Solar and Wind Power Compared

With the TV news constantly reporting about melting ice caps and rising sea levels in the Seychelles, it makes many of us wonder what we can do to do "our bit" for the environment. One way is to become as energy self-sufficient as possible. Solar panels and wind turbines are just two option available to you. Although energy is used in the manufacture of these products, overall they cause very little in the way of pollution. Once they are installed they'll keep producing energy indefinitely. Also because the energy comes from the sun and wind, you are not dependant on oil from politically unstable countries like Iraq and Nigeria.

Solar Energy - The energy from the sun'S rays are converted into energy when they hit the photovoltaic (PV) module. The PV responds to this by generating an electrical current which is carried into your home via wires and circuit breakers.

Wind Energy - This type of energy production is very different from solar however there are similarities to how they work. The propeller is spun round by the force of the wind. The propeller is attached to a shaft which is surrounded by a magnet wrapped by a coil of wire. The magnet either turns near the wire or the wire turns causing the force upon electrons. This forces the electrons along the wire which is how the electrical current is produced.

Sounds like the perfect solution to our energy requirements doesn't it? Sun and wind cost nothing and will never run out. However it does cost a lot of money and there are some limitations to how they can be used.

Costs - Some people may argue that it doesn't matter what these methods cost; the environment is more important than money. However unless you are a millionaire, cost are very important. The cost of production, transportation and installation all add up. Unfortunately at the moment the cost just doesn't stack up compared to oil and coal.

Efficiency - Solar panels require energy from the sun so if they are installed on the equator, you'll be able to achieve 1,00 watts per square meter of solar panel. Unfortunately if you live a considerable distance from the equator and experience many dull days, you'll only get about 125-375 W/m2. Efficiency also needs to be factored in; you only get 10-15% efficiency depending on how it's produced.

Despite the above, solar panels covering your roof can still generate enough power for your home. As long as you are careful about how you use electricity and don't waste it by leaving electrical goods on all day when they aren't being used.

Problems with Wind Power - Engineers have a tendency to think about wind farms from an engineering perspective. They don't seem to think about how a wind farm will affect the local area - both visually and in terms of wildlife. Many of the windiest places are home to a huge variety of bird species. You can imagine the consequences if a bird were to fly into a turbine. It could quickly wipe out a whole flock.

Then if there is a drop in wind levels, the amount of energy produced is greatly hampered. The turbines also need to be linked up with a storage system and the energy produced is not as good as we would like.

In saying that, these types of energy production has to be a major part of our future energy production. We simply cannot keep going the way we are. Eventually oil is going to become so scarce that prices will be sky high and pollution levels will even worse than they are now. Technology is constantly advancing and efficiency levels are increasing and they are becoming more affordable. It many take many years however before they replace oil and coal.

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