How Do Solar and Wind Energy Work?

Picture it, stepping out onto a beautifully sunny day and feeling the gentle nudge of the trade winds on your cheeks as you take a stroll to the shops. You’re probably thinking that it’s a shame that the world doesn’t work like that. The sun is beautiful and powerful, and it’s free – so why shouldn’t we be using it to our advantage?

For those of us who live in sunny climes, this image is enough to convince us to ditch our power bills completely and live a life unburdened by the need to pay for energy. But for others, this might not be enough motivation to leave the comfort of their homes and go green!

So how, exactly, do solar and wind energy work? And which one is better for your home? Let’s take a look.

The Basics

This might be the most basic of all the questions you might have about renewable energy sources, but it’s an important one to ask. Before you commit to changing the energy provider in your area for a cheaper and greener option, you should know what these are, and how they work. There are several different definitions of ‘solar’ and ‘wind’ energy out there, but for the sake of this article let’s keep things simple and go with the American Solar Energy Society (more commonly known as the Solar Industry Association) definition. 

According to this definition, solar energy is generated by sunlight (hence the common name), while wind energy is created by the wind. Both of these are constantly raining down on the planet, and despite our best efforts humans have not been able to harness it completely. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try!

These are the two most popular sources of renewable energy, and what makes them so sustainable is that they are constantly replenished by nature. While we can’t stop the endless cycle of rain and cloud formation, we can try to tap into it and use the power of the sun and wind to our advantage.

Where Do The Sun And Wind Come From?

The sun is always shining somewhere, and the wind is always blowing somewhere, but this doesn’t mean we can harness it. The key to tapping into renewable energy is to be able to locate these sources of natural power and use them to generate electricity.

If you live in a sunny place, somewhere warm and dry, you can invest in a simple wind turbine and begin generating your own clean energy supply. If you live in a place where the sun shines most brightly, you can set up a solar power system and generate electricity using solar cells. The choice is yours.

But where do these things come from? Why is nature providing us with such bountiful amounts of solar and wind energy? It’s because nature cares for us and wants to see us happy and healthy, which is why we need to return the favor and care for her.

How Many Hours Will My Solar System Operate On A Typical Day?

An easy way to determine how much solar energy you’ll produce is to multiply the hours of shade by the area of your roof (in square feet). For example, if you have a shaded house with a flat roof, and the sun shines directly on it for 12 hours, you’ll generate 12 x 4 = 48 Watts of electricity. This will significantly reduce your energy bill each month – not to mention that it’s a totally free and sustainable energy source!

The amount of electricity you’ll generate will also depend on the strength of the wind. The stronger the wind, the more electricity you’ll produce. Similarly, the closer the sun is to the horizon, the less power it will produce (but don’t forget about those glorious rays that bounce off the ocean and into the sky, illuminating the world).

It’s important to note here that while some people have had fantastic results from simply going green and switching off their appliances when the sun is at its peak, this only works in ideal circumstances. In reality, we’re always going to have some electricity consumption from our tech-dependent world (lights, TV, etc.). So in order to save a massive amount of energy it’s important that you don’t just turn your appliances off but instead find ways to reduce your consumption. This could mean changing your lightbulbs to energy-saving ones, or unplugging appliances when they’re not in use.

How Much Does It Cost To Set Up A Solar System?

If you really want to get your money’s worth out of investing in a solar system, you’ll need to consider the cost of installation. But this is surely a one-time cost that will be repaid many times over by saving you money on your energy bills. The cost of installation for a simple residential system will vary from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the size of your roof and the company you hire to do the work.

Once you’ve paid for the installation, you’ll need to set up an account with a solar provider (most companies will offer this as part of the package), connect the system to the electric grid, and start generating electricity. From this point on, you’ll only need to pay the wholesale cost of electricity – which is usually a lot more affordable than your regular power bill would be. This amount will vary depending on where you live but can be as low as $0.12 per kWhr and as high as $0.20 per kWhr, as reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. So, as long as you live in an area that sees a relatively high level of sunlight (between 300 and 500 sunny days per year) you should see your power bill decrease significantly, regardless of whether you use solar energy or not.

Which Type Of Power System Is Better For Your Home?

It really depends on your situation. If you live in a region that sees a lot of sun but is isolated from the electric grid, you might want to go for a solar energy system. Not only will this reduce your power bill but it’ll also allow you to generate your own electricity. If you live in a place where the electric grid is available but you’re not connected to it (either because you don’t know how or because you’ve never bothered to connect it), you’re better off going for a wind power system. This allows you to generate electricity when the wind blows and reduces your reliance on fossil fuels.

The advantage of a solar energy system over a wind power system is that you don’t necessarily need to be located near a power source (although this is certainly beneficial), while with a wind system you do need to be within a certain distance of a power source (usually about 10 miles). This makes the solar system more convenient for remote and rural areas – so if you live in a cabin in the woods and want to be able to use energy-saving devices when you’re away, you might want to consider a solar system.

If you’re on the fence, or just want to save money rather than generate your own power, you should consider going for a solar energy system. Not only is this cost-effective but it will also allow you to save money on your energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint by not relying on electricity generated by fossil fuels.

Why Do You Need To Understand Fossil Fuels Before Going Green?

Even in areas where the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, there will always be certain times when these sources of energy aren’t available. As we’ve already established, the sun is a constantly varying force, while the wind can blow at any time but is rarely constant. In addition to this, oil fields can become depleted and the cost of extraction can increase.

If you live in a place where these renewable energy sources are unpredictable and/or unreliable, you might want to consider investing in a fossil fuel-powered energy system. This could be a battery storage system or a fuel cell (if you live in an area where electric cars are allowed).

The reason why you need to understand fossil fuels before going green is that without them, life as we know it would come to a halt. We would be unable to generate electricity, heat, or fuel for transportation (think: no more cars, trucks, or boats). So, as long as we’re reliant on fossil fuels, we need to be wary of our reliance on them. In times of need, we can fall back on these energy sources but we should always seek to reduce our dependence on them as much as possible.

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