Interested in wind turbine vs. solar panels information? You’ve come to the right place. Whether you want to be at the forefront of renewable energy or watch your carbon footprint, alternative energy sources are rising in the energy industry. But which one’s better? Let the wind turbine vs. solar panel debate begin.
It cannot be easy putting your finger on which renewable energy source you should choose to invest in when you have the best of both in your palm. Nevertheless, you can base the debate between wind energy and solar energy on a couple of factors:
- Economical impact
This article will provide you with the necessary information to help you understand the difference between these two renewable energy sources.
Table of Contents
Deconstructing The Wind Turbine Vs. Solar Panels Debate
To understand these two primary renewable sources, you have to break them down to their fundamentals. Firstly, this article will tackle both the anatomy of a wind turbine and a solar panel.
It will help you grasp how they function, their purposes, and their impacts. Furthermore, it will help you better understand how the factors mentioned above tie into everything.
Wind Turbine Anatomy VS Solar System Anatomy
Both wind turbines and solar panels have different parts or pieces that come together to form a system. Here are the parts of both a wind turbine and a solar panel.
|Wind Turbines||Solar Panels|
|The generator||The Solar Panels|
|The tail and yaw bearing||The controller|
|The governing mechanism||The inverter|
|The tower adaptor||Electrical devices|
|The transmission wires|
|Utility interconnection equipment|
Anatomy Of A Wind Turbine
Firstly, let’s take a look at the anatomy of a wind turbine. Manufacturers divided wind turbines into five major parts. Remember that without any of these parts, a wind turbine cannot function.
What Are The Five Main Parts Of A Wind Turbine?
The list above showed a complete breakdown of all the parts of a wind turbine. However, manufacturers breakdown wind turbines into five main parts:
|The turbine||The generator|
The tail and yaw bearing
The governing mechanism
The tower adaptor
|The tower||The base and anchors|
The steel tower parts
The Guy wires
|Electronics||The charge controller |
The disconnects and overcurrent protection
|Utility interconnection equipment*|
What Do All Of These Components Do?
A turbine is a power-generating device that utilizes wind energy to generate electricity. The turbine accomplishes this feat by using the principles of electromagnetism to turn a device very similar to a car alternator. In essence, it is a reverse electric motor that when rotated with mechanical force creates an electric current.
The blades harvest energy that the generator uses to make electricity. The blades consist of four types of materials:
- Carbon fiber
- High-tech materials
Another thing to note is that blades are also known as rotors. If the wind were a field of barley, the blades would be the combined harvester. Then the electricity would be beer before it’s filtered and packaged for your leisure.
The tail and yaw bearing help the wind turbine to align to the direction of the wind. Some wind turbines will use motors to help align them; however, it’s dependent on models and manufacturers.
Next on the list is the governing mechanism. Governing mechanisms help wind turbines regulate how much wind they can harvest. Sometimes the wind speed and force are beyond what the wind turbine is capable of utilizing; this is when the governor kicks in to prevent damage to the assembly and for the wind turbine to effectively harvest. Governing mechanisms come in several forms such as:
- Rotor furling
- Blade and pitch control
- Electronic braking
- Hinges that flatten or extend blades
- Wind deflecting blades
- Shapeshifting blades (this form is not a sci-fi movie, it exists, and it is possible)
Lastly is the tower adaptor, which connects the turbine to the tower.
The next main component is the tower. It may look like a long vertical metal pole, but it has components of its own. These components play a more significant role other than keeping the turbine at a higher altitude.
The first component is the base and the anchor. The base and the anchor do what you expect them to do. They hold the tower in place by connecting them to the land.
Secondly is the steel tower parts. Towers consist of numerous other parts made out of steel. They include:
- Tubular tilt-up towers
- Lattice tilt-up towers
- Fixed guyed lattice towers
- Fixed tubular towers
- Freestanding lattice towers
- Freestanding tubular towers
These steel parts are towers within the towers that go into the foundation of a standard wind turbine tower. You may find many of these forms in commercial towers because they tend to manufacture their wind turbine towers out of steel.
If you’re looking for a more residential wind turbine, it’s pretty unlikely you will find steep tower parts. However, the probability isn’t entirely zero.
Last on this list is the guy wires. Guy wires are cables. These cables help to stabilize fixed guyed and tilted towers.
