Is Wind and Solar Energy Free?

At some time or another most of us have heard of some new machine or gizmo that makes free energy. When we hear such an advertisement, then right away we should know it is an advertising gimmick.

Although there is no such thing as a free energy system, there is such a thing as a free energy source. In this lies the beauty of a wind turbine, solar panel, or solar thermal power system. There are no fuels involved for combustion, and they require very little processing of the energy source to make them work. In other words, their cost of operation is amost zero.

With the cost of fuel being zero, however, we should not confuse this with “free energy”. Solar power, wind turbine, and solar thermal storage systems involve up-front costs of manufacturing, installation, and in some cases periodic maintenance.

As an example, the manufacturing of photovoltaic solar panels uses an ultra pure silicone material and high tech assembly process. A lot of energy and specialized machinery is necessary to achieve the desired composition and purity of the material, and to put together a reliable assembly. The costs are significant.

Looking at it another way, then, installing these systems will help reduce our monthly utility bills to nothing, but this comes at the expense of the up front costs of manufacturing and installation. From the perspective of money, one would compare these up front costs against the future monthly bills incurred otherwise, and make the decision accordingly.

From a philosophical perspective, there are non-monetary benefits to energy independence. These include a greater sense of security and self sufficiency, lessening the impact on the environment, and promoting new age energy systems that benefit future generations. It depends on one’s judgement structure whether to move forward with a solar power or wind turbine installation strictly for financial reasons, or for a combination of the reasons mentioned above.

In summary, wind turbines, solar panels, and solar thermal power systems are three ways to tap a free source of energy. They should not be confused, however, with making free energy. We must consider the investments necessary for the design, manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of these systems and weigh them against the future savings and benefits.

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