There are countless good reasons to switch to renewable energy sources in your home and if you haven’t thought about it already then you really are missing out. Of course switching to renewable energy is great for the environment (and therefore your conscience), but it also means you can save money on your energy bills, that you can make more money back by selling your power to the power plants, that you can get tax breaks and other government incentives, and that you’ll always have a backup source of power to rely on if there’s a power cut.
So why isn’t everyone using renewable energy in their home already? Well largely it comes down to a simple factor: lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, many people simply don’t know what their options are when it comes to renewable energy, or are suffering from something akin to ‘options paralysis’ due to the large number of options out there.
One common confusion here is the difference between wind and solar energy. Of course we all know that fundamentally they get their energy from different sources, but beyond that many are at a loss. Which is the most efficient? Which is the most expensive? And why do different people opt for different answers?
If you find yourself asking those questions then read on and we’ll go over the basics of why some people choose wind power and others choose solar power.
Which Generates the Most Energy?
The efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines varies greatly in both cases and it’s important to recognize that different set-ups will have drastically different power outputs depending on a large range of factors.
Generally though, most systems will come with a rating. A solar voltaic panel for instance (this being the type most people need) may be ’80Watts’ or ‘100Watts’ meaning that that’s how much power it puts out when it’s in direct sunlight. Most people will have a solar panel array of multiple panels meaning that the system as a whole might generate several hundred watts. Then though, you need to take into account the number of hours that those panels will be in direct sunlight. If you have ‘active’ panels then this figure will be greater as they will use a motor and sensors in order to ‘follow’ the sun around the sky, but as most people have their array on a sloped roof there will be about 12 hours of light and about 4 hours of direct light. The weather and time of year of course affect this too.
As a rule, a typical wind turbine has a higher power output and these might range from 2kWh to 6kWh, meaning that they can generate much more energy when running at full pelt. However this number shouldn’t be taken at face value either as they will only be able to generate this kind of power when the wind speed is above a minimum level – that normally being around 25mPh and this needs to be sustained to be of much use. The weather in your area needs to be taken into account here again.
Again there are differences in design to consider as well. A smaller turbine for instance needs to deal with more friction, while the direction the blades are facing is also important. Turbines with the blades point upwards will generate 50% more power on average because the direction of the wind won’t be a factor, but these of course take up considerably more space.
In general though, wind turbines will still provide the most energy when operating at a comparable level, but there is a lot of variation in either regard.
So if wind turbines generally produce more energy, why do so many people opt for solar panels? Well there are lots of reasons, the first being space. While solar panels will fit nicely onto your roof, wind turbines will need to be erected in your garden which you may need planning permission for. You then will need to give those turbines a very wide berth in order for them to operate effectively (about 150 metres for a 6kWh turbine) and this will make them impractical for many people.
At the same time wind turbines are also much more of an eye-sore, might upset your neighbours, make a lot of noise and are prone to killing birds – which kind of defeats the point of being eco-friendly. Installation costs here are high in both cases too, but wind turbines will require a lot more maintenance meaning they’re more work and more expensive to run in the long run (though you’ll get more back from the energy you supply to the power stations). Finally there’s also a ‘flicker shadow’ which many people describe as being highly distracting.
In short then, wind turbines may be the more powerful way to generate energy, but they require a lot of space and resources. If you have a large amount of land with your property and want to run a large proportion of your energy from a renewable source then this is a great option, but if you want to just power a few of your electrical devices and enjoy tax breaks then solar panels are a more practical solution. Though of course if you have the resources you can always use both and power an even greater proportion of your home in a green way.
Gemma Hastings is a solar panel expert who provides information related to solar panel grants.