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Solar Energy vs Wind Energy

Survival for some people (particularly those living in the city) may depend on having access to electricity, especially if they have health problems or special needs.

Since the development of LED lighting, electrification for lighting purposes has gotten much easier. It takes far less energy to run LEDs than it does to run CFLs (compact fluorescent), and it takes less energy to run CFLs than it does to run incandescent (standard / old fashioned) light bulbs. Thank goodness for technology.

The problem comes in when people need to run appliances–even Energy Star (energy efficient) appliances are energy hogs. They consume a lot of electricity, especially refrigerators. So what to do?

Medical equipment is an unknown factor, so if you have or need these please see the manufacturer as to the loads required to run them.

Wind energy

When comparing solar power to wind energy the prices have seriously dropped in recently years in the solar arena, making it as affordable (and perhaps even more affordable) than wind power. Wind power definitely has its place, however.

For instance, it may be best to marry the two (solar and wind) because when the sun is not shining it’s usually because a storm is brewing and clouds are covering the sky. This means the wind is picking up in its place. So wind usually works when the sun is not available. Vice versa, when the wind dies down, the clouds tends to dissipate, and the sun comes out, shining on your panels and providing you electricity.

Windmill for pumping water

Windmill for pumping water

Wind energy can also run a windmill, which can pump water from a well to your home for daily use.

Wind has another advantage–it works even at night.

Be aware though, standard horizontal-shaft wind turbines are best placed high up in windy locations, while vertical-shaft turbines are more suited for individual homes, require less wind from any direction, and although it does not produce a lot of electricity, it is still manageable and fairly inexpensive as far as wind power goes.

Solar energy

Solar energy and PV (photovoltaic) systems are exchangeable terms. So is when you call them solar panels.

These solar PV panels have solar cells on them and when placed in the sun, they produce electricity. These panels are normally placed either on the roof or on frames in the yard. There are pros and cons to both, but they are easier to service if not on the roof. However, if you use solar roof singles then the solar cells become the roof.

The real comparisons and differences, however, between solar and wind is when it comes to application, purchasing, installation, and use.

COMPARISON AND CONTRAST OF SOLAR & WIND ENERGY

APPLICATION

The first thing to realize is that wind energy is a by-product of solar energy.  The sun shines and heats up one side of the planet, while the other side (in darkness) rests and cools down.  The varying temperatures between night and day cause convection, the natural cycles of rising and falling air (creating winds) in our atmosphere.  The landscape, or lack of landscape (oceans), vegetation, mountains, hills, valleys, elevation, etc. are all variables that cause mini-ecosystems or pockets of climatic change.  The sun ultimately causes weather patterns, so even wind energy is a form of solar energy…. indeed, from that view we are still talking about solar energy.

However, when it comes to application of harnessing that energy, we must take different steps.

Wind is a more ACTIVE approach: where blades are turning (mechanical devices) and motion is evident in the harnessing of the energy.

Solar is a more PASSIVE approach: where the solar panels (photovoltaic cells) can silently produce electricity and run it straight into a DC light bulb to turn it on, etc.

Then we have…

HYBRID systems: which are a combination between both active and passive.  These are actually more commonly seen with solar systems because the energy is used to run pumps, fans, or other devices.  This use of mechanics is also why, much of the time, people call solar energy systems “active systems” rather than passive systems, when in all actuality they are hybrid systems.

PASSIVE = NO MOVEMENT (energy straight into batteries, or light bulbs, etc. Runs silently with no moving parts)

ACTIVE = MOVEMENT (mechanical pumps, fans, blades (e.g. wind generator), or other devices which eventually need repair from use)

HYBRID = BOTH MOVEMENT AND NON-MOVEMENT (most solar systems fall into this category with photovoltaic cells silently producing energy, but also running mechanical devices)

It would appear that passive generation of energy is the most efficient, since no pumps or fans are needed, especially since, with active systems, the mechanical devices eventually wear down and need replacing, or fixing, so maintenance and the costs associated with that is involved.  However, a pure passive system usually limits us in what we can do when it comes to our homes and living style.  Usually associated with the inconvenience of mechanics, is also the convenience of comfort and ease of living while these things are in good working order.

