Welcome to Alberta's Experts in Renewable Energy

Wind and Solar Comparison

When People think of renewable energy, they usually think of a wind generator first. This seems to be primarily due to the media attention that the big wind generators get and also the fact that Solar Panels used to be quite expensive. Wind generators also have a much higher “sales appeal” because they move. Solar modules seem quite boring when they are just there smiling at the sun.

When I first started in the renewable energy industry, I, like many others, was bright eyed and bushy tailed about wind generation. Over the years many of us have paid the price and learned our lesson and therefore no longer sell them. I have tried quite a number of residential size generators (smaller than about 6 KW) here to see how they work, how well they generate power and what issues, if any they have. The results have been very disappointing. I would say that approximately 90% of all the wind generators that I have tried and/or sold have had some kind of problem or failure -- some major, some minor.

Wind generators have traditionally not had any certification, so what was done to make them legal to install was a “special inspection”. A certification company was hired to do this and the process was a fairly simple one as the tests were extremely basic. With the resultant problems though, a much more thorough inspection is now required (basically full certification). This process is quite expensive and time consuming and very few residential size wind generators have gone through this process.

Wind generators also require substantial wind (more than about 20 KMH) to produce substantial power, so as a rule of thumb, if a site is windy enough for a wind generator to produce good power, it will usually be too windy to live comfortably.

The Main advantage of a wind generator is that it can produce power at night, which can be very useful for an “Off Grid” system. I still have one wind generator here, but it needs to be repaired again, so it is not in use at this time.

Main Disadvantages:

The better ones have a life span of 15 to 20 years (barely half that of a solar panel) others do not even work when you get them. Expect to spend time and money on a wind generator.

They require maintenance consisting of usually inspecting and greasing it once a year, repairing blades, bearings, paint and pivot points as required.

Repair (even under warranty) can be quite costly, especially on freestanding towers because of crane costs, labour for taking a wind generator down and putting it back up, shipping costs to the retailer or manufacturer, etc. (warranties generally only cover the product and do not include any labour or shipping costs related to installation or replacement).

The towers for wind generators frequently cost as much again as the wind generator, or more.

Wind generators require foundation work such as concrete bases, anchors, guy wires, etc., depending on the chosen tower design.

Wind generators must be approved. (CSA, ETL, UL etc), for Canada. (Other than the CSA sticker, look for the “c” at the 7 or 8 o’clock position on the certification sticker. The turbine as well as the controllers needs to have this approval)

They are not feasible to install in highly populated areas due to space, shadowing and noise issues.

Quite a number of the manufacturers of home size wind generators have either gone out of business over the last while or are struggling. This would make it really risky to purchase one in terms of getting warranty or replacement parts. At this point in time, there really are no Off Grid home sized wind generators that I would recommend. If you are willing to take the risks, experience the frustration of dealing with wind generators and the costs and problems associated with them, then go ahead and purchase one (but not from Boyd Solar).

Solar (photovoltaic) Panels have come down in price significantly over the last few years, have virtually no problems and last for a very long time. With this shift in cost and the significant edge in terms of longevity, solar is now the product of choice for renewable energy. For the price of good residential size wind generator, you can install a lot of solar panels and batteries.

Main Advantages:

  • Very long life - 35 to 50 years (most panels have a 20 or 25 year warranty stating that they will put out at least
    80 % of their rated output at that time).
  • Virtually maintenance free.
  • Relatively easy to install.
  • Silent, no noise issues.
  • Generally do not require as much larger equipment to install, so it is easier in remote places to install solar than wind

Main Disadvantages:

  • In areas that experience a lot of overcast or low light days the output is noticeably less, though still considerable.
  • Do not tolerate sharp shadows across the panels (causes a significant drop in output).
  • For more information on the types of Solar Systems see this page.
  • For information on “Off Grid” systems, we have a series of pages describing them starting with this one.

Summary

At the time of this update, there is only one small residential size turbine (less than 10 KW rated) that I am aware of that has an actual Canadian Electrical certification, which means that any turbine that is legally sold and installed would have to go through an inspection process that could be quite costly.

There are a few turbines that have SWCC certification. This is a performance certification not an electrical certification and does not count for making them acceptable for installation from an electrical code perspective.

Manufacturers have generally been unwilling to certify the wind turbines to the Canadian Electrical Code requirement.

In terms of energy production versus cost:

  • A Skystream 3.7 would likely cost around $ 15,000.00 or so without the tower or installation, so figure around
    $ 30,000.00 to $ 50,000.00 for an installed cost.
  • The average energy production for most of Alberta would be around 5 KWH per day or less. So even if we were to be very conservative on tower and installation cost, 5 KWH per day installed would cost around $ 6,000.00 per KWH/Day
  • To get 5 KWH per day from a solar system, averaged over the course of the year would require approximately 1.3 KW of Solar power. The module cost would be less than $ 1,500.00 for that size of array. Installed cost would be generally be less than $ 5,000.00. This puts the cost per KWH/Day at less than $ 1,000.00

So, if you really want to see something on a tower that spins, have extra money to spend, want headaches, do maintenance and have to replace the unit at least once compared to solar modules then go ahead and get a wind turbine.

Larger wind generators will tend to be better, but for Off Grid systems, you still would have a hard time getting an approved unit.

The really large utility scale wind generators are good for reducing our dependence on fossil fuel generation and are usually located in much windier areas and are mounted on much taller towers.

Basic "Off Grid" components

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