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Wind Power vs. Solar Power: Which is Better for Our Homes?

Wind power and solar power are both versatile renewable energy sources that are suitable for the twenty-first century home, but there is some argument as to which is a better energy source for household use. 

So which is better for our homes, wind power or solar panel? Wind power is considered more efficient than solar power and is not affected by cloud coverage, which is a major issue in undermining the efficiency of solar power systems. However, solar power also offers its own benefits that are worth considering when deciding what energy system to use in your home. 

Wind Power vs Solar Power: Which is Better for our Homes?

Wind and solar power are some of the most exciting technological developments of the past several years and can offer homeowners many advantages. Read on to find out more about these forms of renewable energy and how they can help you. 

What is Wind Power for Home Use? 

When people decide to install wind power in their homes, that power is generated through the use of small wind turbines, typically installed in a backyard. More and more industries are swapping over to wind power, and small property owners are quickly following suit. Here are some stats on wind turbine usage in the United States alone:

  • 54,000 wind turbines in 41 states
  • 89,379 megawatts of wind power capacity installed nationwide
  • Contains five of the ten largest wind farms in the world

Wind turbines convert wind to electricity by using ambient wind to spin the turbine, which uses this mechanical action to power an electric generator. This generator converts the mechanical energy into electrical energy, and the wind turbine stores this electrical energy for home use. 

There are some wind turbines that are designed to be mounted on a roof instead of in a yard, and these turbines are typically marketed at suburbanites and city dwellers. However, many engineers do not recommend putting a wind turbine on a roof for any reason (we’ll go into the reasons why you shouldn’t in a later section of this article). 

What is Solar Power for Home Use

Instead of turbines, solar power uses a variety of technologies to convert light and thermal power from the sun into electricity. The most common variety of solar power used in the home is photovoltaic (PV) panels, but solar power can also include solar thermal energy collection, which includes the following types:

  • Low-temperature solar thermal energy: Used for heating and cooling residences
  • Mid-temperature solar thermal energy: Used for heating water
  • High-temperature solar thermal energy: Used for generating electricity

Solar energy is the most abundant renewable energy resource available, which makes it very popular for residential installations. Solar panels can either be mounted in the yard of a home or, in many cases, installed on the room for minimum footprint and aesthetic impact on the yard. 

Solar power is one of the most quickly growing forms of alternative energy on the planet, and the likelihood is that this energy option will only continue to become more popular as people become more conscious of the environmental damage caused by traditional energy production and of the financial savings involved with alternative energy. 

Wind Power vs. Solar Power: Which is Cheaper for Home Use?

One major consideration for homeowners purchasing alternative energy solutions is cost since a property owner can’t tend to pay quite as much for an alternative energy set up as a corporation is prepared to. 

In the fight for the cheapest alternative energy, solar power wins the bout. The average installation costs for an average-sized home solar panel setup are between ten and fifteen thousand dollars, while a wind turbine installation large and powerful enough to power a residence would run around forty thousand dollars.

This means that a wind power system would take much longer to pay itself off, especially since wind is not a consistent source of energy. 

One thing to consider is that both solar and wind power setups can be wired into the municipal electrical grid in a metered system where any excess energy generated by the wind turbine above and beyond what is consumed by the residence gets paid back to the homeowner. 

Advantages of Wind Power

There are lots of reasons to consider wind power as a source of alternative energy for your home. Wind power has many advantages, including the following:

  • No pollution: Wind power generates absolutely no pollution, and you can’t get better for the environment than that. It also has no serious effect on local habitats or environments (other than the fact that some humans consider them an eyesore). 
  • Wind costs nothing: Wind is a completely free source of energy, so outside installation and maintenance of your wind turbine(s), wind power costs zero dollars a year.
  • Lower electricity bills: Even if your wind turbine doesn’t generate enough electricity to completely cover the energy usage in your home, installing one can still put a significant dent in your monthly utility bill.
  • Wind turbines can operate twenty-four hours a day: Unlike solar power, which is limited by daylight hours, wind power can be generated all day and all night, since the wind doesn’t stop blowing when the sun goes down.
  • Wind turbines can usually be financed: Wind turbines are expensive, but through the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, they can usually be financed and paid back as a line item on your annual taxes. Read more about these financing programs here.

