Category - Solar
Guide author photo

Will Scholfield, Engineer

22 Feb : Updated 4 Apr ● 11 min read

Wind turbines vs solar panels: which is better?

Whether it’s for financial or environmental reasons (or a combination of both), we’re all looking for ways to become more energy-efficient at home. And now, as the UK continues along the road to net zero emissions, this has only grown more important.

Investing in renewable energy sources is one of the ways that we, both as a nation and as individuals, can contribute positively to global efforts to reverse the effects of climate change.

But this is complicated stuff, so it’s natural that many of us find it tricky to get to grips with the ins and outs of which method of energy production is right for us. Should we go solar? Or is our lifestyle better suited to wind turbines?

Here, we break things down into simple, straightforward terms, exploring the features, benefits and key considerations of solar panels and wind turbines.

Renewable vs non-renewable: what's the difference?

First things first, let's get to grips with renewable and non-renewable energy as concepts.

Oil, coal and natural gas - collectively known as fossil fuels - are non-renewable energy sources. Whilst scientists do technically know how to make these fuel sources, the process takes billions of years, so it's not practical for us to do so within our lifetimes.

This means that once our fossil fuel reserves are gone, they're gone.

Scientists reckon that global supplies of fossil fuels will last until around 2060. But, if we want to limit global warming to within the 1.5°C target set at COP26, we'll need to leave at least 80% of these supplies untapped.

Energy sources like solar and wind power are renewable. Being renewable means that they come from natural sources that we can replenish at a faster rate than we use. This makes things like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and tidal energy sustainable in the long term.

Renewable energy sources are also clean energy sources, meaning they don't generate harmful greenhouse gas emissions during production or distribution - good for our health and that of the planet!

What are wind turbines, and how do they work?

Think of wind turbines as being the modern version of windmills. As the wind blows, large propellor-like blades capture the gusts and turn around a rotor. This rotor is connected to a generator, which converts kinetic energy into usable electrical energy.

When we talk about wind turbines, most of us will picture the huge, towering structures we see sitting in open spaces or off UK coastlines. When there are lots of wind turbines together in one location, they become wind farms.

You can also get smaller wind turbines designed for individual or residential use. Whilst these can't generate power at the same scale, they still use wind energy to produce electricity.

What are solar panels, and how do they work?

Solar panels (also known as photovoltaic panels or PV panels) are devices made from a variety of materials, largely silicon, that collect and convert sunlight into energy that can be used to power your home.

The material that solar panels are made from is known as semi-conductor material; for that reason, it has the capability to collect heat from the sun's rays and turn them into an energy source.

For a more detailed run-down, take a look at our guide on how solar panels work.

Wind turbines vs solar panels: cost

While investing in renewable energy may feel like a big expenditure at the time, you’ll likely see the return on your investment in 5 to 10 years after installation. What’s more, with the inclusion of renewable energy, you’ll see the value of your home or business soar in years to come.

Luckily, the surge in the popularity of solar panels has had a positive effect on prices, gradually bringing them down over the last decade. That said, the cost of solar installation is completely subjective to a number of factors, such as the size of the system required, the energy demands of the household, and the type of panels.

So, if you're all about saving those pennies while going green, solar power seems like the clear winner when it comes to cost. If you’re serious about solar panel installation and want to speak with an expert to discuss your options, get in touch with a member of the team at BOXT. 

Upfront cost

When it comes to solar panel expenses, a lot depends on how many you're installing, what type of solar panel you're fitting, and who instals the system. 
One of the most common sizes in 2024 for a household in the UK is a 4kW solar panel system. The 4kW solar panel system costs between £6,000 and £7,000, requires around 10 - 16 panels and covers approximately 29 square metres of your roof. Note this is for the system alone and does not factor in the installation costs.

That said, installing a wind turbine system can see you spending anywhere from £9,000 to a whopping £30,000 - depending on the type you require and how much energy you plan to harness from them.

Meanwhile, when installing a wind turbine, you've got two options: the pole-mounted and the building-mounted variety. When comparing the two, the clue is in the name. Pole-mounted turbines are typically the taller of the two, located and installed in fields or areas of land.

Whereas building or roof-mounted turbines are smaller, more compact counterparts that are fitted on a rooftop. Building-mounted turbines are more affordable than pole-mounted turbines, but they provide significantly less electricity and have a much shorter lifespan.

And let's not forget that the energy capacity of each turbine also plays a role in the overall expenditure. A 2.5kW system will cost you anywhere from £9,000 to £19,000, while a more robust 6kW system will set you back around £21,000 to £30,000.

Maintenance cost

Like any advanced machinery, wind turbines and solar panels do require some TLC to keep them spinning smoothly and absorbing sunlight efficiently.

According to Wind Measurement International, the maintenance cost of a wind turbine system could be anywhere between 1.5 and 2% of the original investment per annum. You’ll want to make sure they are regularly maintained due to the fact that moving parts will encounter more wear and tear over time than static parts.

Luckily, solar panels are well-known for being low-maintenance. However, it is worth putting aside some savings just in case your solar panels encounter any issues that might see them becoming ineffective - such as micro-cracks or a family of pigeons making a home underneath them. 

Wind turbines vs solar panels: efficiency

Wind turbine efficiency is determined by the availability and strength of the wind in its desired location. Similarly, the amount of sunlight received in a given location influences the effectiveness of solar panels. Wind and solar resources can vary greatly from one area to the next, affecting their total measured efficiency.

