Cleantech

wind turbines and solar panels at sunset

What are the advantages of wind energy and solar energy? Both are heavy hitters when it comes to cleaner methods of energy and power.

Wind power and solar power are considered the two primary choices for clean energy.

As clean technologies, both wind power and solar energy significantly decrease pollution and have minimal operational costs. These are attractive reasons to make the switch to clean energy solutions — but there's more to wind and solar energy than that.

Here the Investing News Network provides a brief introduction to wind and solar energy, from the advantages of renewable energy to the future outlook for these clean energy technologies.


What are wind energy and solar energy?

Putting it simply, wind energy is the process of using the air flowing through wind turbines to generate power by converting the kinetic energy in wind into mechanical power.

Wind energy can provide electricity for utility grids and homes, and can be used to charge batteries and pump water. The three main kinds of wind power are broken down as follows by the American Wind Energy Association:

  • Utility-scale wind: Wind turbines bigger than 100 kilowatts that deliver electricity to power grids and end users via electric utilities or power system operators.
  • Distributed wind: Wind turbines smaller than 100 kilowatts that are used to directly provide power to homes, farms or small businesses.
  • Offshore wind: Wind turbines placed in large bodies of water, generally on the continental shelf.

Interestingly, wind energy can also be considered an indirect form of solar energy. That's because winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the Earth's surface and rotation of the Earth.

Solar power is energy derived from the sun's rays and then converted into thermal or electrical energy.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar energy can be created in the following three ways: photovoltaics, solar heating and cooling, and concentrating solar power.

  • Photovoltaics: Generates electricity directly from sunlight via an electronic process to power small electronics, road signs, homes and large commercial businesses.
  • Solar heating and cooling: Uses the heat generated by the sun to provide water heating or space heating and cooling.
  • Concentrating solar power: Uses the heat generated by the sun to run traditional electricity-generating turbines.

What are the advantages of wind energy and solar energy?

With the basics of wind and solar energy in mind, let's look at the advantages of these two clean energy sources.

As carbon-free and renewable energy sources, wind and solar can help reduce the world's dependence on oil and gas. These carbon fuels are responsible for harmful greenhouse gas emissions that affect air, water and soil quality, and contribute to environmental degradation and climate change.

Aside from that, wind and solar energy can give homeowners and businesses the ability to generate and store electricity onsite, giving them backup power when their needs cannot be filled by the traditional utilities grid.

For example, during California's wildfire season, large-scale utilities companies such as Pacific Gas & Electric (NYSE:PCG) often need to shut off power to tens of thousands of people in an effort to prevent fires like those linked to downed power lines. In cases like this, solar energy generated onsite could not only help fight climate change, but also act as a reliable backup source of energy.

Solar panel installations are easy to do and can create energy bill savings. In some regions, users may qualify for tax breaks or energy rebates if they produce excess energy that can be delivered to the utility grid. Canada has several dozen clean energy incentive programs that combined offer hundreds of energy-efficiency rebates and numerous renewable energy rebates.

Both solar energy and wind energy are on the path to becoming the world's most affordable sources of energy. "Land-based utility-scale wind is one of the lowest-priced energy sources available today," according to the US Department of Energy. "Furthermore, wind energy’s cost competitiveness continues to improve with advances in the science and technology of wind energy."

The price of harnessing the sun's power is dropping each year due to technology advancements. In fact, the cost of residential photovoltaic solar power slid from US$0.50 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to US$0.128 in 2020, according to US Department of Energy figures. The US agency estimates that solar costs will fall further to US$0.05 by 2030. On a grander scale, utility photovoltaic costs already sat at only US$0.045 as of 2020.

What is the outlook for wind energy and solar energy?

The Global Wind Energy Council estimates that 557 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity will be added from 2022 to 2026. Government support and the need for energy security will be key drivers, giving way to market-based growth. "However, this growth needs to quadruple by the end of the decade if the world is to stay on-course for a 1.5C pathway and net zero by 2050," states the report.

As for solar energy, the International Energy Association's (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2022 report sees the growing deployment of solar generation through 2030 displacing fossil fuels, particularly coal, in the energy sector.

"Renewables, notably solar PV and wind, gain the most ground of any energy source this decade, accounting for 43% of electricity generation worldwide in 2030, up from 28% today," the report states.

In Europe specifically, renewable energy growth is being fueled by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "(The region) continued its positive solar trajectory, achieving 31.8 GW of additional solar capacity — representing 33% growth and notably only a 0.1 GW difference to our 2021 Global Market Outlook projections," according to a report by SolarPower Europe. "The impact of the Russian war on Ukraine, and the accompanying energy security challenges, alongside EU climate goals, are driving the continent’s renewable transition — with 25 of 27 EU member states set to install more solar in 2022 than 2021."

How to invest in wind and solar energy?

There are many investment opportunities in the renewable energy markets.

For investors interested in wind energy, there is the First Trust ISE Global Wind Energy Index Fund (ARCA:FAN), which was created on June 16, 2008. It tracks 58 holdings, including wind energy giants Vestas Wind Systems (OTC Pink:VWSYF), Boralex (TSX:BLX,OTC Pink:BRLXF) and Northland Power (TSX:NPI,OTC Pink:NPIFF), to name a few.

Our lists of renewable energy stocks on the TSX and the biggest US solar energy companies may also be worth considering.

This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2018.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Technology for real-time news updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistlli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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