Solar Panel vs Wind Turbine: Which Renewable Energy is Better?

Solar Panel vs Wind Turbine

Solar panel vs wind turbine – both solar energy and wind power are top contenders in the renewable energy market. Picking one would be a hard task considering both come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Solar power and wind energy play a critical role in reducing our use of fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas. Since we realized the harm we are doing to our planet by our overreliance on fossil fuels, our focus has been on finding alternative sources of energy, especially renewable energy. 

Of the many renewable energy sources, solar energy and wind power occupy the top spots for various reasons. However, they are not without their own limitations. 

In the debate about solar panel vs wind turbine, you need to consider various factors like location, reliability, consistency, efficiency, and cost of installation before making the decision. In this article, you will find the for and against arguments for both solar power and wind energy. Here you will have all the information you may need to choose which is the better choice for you. Ultimately, the choice is for you to make.

Solar panel vs wind turbine: The debate

Before getting into the debate about which renewable energy source is better, let’s understand why we need to debate this. 

Both solar panels and wind turbines are heavy on the initial investment. This means if you make the wrong decision, you will end up spending a fortune on something that cannot give you a good return on investment. This one reason should be enough for you to consider the pros and cons of both minutely before taking your pick.

Even though wind turbines outpace solar panels in terms of efficiency, solar panels are the more popular choice for homeowners, especially in urban areas. One of the most important criteria for selection is location.

Why is location so important?

Location, location, location – the real estate agent’s mantra applies here as well.

Being renewable energy sources, both solar power and wind energy are entirely dependent on the availability of these energy sources in the given location. Besides their availability, suitability for installation at the location also needs to be considered.

In urban areas, where space is a constraint, solar panels are preferred because they are more compact. Its flexibility is the reason for the skyrocketing popularity of solar panels. They can be installed on rooftops, balconies, or yards. Now the technology has advanced enough to create solar roof tiles that can replace conventional roof tiles. 

However, the story is different for wind power. A wind turbine is not ideal in densely populated urban areas where buildings, trees, and other infrastructure will obstruct the wind flow. The efficiency of a wind turbine will come down if installed in crowded settings.

Moreover, the height of the wind turbine may also pose difficulty in urban areas. The minimum height for a home wind turbine is 10 meters. This can lead to challenges like getting permits for its installation and visual impact. 

Another major issue with wind turbine in urban areas is the noise it produces. People living close to a wind turbine installation will have a hard time listening to the constant whooshing or whining sound. On the other hand, solar panels are as quiet as a lamb. 

Typically, wind power is ideal in a rural setting where large parcels of unobstructed land are available. 

How do they compare in consistency?

One of the major drawbacks of solar energy is its unavailability at night. Solar panels generate electricity only when the sun is shining, which is during the day. Because of this, solar panels cannot be relied upon for round-the-clock power. At best, it can be used as a backup source. Or else, the solar panel system needs to be paired with a storage battery to store the electricity needed for your nighttime use. 

This is where wind turbines score big. Whether day or night, wind turbines will generate electricity as long as the wind is blowing. However, the availability of wind is an issue for wind turbines. 

Solar technology has progressed far enough to give us solar cells that can generate electricity even without direct sunlight or in cloudy conditions. However, wind turbines are unable to generate power when the wind speed is nil, weak, or below the minimum. 

While the weather is a huge dampener for both solar power and wind energy, it poses more challenges for wind turbines. Before making the choice, it would be ideal to understand the solar irradiance and average wind speed in your location. 

The minimum solar irradiance for solar panel installation is 100-200 W/m² though 1000 W/m² is needed for maximum output. The minimum annual average wind speed should be at least 6-9mph. However, with a wind speed of 35-40mph, you will get maximum output. 

Which one is more reliable?

Besides the availability of sunlight and wind in the location, reliability is also affected by natural wear and tear and the susceptibility of the energy system to damage due to natural elements.

Solar panels are clear winners on this account. As they have no moving parts, there will be less wear and tear. This means solar panels need less maintenance. Also, the materials used in the manufacture of solar panels are chosen to withstand the vagaries of nature. 

Sun, rain, or high winds – solar panels will remain undamaged for long periods though they are left out in the open. However, solar panels need minimum maintenance care for them to function efficiently.

However, compared to solar panels, wind turbines are high maintenance and more susceptible to damage. Mostly because it has moving parts and the material used in its manufacture. As wind turbines need to be tall, they are also prone to lightning strikes. 

The common reasons for wind turbine damage or failure are the formation of cracks, corrosion, delamination, detachment of blades, and damage caused by bird strikes.

Solar panel vs wind turbine: Comparison of efficiency

While solar panels score better than wind turbines in all other criteria, efficiency is one aspect where it wins hands down. In fact, wind power is the most efficient source of energy among both nonrenewable and renewable energy sources. It is more than three times more efficient than solar energy. 

Wind turbines can harness almost 60% of the energy trapped in the wind passing through their blades. In comparison, the most efficient solar panels (monocrystalline solar panels) have an energy efficiency of 18-22%. This means solar panels can convert only 18-22% of solar energy falling on them. 

You need to remember that a solar or wind installation can generate maximum power only when sunlight or wind is available. If the location gets ample direct sunlight, even with its limited efficiency a solar panel may generate more power than a wind turbine. 

Cost comparison of solar panels and wind turbines

As there are so many variables involved in the installation process, the simple way to compare the installation expenses is by looking at the cost per watt of power generated. We also need to account for the federal tax credits and other local incentives while arriving at this figure. 

You may find solar panels priced as low as $10 or $20, when you are powering a home with a solar panel installation, you need to consider how much power they are generating. The cost of a 10kW solar panel installation is between $16,870 and $23,170 depending on which state in the US you are living in. This means the average is around $20,000 after the federal solar tax credit. 

The average cost of installation per wattage is  $2.77/W before incentives. This can be as low as $2.05/W in states offering high incentives.

Now let’s compare this with the cost of the installation of a wind turbine. Height is a major factor in getting the best out of a wind energy system. If you are installing it on top of a tall building with no obstructions to the wind flow, the cost will be lower. Or else, you may have to consider placing the turbine on top of a tower. This will add to the cost. The latest calculations give us an average cost per watt of $1.50/W for wind turbines. 

This may come as a surprise because the cost of a turbine is definitely higher than that of solar panels. However, because wind turbines are capable of harnessing considerably more energy than solar panels, the cost of electricity generation is much lower.

In simple terms, a 10kW solar system costs $20,498 after a federal tax credit discount (without considering state rebates and incentives). On the other hand, a 10kW wind turbine would set you back by $14,700 after factoring in the incentives.

Final thoughts on wind and solar energy

The debate about solar panel vs wind turbine is not a simple one to resolve because of the various factors involved. While solar panels are the undeniable winners in urban areas, they also are better in terms of consistency and reliability. However, no other energy source can surpass the efficiency level of a wind turbine. Last but not least, in terms of value for money, the wind turbine is the surprise winner. 

No matter what the numbers may tell you about which renewable energy source is better – solar panel or wind turbine – it will not be relevant to you unless the one you choose is suitable for your location. 


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