To further divulge the subject of efficiency, let's look at some variable factors.

  1. Land use: Wind turbines generally require more land area than solar panels to generate electricity. Making solar panels a more accessible and efficient choice for homeowners who may not have the landmass to fit wind turbines.
  2. Capacity factor: This measures the actual output of a renewable energy source (wind turbine or solar panel) compared to its maximum potential output. Wind turbines typically have a higher capacity factor than solar panels because wind energy is more consistent and less affected by daily weather changes than solar energy, which relies on how much UV light it can absorb.
  3. Energy storage: Wind and solar energy are intermittent, which means their generation depends on weather conditions. Energy storage systems, like batteries, are critical for maximising both technologies' performance and assuring a constant power supply.

Roughly, wind turbines harness their energy more than solar panels. It is estimated that wind turbines harness 60% of the energy that passes through them, compared to the 18 to 22% efficiency of solar panels. Of course, this relies on a number of aforementioned variables. 

Wind turbines vs solar panels: installation

For pole-mounted turbines, the installation involves erecting a tall tower with turbine components on top, whereas solar panels and building-mounted turbines require mounting on various structures like rooftops or racks.

Specifically, wind turbine installation involves:

  • Site selection
  • Foundation
  • Tower erection
  • Turbine installation
  • Electrical connection

For solar panels, installation involves:

  • Site selection
  • Mounting structure
  • Panel installation
  • Wiring and inverters
  • Grid connection

Each technology's appropriateness is determined by factors such as wind resources, sunshine exposure, available space, and local legislation. However, both make important contributions to renewable energy generation and can be combined to produce an efficient alternative to running the home.

Wind turbines vs solar panels: reliability

If you're looking to install a renewable energy source for your home, then you'll already know they're a big monetary investment. So, it's important to know roughly how long they are going to last and how long you can expect to save money on your energy bills.

Because solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to collect energy, they are effective even in a climate as unpredictable as Britain. That’s why so many households are considering and have already switched to this renewable source of energy. Whether used in a hybrid set-up or entirely off-grid, solar panels can be a cheaper alternative (in the long run) for providing electricity to your home.

What’s more, they are easy to install, require little space and little maintenance. However, due to all the complicated technologies involved in the manufacturing of solar panels, they are much harder to recycle.

Building-mounted wind turbines require a similar amount of space to solar panels. However, wind turbines need to be placed in an environment where they’ll receive a lot of wind to operate effectively.

So if you live in a valley or an area with low wind, such as a city centre, then you’ll likely not notice many turbine farms or residential wind turbines. However, if you reside on the coast or in the Highlands, then you’ll probably be somewhat accustomed to wind turbines.

Turbines are a great investment if you have the environment to harness their usage. But for a typical homeowner, they might not be the most reliable source of energy as they are typically hard to install, require more space and come with a higher maintenance bill. 

Wind turbines vs solar panels: environmental impact

Typically, whilst wind turbines are a good investment on a global scale and their manufacturing process is a lot less detrimental to the planet, they might not be the most environmentally savvy choice for homeowners.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the manufacture of solar panels takes large quantities of materials and a significant amount of energy. That said, they are a great option for homeowners when compared to wind turbines, as they are compact, easy to install, affordable and can provide energy even when faced with a cloudy climate.

Wind turbines vs solar panels: pros and cons

So, what’s the upshot of all this? When it comes to deciding what renewable energy source or sources are right for your home, think about your usage habits (present and future) along with your budget and available space for installation.

To help you compare options, here’s a rundown of the main benefits and limitations of wind turbines and solar panels.

Wind turbines: pros and cons

Renewable energy sourceLess investment on domestic technologies
Wind is in plentiful supply in the UKVery high upfront cost
Reduces domestic energy billsFewer qualified installers and engineers
Option to sell surplus energy back to the gridNot always suitable for built-up areas
Roof-mounted and free-standing options

Solar panels: pros and cons

Renewable energy sourceHigh upfront cost
Reduces domestic electricity billsOutput is weather dependent
Multiple installation optionsRequires large areas of roof space
Suitable for rural and urban areasEnergy storage can be expensive
Easy to maintainNot all roofs are suitable
Option to sell surplus energy back to the gridReturn on investment can take 8-12 years

Which is better: wind turbines or solar panels? 

Cracking down on our reliance on fossil fuels is a step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and what better way to contribute than turning to renewable sources of energy for your home or business?

Overall, solar and wind energy score differently.

The efficiency of wind turbines and solar panels depends on various factors, and the choice between the two depends on the specific characteristics of the site, local weather conditions, and your home’s energy demand.

If it’s a question of availability and practicality, solar panels come out on top. There is far more investment into developing domestic solar technologies than into wind turbines, meaning it’s easier for homeowners to get the clean energy systems they need.

Plus, being more widely available, solar panels and battery storage systems have a much more extensive network of qualified engineers. If there’s an issue with your home’s solar panels, you’ll be able to get it fixed promptly and professionally.

At BOXT, we offer bespoke solar panel systems nationwide. We don’t do hidden costs or over-complicated repayment plans, just fuss-free, friendly service to help you reduce your home’s energy bills.

  • Only 25% upfront payment
  • 12-year product warranty on all our solar panels
  • Prices start from as little as £4,871 all-in

Simply enter your postcode to get started and receive free solar panel quotes.

Get a quote for solar

Get a quote for solar

Chat to BOXT about your solar solution

Get a quote