Wind vs. Solar: Deciding Which is Right for You

People like to say wind turbines are a better investment than solar-generating systems.  This statement makes sense when you’re referring to utility-scale electricity generation, but the logic doesn’t stand up for powering your home for a few reasons:

1. Not every location is good for wind.

Some people would counter you could say the same thing about solar, but a solar generating system can still produce a significant amount of electricity even on a cloudy day.  Places with low or medium wind speeds will generate expensive electricity. Another thing to consider is the size of your potential wind system.  Many wind installers abide by something they call the 30 foot rule.  This means the rotor of the wind turbine must be at least 30 feet above any obstacles like trees to collect turbulence-free wind.

If you’re thinking about making an investment in small wind, I’m sure you anticipate keeping the wind turbine for 20 to 30 years.  In that time, your trees may grow even taller so you would have to account for this growth with the 30 foot rule.  Now imagine you have 50 foot trees in your backyard.  This means you would have to install a wind turbine with a tower that is 90 to 100 feet tall.  If you live in an urban or suburban environment, I would expect the permitting process to be a challenge at this height.

2.  Wind requires a lot of maintenance, especially for small-wind systems.

Wind-generating systems require regular maintenance and will need many repairs.  This will be expensive and difficult to budget since you don’t know how much maintenance or how many repairs the system will need. Small-wind systems with short towers are usually susceptible to more turbulence, putting a significant stress on the turbine.

On the other hand, most PV systems are virtually maintenance free after they are installed because they have no moving parts.  If you live in an especially dusty area, it is recommended that you hose off your panels every so often.  Otherwise, most times rain is usually sufficient enough to clean your panels.

3.  Wind is not easy to understand.

Solar has tools that analyze shade and determine solar availability.  Wind is a lot more difficult to understand and the same tools aren’t available to determine what the output of electricity would be.

4. Solar is modular, wind is not.

A solar designer can easily design a system that you can incrementally add to later at a small investment.  To add on to wind, you would have to add an entirely new wind turbine.

I do think wind-generated electricity is a viable technology, just not for most homes. If you do live in a windy location in a rural area, I still think you should consider wind even with the limitations I noted above.