Below, we compare solar energy vs wind energy.
We look at different aspects of each energy source, and also consider which energy source might be better overall.
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Summary
Solar energy and wind energy are both renewable energy sources
They are both also considered variable energy sources
Both of these traits lead to ease energy sources having several more similarities
However, there’s also some differences between them too, such as how exactly they each capture energy, their efficiency, where they can be installed, and so on.
We go into the above points in much more detail in the guide below …
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Main Differences
Some of the main differences between solar energy and wind energy might be:
– Where The Energy Comes From
For solar energy, it comes directly from the Sun (via sunlight)
For wind energy, it comes from the wind
– Technology & Equipment Used
For solar energy, solar panels and solar PV (photovoltaic) are the main technology and equipment uses. Solar CSP is another technology that is sometimes used for solar energy.
For wind energy, wind turbines are the main technology and equipment used. Onshore wind turbines might be most common, but offshore wind farms can be set up too.
– Solar Might Be Slightly More Versatile In Regards To Where It Can Be Installed
Wind turbines can be installed at onshore and offshore locations.
However, wind turbines themselves might be more limited in terms of where they can be installed, and how they can be used.
Their size means they might need open land, and as such, they might be more commonly used in less populated areas that can cater for this.
Solar panels on the other hand might be able to be installed across a wider range of locations, such as on residential and commercial buildings, on vehicles, and more.
Solar panels are also portable.
Solar might have more versatility and options in terms of where it can be installed, and how it can be used.
– Solar Energy Might Be More Predictable Than Wind Energy
The Sun rising and setting might be relatively predictable
There can be a lot more uncertainty on the other hand in predicting wind patterns – wind can fluctuate in terms of it’s patterns and it’s strength
– Wind Energy Might Be More Consistently Available Than Solar Energy
Wind can blow during the day, and also during the night (in areas where wind is available)
The Sun however might only be available during certain hours during the day, and obviously sets at night
– Solar Energy Might Require Less Maintenance Than Wind Energy
Solar panels might need periodic cleaning, which is relatively simple.
Wind turbines on the other hand might need more maintenance and repairs because there’s moving parts, and because wind turbines are quite large.
– Wind Energy Might Be More Efficient At Turning Available Energy Into Electricity
Several reports indicate that wind energy might be anywhere from around two to three times more efficient at turning available energy into electricity
Solar panels might be 18-23% efficient, whilst wind turbines might be 50-60% efficient
However, efficiency can be impacted by variables such as how efficient the solar panel is, or weather conditions (such as how consistent and strong the wind is)
For example, verdeenergy.com mentions that (paraphrased) monocrystalline solar panels might be the most efficient type of solar panel
– Wind Energy Production & Consumption Is Currently Greater Than That Of Solar Energy
Wind energy production and consumption is currently greater than solar energy production and consumption
Information from other reports suggest:
group.met.com indicates that (paraphrased) wind energy makes up 33% of all renewable energy, whereas solar makes up about 12-15%
weforum.org provides information that indicates that (paraphrased) wind energy currently makes up a larger % of total electricity generation in the US than solar (8.4% vs 2.5% in 2020)
– Wind Energy Generates Some Noise
Wind turbines may generate at least some noise, compared to solar panels which don’t generate noise
– Wind Energy May Create More Issues For Wildlife
Moving wind turbine blades may present a hazard for flying wildlife, whereas solar panels don’t present the same hazard
– Solar Energy & Wind Energy Might Have Different Costs Per Unit Of Electricity Generated (According To Some Metrics)
We previously outlined the costs of different energy sources across different metrics of cost in another guide.
However, there are other reports that detail the potential cost of solar energy vs wind energy specifically.
Those reports indicate that (some information is paraphrased):
From group.met.com ‘… it [costs] about $2.19 per watt to install solar energy, while wind power costs only $1.50 per watt’
Data provided by regenpower.com might indicate that (paraphrased) wind energy costs about 20.3 cents per kWh, and solar energy costs 4.6 cents per kWh
They provide the upfront cost and energy generation information behind these estimations in their guide
weforum.org provides more information on the potential costs of the average solar energy setup in their guide
– Wind Energy Might Have A Lower Carbon Footprint Than Solar Energy
Wind energy and solar energy have a carbon footprint that comes from their manufacturing and the pre-operation stage
Some reports indicate that wind energy has a lower carbon footprint than solar energy
verdeenergy.com notes that ‘… wind turbines have a carbon footprint of 7-56 grams of CO2 for every kilowatt-hour generated and solar panels have a carbon footprint of 9-180 grams of CO2 for each kilowatt-hour’
regenpower.com notes that ‘… Wind turbines release less CO2 to the atmosphere. A wind turbine produces 4.64 grams of CO2/1kWh while the solar panel produces 70 grams of CO2/1kWh’
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Main Similarities
Some of the main similarities between solar energy and wind energy might be:
– Both Use Renewable Resources For Energy
Both sunlight and the wind are considered renewable resources
Additionally, as renewable energy sources, they may each share some similar pros and cons that some renewable energy sources have in common
– Both Can Be Variable Sources Of Power
Both solar energy and wind energy can deliver variable/intermittent power due to both being reliant on the weather for their power output
Solar energy is reliant on sunlight for it’s output
Wind energy is reliant on the wind for it’s output
– Both Have Multiple Ways They Can Be Installed
Solar energy for example can be set up as large solar farms, but can can also be installed on buildings, on vehicles, and in other locations.
