Solar Takes on Wind in Battle of Efficiency

It seems counterintuitive, but a recent test by Washington state-based Inland Power and Light shows solar panels outperforming wind turbines by a factor of five.

Across much of the nation, and particularly the northern quadrant, wind seems to be perpetually present, blowing dust into our homes and barbecue smoke into our eyes.

In fact, as this test proves, wind is much more intermittent – even downright absent – than our senses would have us believe.

To prove this, Inland Power – the largest electric cooperative in Washington – installed solar panels and a 35-foot wind turbine, each system costing about $22,000 and each delivering approximately the same amount of electricity under optimum conditions. Initially, the experiment was to help customers decide which renewable energy system would serve them better.

According to Inland Power engineers, the solar panels delivered almost five times as much electricity as the wind turbine. Why?

Not only is wind more erratic than sunshine, but wind turbines are designed to “kick in” at a certain lower limit. For many, this is a wind speed of between 3 and 12 miles per hour.

In addition, while very strong sunlight simply improves a solar panel’s performance, very high winds – rather than generating more energy – cause wind turbines to cut out to prevent damage to the hub and/or gearbox.

Surprisingly, even very short winter days showed solar delivering more bang for the buck than wind turbines.

Wind’s only advantage? At this point, and for a little while longer, wind is cheaper.  However, as solar cell efficiencies improve, and manufacturing techniques drive down the cost of panels, solar may soon become the clear winner.

Of course, we knew that all along.

Photo Credit: Brian Jeffery Beggerly & Living Off Grid via Flickr CC

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2 comments on “Solar Takes on Wind in Battle of Efficiency

I am troubled by the ‘competition’, ‘winner’ and ‘battle’ operatives used in this post. We need an amalgam of ALL RE technologies to service current and future energy needs. Make no mistake, no one technology is a panacea. Typically, when the sun isn’t shining, the wind is blowing more robustly–of course this will depend on one’s geographical predisposition and availability of respective RE system technology. I think availability of a veritable plethora of RE technologies would be a more sensible schema to share with the general readership. I would challenge this consortium and the writer of this post to start educating the public in this manner…

Only in very extraordinary circumstances would anyone knowledgeable about wind energy would put up a wind turbine on a tower only 35 feet high. There just isn’t much extractable energy in the wind at that low height. Upshot, this “test” is would be joke if people in general were educated about wind energy. Since that’s not true, it is misleading and a disservice.

Kimberley’s comments are spot on.

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