All of these benefits sound pretty good, right? Well, that’s not the whole story with wind power. It does have some drawbacks as well. 

Disadvantages of Wind Power

There are lots of great attributes to considering wind power in the home, but there are some downsides as well, many of them related to the relative novelty of the technologies involved, and others the result of the nature of wind itself. Here are some of the disadvantages of
wind power:   

  • Wind is inconstant: Wind varies greatly in power, speed, and direction from day to day, and this can make choosing the placement of a wind turbine difficult in order to achieve maximum effectiveness of the system.
  • Aesthetic concerns: Many people consider household wind turbines ugly to look at, and since it is not usually advantageous to place wind turbines on a roof, this means they must take up space in the property’s yard, making them more conspicuous than rooftop solar panels.
  • Wind power installations are expensive: A wind power system costs forty thousand dollars on average, and even with financing options, that is a massive financial investment on an energy resource that is not likely to pay for itself for over a decade.
  • Wind power setups are difficult to maintain: Because it is such a new technology, it can be hard finding technicians to service a wind turbine, and such repairs can be tedious and expensive depending on what part of the system has malfunctioned.
  • Wind turbines can be noisy: In rural locations, this isn’t a problem, but it can be in residential neighborhoods. While there are many protections for homeowners against HOAs when it comes to alternative energy, you still don’t want to be up in arms with the neighbors about it.
  • Wind turbines can be dangerous to flying animals: Wind turbines do kill many birds and bats each year when they are struck by the turbine’s propellers. This can be something to consider in areas that have dense populations of flying wildlife.
  • Space limitations: To power an average-sized home, a wind turbine needs a rotor that is at least eighteen feet in diameter. Proportional to a small suburban or city lot, that is huge. This is one of the reasons wind turbines are not seen as frequently on residential homes as solar panel setups.
  • Cannot be placed on a roof: While some people try to mount wind turbines on their roof, many experts do not recommend it. The vibrations from even a smaller wind turbine can be damaging to a building’s roof structure in violent weather. 

While there are many benefits to wind power, the many downsides wind turbines present also make them a difficult addition to most residential homes. Wind turbines large enough to supply an entire home’s electricity are too large for most residential properties to feasibly install. 

Advantages of Solar Power

Solar power has been the most popular form of alternative energy in most homes for several decades, and there are many good reasons for this fact. Some of the advantages of installing a solar power setup in your home are as follows:

  • Limitless source of energy: The sun isn’t going anywhere, and a solar panel setup will inevitably pay itself off as a result.
  • Reduced electricity bills: Like wind turbines, solar panel installations can reduce your energy bills over time. When wired into the local utility grid, you can even get credits back on your utilities if you generate enough solar energy to completely offset the energy consumed by your home.
  • Solar power is versatile: Solar power can be used to generate both electricity and heat, making it useful in a wide variety of human energy applications. 
  • Maintenance is less costly than wind power: Solar panel setups don’t require much maintenance other than cleaning, which can be performed by solar power technicians for a relatively small fee. Many solar panel companies also offer twenty and thirty year warranty programs, which means many malfunctions and repairs are covered.
  • Less likely to break down than wind power: Because it doesn’t have as many moving parts, solar panels are, in general, less likely to break down or require maintenance as a wind turbine.
  • Discreet installation: Unlike wind turbines, solar panels can be installed to lie almost flat on the roof of a building, where they aren’t easily seen by neighbors or passersby. This makes them an aesthetically pleasing choice for the suburbs or cities, where homes are located very close to one another.
  • Quiet: Unlike wind turbines, solar panels operate silently and will not disturb either the homeowner or his/her neighbors.
  • Not dangerous to wildlife: Unlike wind turbines, which are notorious for collisions with birds, solar panels are completely safe for local wildlife (to the point the homeowner may have to deter birds from trying to nest on it). 