The purpose of the transmission wires is to deliver the electricity from the turbine to the ground. From there, the wires will finally transmit it to your conversion equipment. Typically, you will have either two or three wires that have a specific size for safety purposes.
If you require expert advice on hooking up your transmission wires, experts recommend consulting an electrician. Be sure also to consult your local electrical authorities.
So far, you have noted down that wind turbines generate electrical energy. It’s only logical to assume that electrical components will also become part of the wind turbine system.
The first electrical component is the charge controller. Since wind turbines use batteries, you will require a charge controller. Its purpose is to prevent the batteries from overcharging.
Next on the list is the inverter. Its purpose is to convert DC or direct-current electricity to AC or alternating-current electricity.
Here’s how it works:
I. Your wind turbine generates wild AC
II. The inverter converts the wild AC to DC.
III. The inverter converts the DC to AC.
Last on this list is the disconnects and overcurrent protection. It’s usually found or built into the circuit breaker. So what’s its purpose? Its job is to protect the wires from any unwanted failures.
It’s a necessity that manufacturers cannot overlook.
The final major part of this list is the batteries. Their purpose is to store the electricity. Simple and sweet.
Utility Interconnection Equipment
Initially, there were only going to be five main parts. However, it wouldn’t be complete without adding the utility Interconnection equipment. This equipment connects your wind turbine to the utility grid.
Most of the time, it’s the inverter; however, manufacturers tend to offer different options.
What Are The Main Parts Of A Solar Panel?
Now that you have finished reading about the main parts of a wind turbine. It’s time to look into the main parts of a solar panel. As shared earlier, wind turbines and solar panels both harvest renewable sources of energy.
They try to function with the same concept; however, the main difference is that one runs on wind energy and the other runs on solar energy. Regardless, the core concept should remain the same.
Here’s how they work:
The Solar Panels
The solar panels themselves are the core components of a solar system. They harvest solar power for the rest of the parts to utilize. The scientific term for solar panels is photovoltaic solar panels.
How do they work? The stronger the energy from the sun, the more electric power you will receive. Regardless, even in the shade or under cloud cover, solar panels will generate a little bit of electricity.
When solar panels are linked together, they create something known as a solar array. It’s what you will typically see on top of buildings or houses.
Next on the list is batteries. Like wind turbines, you need something or somewhere to hold or store the power you’ve generated from the solar panels.
Batteries are great because they provide a storage mechanism that can hold energy. Batteries on a solar panel are dependent on the amount of energy the respective solar panels can generate.
There are two types of batteries used in solar panels:
- Lead-acid batteries (they look a lot like car batteries)
- Lithium-ion batteries (used in modern solar panels)
Third on the list is a controller. Its purpose is to manage the electricity as it flows into and out of the battery. Electricity doesn’t ‘stand still’; it needs a medium (such as a battery) to allow for its consistent movement.
You also need a controller to prevent your battery from overheating and any other unwanted instances.
Last but certainly not least is the electrical devices. These devices are the ones you want to power using the electricity generated from the solar panel. There are two types of devices:
- Low voltage devices
- High voltage devices
Many low voltage devices, especially in RV or van life settings, you can run a 12-volt or 24-volt supply. Anything from light-bulbs, refrigerators, ovens, electric kettles, television, radio, air conditioning, etc.
The majority of these devices fall in the low-voltage category.
Now that this article has addressed the anatomy of things, it’s time to look at the debate on wind turbines vs. solar panels.
Wind Turbines Vs. Solar Panels
Trying to understand and choose a renewable source of energy that works for you can be daunting. However, it’s not impossible. With that in mind, let’s look at the factors mentioned earlier and use them to gauge whether or not wind or solar is the alternative source for you.
If you haven’t noticed, you base renewable sources of energy on utilizing naturally occurring resources. Wind and sun are naturally occurring, and they do not pollute the environment.
However, both wind turbines and solar panels have set up conditions. Before setting up a wind turbine, you have to consider the wind turbine requirements. Here are some of these requirements:
- A wind resource
- Wide-open spaces
- Bird problems
- The location
A study from the California Independent System Operator and the US Energy Information Administration showed that solar power has the highest potential of generation throughout the year and in different seasons.
