewable. 

Once it reaches the Earth, the energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is helpful in everyday life. Humans consume it for electricity and heating, sustaining plant and animal life. 

Solar energy is the largest energy source to reach the Earth. However, the energy intensity is relatively low because of the radial spreading of solar radiation. Half of the solar energy is blocked by Earth’s atmosphere and clouds. But still, this energy equals around 200,000 times the daily total electricity generating capacity of the world. 

What Made It Popular?

Solar energy has become a widespread energy alternative source. The lower costs of solar panels make them more accessible to many people. For the same amount of money, you can get more power. This alternative lowers electricity consumption.

Solar panels harness solar power. It is a device that collects sunlight and efficiently converts it into thermal and electrical energy. Various sizing is available to suit the different needs of consumers. 

Pros Of Solar Energy

Solar energy has inherent advantages, such as:

  • It is a fully renewable energy resource and free.
  • It does not require fuel costs, thereby saving money.
  • It does not release harmful natural gases or hazardous by-products.
  • Solar energy is silent and will not disturb others.
  • It reduces the use of fossil fuels, making it a clean energy alternative
  • It is a very competitive and reliable energy source adopted by big corporates.
  • It is a crucial measure against climate change
  • It also generates wealth and local employment

Cons Of Solar Energy

But, solar energy also has disadvantages, such as:

  • Storing solar energy, which requires a large battery, is costly.
  • Since solar power depends on the number of hours with sunlight, some parts of the world can not fully utilize this energy.
  • Solar panels that are necessary to convert solar energy can be expensive to install
  • Solar panel materials may be hazardous to health when disposed of improperly.

What Is Wind Energy?

In Wikipedia, wind energy is “the use of wind turbines to generate electricity.” Wind energy is the type of energy produced by the wind. (source)

A wind turbine collects the kinetic energy in the wind and converts it into mechanical power. torA genera then convert the mechanical power into electricity. When wind hits the turbine blade or any wind energy conversion system, it will rotate and turn the turbine connected to a generator. Then, the generator is powered up, producing electrical energy through electromagnetism.

The power generated depends on the turbine’s size and blades’ length. The output is directly proportional to the rotor’s dimensions and the cube of the wind speed. Theoretically, when wind speed doubles, wind power potentially increases by eight times. 

Wind power generated by wind energy is among the fastest-growing renewable energy technologies. According to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), wind electricity production had doubled by 2013. Many countries utilize wind energy due to its availability of substantial wind speeds. (source)

Pros Of Wind Energy

Just like any energy, wind energy has its inherent advantages, such as:

  • Wind turbines do not need fuel to run as it depends on wind power.
  • It is one of the clean energy alternatives and does not contribute to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases during energy production.
  • Modern technology advances turbine designs into highly efficient energy harvesters.
  • Turbines are available in different sizes to suit the needs of many markets such as individuals, businesses, government, etc.
  • A wind turbine can run smoothly and safely, though it can create noise.
  • The wind turbine does not disrupt large farms, forests, and other areas as it takes up very little space.
  • It is an entirely renewable source and reduces the dependence on fossil fuels.

Cons Of Wind Energy

Wind energy has its inherent disadvantages, such as:

  • The wind turbine may hazard animals and wildlife if they run into blades.
  • Wind turbine costs such as initial installation and building stage can be expensive.
  • It is also unpredictable as sufficient strong wind may not be available.
  • Since wind is strong in most desolate areas, far away from obstacles like houses and buildings, wind turbines are usually in far and remote areas. It needs a transmission line to bring the wind farm’s electricity to the city.

What Are The Similarities Between Solar And Wind Energy?

  • Solar and wind energy are both clean energy alternatives that are free and 100% renewable resources. 
  • Both sources are intermittent and unpredictable. They depend on the weather and are available at certain times, such as when the wind is scarce during nighttime. Solar energy is deficient during rainy days, and wind energy requires strong wind to operate the turbines.
  • Each region has different climate conditions and weather, so some locations are suitable for using either solar or wind energy. Solar and wind energy are not so applicable for cooler areas such as Iceland, with relatively low wind and sunlight. 
  • Both solar and wind energy utilize a battery system to store gathered energy.

What Are The Differences Between Solar And Wind Energy?

