By Julie Bruns
Homeowners are seeking ways to use renewable energy in order to both decrease power bills and preserve the environment. There are many ways to harness renewable energy, but which option is best for home use? While wind, hydro and solar panels each have significant merits,1 homeowners need a solution that delivers the best value and presents the fewest challenges to install and maintain. In this regard, hydropower is not usually an option. The scale and cost of building a hydroelectric dam is not a possibility for a single homeowner—unless hydropower is an option provided by the power grid, it is off the table. This leaves wind and solar power as the two popular options for renewable home power. Both systems can be installed on a small scale for a single home, and both offer a variety of options at a range of costs. Ultimately solar power is a better solution for homeowners, due to its geographical versatility, relatively simple installation, quiet operation and longevity.
Residential Solar Power Is Less Dependent on Geography and Requires Less Space
When deciding between a residential solar power system or a wind turbine, it’s vital to take into account the geographic conditions. Wind turbines rely on strong, steady winds in order to function. Simply put, if there’s no wind, there will be no power. On the other hand, solar panels can be used in most locations,2 as the sun shines just about everywhere.
Installing a wind turbine takes a certain amount of dedicated space, as each turbine needs a set amount of height and space in order to operate safely and at peak efficiency.3 This means that they are usually only an option in rural areas, and only if the homeowner has enough property to install a turbine. In comparison, solar panels are easily installed on rooftops, which provide unused space that is exposed to the sun. This instantly gives them an edge in urban areas, where space is limited and homeowners want power systems that can blend into their home’s aesthetic.
While solar panels require a sizable investment to cover upfront machine and installation costs, a wind turbine comes with its own set of installation requirements. Because of its size, heavy machinery may be needed to erect it. Installers with highly-specialized knowledge must complete the installation to ensure that no damage occurs and that the system is functioning correctly.
Solar Panels have no moving parts, meaning silent operation, minimal environmental impact and very little maintenance.
Wind turbines need to constantly be moving in order to work. Their design harnesses the movement of the wind, capturing this kinetic energy and converting it into electricity. Because the blades must be spinning in order to generate power, turbines are under constant wear and tear.4 This means that regular, specialized maintenance must be done to ensure efficient operation. It also means that turbine parts will naturally wear out faster than solar panels, since solar cell technology requires no moving parts. Maintenance on solar panels consists mainly of keeping them clean and clear of fallen debris and snow.
This lack of moving parts also means that solar panels’ operation is silent. This is important to a homeowner’s quality of life––and it also makes solar power a viable solution in urban areas, where noise ordinances are in place. While wind turbines can be very quiet under regular conditions, high winds can cause excessive noise.
The swinging blades of the wind turbine can also present a hazard to birds, who can accidentally fly in the path of the blades and be hit. Because solar panels are stationary, they generally cause no such issues for the local wildlife.
Solar panels feature lifespans that stretch over decades, versus a lifespan of around 20 years for a small wind turbine system.
The lack of moving parts in residential solar power systems means that they have very long lifecycles. While it’s generally accepted that solar panels will gradually decrease in efficiency over the years, panels are capable of providing useable amounts of clean electricity for decades. The degradation rate of a solar panel can be expected to be under 0.5% per year for panels made before 2000, and under 0.4% for panels made after 2000.5 This translates to functional lifespans as long as 40 years.6 Solar panels also come with warranties for homeowner peace of mind—typical warranties guarantee efficient energy production for at least 20 years.
In comparison, wind turbines are often warrantied for less than ten years, and total lifespan estimates may be as low as 20 years. Homeowners considering both wind and solar power should be aware that wind turbine maintenance costs can balloon 250% over the life of a turbine.7
- System installed pre-2000
- System installed post-2000
Solar Module Median Degradation Rates (percent lost per year)
While both solar and wind provide a clean energy alternative to the power grid, solar panels usually make more sense for homeowners.
Solar power has emerged as a winner in the renewable home power industry. The sun makes for an ideal source of power, as it is present almost anywhere and its use is far less limited by geography than wind or hydropower. Solar panels integrate easily into home design, providing a silent and even aesthetically pleasing source of energy, especially as new technology continues to develop. The truth about home solar is that once the initial investment in residential solar power is made, the homeowner will have access to clean, free energy for decades to come.
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- Maradukhel, Sharibkhan. “Hydro vs. Wind vs. Solar Power.” LinkedIn. N.p., 1 Aug. 2016. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
- “Planning a Home Solar Electric System.” Planning a Home Solar Electric System. Department of Energy, Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
- Woofenden, Ian, and Roy Butler. “2015 Wind Turbine Buyer’s Guide.” Homepower.com. Home Power Inc., May-June 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
- Mendick, Robert. “Wind Farm Turbines Wear Sooner than Expected, Says Study.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 30 Dec. 2012. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
- “What Is the Lifespan of a Solar Panel? “ Engineering.com, 20 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
- Markham, Derek. “How Long Will Solar Panels Last?” CleanTechnica. Sustainable Enterprises Media, Inc., 19 Oct. 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
- McMullen, Mike. “Twisting in the Warranty Winds.” Wind Systems Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2017.
Editor: Kelsey Tollefson
Executive Editor: John Lenker