Quite a bit of attention is being paid to renewable energy sources these days, especially by consumers and environmental advocacy groups. In general, we agree that important steps need to be taken to facilitate a more independent and clean source of power for our society. However, there is still much debate as to which direction we should move.
The two leading candidates in our search for a sustainable power source are wind and solar power. But which one will work better on an industrial scale? On a personal scale? Which will get us more for our money? Well, both are certainly viable options and both areas of study are progressing rapidly. But if I HAD to choose…?
Overall it would appear that wind power is slightly more cost-effective than solar power at this time. In a study conducted by Ontario, Canada based company, Detronics Limited, one wind turbine and one solar array were set up and tested over the course of one year.
Over that time span, wind proved to be more cost-effective than solar power. The total kWh produced by each system were recorded and then divided into the total cost of purchasing and running each system. During this year-long study, wind power proved to cost just over $3.00 less per kWh produced.
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It seems obvious. But they could not draw any definite conclusion as to which one would be the better buy. First of all, both systems over time would most likely prove to be extremely cost-effective. This was but a one-year study, and because wind and solar power are renewable energy sources, they would continually produce energy with only the costs of routine maintenance. Therefore, that cost per kWh for both systems would continually decrease.
Secondly, the researchers set a goal of 120 kWh produced per month and neither system met this goal on its own. Now this goal could surely be reached using one or the other, but you would need five times the photovoltaic array or two more wind turbines. It is far more practical to use, what they refer to as a Hybrid system, for two reasons: It is far more cost effective and both systems are highly susceptible to seasonal changes.
Seasons affect both solar and wind power in dynamic, if not obvious, ways. A solar array produces much more energy during the summer months while the wind turbine tended to produce better during the winter months when there is less sunshine but more wintry winds. Now, it is important to remember that no two places on earth are likely to have the same results garnered by these researchers in Ontario.
In some areas wind power may be the obvious choice, while in arid, sunnier climes solar power might be more advantageous (although wind is oftentimes a powerful force in desert climates also). Nonetheless, in temperate climates, where the majority of Americans live, it appears that the focus should not be so much on Wind vs. Solar, but Wind and Solar.
However, the study misses on one crucial point. Cost effectiveness can not be the only factor when deciding which form of energy to utilize. Especially on the scale of the average homeowner. On such a small scale, while price is still a very sensitive issue, practicality also becomes a very influential line of questioning.
Even if wind is more efficient and inexpensive in terms of production, who can afford to build a large wind turbine in their backyard? Other than the rare homeowner who lives atop a large hill with no obstructions, the idea of the wind turbine will almost certainly lose to a solar array, which can be installed on almost any roof.
Solar energy, being more easily accessible, is definitely the optimal choice for homeowners who would like to become energy independent. And that is a huge advantage, solar can free homeowners from the binds of high utility bills and power outages. This becomes even more exciting considering recent innovations in plastic and nanocrystal solar cells which promise to greatly reduce the cost of manufacturing and installation.
On an industrial level, as more and more of our grid-based energy is derived from renewable energy sources and the grid itself moves “off the grid,” the question will no longer be which one to use, solar or wind, but where to use each one. For the beauty of energy derived from renewable resources is that our future energy consumption will no longer affect our environment so much as be affected by our environment.