Solar or Wind Power: Which is More Efficient?

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This is a question that many of us who follow the clean energy industry may have asked ourselves: which one represents more value for money, wind or solar power? Surely they are both alternative energy types that we should embrace in order to break ourselves from our oil addiction.

But are they exactly the same in terms of efficiency, that is, how much electricity they can produce? They capture energy in very different ways, but one experiment carried out by Inland Power and Light arrived at the conclusion that solar is more efficient.

They compared a 35-foot wind turbine with a solar panel array, making sure that both could generate the same amount of electricity under optimal conditions. Both cost $22,000 as well.

Apparently the solar array generated five times more power than the wind turbine mainly because of the varying wind speeds that stops the turbine from generating power. Solar, it seems, is less intermittent than wind.

Another advantage of solar panels is that they are easier to integrate architecturally. But considering how much energy we need to run this planet, it’s good to have a choice. Surely under some conditions, wind will do a better job than solar and vice-versa. The point is to continue developing both technologies so they become increasingly efficient.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

  • david dunn

    Comparisons must be decided not on a financial basis but on the actual energy footprint of the birth to birth cycle of the two.

    Financial comparisons take into account of all the subsidies and grants either direct or indirect and hence distort the final figures.

    The energy comparison would in effect exclude all the distortions created by the subsidies and grants that have been applied not only directly but also to the whole process from raw materials , labour ,design, manufacture, commissioning, maintenance, and final decommissioning and recycling of the final waste.

  • Breath on the WInd

    A misleading article.

    Residential options might include PV solar or a 35′ wind turbine. Commercial options would be for a wind or solar farm. Commercial solar panels come in at between 10 and 20% efficiency while wind generation can be 30 to 50% efficient.

    The article could be more clear if it announced what parameters were being used to determine efficiency along with the actual numbers.

  • http://revolutionswind.com Peter Sharma

    My 5MPH wind will beat any PV array any day. The nly solar power that competes in efficiency and production is Thermal Solar, simpler and cheaper than PV by far. My wind is 1.5¢/kWh (unamortised) with a 5kW unit retailing for $5,000 producing the rated energy at 5MPH and requiring no permits.

    The usual “intermittent wind” arguments vapourize when my tech is applied. PV is bunk.

  • Captain Obvious

    This article has told us nothing.

  • http://revolutionswind.com Peter Sharma

    You have that right, Captain O!

  • http://www.reflectgreen.com Tom

    Both have regions which will be better for each they are both very viable solutions.

  • Frans

    Antonio: some tips to improve your writing:

    Tell about the context of the research. Since i have a bit of background knowledge I can deduce that this a comparison of a household PV-installation with a household windturbine, probably in the urban environment. A lot of readers will not understand this. You should make clear that the results will be completely different for utility scale windturbines.

    You should also make clear to what regions these results apply. Cities have much poorer wind conditions than the countryside, California receives more sunshine than Scotland.

    What is “Inland Power and Light “? This may be obvious to you, but this blog is read internationally, so some clarification is in order.

    “Efficiency” is a word that is (ab)used in many ways. Define the term clearly.

    Include a link to the original research.

  • Mixali

    Hy Antonio!

    Please make citation of the title of the research (even better if it is linked)!

    I wanted to know if the counted the cost of manufacturing the materials, installing and so on.

    A BA in journalism should not make these fails ;!)

    Kind regards and thanks for it!

  • Hans

    The article is about small wind and PV. Why is there a picture of an utility scale wind turbine?

    Title is to general, a better one would be be:

    “Micro wind or photovoltaics, which one is cheaper?”

  • Hans

    Typo:

    Title is too general, a better one would be be:

  • Sabrina Hill

    I am not some engineering professor, or employee of a power company, I am just some poor schlep disabled Veteran living out in the “toolies” of far west Texas, who has continuously not been hooked to the grid since 1994. I don’t know about systems to power huge chunks of metro, and suburban tracts, but one way to cut down on dependance on filthy power generation methods, is for as many people as possible to just set up their OWN power generation capability. I run wind and solar both, at the home that I and my wife built together out in the far west Texas high desert, in Hudspeth County. We designed our house that was built from around 80% recycled building materials, to be passive solar. Our cooking, backup heat, and refrigeration are Propane, while the entire house is powered by 1.5K solar,That we built on, and are continuing to build on as my V.A. Checks allow, and 1.5K wind that we built ourselves with automotive alternators for a TOTAL of 300 dollars per complete wind plant, poles, stays and everything. I have found that out here if the sun isn’t shining, the wind is blowing, so we get almost 24/7 power generation. If you want to make a difference, you CAN, right now. Just set up your OWN system, and disconnect from the grid.

