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Which is more efficient – wind or solar energy?

On January 9, 2013, in Renewable Energy Markets, by Joe Nyangon
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The question of efficiency when comparing wind and solar forms of alternative energy is on the minds of many people these days. Government officials, state legislatures, entrepreneurs and average citizens want to know the answer to this question. The general feeling is that wind is more efficient, though the answer turns out to be dependent […]

The question of efficiency when comparing wind and solar forms of alternative energy is on the minds of many people these days. Government officials, state legislatures, entrepreneurs and average citizens want to know the answer to this question. The general feeling is that wind is more efficient, though the answer turns out to be dependent on the scale of operation involved in a comparison.

For a homeowner in a rural area who already has tall buildings, such as barns or grain silos, or even an existing old windmill, wind is easily more efficient. For larger applications, such as commercial generation of electricity to provide power for urban areas, the answer might surprise you.

Ending in 2011, a comparison test, between solar and wind powered energy, ran for 14 months. The comparison showed that solar power is more efficient.

To make sure the test was a fair comparison, a wind turbine set at an elevation of 35 feet was compared with a panel of solar collectors. As a control, it was verified that both could produce an identical amount of electricity at conditions considered optimal. The cost of each system was identical.

The result of the test was rather surprising. Over a number of testing periods, the solar powered generator was able to produce a total of 500% more electrical power than the wind powered generator. This was not expected, due to the fact that the solar system was dependent on the appearance of the sun to begin generation. It was determined that the intermittent and varying intensity of wind was the reason for the wind powered generator to produce less power.

Considering the vast amount of research being conducted worldwide on both types of alternative energy generation, it can be expected that the efficiency of both systems will increase in the future. There are several new designs of wind powered generators under development that require less wind to start operation and continue to generate electrical power. For solar technology there are also exciting developments. In addition to the development of much more efficient solar collectors, research at MIT has discovered a way to place solar collectors in non-horizontal arrays. The discovery is based on the natural way a tree develops leaves as it grows, and the mathematical principle of Fibonacci numbers. Tests are underway that could more than quadruple the amount of electrical power per square foot of solar panel installation that can be achieved.

Because of the exciting developments in both forms of alternative energy sources, it is hoped that government, private industry, such as Texas energy providers, and individual citizens, will continue to explore, research and discover even more ways to improve the efficiency of these two important non-oil sources of electrical power.

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