People are usually happier when their refrigerators and toasters, hair dryers and water pumps are available for use.  To live without these “necessities” in our modern society requires a complete lifestyle change to a more back-to-the-earth homesteading type living style. Survivalism is another thing entirely. Small portable systems make sense for small needs, while larger permanent systems are used for homes, whether they are net-metered or off-grid.

Some prefer the former, and some the latter.  Neither is “wrong”, but certain ones feel “right” to the individual.  The real key is to figure out what kind of lifestyle you prefer, and then choose based upon that, and also the finances that are required to back that up.

That brings us to….

PURCHASING

I’ll be honest with you, because many – if not most – people really have only a vague view of what buying a solar system really entails.  Purchasing a solar system or a wind system is like lumping ALL of your future electric bills into one payment and paying it up front!  The cost of solar cells/panels is many times what it should be (ideally).

Once technology in solar electric production increases, and the cost decreases, then and only then will it hit the mass markets enough to cause a major flux in the economy and shift the reign from 100% dependency of power generating companies to a more shared system (in cities) where houses are equipped with solar, are generating some (if not all) of their electricity via panels, etc., and are selling the excess energy back to the electric company in a co-operative effort. In some areas there are programs (like Solar City in Halifax, NS) that help you pay for these costs up front (at a reasonable interest rate), and other areas there are solar rebates or tax credits, so be sure to check those out for your local state/province, county, or city.

Solar panels

Solar panels

For now, solar photovoltaic (PV) or wind power is neither inexpensive nor something to tackle for the faint of heart.  This is serious business.  When you have your own solar system or wind generation system, please realize that you are your own power plant!  This means you are seeking independence from the electric grid.  You are no longer wishing to tie into the mass-based electrical generation “system” that brings lights to the city at night, power to the hospitals and factories, nor to the rare brown-out or black-out that being dependent on society’s power can bring.

In all honesty, the rarity of such blackouts is not enough to solely persuade most people to get off the energy grid, but if survival during a potential threat or natural disaster is a concern, then that changes everything.

We also think of those times when entire regions have lost electrical power in the dead of a freezing winter storm because electric poles were knocked out of commission.  This can spell real trouble for the sick, young, or elderly during a terrible storm when there is no longer any heat source or way to cook food, etc.  There are, of course, other ways to prepare for such disasters (gas stoves, back-up heating systems, etc.).

The real question is, do you want a continual electric bill the rest of your life, with rising costs included in the package?

With solar and wind energy, the cost is now diminishing to what is more affordable than it was in the past.  As time proceeds and technology increases, alternative energy will become more and more a viable option to the many, instead of the few.  Solar PV panels alone have dropped to about 1/10th the price it was 20-30 years ago, and yet solar–only a few years ago–was still 2-10 times MORE expensive than going with wind power.  Today, the cost of solar is nearing the price per kilowatt hour as that of the electricity companies, especially in eastern Canada (the U.S. may take longer before those prices intersect).

The problem with wind power is that you MUST live in an area of the country where wind is prevalent enough to make it worthy of setting up such a system.

CONCERNING WIND: For many years the optimum wind speed for using a wind turbine was/is 28 mph, but what city or rural area in this vast United States of ours (or any other country for that matter) has a consistent 28 mph wind 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week?  Absurd!  It usually, on average, takes at least 7-8 mph of winds just to kick on the rotor in a turbine.  And once the winds roar too high then the turbine automatically shuts down to preserve the turbine (high winds can wear the rotor out or break it in no time).  Newer models on the market, however, can accept winds over 100 mph.  It is also best to either put up a wind-testing tower for a year to test the average winds in your area for the course of the year (as winds change according to season), or to check with your local weather bureau for winds within 10 miles of your home to see if the wind speeds are strong enough to make buying a turbine system worth your time and financial investment.

wind classification mapREGIONAL WIND CHART

Here is a wind map that shows the wind power classes.  As you can see there are many areas in the southeast with no wind to speak of.  It is best to avoid wind systems there.  Although there is a class 1 and also 7 they are not shown here.  In the United States classes 2-6 are most common.  You can determine by the chart below whether wind power may be right for you where you live.

