The Advantages of Solar Energy vs Other Renewable Energy SourcesBy Matthew Wheeland - July 22, 2010
*Last Modified: June 8th, 2014
By now we all have heard that solar power has huge advantages over traditional, fossil-fuel based energy sources; see our article on the pros and cons of solar energy for more information. Here, we’ve checked out how solar energy stacks up against other forms of renewable energy.
Solar vs. Wind
- Wind turbines can take a lot of space and can be noisy, so they’re better suited for rural rather than urban locations.
- Wind energy works best in windy places, not surprisingly. Solar power is versatile– Germany is currently the largest market for solar panels, even though it’s not known as a particularly sunny place. In other words: it’s more important to live in a windy place if you want to use wind turbines than it is to live in a sunny place if you want to use solar panels.
- Wind turbines require maintenance, and solar is virtually maintenance-free.
- Wind power can be less expensive to produce initially. On the other hand, the federal tax credit, state and local incentives, and SRECs are making solar power more affordable. PURE is also helping by negotiating group discounts for communities. In some places, you can recoup your investment in solar panels really quickly.
Solar vs. Hydropower
- Hydropower is typically done in large-scale dams rather than for homeowners (although someone with a rushing stream or river on their property might be able to use small scale “micro-hydro”); solar can be used almost anywhere.
- Large dams are extremely expensive to build.
- Flooding large areas of land destroys habitat and can force human relocation; solar panels can be installed on existing unused space like rooftops.
- Building large dams can cause geological damage leading to earthquakes.
- Dams can unfairly alter water supply between communities and countries.
- Building dams alters the natural water table level and can negatively affect wildlife such as salmon.
Solar vs. Biomass
- Biomass (wood or plants) is usually used for fuels rather than electricity production, though it can be used either way. Right now, most homeowners in the U.S. don’t have the option to purchase electricity made from biomass, though it’s available in a very small number of areas.
- Crops like sugar cane and other sources for biomass require land that could otherwise be used for growing food. Algae helps avoid this problem somewhat because it can grow in water. Solar doesn’t necessarily need to use land space, since it can go on existing roofs.
- Burning biomass creates CO2 emissions, though less than fossil fuels like coal. Solar energy doesn’t create emissions as it produces power.
- Solar panels have efficiencies as high as 19%, meaning that much of the sun’s energy is converted into electricity. The efficiency of biomass is much, much lower – perhaps less than 1%.
Want to learn more about how solar panels work or how much it actually costs to put solar on your roof? Signup at PURE for more information and to save 15% off the cost of solar!