So it’s safe to say that in terms of efficiency, and only by a small margin because both wind and solar power are variable, solar power is the more efficient of the two.
Both wind and solar power are variable. You can say the same for other renewable sources of energy. Unpredictable weather patterns are a challenge when it comes to utilizing wind or solar power.
However, with the proper planning and utilization of forecasts, it is safe to say that solar power has to be the most consistent of the two. You can rest assured that your solar panels will generate electricity.
Even with cloud cover, the solar panels will generate some electricity, unlike wind turbines which won’t generate anything unless the wind is blowing.
It’s why all those requirements are in place because renewable energy sources are variable and require specific conditions.
Both of these renewable sources provide benefits to the local economy. Here are some of the benefits of wind turbines to an economy:
- Increased employment rates because it creates jobs
- Improves infrastructure (proper roads and other means of transport)
- Increased tourism
- Increase in land lease payment (wind farmers can lease out their land to traditional farmers to grow crops)
- Increase in the local tax revenue leading to improved infrastructure and other community facilities
- Reduces your carbon footprint
Here are some benefits of solar power to an economy:
- Reduces your electricity bill
- Somewhat reduces your carbon footprint
In terms of benefits, wind power provides more benefits to the socio-economy and individually. Regardless, they are both equally helpful to local economies from a community perspective and an individual perspective.
Between the two renewable sources of energy, you could say that wind energy is more expensive than solar power. Why?
It depends on the size of the wind turbines you want to buy and the number of solar arrays you procure.
Commercial wind turbines can cost up to the millions, while commercial wind turbines, on average, cost half the price. Both are expensive, but solar panels are the least expensive of the bunch.
Wind turbines can produce more electricity than numerous solar panels. You would need over a thousand solar arrays to generate as much power as a wind turbine. This reason is why wind turbines are the more sustainable of the two.
Ease of installation can be a make or break for many users. So which of the two renewable sources of energy has the most effortless installation process?
Solar panels are much easier to install than wind turbines. First, wind turbines require you to set up the tower and install the blades one by one. On the other hand, solar panels are usually at ground level, making the entire installation process a lot easier.
If you have solar panels on your roof, it’s a lot easier to install than a wind turbine and all its necessary parts.
Last but not least is maintenance. Out of the two, solar panels are easier to maintain. However, solar panels do come with built-in features that allow them to maintain themselves while working. Regardless, solar panels are easier to maintain.
The debate between wind turbines and solar panels is a long and arduous one. Wind power enthusiasts will swear by it, and you can say the same for solar power enthusiasts.
It all comes down to your needs and which renewable energy source will satisfy those needs to the best of their ability. Before deciding, write down a list of needs and align those needs with the correct renewable energy source. You call this planning, which will make things a lot easier for you in the long run.
Solar And Wind FAQs
How Many Solar Panels Equal A Wind Turbine?
Because different wind turbines produce different amounts of energy, you could say that one wind turbine equals eight solar panels on average.
Are Commercial Solar Panels Worth It?
If you’re looking to turn your business green or you want to open a wind farm, commercial solar panels are worth it. They cut down costs and provide other benefits.
Which Are Variable Sources Of Energy?
VRE or variable sources of energy include wind, solar, tidal, and hydroelectric power. Out of all of these VREs, tidal is the most predictable of the bunch.
- Ian Woofenden, Wind Power for Dummies, (New Jersey: Wiley Publishing Inc, 2009) 384.
- Kevin Shea, Brain C. Howard, Build Your Own Small Wind Power System, (New York: McGraw Hill, 2011) 512.
- Michael Boxwell, Solar Electricity Handbook: 2019 Edition, (London: Greenstream Publishing, 2019) 355.
- Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Wind Energy’s Economic Impacts to Communities, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, https://windexchange.energy.gov/projects/economic-impacts Accessed August 21st, 2021.
- Congressional Research Service, Variable Renewable Energy: An Introduction, Congressional Research Service, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11257 Accessed August 21st, 2021.
- International Renewable Energy Agency, Planning for the Renewable future: long-term modeling and tools to expand variable renewable power in emerging economies, International Renewable Energy Agency, https://www.irena.org/publications/2017/Jan/Planning-for-the-renewable-future-Long-term-modelling-and-tools-to-expand-variable-renewable-power Accessed August 21st, 2021.