Disadvantages of Solar Power

  • Can only collect energy during daylight hours: Because solar power is dependent on the sun for generating electricity when it is in darkness, it is not aggregating energy. Since human energy consumption tends to be extended far beyond natural daylight hours, most people still end up with an energy deficit.
  • Solar power setups are not suitable for areas with heavy cloud coverage: This is why you don’t see them as often in certain areas of the country that are prone to long bouts of cloud coverage, such as the Southeastern United States.
  • High cost: Solar panel installation can cost between ten and fifteen thousand dollars, which is not exactly chump change to most middle-classed suburbanite homeowners. Luckily, there are renewable energy incentives and other cost-cutting programs to help you save money while installing renewable energy sources in your home. 
  • Doesn’t work at night: Solar power is dependent on the sun, so at night, unlike wind power, solar panels cannot generate electricity. Moonlight can reflect sunlight onto solar panels to a certain degree, but their capacity is so limited in this state they are not effective for real energy generation.
  • Takes up space: Like wind turbines, solar panel installations take up a lot of space on the property, especially if you choose to install them in the yard rather than on a rooftop. Like wind turbines, many neighbors may find a yard-installed solar panel rig unsightly.
  • Contain toxic materials that can contaminate soil and water: Solar panels contain toxic heavy metals, including cadmium, lead, and gallium arsenide (among others). In the US and first world countries, these materials are typically recycled, but in many third world countries, they are improperly disposed of, causing pollution.

When it comes to benefits, solar power has plenty of them, and that’s why it’s so popular. But
potential buyers need to consider the drawbacks as well and make sure a solar power setup is right for their home. 

Are Wind Power and Solar Power Cost Effective?

We’ve already established that both solar panel and wind turbine setups are fairly expensive to install, ranging from a little over ten thousand dollars for smaller solar setups into forty grand or more for home-sized wind turbines. 

But what about their cost effectiveness? Both types of alternative energy will eventually pay for themselves over a period of several years, so as long as the homeowner intends to stay on their property, the alternative energy setup will eventually cost nothing. 

However, while they can sometimes be considered an asset to a home’s value, alternative energy setups are still a niche amenity in residential homes, and some potential buyers may be turned off by solar panels on the roof or a wind turbine in the backyard, even with the energy savings. 

In terms of the cost of maintenance, solar panels are more cost-effective than wind turbines, since they tend to require less mechanical repair due to a lack of moving parts/mechanisms. 

How Reliable is Wind Power and Solar Power? 

Human energy consumption is high, and unfortunately, both wind and solar power suffer in terms of reliability. This unreliability is due to a number of contributing factors: 

  • Geography and climate: Solar panels do not operate well in areas that tend to be cloudy, while wind turbines do not do well in areas with a lot of windbreaks, such as forests and mountainous areas.
  • Collection restraints: Energy from the wind can only be collected if the wind is blowing, and energy from the sun can only be collected when it’s bright outside, and it’s daylight. This reduces the amount of energy that people can rely on wind or solar power for.
  • Effectiveness: Neither wind power nor solar power operate at maximum efficiency. Wind turbines only capture around 35-45% of wind power while in operation, while solar panels fare even worse–they only capture 15-22% of solar energy they are exposed to. Due to these low energy conversion rates, neither solar nor wind power can be relied on to supply 100% of a home’s power.

Wind Power vs. Solar Power: Fire Safety

Fire safety is a big concern for homeowners when it comes to installing sources of renewable energy. It is also an area where solar power is more popular than wind power when it comes to home setups. 

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While the fire hazards involved with solar panels are fairly low risk, wind turbines have an unfortunate reputation for catching fire due to their design constraints. This can make wind turbines a potentially dangerous addition to a suburban property, especially if it is close enough to a neighboring property for a flaming turbine to fall onto someone else’s roof or yard. 

For maximum fire safety when installing either wind power or a solar panel on a residential property, homeowners need to both have their setups inspected regularly by a professional technician to ensure against electrical fires, and homeowners need to have adequate fire escape plans in place should a fire break out. 

Solar panels represent a relatively much lower risk of fire than wind turbines, but a faulty solar panel installed directly on a home’s roof is a greater danger to the residents than a wind turbine that catches fire in the yard. In either case, every precaution should be taken to prevent a fire. 

Renewable Energy Resources and Homeowner’s Associations

One of the major caveats of installing either wind or solar power on a residential property is the proximity of neighbors. Many people in a residential neighborhood might consider these installations to be large, ugly, and damaging to property values. 