While solar and wind energy are almost identical, they have differences as well:

  • Solar energy is collected from sun rays, while wind energy is from air motion.
  • Solar energy is more expensive than wind. 
  • Solar energy collection and conversion system is called solar panels, while wind energy uses wind turbines.
  • Solar panels are silent, while wind turbines make more noise
  • Solar energy produces more carbon dioxide than wind energy
  • Wind energy requires more maintenance than solar energy

What Is The Relationship Between Wind Energy And The Sun?

Sun plays a significant role in forming wind, the air in motion. But how does the wind form?

Wind requires energy from the sun to power its movement. When the sun heats one part of the atmosphere differently than another part, it creates wind.

As the sun warms the land, the warmer air expands and rises. The cooler air replaces it. As air always moves to go to the lower pressure, this causes the air to move, hence, the wind. 

Which Renewable Energy Is Better, Wind Or Solar?

Judging which wind or solar is better for renewable energy is relative. There are a lot of factors such as the location, budget constraints, availability, and other concerns to go for either solar or wind energy. For example, sunnier spots may use a solar panel to produce more power. If located in a windy area, then installing a wind turbine is the better option. 

Wind Is More Efficient In Rural Areas

The wind is more efficient than solar as wind turbines produce less carbon dioxide, consume less energy, and produce more energy overall. One wind turbine of about 5kW equals 24 units of solar panel and generates the same amount of electricity per day.

Rural areas with windy spots can take the opportunity to generate electricity using a wind turbine. The noise it generates will also not be an issue.

Now, the most efficient solar panel for homes can convert 20% of energy harnessed from the sun. On the other hand, the wind turbine can convert between 60% – 90% of the energy collected from the wind. Thus, wind energy is still the most efficient, clean, and renewable energy.

Solar Is More Practical In Urban And Suburban Areas

Wind turbine requires remote areas – far from the cities. It also means a higher cost in terms of investment as it needs transmission lines from the source to the cities needing electricity, which will be costly.

The solar panel is more practical, especially in urban and suburban areas. Products available can be suited to the varying needs of homes. Homeowners can install it on the rooftops or any place where the sun shines. 

Solar Is Available In Low-Cost Installation Designs

Solar panels are now available in low-cost installation and less maintenance design. Homeowners looking for a renewable energy choice can invest in solar panels. They can purchase or lease it at an affordable rate depending on the need. Even residential houses can install a solar panel on the rooftop and use it to power up the electricity.

Solar Energy Is More Reliable

Most adopt solar energy, including the tech revolutionaries and retail giants such as Apple, Amazon, Target, and Walmart. These top corporate solar users generate a combined 1,081.6 MW of solar electricity. (source)

In general, solar panels are very reliable. According to a study, only 5 out of 10,000 solar panels experience failure yearly. (source)

The efficiency of the solar panel is dependent on some factors. One of these is the location. Studies showed higher failure rates in the solar panels in places with scorching and humid weather. But, solar panels have lesser failure rates in the country’s northeast or other cooler areas.

Another factor that makes the solar panels reliable is the quality of the solar panels themselves. High-quality, well-trusted products would have lesser failure rates, though they may cost higher. On the other hand, cheap solar panels may not last long. 

Solar Energy Is A Safer Investment

The return of investment (ROI) comes down to two things- how much the price of electricity increases and how much your system produces. Is solar panel worth the investment? 

Solar energy is a safer investment than wind, especially for residential and commercial use—wind energy gears more to the utility side. Building a wind farm for a few houses may meet the electricity needs, but the investment is too high. 

Solar panels can be affected by the local weather pattern; they will charge less electricity during cloudy, snowy, or rainy days. But, bright and sunny weather will super-charge your system, leading to an above-average payback. 

Based on the trends, electricity cost is expected to rise as the demand increases. To the US Energy Information Administration, there will be a forecasted increase in the residential electricity price by 4.8% from 2021 to 2022. Especially during the summertime, electricity consumption is higher. With solar panels, the investment is stable. (source)

Can Solar And Wind Power Work Together?

Wind and solar energy complement each other. Building wind and solar energy make for a cheaper, all-day round of renewable energy. It reduces grid and battery costs and levels out the power supply. 

Pairing solar with wind power provides a steadier output together than if each was alone. Solar hits its peak in the daytime while the wind is more reliable at night. Thus, renewable energy developers are exploring projects such as hybrid solar-wind to maximize the power-generating strengths of each.

