Everyone has heard of solar power, but what about those fancy wind turbines you see popping up all over the place? Unlike solar, not everyone can have a wind turbine. The turbines take a lot of wind to produce enough power to support a household and need to be clear of any obstruction.
Even if you stay in a place with grey overcast skies and howling gales, a wind turbine might still not be the answer. That doesn't mean that wind power can't be useful. Instead of looking at one or the other, think of it as a joint solution. Solar during the day and wind power to fill in the gaps.
Why wind turbines are probably not the answer
Have you heard of offshore wind farms? Hundreds of wind turbines are grouped together in the open ocean. There, the wind is stronger and more consistent than on land. This is the reason that wind farms are more commercially viable for large scale capacity than solar arrays. On a smaller scale, they don't live up to their true capabilities.
The wind that reaches your house will most likely be light and intermittent. The turbines require an uninterrupted airflow, meaning you can't place them low on the ground or near a tree. If you do want one on your property, it needs to be mounted on a high pole, 8 to 10 meters in the air and free from all possible turbulence caused by your roof or trees.
Once your wind turbine is mounted up in the air, it'll need a breeze that is 5 mph strong to start producing a small amount of electricity. The older, cheaper models only start producing electricity at 12 mph because their blades are so heavy. Taking everything into consideration, you need an average wind speed greater than 9mph for a wind turbine to be worth the investment.
Once you've overcome the obstacles of having a wind turbine large enough to provide adequate power and high enough for uninterrupted airflow, it's time to think about the cosmetic downfalls of a residential installation. Unlike solar panels, wind turbines cause some noise both inside and outside the house. Some owners find the flickering light from the blades turning annoying. In most residential areas, you'll need to apply for zoning permissions, delaying the process.
But they could be the answer depending on your location and property
It's true that wind turbines won't work for everyone, but there are a few exceptions where they can outperform solar. If you have a large property with an ample garden, you can place the turbine further from your house, combating surrounding turbulence and minimizing any annoying sounds.
Homesteads and farms are the perfect homes for wind turbines. You can place them further away from buildings, giving them near-perfect wind flow.
Remember that the wind does not blow 24/7, you'll need an extra boost of power during calm days. If you want to go 100% renewable, you can use solar panels or simply tap into the pre-existing power grid.
But which one makes the most electricity?
In the US, wind power is the most popular source of renewable electricity. Most of this electricity comes from wind farms located far away from the city. In contrast, those living off-grid get much of their electricity from roof-top solar panels.
In Idaho, a solar company did a test over 14 months, to find out for sure which method generated the most electricity. The solar panels brought in 5 times as much electricity than the wind turbine. Surprised renewable energy experts found that the solar was more reliable as it worked on cloudy days and sunny days alike, while the wind was unreliable and intermittent.
What you should do now
If you are still confused about which one to choose, observe your property carefully. Take note of where the sun falls and if there are any obstructions. Armed with specific knowledge, you can talk to an installation expert on what option would be best for you.