When it comes to comparing green energy, there are so many factors and variables that need to be taken in to account – it’s never as simple as ‘which is better?’ On a global scale, it’s relatively simple to look at the stats and compare, however, for a homeowner trying to decide between solar and wind it can cause quite a headache trying to weigh the two options. We’ve put together our thoughts on the two green energy sources and some helpful advice for choosing what’s best for your needs.
On a large scale
There is no doubt that wind is a far more efficient source of energy than solar. A wind turbines is cleaner than a solar panel (in terms of how much carbon dioxide is released) and can produce about forty-eight thousand times the amount of energy per kWh than a solar panel can. Last year, wind energy supplied 4% of the world’s electricity needs, whereas solar energy provided just 0.5%. The reason for this is that wind farms, which are built offshore, can generate huge amounts of power thanks to the strong and constant supply of wind. Solar panels, on the other hand, have a very limited time frame in which they can produce energy. Many countries are increasingly using wind energy as a major substitute for fossil fuels – the best example of this is Denmark, where 42% of their electricity was generated by wind turbines. Currently, there are no countries that can use solar energy on that kind of scale – most likely because of how new and how relatively little investment and R&D has been put into solar at this point. Having said that, China has become a huge driver of solar energy, after building the world’s largest solar farm (30sq km) and accounting for nearly half of the world’s solar capacity in 2016.
Whilst we have already established that wind power is easily the most efficient power source, it is certainly not the clear favourite for high population areas. For starters, they are generally seen as an eyesore, are likely to be pretty noisy and they are a disruption to nature and wildlife. Solar panels are far less conspicuous and require less space than wind turbines, and they don’t make any noise. It’s also generally assumed that a wind turbine will work well in windy areas, but that is never usually the case. For a wind turbine to work well, there needs to be a constant smooth flow of strong wind, which you don’t get in a residential area thanks to trees, houses, cars, etc. You will also find that wind turbines are much harder to install properly and require more maintenance as they suffer wear and tear. On the contrary, a solar panel will produce a more predictable output than a wind turbine, are fairly simple to install and require very little maintenance once installed. The main benefit of wind over solar is that turbines can be generating power 24 hours a day, however with the implementation of solar batteries that store unused energy, you can still use solar energy when the Sun is away. In a recent experiment conducted by Inland Power in Washington, USA, it was found that solar panels produced five times as much electricity as the wind turbines that they had set up.
So, whilst solar panels appear to be the most practical option for urban areas, solar continues to be less popular than wind energy as a renewable energy source. This is probably because it is a more established type of energy source and has received long term investment from large scale economies such as USA, Germany and China. On top of this, people perceive that the wind turbines will be as efficient in their residential areas as they are in offshore wind farms, which is not the case. Solar panels have therefore been playing catch up to wind turbines, but have seen significant growth in the last few years – both in residential areas and in terms of construction of solar farms.