Renewable resources are a hot topic in the news. As the effects of climate change threaten property and livelihoods, more people are turning to other forms of power to reduce their climate footprint. The two types of renewable energy that the public is most familiar with are solar power and wind power. They are similar in many ways but differ in their uses.
Solar power and wind power are both energies that come from the sun. Solar panels capture the sun’s energy to convert it into electricity, usually used in homes. Wind turbines generate electricity using wind. Although they can power small properties, they are normally used on large-scale wind farms.
If you are interested in learning more about solar and wind power and how you can benefit from these resources, we explain the technology and the benefits below.
Solar Power Collects Energy From the Sun
Solar energy is the energy released from the sun as light. This energy is collected by solar technologies and converted into electricity that we can use to power our homes. According to theU.S. Department of Energy, the entire world can be powered for a year from only an hour and a half of the sun’s energy. This is a power source that we are only beginning to use.
Mirrors and Panels Collect Solar Energy
Roofs with solar panels are popping up in neighborhoods around the United States as more people realize how they can help fight climate change. Lots of companies and local governments are offering financial incentives to encourage more people to install the panels. These panels are a technological marvel.
Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells. These cells are made of silicon semiconductors that have been connected together to make up one panel. These panels then absorb sunlight and create an electrical current. The panels create direct current electricity (DC), which needs to be converted to alternating current electricity (AC).
Inverters Convert the Electrical Current
Most homes run on AC electricity, and the inverters convert the DC to AC. Without the inverters, you have all this energy with nowhere to go and no way to be used. There are several different inverters on the market:
- Grid-Tie Inverters: Some power companies have programs where you can sell any extra electricity you generate to them for a reduced electrical bill. A grid-tie inverter converts your electricity into an AC that is suitable for putting it into the power grid.
- Battery Backup Inverters: These inverters convert the DC power your panels generate into AC power that is intended to be stored in a battery. If you plan to store power for later use, you need the right inverter.
- Standalone Inverters: Some solar power users can generate enough electricity to go completely off the grid. These inverters are for those users. As the generated electricity doesn’t interact with the electrical grid, it doesn’t need anti-islanding protection. This feature cuts off electrical production if there is a power outage.
- Microinverters: The inverters already mentioned are a separate piece of equipment and can range in size. The smallest is around the size of a suitcase. A new inverter type is the microinverter, which connects directly to the solar panel, instantly converting the electricity. Each panel might have a few microinverters.
The Generated Electricity is Stored for Later Use
Most homes that use solar power still rely on the power company for a portion of their electricity. The power the panels generate can be stored in battery systems and used when needed. Consumers may choose to use the stored electricity when rates are higher and recharge the batteries when they are lower. This lowers dependence on the grid and helps save money.
There Are Many Benefits To Solar Power
Solar power is a way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and take advantage of a renewable energy source. As people become more aware of the effects of climate change, the benefits of using solar power become more evident.
Panels Lower Energy Bills
Even if you don’t go off the grid completely after installing solar panels, your energy bills will be significantly lower than they were before. Sunnier locations and times of days will generate more solar power than cloudier days. Still, even in locations that see less sun, the panels will provide enough energy to lower your reliance on the electric company.
Several things affect how much energy you use, and your savings will depend on those factors, including:
- How much energy you use: If you have many people living in your house, you will use more energy than a single person or a couple. The more energy you use, the more likely you will use electricity from the grid on top of your solar power.
- How big your solar power system is: How much power you generate is directly proportional to how big your system is. Smaller systems won’t generate as much electricity as large ones, and you might need more from the power company.
- If you own your system or lease it: If you lease your system, you will have to make regular payments to the leasing company, which you will need to factor into your monthly energy bills.
- How much direct sunlight you get: As stated above, the more direct sunlight you receive, the more power you’ll generate and be able to use. However, indirect or diffused sunlight will still generate electricity.
