Posted on Wed, 05/23/2012 - 07:13 PM by Bryan Nisperos
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Once you’ve decided to go solar, one of the next steps is figuring out the best location for your new solar panels on your roof. Your solar installer will help you pick the perfect placement, but in general there’s one big rule: if you’re in the U.S. (or elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere), your solar panels should face true south.
The more sunlight reaches your solar panels, the more electricity you can generate and the more money you’ll be able to save on your electric bill. If your panels face south, they’ll receive light throughout the day.
What’s the difference between south and true south?
When you look at a compass, it’s showing you magnetic south, not true south. What’s the difference? A compass points toward the south pole of the earth’s geomagnetic field. It’s the right general direction– but not exact. The earth has a fluid outer core, made of iron and nickel, that pulls the needle of your compass slightly away from true south. The “pull,” or magnetic declination, will vary in direction and strength depending on your location.
The site of solar panels should be based on true south, a.k.a. solar south or geographic south. To correct the compass reading, your solar installer will calculate the magnetic declination of your site. True north can also be calculated at noon, when shadows from vertical objects run north-south. Another simple method is to look at your house on Google Earth; after centering the image on your home, you can view the north-south gridlines Google provides. In the View menu, select “Grid”.
Where should I install solar panels if my roof doesn’t face south?
If your roof faces east-west rather than north-south, you have a few options. Solar panels facing east or west won’t get as much light as those on a southern-facing roof. One solution is to compensate by increasing the solar collector area, either using more panels or larger collectors. You may also be able to mount the panels on racks that orient them to face south, although this will be more expensive than a standard installation.
Another option is to mount the panels somewhere other than your roof. Although this is more unusual, some people choose to mount panels on a south-facing wall. If you have space in your yard, the panels can also be mounted on the ground. This is less expensive, and also gives easy access to the panels if you need to clean them, brush off snow, or do any other maintenance. Ground-mounted solar panels can even be placed on trackers, which adjust the position of the panels throughout the year in order to maximize the amount of sunlight reaching them. If ground or wall-mounted panels don’t work for you, solar panels can also be mounted on a building near your house, like your garage or a storage shed.
Any of these options can also work well if your roof faces south but happens to be heavily shaded from trees or nearby buildings.
What’s the optimal angle of solar panels?
After finding the best place to install your solar panels, your installer will select the ideal tilt. The angle is calculated based on your latitude. Although most people select a fixed position, it’s possible to adjust the angle based on the seasons to squeeze even more power out of your solar panels. We’ll explore the details of the best angle for solar panels in another post.
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