What are The Differences Between Wind Energy and Solar Energy?

By Ami Patel, March 10, 2017, Energy Efficiency, Green

The two powerhouses in the renewable energy industry are wind and solar. But when you compare them side by side, is one better than the other? Let’s review the differences.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

You may have seen solar panels on rooftops and perhaps even a solar farm, which features acres and acres of black, shiny panels hoisted on racks. Inside these panels are photovoltaic cells, and their job is to turn light into electricity.

For a more technical explanation from NASA, these cells transform photons from sunlight into electrons. When these electrons are passed through a semiconductor, it makes a current that can be made into electricity.

Which are The Differences Between Wind Energy and Solar Energy? | Bounce Energy Blog

Another less common form of solar energy is solar thermal, which concentrates the sun’s rays on mirrors to heat a fluid (usually water). The steam from that fluid powers a turbine that makes electricity.

The State of Solar Power

In the world of renewable energy, solar is booming. During the past decade, material costs have decreased by 60 percent. Because it’s cheap, more people and jurisdictions are interested in solar. In fact, its capacity tripled between 2015 and 2016. In all, the infrastructure is enough to power 1.8 million homes in the U.S.

Which are The Differences Between Wind Energy and Solar Energy? | Bounce Energy Blog

Solar is not only fast-growing, it has high potential. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, building photovoltaic panels on just 0.6 percent of the nation’s total land area could supply enough electricity to power the entire United States.

What are the Advantages of Solar Energy?

When you stack up solar’s upsides next to other energy sources, solar has a rather impressive list of advantages.

  • While solar systems take up land space, they don’t always have to. Panels can be mounted up and out of the way on rooftops, making them well suited for urban areas.
  • Solar is silent, which makes it ideal for more populated areas.
  • There are no moving parts, and therefore needs less maintenance than wind.
  • The energy is easy to generate and transport.
  • Panels work in cold climates, air temperature doesn’t matter as long as the panels are catching rays.
  • Home rooftop panels can reduce a homeowner’s electricity costs. During a heat wave, when energy loads are high, this would definitely be an advantage.

What are the Challenges of Solar Energy?

Which are The Differences Between Wind Energy and Solar Energy? | Bounce Energy Blog

They are twofold: solar energy only works when the sun is out, and storage capacity isn’t convenient. So, unless you have a cheap and reliable storage system available to you, you’ll need to get your electricity from a different source on cloudy days or after dark. However, a variety of storage systems are in use and under development.

How Does Wind Energy Work?

Which are The Differences Between Wind Energy and Solar Energy? | Bounce Energy Blog

If you look at the wind turbine, the electricity is being made at high altitude. It’s happening right inside the cylinder shape behind the rotating blades. The wind pushes the blades into motion, which turns a shaft. This chain of motion eventually leads to a generator that makes electricity. The electricity then travels down the stem of the turbine and is taken to transmission lines to be transported and distributed to customers.

The State of Wind Energy

Which are The Differences Between Wind Energy and Solar Energy? | Bounce Energy Blog

Even though solar grew more quickly than wind in 2016, it will be awhile before its output catches up. In 2015, wind power produced 190.7 million megawatts, compared to 21.6 million for solar power.

Much like solar energy, the costs of building wind turbines are coming down. And thanks to better technology and engineering, taller turbines can harvest wind more reliably, boosting their capacity.

What are the Advantages of Wind Energy?

Wind energy also has an impressive list of advantages.

  • Wind energy is a clean fuel source, meaning it doesn’t pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels.
  • Wind turbines can be built on farms and ranches, so leasing available land can become a source of income in rural areas.
  • Wind power is cost-effective.
  • It is a domestic source of energy, meaning the nation’s wind supply is abundant. Wind power is the largest source of annual new generating capacity.

What are the Challenges of Wind Energy?

Which are The Differences Between Wind Energy and Solar Energy? | Bounce Energy Blog

The biggest problem is the cost of transporting the energy generated, as the windiest area are usually remote.

Also, wind is less ideal for residential use for two reasons. One, turbines make noise. While the models are getting quieter, your home turbine may be frowned upon by neighbors, your association, or even your city. And in order to generate any significant amount of electricity, you would have to erect a taller turbine — up and away from wind-blocking buildings and trees and other urban obstacles. That too may not make you the most popular person on the block.

The Future of Renewable Energy

The renewable energy industry has experienced great growth in the past decade. Still, coal and natural gas are generating the lion’s share of the electricity for the United States. Even so, experts predict renewable energy will replace fossil fuels by 2050. In the meantime, watch for developments that will help solar power and wind energy overcome their challenges of storage and capacity.

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