- The size and angle of your roof: The larger your roof is, the more panels you can install and the more electricity you can collect. The angle of your roof also matters because of the way the sunlight hits it.
- What the local electricity rates are: Electricity costs more in some areas, and most companies have different rates for different times of the day. Busy times are more expensive. If you can use your stored electricity during the busy times, you will pay the lower rates.
There Are Tax Credits and Rebates
Governments and solar power companies want you to install panels on your house, and they are offering financial incentives for you to do so. Some of the tax credits and rebates you can benefit from are:
- Solar Investment Tax Credit: A federal tax credit
- Renewable Energy Certificates: You can sell these to the local power company to offset the energy they use.
- State and local rebates: Check with your state and local governments and see if they offer rebates or tax credits to solar panel users.
Not only would you save money on your energy bills, but you would save money on your taxes as well.
Owners See Instant Savings
The average household can spend thousands of dollars a year on their energy bills, but as soon as you install solar panels, you’ll see a savings in your overall energy costs. If you buy your solar panels, you won’t have any running costs once they are installed, except for the occasional maintenance that may be needed.
If you lease your solar panels, you will have to pay some sort of ongoing fee, but your reduced electrical bills will offset this cost. As time goes on and your bills go down, the savings will grow. Many home improvements don’t end up paying off until it comes time to sell. This is not the case with solar panels.
Solar Panels Increase Home Value
Many homebuyers today are looking for houses that have upgrades. Solar panels are considered an upgrade and can increase the value of your home. As solar power is becoming more widespread, buyers are willing to pay more for a home with an installed system. This is especially true in areas with higher electrical rates.
Panels Owners Are Helping the Environment
One obvious benefit of installing solar panels is that you would be helping the environment. The electricity that you purchase from the electrical company and use in your home comes from a power plant. To generate the energy, the plant has to use fuel; generally, fossil fuels, though occasionally nuclear or water power.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the electric power industry generated 1.72 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels generate 62% of the electricity used in the United States but account for 99% of the electricity sector’s carbon dioxide. By converting to solar power in your home, you are helping to cut down on that number.
Using a renewable energy source like solar also helps public health. Chronic illnesses like asthma are triggered by smog and polluted air. Power plants produce waste that can enter our water systems and pollute drinking water. With solar power, you don’t need to worry about your health.
Solar Panels Are the Smart Choice
Solar panels are a smart financial decision. Not only will you save money on your solar panels through tax credits and rebates, but you will also see reduced electrical bills as soon as they are installed. When the time comes to sell, you’ll have buyers willing to pay more. You can feel good about making money while reducing your carbon footprint.
Tesla is Reinventing Solar Panels
If you have read all the benefits of solar panels and have decided that it might be the right choice for you, but you want something more technologically advanced, Tesla has it. They have reinvented the idea of the solar panel and have integrated it directly into the roof tiles.
No longer do you have to mar the look of your house with bulky solar panels. You can replace your current roof with a Solar Roof. This roof is made from tiles designed to capture solar energy and direct it to your house. Sturdier than traditional roofing materials, the Solar Roof is designed to last for years.
Solar Roof Integrates with Tesla Products
It is important when you install solar panels that you have a battery system to store the electricity you’ve generated until you use it. Tesla’s Powerwall is designed to store electricity that the Solar Roof generates for later use. You can even monitor the overall electrical usage with a smartphone.
Wind Turbines Collect Wind Energy
Wind power is one of the oldest forms of energy production that we still use today. All we have to do is look to The Netherlands to remember how much it was used in the past to power mills and factories. The wind is a renewable resource that is used around the world. From the historic Dutch windmills to wind farms off the seacoast, wind is a resource that we use to power our homes and cities.
Wind Turbines Generate Electricity
A windmill or wind turbine is basically a giant fan. The blades of the windmill are the turbine. They are angled so that they catch the wind as it blows and turns. As the wind blows past the blades, it creates lift and moves the blades upwards, which causes them to spin. As the wind moves the turbine, it loses some of its energy, and the turbine gains it.
