solar-wind-hydro-power-vsMatthew Stein, author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency wrestles with that very question in his book.

Here’s an excerpt:

No single RE source works best all the time in all situations. Hybrid systems often yield the best year-round performance. Wind and micro-hydro usually perform well during stormy periods, while photovoltaics work best in dry summer conditions with long sunny days. Photovoltaics have the benefit of no moving parts, no maintenance, high reliability, and a long life averaging about 25 years or more for solar panels.

In 2008 solar panel cost of about $5 per watt (remember that batteries and inverters will add significantly to this cost) has been steadily dropping as sales of solar cells have doubled every few years.

The recent invention of solar roofing panels and the introduction of major PV incentives in several countries are expected to continue to boost sales and significantly reduce prices over the next decade.



  • Lowest cost per watt hour
  • Usually a predictable year round power output
  • Often does not require a large battery bank
  • System is quiet and often can be made unobtrusive
  • Typically low maintainance


  • Low cost per watt hour in a good location
  • Smaller systems can be low maintainance
  • Predictable power output in some locations

Solar power:

  • Can be used almost anywhere
  • Extermely low maintainance
  • Very long system lifespans
  • Can be operated unmonitored for extended periods of time
  • Predictable power output in most locations
  • Simple installation
  • Silent , unobtrusive operation



  • Not suitable in many locations due to lack of resource
  • Often requires substantial modification of water resource (except for in-stream type generators)
  • Initial installation cost can be high if damming or dirtwork is required
  • In colder climates, freezing of pipes, etc can be a problem
  • Moving parts will eventually wear out


  • Not suitable in many locations due to lack of resource
  • Towering can be expensive for larger units, and may require heavy equipment to erect.
  • Some people object to the tower aesthetically
  • Birds of prey run into tower and guy wires (similar to but smaller than utility installations in this respect)
  • Power output can be sporadic in some areas, nescesitates the use of a large battery bank and / or altrenate power source
  • Many people report that considerable noise is generated in high winds
  • Even routine, minor maintainance on a windmill can be difficult on the top of a tower. Systems to reduce / eliminate this problem typically add to the cost and complexity of the system.
  • Moving parts will eventually wear out

Solar power:

  • High initial cost for solar panels
  • Power output can be variable in some areas, nescesitates the use of a large battery bank and / or altrenate power source
  • Requires good solar exposure (not practical in shaded areas, etc.)

The major problem with ANY power source is the “Opposition special interest groups”. Lets see now of course we all know about the evils of the nukes, windmills have been know to cut birds in half and the “It destroys my view” people. “Solar panels are ugly” people. Hydro hurts the fish. I suspect that if we all used a generator with a hand crank someone would find a problem with that.

Bottom line is that no matter what we do, there WILL be a side affect somewhere, people need to deal with it!!


Read the rest of discussion

Each system must be optimized to the location and aplication for which it will be used. Installation and maintainance requirements can be a signifigant factor, and should be weighed heavily in the design process.

Hybrid systems using two or more of these power sources, or using a fuel powered generator as a supplement usually provide superior performance over a wide range of conditions.

About Author //


Edvard Csanyi

Edvard - Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, buildings and industry fascilities. Designing of LV/MV switchgears.Professional in AutoCAD programming and web-design.Present on


  1. Gina
    Apr 30, 2014

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! This article has really helped me for my school project!

  2. Gina
    Apr 30, 2014

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING! You can’t believe how thankful I am! I have searched everywhere for this information. You have saved my life!

  3. […] Renewable energy is the future. The many variable electricity generating choices ranging from wind, solar, and hydropower offers Sarawak plenty of options to offer clean energy to the state. However, they are also dependent on several key factors, such as costs, suitable location as well as investment for sustainability. As the article below points out, wind power is popular yet expensive and inefficient when it comes to reducing C02 emissions. Another thing to note about wind power is that it is reliant on topography – a high land that serves as a platform to generate the energy – which is simply not practical in Sarawak due to the geography of the state. Solar power inherits a similar issue too, with cloud cover and rainforest weather, generating power is possible but just not effective. Hydropower though has been the go-to renewable for the state of Sarawak, where it definitely holds the advantage over solar and wind power. […]

    • sandra placco
      Apr 21, 2014

      we are learning about hybrid solar, wind and micro hydro power to get us off the grid on our Ky. farm. Though we don’t have super constant wind in our area – we do have a good place for solar panels as well as a good water source for micro hydro. I expect that by combining all three sources into the same battery bank that we could accomplish enough power. Still want to incorporate wind but not have a tower so tall that it would be difficult to maintain it. Any thoughts on using all three sources??? Sandra Placco

  4. […] barriers to implementation on a wide scale.First, all renewable energy sources, except for hydro-electric power, cost from two to five times what fossil fuel and nuclear energy costs, even when their […]

  5. Shuja Khan
    Nov 01, 2011

    yhanks very much for your research . I’m basicall working on PV system not research selling but as you mentioned already they are very expensive . What about SOLAR THERMAL which you said is the ultimate solution of electricity . how could we get this ?

  6. […] the overhangs from the cliffs shaded their homes from the Sun, and thus made it cooler.Just as with hydropower, solar energy began to wane as a conventional energy source as fossil fuels and nuclear energy […]

  7. […] of the implementation of local plans is to minimising the development costs of the micro hydropower projects.As several constraints are analysed simultaneously, over a large area within the plans, […]

  8. […] in the environment, renewable energy (RE) sources include wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, hydropower, biomass and landfill gas and energy from biodegradable waste. These sources will never run out and […]

  9. Hydro vs. Wind vs. Solar Power | Electrical Engineering Portal «
    Dec 13, 2010

    […] View original post here: Hydro vs. Wind vs. Solar Power | Electrical Engineering Portal […]

  10. Hydro vs. Wind vs. Solar Power | Electrical Engineering Portal | Solar Power How it Works
    Dec 13, 2010

    […] Read more here: Hydro vs. Wind vs. Solar Power | Electrical Engineering Portal […]

  11. V
    Dec 12, 2010

    Solar Thermal (not PV) with molten salt is the only technology that makes sense from efficiency, reliability and environmental impact point of view. Adding a combined cycle natural gas capability would make it extremely competitive financially as well.

    Hydro/Wind or Wind/Solar hybrids are obviously better performers that equivalents using only one technology but still quite inefficient and expensive as of now.

    • Edvard
      Dec 12, 2010

      Thank you for sharing! Interesting technology of storing energy in hot salt tanks. You’re right, superior performance can be achieved only with combination of two or more of power sources.

      Maybe its technology is expensive now, but it has the future in terms of development and usage. We’ll see…

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Electric Engineering, Electric Engineering. Electric Engineering said: Hydro vs. Wind vs. Solar Power? […]

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