Solar Energy Facts

You've come to the right place for solar energy facts. Here we'll examine the benefits and cost of solar power while comparing it to wind power.

If you question people on the street what types of renewable energy are available to the homeowner, most will think of solar and wind, but how do these two energy sources truly compare? Let's find out.

Comparing Solar to Wind Power

Solar vs Wind PowerSolar vs Wind Power Systems
Source: ©123rf/ricul

When it comes to solar vs wind, both alternative energy sources are clean and friendly to the environment, even when you consider the effects of manufacturing the components, shipping, and the on-site installation. And during operation, there are no harmful emissions released into the atmosphere nor is there anything leaked into the soil.

Both solar and wind can also provide on-site electrical power generation without us having to rely on unstable countries or volatile markets to supply non renewable fossil fuels. Both are viable and valuable sources of green renewable energy and offer a good investment return in the long-term.

As you read through the solar energy facts, you'll discover that recent advances in solar power will help our environment as never before and ensure the future of our planet. Finding affordable solar power applications for your home is a step in the right direction to reduce your carbon footprint and save money too.

One simple definition of renewable energy is "energy that's replenished naturally in a short period from a source that cannot be depleted." That defines solar: Clean, renewable energy can be produced directly from the sun as photoelectric energy, thermal energy, or photochemical energy.

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Sunlight, composed of photons, steams through Earth's atmosphere from the sun. As the sunlight strikes a photovoltaic (PV) cell in a solar panel, that "solar power cell" responds to the photons by generating a small electric current which is fed into and throughout the home using the same wires and other components as are used by the utility company.

Solar Power CellCloseup View of Solar Power Cell
(Source: ©

Wind energy operates by a completely different principle, but there are similarities. The kinetic energy or force of the wind turns propeller-like blades mounted on the shaft of a wind turbine. As wind turns the blades, the shaft spins a magnet wrapped by a coil of wire. As the magnet spins, electrons in the wire react to the magnetic force and are moved along inside the wire creating an electric current that's fed into the home.

The operation of a wind turbine is simple in principle and quite similar to the way that a tiny dynamo resting on a turning bicycle wheel generates enough electrical current to light the bicycle's headlight, or the way a hand-crank LED flashlight generates power to charge its battery.

The Cost of Solar Energy

In our review of the solar energy facts, lets look at the solar versus wind energy cost. The sun and wind are amply available and cost nothing. However, there ARE significant costs associated with converting those examples of renewable energy into usable electrical power, not to mention some unique physical limitations and engineering challenges to overcome.

For instance, there's the cost of...

  • Materials to build a wind turbine or a photovoltaic panel array

  • Manufacture and assembly of the many components

  • Transporting and warehousing the components

  • On-site installation of the home power system

Aside from these costs, all have a carbon footprint to some degree. And although recent technological advances have been made, solar and wind power cannot produce the same amount of electricity as other mainstream energy sources for the same cost. Currently, solar and wind energies remain cost-inefficient for the usable power they produce compared to the fossil fuels: oil, natural gas, and coal.

For example, an ideal location for installing solar power would be at the equator. There, approximately 1,000 W/m2 (watts per square meter) of active solar energy reaches the Earth's surface. Depending on where you live, your latitude, weather, and other uncontrollable factors can often reduce the solar energy availability to an amount between 125-375 W/m2.

And after you factor in a solar panel efficiency of just 10%-15%, depending on the built-in quality of the photovoltaic (PV) panels, you can see that the available energy produced can be low in many locations.

But, enough about the problems associated with solar...

The Solar Energy Facts Deserve a Closer Look

Given the ability to cover an area the size of a house roof with solar panels, even that comparatively small home solar power system can generate about 1.35 kWh/m2 per day. That's enough electricity to power an average household, provided the occupants are careful and conserving and don't waste any power.

So, despite the upfront costs, a solar energy investment more than pays for itself in the long-term. The solar energy facts prove it.

Solar truly has its bright side!