Homeowner’s associations (HOAs) in the past have tried to crack down on the installation of solar panels and other alternative energy structures. However, due to government intervention in the form of solar access rights legislation, most homeowner’s associations are no longer allowed to discriminate against green energy initiatives outside of minor constraints. 

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Even if your HOA is restricted from being able to forbid you from installing green energy in your home, it still pays to check with your local charter and see exactly what restrictions they are trying to enforce with regards to exterior structures being built in the neighborhood. 

Installing Wind Power and Solar Power: Local Codes and Requirements

Green energy installations are often wired into the existing power grid of a community, and because of this, these setups must be inspected to ensure that they conform to all local codes and requirements enforced by the city or state for installation. 

Not only do these installations have to comply with any energy regulations in place, they also must conform to local building codes and possibly pass an on-site inspection. 

One of the major advantages of being officially linked into the local power grid is that you can sometimes earn credits back on your utility bill. However, those who live in remote areas may opt instead for “off the grid” installation, which may require different compliances depending on the area it’s installed in. 

What Are the Advantages of Renewable Energy?

As we move further into the twenty-first century, more and more residences and businesses are switching over to forms of renewable energy rather than relying on the existing power grid. There are many advantages of using renewable energy for at least part of your home energy consumption:

  • It doesn’t run out: Unlike the fossil fuels that our society currently relies on, renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind will never run out, and it is doubtful any wars will ever be fought over access to solar or wind energy.
  • Maintenance costs are lower: In comparison to traditional fuel-based generators, solar and wind generators do not tend to need as much maintenance or as many repairs.
  • Renewable energy saves money: While the initial costs of a renewable energy installation may make this seem counterintuitive, a green energy program will save money in the long-run, and in the future when these technologies advance in efficiency, may even be a way for people to passively generate it for themselves.
  • Avoid greenhouse gas generation and pollution: Unlike traditional fossil fuel-based energy systems, wind power and solar power put out almost no carbon dioxide and generate no pollution.
  • Renewable energy lowers reliance on foreign energy sources: Renewable energy can be generated in-country and is a good way to foster national self-reliance. Nobody wants to be held hostage politically over a natural resource. 

Why Are Renewable Energy Sources Important? 

Aside from their many benefits, it is vital for people to phase out fossil fuels and move into renewable energy sources for the bulk of their energy consumption needs. There are many reasons why this is
the case:

  • Fossil fuels will run out: Peak oil is swiftly approaching, and when it does, there will be bloody conflicts in the fight for natural resources if we don’t have alternative forms of energy available for mass consumption.
  • Fossil fuels are terrible for the environment: Coal-based power plants contribute many different pollutants to our environment, including sulphur dioxide (which causes acid rain), ground level ozone (which leads to widespread asthma and respiratory illness), and mercury (which poisons the human liver and nervous system).
  • Renewable energy contributes to economic development: Each year, solar power and wind power industries contribute tens of thousands of jobs to the workforce, helping to maintain our economy’s stability while we continue to phase out older forms of energy.
  • Energy security means national security: Any activity which contributes to the self-reliance of a nation makes that nation stronger, and more resourceful, so renewable energy isn’t just advantageous to the individual–it’s advantageous to everyone.
  • Energy security means environmental security: Less dependence on fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum means less long-lasting damage to the global environment in the form of industrial accidents such as petroleum spills or habitat loss.  

As you can see, renewable forms of energy such as wind power and solar power don’t just benefit a person who owns a home and wants to save money on their utility bill. They have many more widespread positive impacts as well. 

Wind Power vs. Solar Power: Which is Better for Residential Use? 

After looking at the various advantages and disadvantages of both solar and wind power when used in home environments, it becomes obvious that solar is the superior choice between the two for a residential location. 

Not only is it less intrusive than a wind turbine, but it is also less expensive and less prone to fire. Wind turbines are very efficient but are restricted in terms of where they can be feasibly installed for effective use.  

Regardless of which renewable energy source you choose, renewable energy is one of the most important developing technologies of the twenty-first century, and all long-term homeowners owe it to themselves to look into these technologies to at least supplement their current energy usage. 

Title image Marufish and TechnoSpin Inc.

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