Renewable Energy Series: Solar Vs Wind | Answers With Joe


Today I wrap up my renewable energy series with a look at solar vs wind energy. Support me on Patreon!

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Legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens called the US the Saudi Arabia of wind and when you see maps like this, you understand why.

As the Earth spins toward the west, it slides underneath the air in the atmosphere, giving it from our perspective a generally eastward direction.

That easterly wind sweeps over the rocky mountains and then rushes back down across the Great Plains, creating one of the largest wind corridors in the world.

And in the last 10 years, investments in commercial wind energy have boomed across the United States. Economies of scale have started to kick in, causing the price of wind turbines to drop.

They also cost little to maintain and operate and help create energy independence for smaller communities and provide a revenue source for local ranchers who lease out the land to the energy companies.

And they’re more space-efficient. On the ground they take up very little space and those ranchers can still use the land below them for agriculture.

Plus it’s a large growth sector for jobs and currently employs over 100,000 people, expected to rise up to 600,000 in the next 30 years.

And there’s a reason I saved saved solar for last. Because there’s something different about solar from all other forms of energy, clean or dirty.

Photovoltaic solar panels, or PV panels, have no moving parts.

Every other energy source creates electricity by using heat or steam or water or wind to turn a turbine. Solar literally just collects the energy coming out of the sun and repurposes it.

When asked if he was interested in fusion power as a source of energy, Elon Musk famously said that we already have a massive fusion reactor in the sky just feeding us energy every day. All we have to do is collect it.

Now there are some negatives to solar power, let’s just get that out of the way…

First the obvious one, there’s no sun at night, so solar power is intermittent. But intermittent more like tidal energy than wind energy because we know the sun will be coming up every day.

And even in cloudy weather, it is producing something.

They take up a lot of land, unlike wind farms mentioned earlier, if you have a solar farm, you can’t use that for other things.

But, you can also use existing infrastructure like buildings and transport corridors.

The big hangups come in the construction of the solar panels because there are some hazardous materials used that need to be properly disposed of at the end of the panel’s life span.

And some PV panels require rare Elements like those found in cadmium telluride (CdTe) or copper iridium gallium selenide (CIGS), which is all the more reason to recycle the panels properly.

Luckily, 96% of a solar panel can be recycled. Unfortunately, the recycling infrastructure for solar panels is pretty small, but expected to grow tremendously in the next 30 years.

But the one that gets the solar haters the most worked up is that producing solar panels does generate greenhouse gasses. Specifically nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride. And yes, that sucks.

But the argument that we should stick with something like coal because PV panels create greenhouse gasses is frankly absurd.

Because with the solar panels, it’s a one-shot deal and then you’re getting clean, free energy for the next 20 or 30 years, while coal is constantly pumping out greenhouse gasses that whole time.

This debate was laid to rest by Wilfried Van Sark of Utrecht University in the Netherlands. In a paper for the trade Nature Communications, he and his team calculated the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by PV panel production all the way back to 1975 to see how long it would take before they made back their debt.

I didn’t even mention the other type of solar energy, concentrated solar thermal plants.


40 replies
  1. Joe Grinder
    Joe Grinder says:

    I just had a meeting with a local solar cell provider company and was bummed. I was under the impression as Joe stated at about the 8:04 mark that we can sell the excess energy back into the energy grid. The local guys tell me that yes, we can offset our electric costs but there is no way to sell the excess to the electric company and even more disturbing if we have an excess, yes it will offset future months like when winter hits but annually the electric company does a reset. I thought great, this is where they cut us a check for the excess – NO – this is where they eliminate the excess and set it back to ZERO. I LOVE the idea of adding solar panels to my 30 x 60 south facing garage BUT if all it does is offset my personal cost then it's not of much benefit. I'm concerned about leaking roof, maintenance of the panels taking them offline and having a substantial cost outlay with no way to pay for it other that offset existing use. My monthly average electrical cost is $119/mo. VERY doable without having the expense of solar and the potential costly hassles that would come with it. Does anyone know about Ohio residential solar and am I wrong with my interpretation ??

  2. JackSpeed 439
    JackSpeed 439 says:

    The problems with solar power is human thinking and human clumping in areas. Global trade should have fixed this but it hasn’t. You see the Sun always shines and will do so till it brown dwarfs in 10 billion years. The earth’s rotates so halfish is dark while the other half is light. With solar all (it’s a BIG all though) is link the world grids so as some country is darkening with the onset of night then the countries in the day areas pick up production load. This could also balance out cloud and rain days to a degree.

