An Objective Evaluation of Popular Alternative Energy Sources



The debate between conventional energy sources and alternative energy sources is ongoing that will only be exacerbated as the years go on. This is mostly due to the fact that more and more people are becoming aware that conventional energy sources, such as coal and oil, immensely pollute the environment. Coal and oil is relatively cheap, which is one of the reasons they have become the USA’s primary energy sources since the Industrial Revolution began. Now, as climate change and global warming are becoming more salient topics, US residents are wondering how these conventional energy sources could be replaced. In this article, we are going to honestly examine three alternative energy sources: solar, wind, and geothermal. Some aspects that are going to be focused on will be the true cost of these systems, savings potential, and overall pros/cons.

Introduction to Solar:

Solar energy has become increasingly popular over recent years due to it’s ease-of-installation and convenient placement. Recent improvements have made solar panels far more efficient than ever before, leading more and more homeowners to consider using the sun as an energy source.
Unlike other energy sources, there is no rotational force. Instead, solar cells within the panels convert sunlight in D/C energy, which is then inverted into A/C energy for household consumption.

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Installation costs:

Installation costs vary heavily depending on a number of factors. Roofs with a larger surface area will obviously bring higher installation costs, but will bring more energy and savings potential as well. Additionally, the government rebate for installing solar panels can often vary.

The cost to install a solar system is about $7-9 per watt, about $20,577 for the average households. Rebates tend to range from 10-20%, meaning that the final cost could be as low as about $15,000.

Savings Potential:

Within a 20 year span, the average household could save anywhere from 7K-30K depending on the area you live in , thanks to a solar-powered system. Maintenance costs generally tend to be in the hundreds and is required every few years depending on model.

Eligible homes:

For many households, solar may not be worth the cost. Houses which are far from the equator, under constant cloud cover (which scatters over 20% of rays), or under a source of shade are rendered significantly less efficient than areas such as South America or Africa. It’s best if the house is relatively far from tree lines and other structures (especially East and West of the house) to keep the horizon free and increase exposure time throughout as much of the day as possible.


-Available for most households

-Affordable for many households



-Performance dependent upon weather – As you’d expect, clouds heavily limit input

-Households beneath trees or in particularly cloudy areas will generate significantly less electricity

-Has extreme growth potential, leaving some homeowners to wait until even more efficient versions come out to purchase the addition

-Requires storage and an inverter, which takes up additional space on house

-Potentially vulnerable to weather damage/vandalism.

Introduction to Wind: 

Wind energy is unquestionably one of the most talked about energy sources when people discuss alternative energies and for good reason. It is quite simple how the utilization of wind energy works; once infrastructure such as wind turbines are built, they are used to harness the naturally occurring winds that happen on a daily basis. These winds can be used to power any type of entity that requires electricity. Not only is wind a clean and renewable energy source, but also it is by far one of the most abundant sources of energy available on Earth. Despite the immense benefits, there are some drawbacks as well, which are going to be explained in the upcoming sections.

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Initial costs:

Depending on the type of wind turbine that is being created, the initial bill would be anywhere from $80,000 to $4,000,000. If one is planning to install his or her own personal wind turbine, the total cost will end up at approximately $80,000 or more. On a larger scale, a commercial wind turbine, which would provide power to more than one household or business, the initial costs could total $3-4 million. For commercial wind turbines, that is obviously a large number but the bright side is the average person does not have to worry about paying for those initial costs. This is why wind energy is one of the most cost-effective energy sources because your average person could simply buy this energy from a company that specializes in producing wind energy. If someone decided to go this route, it would be very favorable to potential consumers because on average wind energy costs $.02 per kilowatt-hour. Therefore, the average consumer has choices; they could purchase their own wind turbine or buy the power through another company. It is important to note that if someone lives in the ideal area for wind energy, their electricity bill could potentially be reduced by 50-90%.

Maintenance costs/Lifespan:

Now, wind turbines do not last for a lifetime and they do require maintenance checks much like any other energy system. An average wind turbine is estimated to last for about 20 years before it needs to be replaced and maintenance checks are necessary every few years if not every year. These maintenance checks are not insanely expensive, though; most cost a couple hundred dollars.

Payback rate/Subsidies:

There is some conflicting data on the potential payback rate for wind energy systems. Some places estimate that large wind turbines payback period could be less than a year while others claim, depending on the capacity of the turbine, the payback period could exceed 10 years. Moreover, there are estimates that 10-15 kW turbines would pay for itself within 30-45 years. This is a primary concern of people that are hesitant to move away from our traditional energy systems, so it is important that we find more conclusive data on this issue. However, the lack of certainty on the payback period has not stopped the federal government from subsidizing this industry, as the government pours billions of dollars into the wind energy sector. In fact, from fiscal year 2010-2013 wind energy subsidies increased by 9% from $5.4 billion to $5.9 billion.


Clean source of power

– Renewable source of power

-Wind is an abundant energy source that is the largest source of new generating capacity

Wind is a cost-effective source of power

-One of the least expensive forms of energy once installed ($.02 per kilowatt-hour)

-Job creation

  • Wind energy is expected to grow by 108% over the next decade

-The economies of farms and ranches would benefit since that is where the turbines will most likely be installed


-Wind may not be provided on a consistent basis in some areas of the country

Visual impacts and the sound produced could be an annoyance to people living in the area

-Initial costs are high

  • Home wind turbines: $80,000
  • Commercial wind turbines: $3-4 million

Storms and other natural events could damage the turbines, thus potentially putting people at risk

-Wind turbines can only be set up in remote locations, so extra infrastructure would need to be built to reach residential locations

Introduction to Geothermal:

It is no secret that the Earth itself produces more than enough energy to meet all the world’s energy needs. Geothermal systems take advantage of this fact. Just like nearly every other source of energy out there, geothermal power is generated by utilizing steam to spin a turbine. However, unlike other systems, geothermal energy makes use of the energy naturally produced within the Earth. This is achieved in different ways by different systems, but they all work on the same general principle; they tap into Earth’s internal heat to either create steam, or access steam that occurs naturally within the Earth.

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Types of Systems available:

Personal Heating and Cooling Systems

One of the most popular and accessible uses of geothermal energy are home heating and cooling systems. While these systems do not produce electricity, they can be used to drastically reduce the energy use at your home. Geothermal heating and cooling systems work by tapping into shallow ground (around 10ft LINK!), to access natural temperature fluctuations. These systems take the place of conventional heating/cooling systems and can reduce your utility bills by 40-60%. While they do cost around twice as much as conventional systems to install (between $20,000- $25,000), they have a lifespan of around twice that of conventional systems (18-23 years) and will likely save you money over the course of  2-10 years. This is not even taking into account that if you live in the United States you will likely be eligible for a 30% tax cut. If you want to check to see if you are eligible, check out for state-by-state information and potential savings.

Energy Production Systems

Unlike other energy options, there are not geothermal power systems available for personal home use. This is due to the fact that installation of these plants is only economical for use on a large scale because of the massive energy production, as well as the costs of installation. While the cost of these systems varies greatly depending on where they are installed, they are technically viable options for everywhere on Earth. 


Provides a virtually endless supply of clean energy, which can be used everywhere on earth

-Saves money over time generally

-Would/could make energy a free (or close to it) public resource due to the fact that the supply would be endless

Virtually no cost fluctuations due to steady supply

-Generally environmentally friendly especially when compared to fossil fuels


In extreme cases, can cause earthquakes

Does release some greenhouse gases (much less than oil or coal though)

-High upfront costs

Much more difficult to access in some areas than in others.


–Contributed by: Frank Bursese, Bobby Amendola and Justin Mood


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