Can you combine solar and wind power?

Fast read

In residential areas, small wind turbines are rarely combined with solar panels due to several practical reasons. The main issue is their efficiency, as residential settings often lack consistent and strong enough winds to make tiny wind turbines economically viable.

Solar panels, being more suitable for a broader range of sites, can generate electricity even in low-wind conditions. Moreover, small wind turbines require more physical space and may create noise in medium to high winds, making them challenging to integrate into urban or suburban regions with space and aesthetic restrictions.

They also demand regular maintenance and have more moving parts, increasing the risk of mechanical breakdowns.

As a result, solar panels are a more popular and practical option for residential installations. Larger wind turbines are commonly used in utility-scale wind farms and can complement solar farms in areas with ample wind resources.

Why are small wind turbines not used with solar systems?

In residential areas, wind power is rarely combined with solar panel systems to generate more. In the early days of the solar boom in Australia, companies like Energy Matters, the Solar Shop and Today Solar offered small wind turbines combined with a 1kW or 1.5kW solar PV system. So why did this practice stop, and why do we not see small wind turbines on residential roofs? There are several reasons for this.

Efficiency issues

One main issue is efficiency. In residential areas, getting a clean flow of wind power is challenging. Wind turbines require a particular minimum of wind power to generate power efficiently. Many residential and urban settings may lack constant or strong enough winds to make tiny wind turbines economically viable. However, solar panels can generate electricity even in low-wind circumstances and are more suitable for a broader range of sites.

Regulatory environment

There are local Council regulations that make it more challenging to install small wind turbines, often due to noise concerns. Obtaining the necessary permits and approvals can be a complex and time-consuming process.

Site suitability

Wind turbines require specific wind conditions to be effective. Not all locations in Australia have the consistent and strong wind power needed to make wind energy viable. This geographical limitation can restrict the potential for including wind turbines in a renewable energy system.

Cost considerations

The installation and maintenance of small wind turbines can be costly. These costs might outweigh the benefits for some customers, especially if the site doesn’t have ideal wind conditions. Conversely, solar panels have become increasingly affordable and offer a more predictable return on investment.

Technical complexity

Installing and maintaining a wind turbine requires specialised knowledge and skills. Not all solar installers have the necessary expertise to offer this service. Integrating wind with solar also adds to the renewable energy system complexity, like hybrid controllers, which deters some installers from introducing the product.

Consumer demand

There is limited consumer interest in or awareness of small wind turbines. Solar power is more widely recognised and accepted by the general public, whilst wind power is not as familiar and appealing, especially at a small scale.

man holding mini turbine
Small residential wind turbines held a lot of promise in Australia in the early 2000s, but never took off

Aesthetics and noise concerns

Some individuals are be concerned about the visual impact or noise associated with wind turbines, especially in urban or suburban areas. These concerns affect the willingness of customers to include wind turbines in their energy systems. Even little wind turbines can create noise and alter the surrounding area’s aesthetic.

This can annoy residents as well as the next-door neighbours. Solar panels are frequently chosen for residential installations because they are silent and can be discreet if installed well.

Market focus

Solar installers prefer to specialise in solar technology and focus on what they know best. They are usually busy as it is, and diversifying into wind energy is seen as a distraction and unnecessary complication in their business model.

Environmental and birdlife

Some urban residents have concerns about the impact on birds and other wildlife. Properly assessing and mitigating these risks can add to the complexity and cost of the project.

There is no suitable product on the Australian market

In the early 2000s, the small wind turbines on offer were very noisy in heavy wind and caused a lot of Council complaints as soon as they were installed. Unfortunately, since those models which were designed for the boating market were withdrawn, no suitable replacement product has emerged in the Australian market. So if no appropriate product is available, sales will obviously not eventuate.

In conclusion, while integrating small wind turbines with solar systems can be an attractive option for harnessing multiple renewable energy sources, various practical, technical, regulatory and market factors may limit the widespread adoption of this approach in Australia. It could change with technological advancements, regulatory landscape shifts, or consumer demand and awareness changes.

Issues with space

Small wind turbines often can cause a shadow issue towards the nearby solar panels. To collect faster wind speeds, they must be mounted on high towers or masts, which will cast long shadows. Shadows are the enemy of solar. While solar panels can be quickly erected on rooftops or small ground areas, finding suitable places for wind turbines in urban or suburban regions can be difficult due to suitable space restrictions.

Maintenance issues

Regular maintenance for wind turbines includes lubrication, mechanical component inspections, and periodic assessments for wear and tear. Additionally, they have more moving parts, which can raise the risk of mechanical breakdowns. For many households, though, solar panels are a more dependable and hassle-free option because they have no moving parts and less need for maintenance.

So should I get a small wind turbine with my solar panel system?

Although integrating solar panel systems with tiny wind turbines can theoretically result in a hybrid renewable energy solution, the above-mentioned practical factors and limitations frequently make solar panels a more popular option for residential and small-scale installations. Larger wind turbines, on the other hand, are commonly employed in utility-scale wind farms and can supplement solar farms in regions with valuable wind resources.

In Australia, an example is the Kidston Renewable Energy Hub that Genex is developing in Far North Queensland. This includes 270 MW of Solar power, 258 MW of wind, and 250 MW of pumped hydro storage. 

This enables the solar and wind to pump water from a low dam to a higher dam from disused gold mines to use the water in a hydro turbine when required as a hydropower station.

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