If you’re looking to add solar panels to your home, you probably know that they offer renewable, clean energy and can lead to substantial savings on your electricity bill. But installing solar panels alone isn’t enough — you want to position them in the best way for maximum efficiency.
The good news is that there are several ways to orient your setup so that your panels receive the most sunshine and generate the most energy.
The Basics of Solar Panel Orientation
Solar panels produce energy when sunlight hits them. When positioned optimally to face the sun, the angle and direction they face can change how efficiently they operate. If the light isn’t hitting them correctly, they won’t produce as much power as they could.
The optimal direction for your solar array is true south and at a tilt perpendicular to the sun’s rays. You should set the tilt with an angle equal to your latitude (the angle from the equator).
However, facing the panel toward “truth south” isn’t as straightforward as grabbing a compass and setting up the solar panel. The energy capture and ideal angle for your setup depend on several factors.
For one, you have to factor in what season it is. In the summer, when there’s more sunlight, you’ll want a shallower angle so that they can capture more light. In winter, however, a steeper angle will work better because there isn’t as much sun during those months. You should also consider obstructions like snow.
What Is the Best Direction and Angle for Mounting a Solar Panel?
When you’re deciding where to set up, there are a few things to keep in mind. The direction and the angle you tilt your panels greatly affect the power you can harness from the sun’s rays.
Solar Panel Direction
The best direction for your solar panels depends on where you live. When installing them in the northern hemisphere, they should face true south because that’s where the most direct sunlight is during the day. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so if you install your solar panels facing east or west, they won’t receive as much sunlight as those facing true south.
True south differs from magnetic south because its orientation depends on the location of the sun, not the earth’s magnetic field. The difference between the two is what’s called magnetic declination.
True north is always at the top of a compass, but true south varies depending on where you are relative to the equator. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, true south will point toward the southern part of your sky when looking up at night, and vice versa in the Southern Hemisphere.
For those relying on having enough solar energy to power their homes, rotating your panels to face southwest further maximizes the output of your solar panels. This direction lets the panels capture more light as the sun sets. Late afternoon and evenings are also when electricity use in the household tends to increase.
Solar Panel Angle
Tilting your panels at an angle that can best receive direct light perpendicularly to the sun optimizes the power output. The best way to determine the angle at which you should tilt them is to consider several factors that can interfere with their ability to collect sunlight.
The angle you tilt your panels will affect their performance, so it’s important to get this right. However, the direction they face has a more significant influence and should not be compromised.
What to Consider for an Optimal Solar Panel Angle?
The best way to determine the angle at which you should tilt your solar panels is to consider the latitude of your home, your local weather conditions, and the placement of your panels.
Geographical latitude plays a significant part in determining how much sun reaches your house. If you live near the equator, there won’t be much variation in seasonal sunlight exposure for most of the year. But as you move farther away from this zone of constant sunlight exposure, latitude becomes more important to consider.
The latitude affects how much sun reaches your solar panels, depending on their position relative to your location and the Earth’s rotation around the Sun.
A good rule of thumb when thinking about the vertical tilt of your panels is to position it at an angle equal to or slightly greater than your latitude. For example, if you live in New York City (40 degrees north of the equator), you should install your panels at a 40-degree angle from horizontal. If you live in Miami (25 degrees north of the equator), you should install your panels at a 25-degree angle from horizontal.
If you don’t know your latitude, you can find resources online that help you calculate your latitude.
2. Weather Conditions
Weather conditions and seasons play a role in deciding the tilt of your panels. If clouds in your area block sunlight for long periods, it might make sense to tilt them slightly away from the equator. That way, they can collect energy even when clouds are present during certain times of the year. It will also allow them to capture more light when clouds or other obstructions like mountains or buildings aren’t blocking the light.
The further north or south you go from the equator, the lower your sun will be in the sky during winter. Your panels should be more inclined at different times of the year if you want optimal production rates.
For example, in Boston (latitude 42°N), installing solar panels at 22° from horizontal would be ideal during winter when less sunlight is available (December – March).
You don’t want to go too steep because it reduces how much light hits the cells and increases shading from trees and other obstacles. That said, laying your panels perpendicular to the ground would also not be optimal because of the snow build-up.
3. Panel Placement
Placement is essential in getting the maximum power output from your solar panels. If you mount your panels on the roof, the roof’s design impacts a solar panel’s effectiveness.
For example, a flat roof shaded by other buildings or trees may not be as efficient as an angled roof with direct sunlight hitting it all day.
You can consider specialized mounting if you do not have an unshaded area on your roof, but this method limits how many panels you can install.
If you place your solar panels on the ground, the terrain and incline can play a part in a solar panel’s power potential. For example, placing your panels on grass may not be ideal if you’re somewhere with little sun exposure during certain times, such as the early morning or late afternoon. They won’t get enough sunlight during those hours due to shade.
That said, one advantage of ground-mounted panels is easy maintenance. Clearing the debris off panels on the ground is much easier than climbing on the roof.
How Much Does Solar Panel Orientation Affect Output?
The direction in which you place your solar panels significantly affects power generation. The orientation of your solar panels is critical in determining how much power you will generate.
In North America, solar panels facing south maximize their exposure to the sun and can generate more energy than those facing straight to the west or east.
Should I Consider a Portable Solar Panel Installation?
Portable solar panels are an excellent option for people who don’t have the ability or desire to install permanent panels. Portable panels are much easier to install and move around quickly. They also allow homeowners to transport their systems easily between homes or locations without worrying about the installation process each time they move.
Also, different seasons require different tilts, which can be difficult to adjust on fixed panels. Portable panels allow you to adjust easily according to weather conditions and the time of day. For more flexibility using solar power, portable solar panels are an excellent investment.
Keep in mind that solar panels capture the sun’s energy but to use that energy, you’ll need to connect your solar panels to a device like the DELTA solar generators for high-wattage home backup or the River 2 solar generators for more portable applications.
Another option is to look for modular power kits or a smart home ecosystem to integrate a whole solar array into your home’s electrical wiring.
Frequently Asked Questions
The answer to this may depend on the peak power usage times in your home, but ideally, for maximum power generation, south or southwest is the best direction. East or west-facing panels will only have limited exposure during sunrise or sunset.
The hemisphere also affects orientation. South-facing panels generate more electricity than if they were facing north, east, or west. In North America, the south-north axis is more conducive to maximum energy efficiency. If positioning your panels true south is not feasible, just face them in that direction as best as possible.
Although the orientation of your panels has more impact on energy production than the angle of your solar panels, tilting your solar panels can improve efficiency output.
North Americans live north of the equator, so to generate maximum power, you ideally want the panels to face true south or slightly southwest to get the most sun exposure. That said, you might not always be able to achieve this. In that case, look for a bifacial portable solar panel that can capture direct and ambient light and enhances energy production.
Getting the Most Out of Your Solar Panel Setup
Sunlight is the most abundant energy source on earth, but it’s not always available at the right time or place. With a few considerations, you can determine precisely where to place your solar panels to get the most sun exposure and maximize savings on your electric bill.
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