Choosing Between Wind and Solar Energy

You have probably seen “wind farms” with giant turbines at the mouth of a canyon or out on the plains, and perhaps wondered if wind energy would be a better investment than solar to power your home. While both offer renewable energy for residential areas, they’re not exactly created equal. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of each before you decide which is best.

The Pros & Cons of Wind Turbines

Two of the benefits of wind turbines are the ability to capture energy any time of the day or night, and to generate power on a very large scale. However, any renewable energy source is potentially unpredictable, and wind can be particularly so. Even if it seems like you live in a pretty windy area, chances are you get a lot less wind on average than you think, and even if the wind blows fairly steadily in your area, it might not blow hard enough to power a turbine.

Hardware and equipment are also important considerations. While both solar and wind energy require specialized equipment, turbines are often more expensive to build initially and more expensive to maintain over time. Most residential wind turbines only have 5- to 10-year warranties. When you take into account the wear and tear on the moving parts of a wind turbine (which have to move to generate energy), and the potential for damage from high winds, rain, lightning, birds, and other environmental hazards, the maintenance costs alone can make this renewable energy source unattractive for most homeowners.

Finally it’s important to consider the aesthetics of wind turbines, which have to be built tall enough to capture wind without interference from nearby obstacles (the AWEA recommends at least 80 feet high, which might be difficult in a densely populated area), and can be noisy. Your neighbors might not appreciate your eco-friendly approach if they have to deal with wind turbines that some consider eyesores or that are excessively noisy.

The Pros & Cons of Solar Energy

For most western states in the U.S., solar energy is far more predictable than wind energy. In an average year, these states have anywhere from 65% to 80% of days that are sunny, providing optimal conditions for solar energy capture. While you won’t capture energy at night or on a cloudy day, the ability to store energy credits with your local power company through grid-tied solar systems, or in a battery backup for off-grid systems means you won’t run out of power, even when the sun isn’t out.

Solar panels, once installed, require very limited maintenance and often come with extended warranties of 25 years or more. Plus they can be installed on virtually any roof, provided it has the right orientation and angle, are far less conspicuous than a wind turbine in your yard, and don’t make any noise.

For most residential homes in the intermountain and west regions, solar panels make a lot more sense than wind turbines due to their low long-term costs and high efficiency in producing enough energy for your home.

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