Wind Energy vs. Solar Energy for Meeting Renewable Energy Goals
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Having goals is an integral part of progress, regardless of what they entail. Individuals, families, communities — and yes, even countries — set a series of goals. As you achieve goals and set new ones, your options change. Moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy for an entire nation doesn’t require you to decide on one kind of energy source. Instead, it’s a better idea to take a look at all the available options and use as many of them as possible. Let’s look at wind energy vs. solar energy to see how they stack up.
Current Energy Climate
It’s important to note there are tons of options for renewable energy sources. The factors that determine what’s “best” for a given area depend on its natural resources. Places like Chile in South America have a plethora of wind, sun and geothermal energy. Other regions, like Iceland, are better suited to water and geothermal than they are to solar. Meanwhile, China has arranged to make biomass available to their citizens regardless of natural availability. This changes individuals’ abilities to produce energy independently.
The U.S. is in a unique position. We have a vast landmass to work with that enables us to take advantage of many resources, not just one or two. However, given the availability of land and the way the economy has worked out, our two most common options are wind and solar. Here, there are solar options for everything including backpacks and sunglasses. Wind isn’t as common for everyday use, but it is a significant contributor to the energy grid.
In 2017, non-renewable sources besides nuclear contributed about 60 percent of the U.S. energy supply, while nuclear and renewables made up the remaining 40 percent. Last year marked the first time renewables overtook nuclear, surpassing them by a small, but important, margin. That’s a significant jump, since renewables only contributed about 15 percent in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Of renewable energy sources in the U.S., solar, wind and hydropower are the most prominent. The problem with hydropower is that it isn’t always the wisest way to generate energy. Building a dam destroys so much land it’s often akin to wiping out entire forests. Once the dam is complete, it can produce power for generations. The forests, however, may never regrow. That leaves solar and wind power as the cleanest, most efficient methods for energy generation.
Wind Energy vs. Solar Energy: The Breakdown
Right now, solar is taking off. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, people are more familiar with solar power. Most people own at least one solar-powered product, even if it’s just a dancing flower that sits in your window. That makes it less of a change to adapt to, and we all know how much people resist change!
The demand for solar has, so far, overshot practically every estimate governments have made. Some of this might be thanks to subsidiaries from governments, but in large part, solar has accomplished most of these strides independently. With the current administration in the U.S., we’ll be able to see how it does when the cards are stacked against it as well. With as robust a base as solar currently has, all it needs to do is continue its current path to successfully create an energy revolution.
But solar power can’t do it alone, and so far, it hasn’t had to. While there is a contribution of wind energy vs. solar energy, the two work better together than apart. Wind power has been a boon for large companies that can hold enough land and contribute enough money to create wind farms. The main issue is that they’re difficult for individual people to get into. Most people don’t want a giant windmill in their yard. The power might save some money, but the actual structure could decrease the home’s value.
That means unless a home can connect to a wind farm that already exists as part of the energy grid, it’s hard to convince people to install them individually. Solar hasn’t had that problem, since most homeowners can get panels installed right on top of any roof, and it usually increases the market value of the house. In only two years, we could see 3.8 million households with solar power. That’s a pretty massive push, since solar panels first emerged as a viable energy solution in the 1970s.
Wind power is still a significant contributor to the energy bill. In the U.S., it could produce as much as 10 percent of the country’s power by 2020. Remember, renewable energy overall was only about 15 percent in 2016, so in four years’ time, wind power could almost double that. The main contributor to that push isn’t the average American, though — it’s corporations.
Many U.S. corporations have decided to pursue wind energy instead of solar, for a variety of reasons. For starters, it tends to be a bit cheaper. As the prices for both wind and solar continue to fall, that could change, but so far, it hasn’t. The price difference is so small it’s virtually inconsequential for an individual family, but that’s not the case with companies. When you have to generate a lot of power constantly, any cost discrepancy adds up.
For renewables, wind is cheaper. Amazon, one of the largest corporations in the world, has invested so heavily in wind power that their solar investment is almost nonexistent in comparison. Google, Microsoft and even Facebook have all shown a great deal of preferential buying of wind over solar, and are helping drive demand for the products.
Wind energy, once installed, needs very little maintenance. Solar power, on the other hand, has to be kept clean and updated regularly. It’s also more likely to sustain damage from mild storms like hail, while wind turbines almost have to be hit by a tornado to sustain severe damage.
Future of Energy
However, the renewable energy revolution is still in its infancy. There is plenty of time, and resources, for solar to catch up to wind in the corporate sector, and for wind to become more attractive to individuals. As we move closer and closer to using renewables as our primary energy source, we will have to see what the government and the markets come up with.
The only thing we know for sure is that right now, we can and should use all the resources available to us. With almost every country in the world committed to meeting their renewable energy goals, wind and solar both have important roles to play.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.