The areas showing class 5 & 6 are in white numbers against their darker backgrounds.  Both are located on the CA / NV line as well as in southern NM, and the western & northwestern states.  Wind power class 4 is good enough to consider a wind system and even 3 is OK.

You’ll find that the wind picks up during some seasons more than others.  In El Paso, TX where there is a lower wind class of 2 as the annual average, it is important to note that during spring the winds can exceed 70 mph at times.  Just east of there is a dark strip that is a class 6 so check for local changes in your area (micro-climates).

AS FOR SOLAR:  Do you live in west Washington where rain is more prevalent than the sun?  Or do you live in the southwest where sun is more prevalent than cloud-cover?  In El Paso (the “Sun City”), the average for days with sun is 360 days per year.  If you are in a place that can do either wind or solar, I suggest doing BOTH as they could be complimentary.  When the sun is not shining, it’s usually because a storm or clouds are blowing in and the wind speeds rise, or vice versa.

REGIONAL SOLAR CHART

solar annual chartThis chart shows the average solar radiation in kilowatt-hours for each square meter per day.  This is based on an east-west axis with a solar tracker (recommended for optimum solar exposure).  Solar trackers cost a little more but they can double your daily sunlight exposure to your panels because it allows movement of your panels to “track” the sun as it moves through the sky, from sunup to sundown.  Standard “fixed” solar PV panels lose efficiency as the sun travels to/from the horizon.

When purchasing a solar or wind system you have to figure out not only how much these systems cost (complete), but how much you are willing to spend, or are needing to spend to buy a system that will meet your needs.

Buying used systems can save you money, or to piecemeal a system can also save you some bucks, but you will have to learn a lot about how many panels to buy, or what size turbine to buy and also what kind and size of tower (wind towers that are higher get more wind, and for ever 1 mph increase in wind you get 4-5 times the output of energy), what watts they are, how much you need, what kinds of inverters there are (true sine wave, modified sine wave), how many watts needed for peak performance (too small an inverter – let’s say 1500 watts – will NOT support your 2500 watt peak load), what kind of and how many batteries you need (if you are storing energy), how to keep the batteries cool, wiring, cables, circuit breakers, proper grounding, what the codes are for electrical installation (this is usually where you have to hire an electrician), installation, etc.  It’s enough to turn off a newbie in the solar/wind energy field unless they have some help!

Even with help, you are looking to spend an EASY $2,000 or $7,000 for a small solar system, or upwards of $15,000 – $30,000 (or as high as $70,000) for one that will suit your needs, depending on how extravagant you want to get.  With wind, I have not seen too many systems for less than $2,000 for a small system, and up to $12,000+ for a larger one.  There are ways to spend less than this, however, to get rid of your electric bill, but it requires that you significantly reduce your loads. This means do not rely on solar for heating or cooling (use passive solar home design for that).

INSTALLATION

Installation is one thing that you will have to figure out if you want to do yourself, or whether you should hire someone to install it for you.  Concerning the electrical, and where you live, you may be required by law to hire a professional electrician to do the wiring of your new system.  Be sure to check!

Small wind turbine for home power

Small wind turbine for home power

For Installation of Wind Systems:

The height of the wind turbine can be quite precarious.  A larger turbine can have a rotor that is 7’ across in length and is usually either placed on a tilting tower or a pole made out of pipe and guywires.  These can take up a bit of room in your yard, especially if guywires are involved.

You don’t want it placed too near your house or any other buildings so make sure you have the room for it.

The tilting towers can be quite costly (perhaps $1400 or so on average) but you can save money by placing the turbine on a 2 ½” (schedule 40) pipe tower that you make yourself.  Cost for a homemade pipe tower can run approximately $50-100 or so.  Don’t forget your guywires!

What an installer will charge for installing the whole system or part of it will depend on where you live, and what type of company or person you are hiring.  When investing this kind of money, however, be careful and don’t just hire anyone off the street.  Get someone who has prior experience with wind systems or you may find yourself in a financial jam if they break or ruin or drop something!