But, How Does Wind Compare?

In comparison with solar, wind energy has its own problems. Unlike residential solar power systems that can be installed either on the roof or mounted on the ground, small-scale wind turbines are not suitable for all residential applications. The tall wind towers need to be located some distance away from homes and neighbors for health and safety reasons, so a large lot or property area is needed.

There are other problems associated with wind energy. Wind turbines also require maintenance, repair and replacement of worn components. And contrasting to solar's quietness, the constant humming sound of the wind turbines has proved distracting and unnerving to some people, and the turning propellers regularly kill flying birds.

Also, wind turbines rely on almost continual wind and some areas might not receive enough wind to generate the power demanded by most applications. And even in ideal locations, like home solar systems, wind systems may need to be connected to a costly battery storage system or rely on the grid as a backup for those times when the wind isn't blowing.

The Advantages of Solar

Solar power systems take the sun's energy and convert it at once into usable electricity through photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof or on the ground. The generated electricity can then be used for heating, cooling, lighting, and to power appliances. In addition, the sun's energy can be used thermally to heat your tap water and swimming pool.

The sun's rays can also be harvested to generate electricity on a large scale for consumer use through huge arrays of solar power panels or by a solar energy plant that uses high-intensity heat to drive steam turbines or heat engines to produce electricity for entire communities. The heat creating the steam is produced by using large reflector mirrors (heliostats) to track and focus the sun's rays to heat the water.

Both solar and wind energy, along with other renewable sources of energy can form part of a total electrical power generation plan and strategy. Both wind and solar power systems are clean, renewable, and considered green.

Both can generate electric power without producing harmful byproducts to hasten global warming. This makes them highly desireable to those striving to improve the quality of the environment and reduce the greenhouse effect.

The Future of Solar Energy

Improvements are continually being made by the solar industry to increase efficiency and lower costs. Currently, MIT researchers are experimenting with 3D solar towers that could boost power output more than twenty times that of flat surface PV panels. Meanwhile, other labs are working on nano scale 3D structures that could soon replace the standard solar cell. Assembled into thin layers, they capture sunlight at greater efficiency than silicon cells.

Future of Solar EnergyThe Exciting Future of Solar Energy
(Source: ©buchachon_photo/

Even at present, solar and wind can contribute to supplying electrical demand on a cost-effective basis when based on the long-term. While they cannot yet displace the dirty fossil fuels entirely, as the world supply of non renewable energy resources lessens and its cost steadily increases, the future of solar and wind energy is assured.

Of the two clean energies (wind and solar), installing a few solar power panels is maybe the easiest, most affordable way for the homeowner to begin generating electrical power on a small scale with a minimum investment. Investing in solar can lower your utility bills now while offering you an excellent return on your investment later.

By using safe, renewable energy to generate heat and electrical power, you have a variety of affordable options for reducing your dependency on outdated fossil fuels. You are doing your part to ensure a better life for your grandchildren and the generations that follow. It's time that we all became good stewards of our environment.

Fascinating Solar Energy Reference from the Past

Watch a brief YouTube clip from Frank Capra's 1938 Best Picture winner, You Can't Take It With You, in which Jimmy Stewart's character speaks of "tiny little engines," alluding to the future potential of solar energy.

Solar Energy Facts Summary

Affordable solar energy for the home is now a reality with many products and resources available to average homeowners who are looking for renewable energy resources to save money and to gain control over the energy needs of their household.

Using renewable green energy produced by the sun to reduce our long dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels and provide the electricity we need will mean less pollution and a reduction in the harmful emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

People have used various means to tap into the benefits of solar energy for thousands of years, but the time to make practical use of the sun's beneficial rays has come. The solar energy facts don't lie. Solar simply makes good sense.

Read the related articles for more solar energy facts:

Advantages of Solar Energy

The Cost of Solar Energy

Solar Steam Turbine Potential

Click Here for Information on Other Types of Renewable Energy

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