Are you considering a switch from fossil fuels to a Smart grid? Given the rising need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels to lower emissions, green (renewable) energy sources have been in high demand.
But the question now is: Can the renewables beat the energy capacity of fossil fuels?
If you’re deciding which of the three sources of renewables —wind, solar, and water is the best for your energy needs. Don’t worry!
This solar energy blog highlights the pros and cons of these power sources to aid your decision.
What Counts as Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy is power from replenishable natural sources, such as the sun, wind, and water. These sources are freely available and constantly get replenished by nature.
Fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, and oil are non-renewable energy sources and often generate massive greenhouse gas emissions.
But renewables generate less emission and reduce the environmental impact of greenhouse gases, gradually causing a shift to renewable energy technology.
What Are the Major Renewable Sources?
The most commonly used renewable energy sources are Solar, Wind, and Hydro used to power homes and commercial buildings.
Solar is the most abundant energy source and can be explored even in cloudy weather. Sunlight is useful for generating electricity, lighting homes, drying materials, heating water, and other commercial and industrial uses.
Solar energy systems have panels that absorb energy from the sun and generate energy through the photovoltaic effect.
These solar panels contain photovoltaic cells (solar cells) that use a semi-conductive material like silicon to generate electricity as sunlight hits the panel surface.
The electricity produced by solar panels is direct current (DC). Inverters convert the DC to alternating current (AC), which we use in homes.
Batteries are most efficient for storing energy produced by solar power systems. Solar power has its advantages and disadvantages. Below are some of them.
Solar Power Pros
- The reduced cost of solar power makes it very affordable for household use. Moreover, federal and state tax incentives, including rebate programs, are in place to encourage a smooth switch to clean energy.
- Low maintenance cost: Top-tier Solar panels can last several years, and besides cleaning them at intervals (a few times a year), they don’t require much maintenance.
- It is a sustainable and clean energy source with little to no environmental impact because it has lower CO2 emissions.
- Solar energy is more accessible and applicable almost everywhere. The ubiquity of sunlight makes solar usable almost everywhere, and the high demand increased the availability.
- It has a long lifespan.
Cons of Solar Power
- It isn’t easily movable in the event of relocation. If you’re considering relocating very soon, installing solar energy might not be the best decision. That’s because the panels’ bulky nature poses decoupling and reinstallation constraints.
- The panels consume a large amount of space on your rooftop and make it appear unattractive. That’s specifically for those looking to offset up to 94% of their power bill, as they would require more solar panels.
- Weather conditions can affect power generation. Solar panels cannot function optimally at maximum capacity during snowing or rainy days with less sunlight.
- Power output may be variable in some areas.
Wind energy systems harness the kinetic energy from moving air through large turbines built onshore or offshore.
This energy has served people for millennia of years, but the technology has evolved into becoming more advanced than it was.
There are now taller turbines and larger rotor diameters that ensure maximum electricity generating power.
Wind turbines work on the kinetic-mechanical energy conversion principle to generate energy.
The wind turns the turbine’s propeller-like blades around a rotor that spins a generator which converts mechanical power to electricity.
Farms stead use wind and solar-generated electricity to pump water, grind grain, and power homes.
Wind power plants have higher energy efficiency as they harness up to 50% of energy passing through them, unlike solar power plants with just about 20% efficiency.
Wind Power Pros
- It is clean, renewable, and emits little to no greenhouse gases.
- Low operating costs. Besides the routine maintenance done mostly biannually and the high initial installation cost, the power source doesn’t incur much operating cost.
- Wind Turbines do not occupy much ground space. You can place them in areas where they won’t constitute obstruction.
- Wind turbine systems have a long Lifespan. They can last up to 20 years before needing a replacement.
- It is a reliable alternative in rural areas and farms.
Disadvantages of Wind Power
- Wind speed is unpredictable, unlike sunlight, making it nearly impossible to know how much energy wind turbines can produce at a given time. For instance, low wind speed can’t turn the rotors, meaning zero energy generation.
- It can cause noise pollution due to the movement of the turbine systems.
- Turbines could fall and destroy things in the event of a storm.
- Like tall electric lines and telecommunication towers, the moving parts of wind turbines can harm flight animals.
- Turbines can be eyesores for people who prefer a free landscape.
- Routine maintenance may be costly for very tall turbines.
- It is not suitable for densely populated areas.
Hydropower is the most widely used renewable energy source. It accounts for over 37% of the United States’ total renewable power generation and 7% of the US electricity generation.
This power source comes from dams or other structures, such as in-ocean turbines. The turbine’s blades turn with the flowing water, propelling a rotor which starts the generator and converts the rotational kinetic energy to electric current. Batteries are the most common storage alternatives for storing energy from a hydro plant for future use.
If you have a fast-moving water body flowing past your property, you may consider building a small hydropower system.
Advantages (Pros) of Hydropower
- Water is abundantly free on Earth, making it a cheap renewable energy source and source.
- Hydro plants that generate electricity with little or no carbon emissions.
- Electricity generation capacity is predictable.
- Climate or weather change has no significant impact on hydropower sources.
- Hydropower systems have a long life span.
Cons of hydropower
- Hydropower plants are geography dependent. They are unsuitable for people in the arid regions.
- High maintenance cost.
- Initial installation may impact the environment. For instance, dam installation may disrupt the natural biome, including plant life, animal habitat, and a river course.
- Requires high water speed to function.
- It poses flood control challenges, particularly when dams overflow.
Solar Vs. Wind Vs. Hydro Energy: Which is Better?
While these three are all sustainable energy, each has its drawbacks, as highlighted above. For example, Solar panels produce more CO2 than wind turbines and less noise than turbines.
However, wind energy is a more efficient source than solar. One wind turbine can generate the same amount of electricity as 48,704 solar panels. But turbines are an eyesore and can hurt wildlife.
Hydropower, on the other hand, is the most expensive to construct. A successful hydropower plant requires you to build hydroelectric dams, electrical lines, and new roads. That costs a lot.
Since drought has become more frequent in regions due to climate change, hydropower is no longer the most popular choice. Moreover, wind isn’t always available.
One of the highest causes of dilemma in choosing renewables is cost. Most times, the initial cost of installing solar, wind, or even hydropower plants is too high.
Data from the US Energy Information Administration can provide relevant insights into the most cost-effective low-carbon alternative for lowering emissions.
Based on the cost breakdown provided by the Brookings Working Papers, Hydro has the highest among the three low-carbon alternatives.
Hydro takes an estimated net energy cost per Megawatts of $141,991, solar takes $50,938, and wind takes $74,412.
Following the cost breakdown, Solar power has the lowest cost. Nowadays, the reduced costs of solar and sunlight accessibility have made it a more practical option.
While many people are slightly biased about solar, the impending climate change requires harnessing all renewable energy resources.
To completely break the fossil fuel dependence, deploying wind, solar, and water where applicable or suitable is necessary.
Doing so will improve sustainable energy production and reduce carbon footprint.