For Installation of Solar Systems:

The same rules apply here with solar systems as wind systems in the care and experience the installer has that you might hire.  The only difference is that instead of a tower, solar PV panels are often mounted with brackets on a roof, or on a pedestal or welded or wood frame.  Some systems have trackers that turn the panels toward the sunlight as the sun moves through the sky throughout the day.  This can increase your productivity quite a bit, but also your initial cost.  Some people feel that the cost is worth it, while others don’t.  It’s basically personal preference. It is an easy decision if you are a true DIYer and can do it yourself.

Stationary panels usually work just fine, but the drop off rate in the early morning or late evening can be significant, leaving a 4-6 hour peak ‘window’ of time for the sun to do it’s work.  Generally, for the west Texas/southern NM region the peak hours of sunlight are from 10am – 2pm, or if you’re lucky, 9am – 3pm.  With a tracker you can “grab” that sunlight directly from sunup to sundown.

There is no doubt that non-tracking systems are far less expensive though.  Also, if you have the luxury of purchasing a COMPLETE SYSTEM that is already mounted on a frame then you are a step ahead.

PRACTICAL USE

The real key to using solar or wind energy (or any alternative source of power) is to first eliminate any and all unnecessary items that drain your electrical energy in your residence.  Make sure no old wiring is grounding out.  Get rid of appliances that are energy-hogs and replace them with ENERGY STAR (energy efficient) rated appliances.

Once you reduce your load then make sure the system you buy will handle your peak load times, and also generate enough electricity to suit your needs and lifestyle.  We must still think in the terms of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Being energy-efficient-minded in your house is not just dependent on having a solar or wind energy system (or other alternative energy source) because even if you are on the electric grid with the rest of society, saving electricity is not only smart but it helps the environment by keeping excess energy from being wasted.  Being energy efficient cuts down on pollution in our air and water.

With cities and industrial living causing much of the “pollution evolution” it will take each person in each household to work together to keep this beautiful earth of ours in tip-top shape!  Not only for ourselves, but for our children, and our grandchildren, and on into the future generations who will not only dream greater than we, but will DO what we have not yet done.

Technology is advancing so that alternative energy forms will eventually outdo (so we hope, and if the SHTF or doomsday does not come first) the present day status quo, and will leave behind an earth worth keeping and living in.

DECIDING WHAT YOU WANT

Now with all that has already been covered we shall move on to finding out which kinds of solar or wind system is for you, what you need, how to determine your loads, and how many watts you will need to run your appliances, etc.

First things first… decide which system you want, wind or solar, or both.  Then consider if you want to generate electricity in the daytime only, or at night also.  If you need electricity for lights or appliances, etc. once the sun goes down then you MUST have a battery bank.  This expense can be a lofty part of the entire price for a solar/wind system especially because you can NOT use standard car batteries (they can blow up!).  For smaller systems you can use deep cycle (marine-type) batteries, or what is called “dry cell” batteries.

To store these batteries you must have a cool dry place away from moisture and electronics (sulfuric acid can cause degradation, plus a spark from electronics can cause an explosion of the hydrogen batteries give off).  That means, due to the hydrogen, that this battery “room” built solely for battery storage must be properly ventilated.  Batteries are never to be placed on the ground or on concrete surfaces, as it will cause them to lose their charge.  It is better to place them on a rubber type matting or wood.

Even better is net-metering, but each region and electric company has their own rules regarding the coming and going of electricity from your solar panels compared to what your home uses. Check into it if you prefer this method (the advantage is no battery bank is required).

Also, you must use approved heavy-duty wiring and connectors to hook the batteries and panels up.  Don’t forget your inverter/converter.

Converters take AC electric current (standard 110 like the wall sockets in your house) and turn them into DC current (like what is used in RV’s and travel trailers).

Inverters do the opposite, they turn DC into AC.

Most systems use inverters to take the DC made by the solar panel(s) or wind system(s) and turn it into AC between the battery bank and your household outlets.  Typical household appliances such as toasters, microwaves, light fixtures, etc. use 110 AC, however some electric stoves (not recommended as they pull a lot of energy) and dryers use 220 AC (consider line-drying your clothes for free, or make a solar clothes dryer!).

