Ask LH: Is Solar Or Wind Power Better For Home Installations?

Dear Lifehacker, I have a simple question. Solar or wind power - which is more efficient for the home user? Is the Tesla Powerwall any good? Thanks, Ollateatakai

Dear ollateatakai,

It's good to hear that, like many Australians, you're looking into generating renewable energy in your own home. Australia has one of the best climates in the world for solar energy, and depending on where you live, wind could very well be a viable option as well. Generally speaking, photovoltaic (solar) systems will be suitable for most houses, whereas wind generation tends to only be applicable in rural areas.

Wind

If you do happen to live on a rural property - ideally in either a coastal or flat plains area - you want to make sure that your property has a 'clean' wind supply before looking into installing a wind system. In this context, 'clean' wind denotes a steady wind flow with low turbulence, which can disrupt the amount of power being generated. Turbulence can be caused by both features of the terrain such as steep hills and cliffs, as well as trees and vegetation and man-made features such as nearby buildings or structures.

Of course some of this disruption can be overcome by installing a taller wind tower, but if there is too much turbulence then it may be worth simply investing in solar systems instead. Be wary of companies that advertise smaller rooftop wind generators for urban areas, as you're far better off investing the money and roof space in solar panels.

If you do have a property that may be suitable for wind power, check out this comprehensive guide to installing a wind system. For suitable locations wind turbines can be a solid investment, as they have the ability to generate large amounts of electricity and can have a working lifespan of 20 to 30 years.

Solar

Solar panels, also called photovoltaic or PV panels, can be installed on almost any rooftop that gets sufficient sunlight. As this technology is already quite prevalent in Australia - with our country having the highest rate of household solar panel installation in the world - it shouldn't be hard to find an installer in your area.

You'll need both the solar panels and an inverter to convert the DC electricity they collect into AC electricity that can be used in your house. Having one central inverter means you have to manage your panels carefully, however. The inverter will adapt to the lowest performing panel - which means that a single shaded or dirty panel can lower the output of your entire system dramatically.

Another option is to use micro-inverters, such as those made by Enphase, which sit behind each single panel and let them operate independently of the other panels. If you have intermittent shade on your roof, then this could be the best way to get the optimum energy return from each panel.

Battery Storage

With feed-in tariffs (the price that you get paid for excess solar energy being fed back into the grid) swiftly dropping, it's no longer as economically worthwhile to sell your energy back to the grid. This is where Tesla's Powerwall enters the equation. The Powerwall and similar systems let you take more control of the energy you're generating by storing excess for your own personal use, or to feed back in when the tariffs are higher.

In addition to Tesla's Powerwall, there are a number of battery options on the Australian market - such as locally made Magellan Power's foray into the home battery storage industry, or LG Chem's lithium-ion battery. Both of these are available through Reposit Power's energy trading platform - a smart service that automatically sells energy back into the grid for you when the price is highest.

If you're fitting your house out with Enphase's microinverters, then it may be worthwhile looking into their new battery storage technology as well. Currently trialling in South Australia, Enphase's modular battery allows you to customise exactly how much storage you need, based on how much energy your solar panels are collecting.

For an even simpler solution, check out Orison's plug and play batteries. You don't need an electrician to install these -- just plug them straight into a regular power outlet and they're ready to cycle through storing excess power in the day, and feeding it back into your home in the evening. Like much of this technology they haven't been released yet, but they've promised that a Kickstarter will be coming soon if you want to pre-order the products.

With all the innovation happening in both energy generation and home energy storage, there's never been a better time to start looking into installing solar panels at home. It's just a matter of figuring out which system is going to work best for your own specific need.

Cheers, Lifehacker

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