Most everyone is familiar with solar power as a renewable energy source for homes and small businesses. However, a solar system is not necessarily the only option for producing clean energy. How about wind turbines? It is important to know that differences can vary widely depending on location and specific use. In this article, we are going to take a look at each resource with its intended application.
Some may say that installation is the most significant difference between wind turbines and solar systems. While most people are used to seeing solar panels installed on rooftops, they can actually be installed on ground mounts as well. As long as the solar panels are facing the sun, they will be able to generate energy. Turbines, however, require a more thought out installation plan. It is said that if a turbine is installed within 500 feet of anything, it needs to be 30 feet higher than that surrounding structure. If you live in a more developed area or an area with lots of trees, you could undoubtedly be running into issues. Additionally, many municipalities have regulations governing height restrictions on structures.
If your solar panels are installed properly and almost always have access to sunlight, they will be producing energy, even on cloudy days. However, turbines require wind and depending on where you live, it may be more likely to have sunny days than days where the wind is blowing consistently enough to generate predictable energy. The key here is predictable energy output. In most cases, solar is the most predictable.
Unlike solar panels, wind turbines have moving parts and moving parts almost always need some maintenance. But, by and large, the maintenance required is low. Direct drive turbines have very little maintenance required. If the turbine has a gearbox, there are more moving parts and therefore a bit more maintenance.
Solar panels, once installed, just sit there, creating energy, without moving parts. Depending on where you live, you may need to clean the panels annually to remove grime and grit from snow or salt residue if you are near the ocean. Even checking the connections is a simple task that may only need to be handled once a year.
Noise Pollution – Yes, Really
Who would have thought that noise pollution was to be part of this discussion? There can be a huge difference between solar panels and turbines. Solar panels don’t make any noise while generating energy. They are just there, doing what they do. Turbines, on the other hand, have moving parts and as the wind becomes faster, turbines can begin to generate more than energy. Not only can the moving parts make noise, but the blades cutting through the air can create quite some noise. Some would claim that the noise can be similar to that of a lawnmower. So, if have neighbors who are close, solar may be the less disruptive choice.
This is where the comparison becomes a bit lopsided, though installation cost should not be the only factor in making a choice between wind and solar. Strong consideration should be given to the amount of energy produced by each type of system as well.
When comparing wind and solar systems that generate the same amount of energy on an annual basis, the cost for a wind turbine can run as much as three times more for a comparable energy output installation. However, this does not immediately mean that wind would be a poor choice for every application.
Solar is certainly the better choice for small scale applications (homes and small businesses) in urban applications. The variables of surrounding trees and buildings in urban areas make the reliability of the wind turbine less appealing. But, if the application is away from the city, and for larger-scale applications, wind turbines can be a better choice. However, even in rural areas, a solar farm could be the best application. It comes down to energy output and the specific application requirements.