Wind turbine vs solar panel: which source is the ultimate winner?
Only one wind turbine is needed to match approximately 48,704 solar panels to generate the same amount of electricity per kilowatt-hour (kWh). But does that mean it is the winner?
As more businesses come under pressure to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, they are looking for clean energy that can compete with the price of coal and natural gas.
Related: When will fossil fuels run out?
A survey conducted by Beyond Fossil Fuels this year suggested more than half of European SMEs agree that reliance on fossil fuels poses a significant threat to their businesses. According to the survey, 75% of SMEs view a swift transition to renewable energy as the means to address both elevated energy expenses and the challenge of climate change.
In the U.S., Google, Microsoft, and Dow Chemical are buying five times more wind than solar electricity in the race to hit ambitious emissions targets.
Google especially with 2,548 megawatts of wind contracts and 141 megawatts of solar from projects around the world is set to hit the 100% renewable energy goal next year.
Brian Janous, director of energy strategy at Microsoft told The Guardian that businesses’ participation in buying solar and wind is still relatively new and the industries have yet to fully address the challenges in expanding this market.
Challenges of wind turbine and solar panel
While wind and solar power have experienced significant growth in the past decade, they still represent only a fraction of the world’s total energy generation capacity.
Figure 2 estimates that the amount of wind and solar supply will go up exponentially in 2030 and 2050, compared with 2010 and 2021. However, to compete with fossil fuel, solar and wind require cost-effective methods for storing their energy.
When it comes to generating usable electricity, wind turbines typically has an efficient range of 20% to 40%, outperforming solar panels, which exhibit an average conversion efficiency of 15-20%. Certain advanced solar panels can achieve an even higher efficiency level, reaching up to 23%.
Related: Disadvantages of renewable energy
According to Figure 3, the global overall installation cost comparison between 2010 and 2021 shows decrease in the overall installation cost of solar PV, onshore wind and offshore wind by 82%, 35% and 41%, respectively.
Although the offshore wind energy sector doesn’t require extensive land usage, it faces the economic challenges posed by construction technology and grid connection. Despite these challenges, the industry has seen a consistent decline in costs due to technological advancements and favorable renewable energy pricing trends.
Based on the size and height of the turbine and the equipment used, an average wind turbine installation cost will be anywhere between $50,000 to $70,000.
According to a new report by the IEA, the global power capacity for wind and solar energy is anticipated to double by 2025, reaching about 2,349 gigawatts (Figure 4).
This projection would surpass the capacities of both coal and natural gas globally, with each expected to be approximately 2,079 gigawatts and 1,999 gigawatts, respectively, by 2025.
A wind turbine generates 4.64 grams of CO2 per 1 kWh, whereas a solar panel produces 70 grams of CO2 per 1 kWh. Wind turbines also hold several environmental advantages as they produce no emissions, require no water for cooling, and have a relatively small physical footprint.
However, it doesn’t emerge as a clear winner. Wind turbines are often considered unsightly, require significant land area, pose potential harm to wildlife, and are less suited for densely populated areas.
Wind turbine vs solar panel: which is better?
In suburban or urban areas, solar panels present a more feasible choice. These panels can be conveniently installed on the rooftops of various structures, including residential buildings, schools, and commercial establishments. While utilities typically lean towards wind power as their preferred renewable energy source.
Related: 7 disadvantages of solar energy
Figure 5 and Figure 6 represent the top 10 per capita energy generation countries from solar and wind in 2022, respectively. Australia is the number one per capita energy generation from solar with 1,279 kWh, whereas Denmark took the spot for wind with 3,220 kWh.
The effectiveness of these energy sources varies depending on your location. In a place with abundant sunshine, solar panels outperform a single wind turbine by generating significantly more energy. On the other hand, in windier regions, wind turbines are the more productive choice.
Is hybrid energy a solution?
Hybrid systems, which integrate both wind and solar power, present an attractive approach to overcoming the limitations and boosting the advantages of each energy source, thereby improving their efficiency and overall output.
For example, Adani Green Energy Limited power plant located in India has effectively integrated wind and solar power to supply clean electricity to the region. The company is the world’s leading developer of wind-solar hybrid power.
Another possibility is to co-own a wind farm or solar park— a method that could potentially lower energy costs by as much as 23%.
Sarah Merrick, the founder of Ripple Energy explained to Euronews that she recognized that wind energy had become the most cost-effective electricity source in the UK, but there was no accessible way for people to participate. So, her company is assisting individuals in co-owning a wind turbine.
Large-scale projects are more cost-efficient than smaller ones, which is why acquiring a share of a wind farm is more than two-thirds less expensive than investing in an equivalent rooftop solar initiative.
Energy storage technologies have a crucial role in storing surplus energy when production is at its peak and dispensing it during times of low or no energy generation. The combination of both wind turbine and solar panel could be the ultimate winner here.
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