  • stan

    While I didn’t read each and every post…..it seems we are forgetting something here…..in norh America….solar operates about 5 hrs peak, and 5 hrs at a reduced output……but at night, it produces noe at all…..so you have to adjust the output to about 40% right off the bat.

    10,000 watts of solar….watt (hahaha) an average home needs, at MY company costs $33,500 for a standard install (no moving roof stacks…no power lines running from an unnatached garage, etc.)so, after the tax credit, about $23,500

    But, most solar sales companies charge $4.75 to $5.25 per watt, not the $3.35 we charge….we build large systems for private investor utilities for PPAs…and sprinkle in a few residential and light commercial jobs in between…….it’s the greed of the “ma and pa” companies out there that make solar seem too pricey to pay for itself…..but at the price we charge, people are much better off with the 20k invested in a system that will pay a $200 electric bill…..than in a CD, because the CD will pay them 2 to 4 hundred a year in taxable interest…while our systems save them 2400 per year, and savings isn’t taxable….people are just not up to date about economics……that’s 12% interest on their money….and there is not one gimmick to it….but when the people pay another 15-20,000 for the system from most companies like Sunrun, UsSolargy etc…….it’s a lot less attractive financially.

    • Sabrina Hill

      That’s TRUE about the “Mom and Pop’s” Stan, and why we built our wind system our selves. We wound up with a 1.5 K system that will have a little less than 500 total, (we only needed one load diverter for the two generators, and could add another generator if we wanted, further lowering the cost per generator). when I looked at the commercial generators, and saw what they wanted for them, I thought “you have GOT to be kidding me”. They may be “pretty”, but pretty does not generate electricity in the West Texas winds. I’ll give up the “pretty” and get each generator for one third (or less) than the pretty ones. PLUS, if one needs to be serviced, I just go to the local Auto Parts store, and get another rebuilt one, and it will be under the free replacement warranty to boot.

      Sabrina

  • http://www.eco.ph Skylights

    I agree to the point that both are efficient alternative source of energy but the article must contain facts, evidence and variables must be presented for accuracy and for the readers to believe that solar is much efficient than wind.

  • stan

    I have not read any post (or anything in the article) that uses one ounce of industry or scientific data…….here’s the deal…..

    Solar, needs, depending on the latitude, this is for ours here in the tri state area…4200×240 watt panels per megawatt. We build utiltiy grade power facilities @just under $3 per watt….so, 1 MW=$3M…these systems have consistent output that averages that output based on our latitude, sun angle where installed, etc. 4200 panels requires about 1 acre of space/land….When you’re considering wind, the spatial requirements aren’t that different, so let’s leave that point alone for now.

    However, unlike the contorted figures used by fossile fuel morons…the price for solar, except for small items like an inverter, but only after the ten year warranty…which the MFGs cover labor costs to replace are included….there are no significant ongoing xpenses beyond rinsing them off.

    Wind, on the other hand, requires periodic maintenance and components

    because everything but the nacelle shell is a moving part….rotor, generator, transmission…….and, the labor costs are huge, because of the gigantic specialized equipment required to execute the repairs. These must be factored into the equaision to make one which is real world…not propaganda from companies like Exxon, and politicians.

    Since in a 10 to 20 year period, there would likely be at least 3 rotors and 3 transmissions….and possible a generator or 2….and that a 5MW wind gen. has an average annual output, of 2.8 MW….solar, at that output, on the “EBITDA” principle (replacing earnings with “electricity” before interest, taxes, depreciation and ammortization)and in this case…but after repairs…solar and wind are virtually equal when you consider all the parts and labor the windmill HAS to have, as I’ve described, and I used VERY conservative numbers… @ 8,400,000 for 2.8MW..over 15 yrs….however, most solar will still be running, when the windmillhas become scrap metal…the stresses on it’s structure are just too great for a 20-25 yr. safe operating window.

  • Sabrina Hill

    I guess that if you are talking about a commercial power facility, then yes it is very expensive. For a home that is stand alone as ours has been for eight years, we have all the power that we need, we both are on our computers right now, and we have NO power problems, after a day of solid overcast, (the winds were, and are now, at 10 at night, blowing at 10 to 15 MPH). You guys can argue all that you want, we have not been hooked to the grid for 8 years, and we are NOT sitting around candles for light, and playing cards for entertainment.