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Ener-Gee Whiz Answers Your Questions: Wind vs. Solar

August 11, 2009 - 12:48pm


Costa writes: Do you think using wind is better than using solar to generate electricity?

Ener-Gee Whiz: If you're considering installing a renewable energy system and are having a hard time deciding between the wind turbines and solar panels, you might find that the right renewable energy system for you depends on a number of factors.

The first and most obvious consideration is the wind or solar resource in your area. While there is a tendency to think that the wind always blows and the sun always shines no matter where you're located, wind and solar resources are actually quite variable across the United States.

That's not to say that a consumer in Seattle couldn't install a solar electric system and have success at producing electricity. But a consumer in Phoenix would likely be much more successful at electricity generation because of the more robust solar resource in the southwestern United States. For help in determining the renewable resource potential in your area, you can link to solar and wind resource maps through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. These maps will give you a high-level view of the solar and wind resources in your area, but your installer will be able to conduct a more detailed analysis of your particular property.

Once you've determined the wind or solar resource in your area, you can begin to consider the economics of a renewable energy system and whether it might be a worthwhile investment for your family. For some families, energy independence might be enough of an incentive to choose renewable energy no matter the cost. Others may need to be more conscious of the payback period and as well as other cost factors.

The EERE Solar Energy Technologies Program has developed a helpful guide (PDF 763 KB) that can be of assistance in considering the economics of solar energy. A similar guide, applicable to wind electric systems, is available through the EERE Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program. Download Adobe Reader.

A third important consideration when planning for a residential renewable energy system is the existence of any applicable neighborhood, local, or state covenant requirements or zoning issues that might affect your renewable energy installation. Specific covenants or regulations might vary from state to state or community to community. General information on regulations to research as you consider your system is available through the EERE Energy Savers website; information tailored to both solar electric systems and wind systems is also available.

For more information, you may wish to contact your homeowner's association or local government directly. Additionally, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) provides some information on state-specific rules, regulations, and policies related to renewable energy systems.

Ultimately, there is no single answer to the wind vs. solar question that will apply to everyone. However, exploring the renewable resource in your area, the economics of renewable energy for your situation, and the covenants or regulations that might affect your planned site should help you make the decision that makes the most sense for your family and your situation.

Have a question you'd like Ener-Gee Whiz to address? Leave a comment on this post asking your question; future Ener-Gee Whiz posts will try to respond to questions posed by blog readers. But please keep in mind that Ener-Gee Whiz cannot respond to technical questions pertaining to specific consumer situations; some questions just need to be addressed by a qualified contractor who can assess the situation in person.