  3. Josh Prowse
    Josh Prowse says:

    Those Concentrated Solar Thermal Plants also cause birds flying nearby to burst spontaneously into flame. Seriously. Maybe not as many deaths as the wind farms though. (Just something to be aware of if you're discussing this stuff with somebody who's pro fossil fuels and they bring it up.)

  4. Roberr Platt
    Roberr Platt says:

    It's migration season and in the last two days I've seen two songbirds killed by flying into windows. If we can't have windmills because of birds, we also also can't have buildings. Only fair.

  5. K1 M1
    K1 M1 says:

    As far as 'nothing can be done w the land' w solar, they can elevate it and make a covered/shaded parking lot underneath. We could do this now to many existing parking lots already.


    By Tim Gard, lab rat extraordinaire


    Sept 2, 2019

    There was a very important meeting by a very large conglomerate of oil industry executives at the Financial Times' Energy Transformation Strategies council about three years ago on June of 2016. And lets not be foolish, these are some very intelligent people. They are spot on. It will be a disaster of epic proportion way beyond any like it in history. But disastrous for who?

    When the automobile first came into production, people in the beast of burden industry suffered greatly. Men who raised and sold oxen to pull plowshare were ruined. Men who raised and sold horses for transportation were wiped out. Farmers who raised feed for horses and livestock were ruined. Blacksmiths who shod horses closed their businesses on moved on. Farm veterinarians struggled to find work. The beast of burden industry was ruined, and I will bet my bottom dollar they had their own version of this Financial Times meeting.

    So, I ask again, disastrous for who? The new fossil fuel industry was the greatest thing to happen to the human race. But their time has come to an end.

    As blacksmith shops changed from wagon repair to auto repair, people began embracing cars because they had to, and eventually would only want to. The blacksmith who learned the new technology survived. My mothers father was a blacksmith, and he became the most popular blacksmith in town, because he figured out how to repair Fords in a small town in Memphis! The simple people with wisdom grasped the change and rode out the turbulent times and enjoyed great prosperity. Not so much those who rejected the change.

    So, the Financial Times group has hit the nail squarely on the head! If you have big dollars in the fossil fuel industry you would be wise to see the writing on the wall and dump that stock while you can!
    And get your hands on renewable energy stocks! If I had a pair of nickles to rub together thats what I would do! (To many kids used up all my nickles! Its OK! I like kids even more!)

    Time waits for no man, no matter how wealthy he might be! Even the oil man!

  7. Di B
    Di B says:

    I love carbon and cheap energy solar and wind is crap energy only has a small scale application it’s inefficient cf a good old fashioned coal or gas power station. Want to go green wankers build nuclear.

  8. Tim Gard
    Tim Gard says:

    Are you a renewable energy salesman who wants the chains cut from your feet that keep you from going stellar with your sales? Its not you, its the industry that holds you back! I am a scientist and an electrician, and I can show you how to put your foot to the floor and red line your sales tach! Come see what has been missed by the renewable industry!

  9. J Wil
    J Wil says:

    If only "greenhouse gasses" mattered, this would be important. What's the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere again?? Crickets?

    If you want to discuss eliminating or reducing pollutants, that's a worthwhile discussion.

  10. TheBooohda
    TheBooohda says:

    But Joe, solar is next to worthless without massive and expensive batteries which only have an 8 year lifespan. You can buy a small wind turbine right now from denmark that will power your whole house and its only a few feet in diameter. With no batteries you can easily reduce your power consumption by half, going completely off the grid if you don't mind not having power 24/7. Solar just can't compete with that.

  11. C T
    C T says:

    And this is why we need to prioritize education, self-sutainability and just…fix our global problems are right there, with in an inch of our grasp.

    There is a sea of possibilities that we haven't even thought of, and all we need to do is reach up for it.

  12. hrthrhs
    hrthrhs says:

    Yes but the 900,000,000 birds dieing from flying into buildings (yeah I agree that is a lot of birds 🙁) are pigeons and crap which aren't in danger of going extinct. The birds wind turbines kill are rare birds like Eagles.

  13. Bruce Bushey
    Bruce Bushey says:

    Joe, love the videos. I've up graded our RV 5th wheel to run on 1200 watts of Solar.
    We run almost everything off of that as we've sized down from a large house so we can see visit North America and Grandkids.

  14. Scott Anderson
    Scott Anderson says:

    Ok, I love this analysis. And I don't want to nit-pick this at all because I really do think this is a direction we need to go. But… 1% of developed land is a BUTTLOAD. Might need to halve that in your calculation. But even then, still PLENTY of excess energy!

  15. Trend House
    Trend House says:

    This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. Solar is low energy density and we can't control the energy output. This creates so many problems when you scale it up, that solar powered world will probably never happen. This guy just reads Wikipedia and pretends to be an expert.


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