The turbine turns around a rotor that spins a generator that creates electricity. This is then sent out to a battery that stores the energy, or it is put out into the electrical grid. Wind power is a deceptively simple way to collect energy.
Wind Turbines Work Under Most Circumstances
The wind turbines you see out in wind farms or off the coast are designed to take advantage of a range of wind speeds. Standing at around 280 feet, the winds they catch are not slowed by trees, buildings, or other obstructions at ground level.
Most wind turbines are activated at six or nine miles per hour winds and reach a cut-off point at around 55 miles per hour. The stronger the wind is, the more energy is collected. However, because the turbines turn for a wide range of wind speeds, they are able to generate electricity 90% of the time over the course of an average year.
There are three types of wind energy that turbines collect, and they are used for different purposes.
- Utility-scale wind: This energy is collected with turbines that exceed 100kw in size. These turbines are the ones you see on wind farms, and the electricity generated is destined for the electrical grid.
- Distributed wind: Distributed wind energy is for users with smaller needs. The turbines that collect this energy are under 100kw and can be used to power homes, businesses, and farms. These small turbines can be used on properties as small as one acre.
- Offshore wind: Offshore wind is collected from turbines erected on large bodies of water. They are generally larger than wind turbines on land and can generate more energy. This is a growing sector in the wind energy industry.
Electricity Can Be Used Right Away
The electricity generated by land-based wind on wind farms can be put into the electrical grid as soon as it is collected. Distributed wind users have the option of using their electricity to power their home or farm directly from the turbine, or they can store the energy and use it when the electricity rates are high, just like with solar power.
Wind Power Has Many Advantages
As a renewable resource, wind power has many benefits, not just for the consumer but also for the planet and our environmental health. Unlike solar power, wind power is more likely to be generated on an industrial scale. As a result, the benefits differ slightly.
Wind Power Has a Low Environmental Impact
Wind power is a low carbon-energy resource, meaning that it produces no carbon emissions. Wind turbine construction does have an impact on the environment, as does most construction of renewable resource products. However, once a turbine is erected, it repays its carbon footprint in six months.
Unlike fossil-fueled power sources, wind power does not pollute the air. They also don’t need to consume water to cool down or run the risk of contaminating groundwater with runoff. In the past two decades, wind power has eliminated hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide. In 2019, the electricity generated was the equivalent of 42 million cars’ CO2 emissions.
We Will Never Run Out of Wind
Wind is a renewable resource that will never run out, and it is a form of solar energy. As the sun heats the atmosphere and the earth rotates, wind is created. As long as the sun burns, there will be wind. Wind power has grown 15% over the past decade and is the largest renewable energy source in the United States.
There are concerns that sometimes the wind does not blow and that it is unreliable. As we have seen, wind turbines require a wind speed of only six miles per hour to generate electricity. The electricity generated at that speed from one turbine is not a lot, but when you combine that with the dozens of other wind turbines on a wind farm, it adds up.
Wind Power Benefits Rural Economies
Wind turbines and wind farms function best in areas without obstacles or tall buildings. Rural areas with undeveloped land have become the prime location for wind energy. Farmers and ranchers can lease land to wind energy companies. Since the wind turbines take up a small portion of land, they can still farm and ranch while increasing their income.
The extra income that farmers and ranchers get from wind farms goes back into their communities. More money in the community allows schools to improve and taxes to stay low. This benefits everyone, not just the people making money off the wind farms.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, the wind energy industry pays over $1.6 billion in state and local taxes and lease agreements. This has been a windfall to communities that have seen manufacturing and fossil fuel industries leave. Wind is a dependable source of income, providing a buffer in a bad harvest year.
Schools are the Biggest Winner
Schools are usually the largest employer in any state, and when budget issues affect schools, it has a trickle-down effect on the whole community. Teachers and support staff may lose their jobs, and children can lose educational opportunities. Wind energy provides much-needed money to communities that can be invested in schools.