Wind turbines can also be installed both onshore, and offshore.
– Both Might Allow For Multiple Land Uses At Once
Land that is already used for residential or commercial purposes can have solar panels installed to generate renewable energy.
The space between wind turbines can also be used for other purposes, such as for farming.
– Both Are Some Of The Leading Renewable Energy Sources Across Different Metrics
Including but not limited to:
Both energy production and energy consumption by energy source
However, hydroelectricity might lead both wind and solar across installed capacity, and energy production and consumption metrics.
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Power Density
Both solar energy and wind energy may have a lower power density than nuclear and fossil fuel energy.
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Capacity Factor
Both solar energy and wind energy may have two of the lowest capacity factors amongst different energy sources.
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Energy To Electricity Efficiency
Both solar energy and wind energy might be reasonably efficient at converting energy into electricity
However, wind energy might be more efficient than solar energy according to various reports
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Cost
Both solar energy and wind energy may be lower cost energy sources across different metrics, such as capital costs per kW, and LCOE
Having said that though, the linked guide outlines other factors that may be important to consider when measuring the cost of each energy source
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Price Of Electricity
There’s ultimately a range of factors that can impact the price of electricity
In some instances, either solar energy or wind energy may lead to higher electricity prices, especially where subsidies and taxes are imposed to support these energy sources
But, in other instances, there might be other factors that contribute much more significantly to electricity price increases
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Lifespan Of Equipment
The lifespan of solar panels and wind turbines might be roughly the same
Some reports indicate that the industry standard lifespan for a solar panel is around 25-30 years
Some reports indicate that the industry standard lifespan for a wind turbine is around 20-30 years
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Land Use
The amount of land used by both solar energy and wind energy, or even the land efficiency of both these energy sources, can vary depending on how land use is measured
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Water Use
Both solar energy and wind energy may be some of the most water efficient energy sources at converting energy to electricity
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Material Use
Both solar energy and wind energy might use more construction materials than nuclear energy according to some metrics.
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Waste By-Products During Energy Generation
In terms of waste generated during the energy/electricity generation stage, both solar energy and wind energy produce no waste by-products.
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Pros & Cons
We’ve produced separate guides about the potential pros and cons of each energy source:
Potential Pros & Cons Of Solar Energy
Potential Pros & Cons Of Wind Energy
Solar Energy vs Wind Energy – Which Is Better?
The answer to this question might depend on how ‘better’ is determined
They might each be better than the other across different metrics or measurables
Ultimately, solar and wind can be used in an energy mix together
One of these energy sources may also be used in a much greater share of an individual city’s energy mix, depending on factors and variables unique to an individual city’s energy mix and energy sector
So, they may be better than one another in specific circumstances, but, they may be as useful or important as one another in other circumstances.
Some examples of how either solar energy or wind energy might be better than each other across various metrics or aspects might include:
– Solar energy might be better in geographic areas with more sunlight and less wind
– Wind energy might be better in geographic areas with more wind and less sunlight
– Solar energy may be better in terms of predictability
– Wind energy may be better in terms of energy consistently being available for capture throughout the day and night, and therefore, wind energy may be better for base load than solar energy in some instances too
– Solar energy might be better for urban and inner suburb residential land uses and applications, as solar panels can be installed on roofs and on buildings
– Wind may be better against some measures of energy efficiency, and total power produced
– Wind energy might be better for offshore installations
Can Solar & Wind Power Work Together? – Solar Panel & Wind Turbine Combinations
Solar and wind can work together in a combined solar and wind power system, which can be referred to as a ‘hybrid power system’
On a utility level, solar panels and wind turbines can be used to feed electricity into the same grid.
On a residential or private level, solar panels and wind turbines are set up at the same location, and a hybrid charge controller can help charge a battery bank.
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides