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Let's say I have a fixed amount of money that I can either spend on a complete solar PV system (panels, inverter, all the hardware and wiring) or a complete wind system (turbine, inverter, all the hardware and wiring). This is for a typical residential application in terms of power needs and load profile. Let's assume this is an all-electric house with a back-up power source (either the grid, some batteries, a generator, or some combination).

What are the factors I need to think about to determine which choice is better?

Some things that I can imagine could have an influence (but I'm unsure exactly how):

  • Whether my backup source is reliable
  • Whether I can export (sell to the grid) or store (charge batteries) excess power
  • The cost of using my backup source
  • Local weather patterns

Background: A few years ago I read an article arguing that solar PV is almost always better, and that as PV costs decline and wind costs remain stagnant (the projections at the time), the position of PV would continue to improve. I'm wondering if this was accurate, and if it's still the case.

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Generally, solar is more reliable than wind. Ignoring arctic and antarctic latitudes most places get some sunlight during the day, even on overcast days. However, the same cannot be said for wind. Some places may experience no wind for prolonged periods. However, wind generators can be useful on windy nights, when there is no sun and solar panels are doing nothing.

Also, wind speeds can vary greatly and wind generators have to deal with gusts. Wind directions also vary. Domestic wind generators will need to be able to deal with wind from all directions.

Compared to solar panels, wind generators can be noisy.

Municipal councils may have height restrictions that may restrict the height of structures such a wind generator towers.

Ideally it would be preferable to have both, to be able to utilize more weather situations but if one is limited to only one, then I would suggest solar would be a better option for home applications.


Edit 16 February 2023

The other thing to consider about wind generators is which one to choose: a horizontal axis generator with its blade rotor assembly, usually with three blades, which most people are familiar with; or a vertical axis generator.

For domestic use, a vertical axis turbine would be a more appropriate design. They have lesser environment impacts, such a bird strike and objection from neighbors. If done properly and with a suitable turbine, a vertical axis turbine could be placed on top of a roof. A dedicated plinth/pole may not be required.

One advantage vertical axis turbines have over horizontal axis turbines is they are always ready to catch the wind. They don't have to rotate to face the wind.

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    Also, don't forget about the wind turbines shadow, the effect on the landscape and the issue of wind friction - one of the reasons wind turbines are built larger and larger is so they can reach higher wind "layers" where there's less turbulence and thus more energy to be harvested. Still, there are some innovative solutions for domestic use, e.g. this one (no affiliation, I only happen to have seen these in use) - but I can't give you figures when it comes to the overall energy output per year.
    – Erik
    May 19, 2021 at 8:50
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I would certainly go first with solar PV : cheaper, no maintenance (at worst some rare cleaning), and it can be extended. It also mounts well on rooftop or be set on the ground (for more watts). Lifespan also exceeds largely any wind turbine.

Keep in mind they really do not produce anything below a significant wind level, and they can break apart above too much wind.

Horizontal axis wind turbine cables may get twisted with time. Vertical axis wind turbine produce less watts but start producing sooner and cope with irregular wind direction.

Wind turbines also require a sturdy pole. Do not expect anything with a short one : the higher the better. Then, guy cables do occupy space on the ground, somehow like the one "lost" to ground-level PV.

You need a solid reason to go for wind ipo solar if you only have one choice. OK, unless you are on a windy island in terrible weather conditions. Sole reason to have a wind turbine is because you want to have one, or if you are off-grid (as I am) and you need to suck every renewable watt you can find. And even then, I tend to think that PV + larger batteries and better insulation upfront are more reliable options.

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I would add the the current answers by adding that wind would provide extra power in the winter at a time when sunshine hours (and hence solar PV output) are limited.

I have solar panels installed already, which I would definitely recommend, for the cost of installation I believe it is much lower than an equivalent turbine. Though I have been pondering whether a micro-turbine might help to top-up the 'winter gap' of the solar PV output. The cost of a micro-turbine, with an output of 400 Watts is over £1500 at the time of writing, so is pretty expensive compared to it's output. Despite that, it could be a useful top-up if you really want to go self-sufficient.

You might like to investigate alternatives like Ripple Energy, where you can buy a share of a wind turbine or solar farm.

It is possible to get a wind survey carried out, by specialist firms using an anemometer. I believe the device can be left on site to measure wind over a long period of time. There are websites that provide further info on wind speed based on post code, for the UK, for example here. Perhaps something similar exists for where you live too.

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This totally depends on the amount of money you can spend.

If you can spend 100 million USD, then by all means, choose wind! Wind turbines have a capacity factor of 30% in contrast to solar PV that's usually around 10-15% depending on the latitude. Wind power also is usually not seasonal unlike solar PV where high latitudes don't get practically any sunshine during the winter. Generally, wind is more economical than solar due to the high capacity factor and due to not needing inverters.

If you can spend 10 thousand USD, then the situation changes. There's no way a $10 000 wind turbine can compete with grid electricity. However, solar doesn't have economies of scale: a small project is usually as cheap per watt as a large project would be. Thus, solar generation in the future is expected to be highly distributed whereas wind generation is expected to be highly centralized.

However, I'd argue there's an option for choosing wind for $10 000 as well. Invest in a wind power company that generates electricity from wind power. For example, a typical wind power company might have a market cap of 1 billion USD, generating wind power at 10 farms of 100 MW each. Buy 0.001% of the shares of such a company and you have invested $10 000.

For someone living near the equator and having an electric vehicle, however, it's likely that distributed solar generation could be better since you usually don't have to pay electricity distribution fees and electricity/corporate/dividend taxes and you have direct use for all of the solar electricity you produce, and enough of it is produced during all seasons.

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