Communities are also able to invest the money in infrastructure improvements, such as new roads and bridges. They can fund emergency and police services. One town in New York was able to eliminate local taxes for several years, thanks to the money brought in through wind farms.
The Wind Energy Sector Provides Jobs
In the past few decades, the United States has seen a dramatic drop in the manufacturing and industrial jobs that used to employ millions of people across the country. Renewable resources jobs are arriving to fill the gap and provide well-paying employment. The jobs range from construction to engineering, creating jobs across educational and economic boundaries.
The US Department of Energy reports that over 100,000 Americans are employed in the wind energy sector, and that wind turbine technicians are the most sought after employees. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be over 600,000 jobs in wind energy, especially in:
- Support services
There are currently over 500 factories in 43 states, so even if your state doesn’t have a wind farm, it is possible that there is a wind turbine manufacturing facility. Many of these factories are in communities that had a factory in the past that closed. They are looking for and finding skilled workers in these places.
Distributed Wind Can Lower Your Costs
Most of the benefits of wind energy up to this point have been for communities and jobseekers. What about homeowners who want to take advantage of wind power on a small scale? This is where distributed wind comes in.
Distributed wind is the type of energy collected by a smaller turbine for a house, farm, or business. Distributed wind helps home and business owners in several ways:
- Lower energy bills: Wind power offers similar financial advantages to solar power. Installing a small wind turbine on your land can allow you to cut your energy bills drastically or eliminate them completely. There are tax incentives for installing wind turbines as well.
- Avoid the cost of extending power lines to a new building: There are challenges to building in remote or rural areas, chiefly getting electricity to the structure. Extending power lines to new areas is expensive. A wind turbine is an alternative to getting power to your building.
- Provide off-grid power: For people looking to live sustainably, wind power is a good option. With a powerful enough wind turbine, it is possible to generate enough energy to go completely off the grid.
Before installing a wind turbine to collect distributed wind energy, consult your local planning office for zoning and permitting rules. Some areas do not allow wind turbine construction due to safety and aesthetic concerns.
Solar Power vs. Wind Power
Both solar power and wind power have the opportunity to change the way we think about electricity. In a time when renewable resources are becoming more affordable to users, and people are aware of their individual impact on the environment, these resources are an easy way to change consumption habits.
As you have seen, solar power is easier to implement on a small scale than wind power. Solar panels are becoming a more common upgrade to houses and businesses, and they are quick and simple to install. New technologies are being developed every day to entice homeowners to make the switch to solar, like the Tesla Solar Roof.
On the other hand, although it is possible to get wind power for the individual home, it is more practical on the industrial scale to add electricity to the power grid. Since wind farms and offshore wind have dozens or hundreds of turbines operating together, they can capture great wind energy quantities to cut down reliance on fossil fuels.
Technologies are Improving and Adapting Every Day
For the homeowner looking to make a change to a renewable resource and cutting down on fossil fuel-powered electricity, solar is the smart choice at the moment. There are unlikely to be any planning or zoning restrictions, and there are many financial incentives. Hopefully, wind technology will adapt more to the small property owner in the near future.
Ranchers and farmers, who have more land and higher energy needs, may find that distributed wind works well for them. Large landowners are less likely to find zoning problems, and since they live in less built-up areas, they can take advantage of the unencumbered wind.
The Time To Switch is Now
If you have been reluctant to switch to solar power in the past, whether because of doubts about the technology or because of the cost, the time is now. Residential solar panels are being installed on more homes than ever before. Look around your neighborhood for homes with solar panels. As you now know, there are many financial reasons to install them now too.
Maybe you think that your state would benefit from more wind energy. Contact your local representatives encouraging the construction of wind farms. The more farms, the more wind-generated electricity will be in the grid. There will also be more jobs and more money to fund local projects.