This brings us to LOADS.  What type of load will your house and all it’s electric-using devices pull at peak times?  How many kilowatt-hours do you pull per month now?  Take a look at your electric bill to see how many kilowatt-hours you used last month.  You can also check with the electric company to find out which months out of the year you used more, or less, electricity.  Realize that you must use your PEAK (highest) loads to determine how much electricity you’re going to need to produce from your solar panels or wind turbine.  It is important to work backwards and find out what load you are pulling first to figure out how much electricity you’ll need to generate.  The math can sometimes get confusing in this process but it is absolutely necessary or you may find you are not able to produce enough to keep your house running properly, if at all.

I’d like to take a moment now to say a word about energy efficiency in both the home as well as the appliances in the home.

If you need electricity to run a pump or a fan or a furnace blower to heat or cool your house then you would do well to make sure your house is built or fixed up to be as energy efficient as possible.  This would include having extra insulation in the walls and ceiling as well as sealing up around outlets and light switch plates (they make cheap little inserts for this), and putting silicone or expanding foam in crevices, leaks, cracks, etc. in your walls and floors/ceilings. You may wish to build your home using green home energy efficient methods.

Make sure your house is “tight” and not drafty.  Air quality (especially concerning high radon levels) can be a concern for some, especially in winter, if the house it TOO tight, so make sure to have adequate ventilation systems and air flow also. There are passive HRV’s (heating recovery ventilation) units that do not use electricity that are manufactured in the UK for those interested.

Earth tubes for natural cooling are another fairly inexpensive way to provide pre-tempered air into the house, which is also good for fueling a fireplace/woodstove/furnace with outside air rather than causing drafts from doors and windows.  Double-paned windows should be in good working order and not leaky as well.  Air stripping for doors should be used if not already in place.

REMEMBER TO USE ENERGY STAR® rated EPA approved energy efficient appliances can now be bought at just about any local store you would by appliances at.  These are rated as more efficient in that they use less electricity to run, or have settings that help save money every time it is used.  You can save an easy $400/yr (on average) just by trading out your regular appliances with ENERGY STAR® appliances instead.  Imagine how much can be saved in way of solar or wind system or battery costs by using more efficient appliances!

One of the biggest steps you can take to reduce your load is to get rid of unnecessary appliances altogether.  Realize that refrigerators pull the MOST electricity of any other appliance in the house, so if you can get one that uses less electricity, plus which doesn’t have all the “extra features” such as ice makers or water dispensers, then you’ll be well on your way to saving a bundle in the long run.  If you can get by with a smaller fridge you’ll even be doing better, but if you’d like a solar DC run fridge/freezer then I suggest www.sundanzer.com (payback time is shortest).

Another choice is to use a gas refrigerator (can be bought at www.Lehmans.com and other specialty stores) and gas dryer and eliminate those electricity-using-appliances right from the beginning.

Toaster ovens typically are electricity wasters also, so stick with that gas range as well, if you have the choice.  Consider questions to yourself such as, “Do I really need that hair dryer?”, “Do I really need a microwave?”, “Do I really need a forced air furnace instead of an energy efficient wood stove, or gas stove?”, etc.  Consider heating your home with solar heated water (old fashioned radiators, or radiant floor heating systems can be equipped this way).

Next you will need to start shopping for solar and/or wind systems.  There are many well known companies for solar and/or wind systems, inverters, wiring, batteries, etc. that you can find online simply by doing a google search; however, there are advantages to having a local solar company or solar installer since proximity may be an issue for bringing in these experts at a cheap enough price.

Good luck on your renewable energy system(s)!


 

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how to solar energy projects

To learn more please see this book: Passive Solar Energy House Projects

For more information on this topic plus 5 more subjects (passive solar home design, earth tubes for cooling (cheap air conditioning), making a house earthquake or hurricane resistant, how to make a solar oven, and how to build a solar water distiller) see the book Passive Solar Energy House Projects: A How-To Guide.

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