Wind and solar power are massive players in the renewable energy arena. They not only cut carbon emissions from fossil fuels, but they’re also inexhaustible energy sources and — best of all — free. Clearly, they have an edge-up over fossil fuels, but what happens when you compare them to each other?
It’s clear that wind and solar power are greatly beneficial to our energy future. However, determining which one is “better” or “more promising” starts to get a little gray, as the energy industry is complex with lots of moving parts. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each so we can finally give an answer to this hotly debated topic.
Pros and Cons of Solar Energy
|Pros of Solar||Cons of Solar|
|Reduces your carbon footprint||Installations can be expensive|
|Saves you money on your electricity bills||Doesn’t generate electricity at night|
|The fuel is free||Difficult to move once installed|
|Generates electricity anywhere there is sun||Solar energy storage is costly|
|Lessens the strain on the electric grid||Requires rare earth metals|
It’s no secret that fossil fuels are the primary source of carbon emissions in the world.1 Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides, are emitted into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels to generate energy.
Solar energy, on the other hand, generates no carbon emissions when it creates electricity. It replaces the need for fossil fuels and helps lessen the strain on the energy grid. Moreover, solar panel systems can be installed practically anywhere that receives consistent sunlight — on rooftops, in fields, on cars, on bikes and even on traffic lights. Solar panels can even provide power on rainy days, though their generating capacity may be reduced. Best of all, the fuel — our sun — is absolutely free. There’s no limit to how much sun there is.
That said, we realize solar energy may not be perfect — right now, at least. For residential customers who want rooftop panels, an investment in solar is like buying a car, averaging $13,000 for each installation.2 Thankfully, retail electricity providers like Chariot and other companies front that cost so you can still enjoy solar without the hefty premium that comes with owning your own panels.
Solar also doesn’t generate electricity at night, and any energy storage system — not just solar — can be expensive. Plus, solar power systems require the use of some metals that are both difficult and ecologically fraught to unearth.
Thankfully, all of these challenges are being addressed as we speak! We have more information in our article discussing the pros and cons of solar.
Pros and Cons of Wind Energy
|Pros of Wind||Cons of Wind|
|Reduces your carbon footprint||Location limited to windy, rural areas|
|You receive federal assistance for wind||Turbines can be noisy and unappealing|
|Can generate electricity day or night||Small impact on wildlife|
|Lessens the strain on the electric grid||The wind isn’t constant|
|The fuel is free||Not cost-effective in less-windy locations|
Wind and solar share several of the same benefits. Like solar, wind energy generates no greenhouse gas emissions when producing electricity, thus reducing your carbon footprint. Wind also received federal assistance, and the wind itself has no price — it’s totally free like the sun.
They’re practically identical in every way. However, wind has one big advantage over solar in that it can create electricity at night. Wind doesn’t stop when the sun goes down, but what you gain in nighttime generation, you lose in terms of consistency and location.
Currently, wind turbines are confined to areas like the West Texas plains — wide-open spaces where wind can build up speed. If you build in a more populated area, you risk losing money because less-windy areas are not energy efficient.
Think of it like installing solar panels in the shade. You’ll get some generation, but not as much as if you placed them in direct sun. Additionally, the wind doesn’t blow all the time, and we can only predict the weather so much.
Finally, wind turbines can affect wildlife, like birds, bats, and other airborne creatures. However, the number of birds killed annually by cats — 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds — towers in comparison to deaths caused by turbines, around 140,000 to 500,000.3
Our Final Answer?
Solar and wind each have their own benefits and disadvantages. Solar, for example, can’t create electricity at night, while wind can — along with hydropower, geothermal, and more. However, solar is just more consistent and more accessible than the other sources.
So, our solution to the renewables question is simple: Achieve a balance of them all.
Take a look at this graph:
Today, wind is the primary renewable energy resource in use for that 11% above, but each energy source plays an important role in reducing the large chunk of the emissions pie. Fossil fuels still outrank renewables, but coal is increasingly becoming less common as renewables grow.
Our key takeaway? Both solar and wind energy play an important role in diversifying our energy mix, and they shouldn’t compete with each other. Instead, think of them on the same team, trying to reach a collective goal of a brighter future for us all — a great life lesson we should all learn.