Is Your Solar Panel Installed the Right Way?

Although few people would have noticed, the costs of solar photovoltaic cells have been dropping over the years. As the technology took off, costs plummeted in the first 12 years. However, between 2005 and 2009, global market demand surged, making it difficult for supply to keep up. As manufacturing picked up post 2009, solar PV cell prices have continued their downward trend steadily. Now, it makes sense for companies to switch to PV cells purely based on economics.

As solar grows to become a more attractive option, we see a clear preference in its adoption over adding new wind capacity. Navigant Research has predicted in their recent report that declining prices will result in the global solar PV market exceed $134 billion by 2020 – a phenomenal increase of 50% from this year. That means a solar capacity addition of nearly 435 Gigawatts.

However, getting the maximum benefit from solar PV cells requires mounting them the right way. As the sun traverses the sky in the daytime, the PV cells must either follow the trajectory of the sun or be mounted in the most optimum way for them to catch most of the sunlight. Automatically turning the PV cells to face the sun requires elaborate sensing and expensive movement mechanisms. Therefore, most people prefer fixed installations that are simple to put up and maintain.

Another thing to consider is the latitude tilt of the location where you intend to install the solar cells. If your location is below the 25 degrees latitude, tilt the solar panel towards the sun the same amount as the latitude number. At 25 degrees latitude, your panel must tilt by 25 degrees. Above 25 degrees, you will need to add five degrees for each additional five degrees of latitude up to 40 degrees. At and beyond 40 degrees latitude, add 20 degrees of tilt to the latitude number. The above is the general thumb rule people follow for solar PV panel installation. Consequently, most installations have the solar panels facing south to catch the maximum amount of sunlight.

Researchers at the Pecan Street Research Institute have discovered ways to additionally fine-tune the positioning and tilt of the solar panels to extract somewhat more power. During their research on impact of residential solar power on the power grid, they discovered that if the solar panels faced west rather than the customary south, they could generate about 2% more power.

So long, homeowners, utilities and architects believed that in the northern hemisphere, solar panels directed south would receive the maximum exposure from the sun. However, when studying home installations in Austin, Texas, Pecan Street researchers found that this was not true. In fact, they noticed south-facing panels generating less energy. They found west-facing panels generated more power in the afternoon, when the energy demand peaked.

As energy demand peaks, a typical home in Austin using solar panels reduces its reliance on the power grid by as much as 54%. However, for homes with west-facing panels, this number shot up to 65% – a significant power saving. Therefore, by merely shifting the angle, you may be able to achieve significant gain in solar power generation.