Notable Projects

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) invested A$9.9 million in southwest Sydney for the Gullen Solar Farm, just adjacent to the existing wind project. This Gullen Range project is a model for pairing wind and solar energy that could potentially power 700,000 homes. (source)

In Texas, the Defense Logistics Agency of the US Department of Defense is working with Apex Clean Energy and taking the virtual approach to wind and solar. The project aims to meet 100 percent of Fort Hood’s electricity needs and can generate 65 megawatts for installation, saving taxpayer money during the contract duration. Though the setup of this project is not co-located, the solar panels have additional energy wired from a wind farm in Floyd County. (source)

With these projects, wind energy, the cheapest option, and solar energy, which is quite expensive to develop and install, become the most competitive new renewable energy source.  

Does Solar Energy Cause Pollution?

Solar energy technologies do not cause air pollution as it does not emit greenhouse gases during the harnessed energy collection and conversion. It positively impacts the environment because it can reduce or replace other energy sources. 

However, solar panels and their photovoltaic (PV) cells use hazardous chemicals such as heavy metals. When the panels and other technology end their useful life, fluids and leaks are dangerous to the environment. Hence, it requires special handling in the disposal of these toxic materials. 

Is It Safe To Live By A Solar Farm?

According to World Health Organization (WHO), electricity from solar panels and their transmission to the power grid releases extremely weak electromagnetic fields. There have been extensive studies regarding exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields, and there is no evidence that it harms human health. (source)

“As the nation begins to think green and look for sustainable energy sources, there is growing interest in solar energy. While research continues to evaluate newer panel technologies, solar panels have not been shown to cause cancer,” says Karen Winkfield, MD, Ph.D., board-certified radiation oncologist and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and 2022 Cancer.Net Associate Editor for Radiation Oncology & Health Equity. (source)

Materials Used In Solar Panels

Concerning the risk from the materials used to make solar panels, the materials contain glass and aluminum, including plastic and wires. Cells on the solar panels that capture sunlight are made of silicon and are naturally occurring materials. Hence, the risk is minimal even if mounted on the roof of their house.  

With these studies, living on a solar farm does not harm human health, and it does not cause cancer or increase the risk. Though solar panels emit EMF radiation, it is immaterial and not dangerous, contrary to some beliefs. 

However, people with hypersensitivity to EMF may experience symptoms of being sickly. So, for precaution, it is best to get checked by a doctor. 

Summary

Solar and wind energy are efficient alternative renewable energy that is clean and less likely to impact the environment negatively. These two have pros and cons but complement each other to reduce and replace energy sources emitting greenhouse gases destroying the environment in the long term. 

The hybrid design of solar and wind energy yield more reliable and efficient electricity that can power up homes and other buildings. It not only expands power production that can power up thousands of homes, but it saves money in the long run. 

Though the site for wind and solar may be in the exact location or not, it is better to have these two combined in the same area. It yields up to twice the amount of electricity generated and minimizes the cost of installation. 

With the development of solar panels alongside wind turbines, this clean energy makes sense from an economic and environmental standpoint.

Sources

  1. ANDERSON, M. “Similarities & Differences of Solar & Wind Energy”, HomeSteady (2017). Accessed June 30, 2022. https://homesteady.com/13425296/similarities-differences-of-solar-wind-energy
  2. AL BADWAWI, R, ABUSARA, M, & TAPAS MALLICK, T. “A Review of Hybrid Solar PV and Wind Energy System”, Smart Science,(2015). Accessed June 30, 2022. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/23080477.2015.11665647?scroll=top&needAccess=true
  3. R. BILLINTON AND BAGEN, “Reliability Considerations in the Utilization of Wind Energy, Solar Energy, and Energy Storage in Electric Power Systems,” 2006 International Conference on Probabilistic Methods Applied to Power Systems, 2006. Accessed on June 30, 2022. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/4202216
  4. JERVEY, B. “Wind and Solar Are Better Together”, Ensia, Scientific American, (2016). Accessed June 30, 2022. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/wind-and-solar-are-better-together/
  5. BETT, P & THORNTON, H. “The climatological relationships between wind and solar energy supply in Britain”, Renewable Energy, Volume 87 (2016). Accessed June 30, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2015.10.006.
  6. MILLSTEIN, D., WISER, R., BOLINGER, M. ET AL. The climate and air-quality benefits of wind and solar power in the United States. Nat Energy 2, 17134 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2017.134

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