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Best Angle And Orientation For Solar Panels

If you're thinking about equipping your roof with a solar power system, it's natural to question how to optimize its energy generation. The correct tilt and orientation of the solar panels can significantly enhance their efficiency.

Yet, there's no one-size-fits-all answer since the optimal angle can differ based on the specificities of your property and its location.

Published: August 31, 2023.

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Tailoring solar panel setups is essential, considering factors such as your geographical location, local weather conditions, roof design, shadows from nearby trees, and your project's budget and objectives.

Improvements of just a few percent may lead to significant savings over a long time.

Orientation vs. Angle: Which Holds More Weight?

Two of the most impactful determinants of efficiency are the orientation and angle of the panels.

While there are intricacies in determining the precise angle for solar panels, it's actually their orientation that plays the most pivotal role. In essence, the right direction in which the panels face is crucial.

Having the panels oriented incorrectly can lead to them missing out on optimal sun exposure, causing a significant dip in energy production. Comparatively, even if the angle isn't perfect but the orientation is right, you'll generate more power than if it were the other way around.

Transitioning to solar panels can be a game-changer in both enhancing your home's efficiency and minimizing its environmental impact. Beyond potential cost benefits, there's a spectrum of factors influencing the decision to go solar.

Though a competent solar company can guide and execute the right setup, having a foundational understanding can be beneficial.

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Why Do Solar Panels Need an Angle?

To maximize energy output, solar panels should be positioned directly facing the sun.

Consequently, your geographical latitude plays a pivotal role in pinpointing the best angle. For instance, in a large part of the U.S., the panels are typically installed at angles ranging from 30 to 45 degrees, mirroring the latitude of that specific location.

While many solar setups are stationary, maintaining their position day in and day out, some utilize tracking systems that pivot to always face the sun optimally.

Others are manually adjusted according to the season. While tracking systems can enhance the energy yield, they also necessitate more maintenance.

The direction your panels face is vital for optimal solar yield. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, aiming your panels southwards is the key.

A slight east or west orientation won't harm too much. However, a direct east or west orientation might cut your production by roughly 20%.

Pointing your panels directly north can significantly impede their efficiency unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere - if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you will point your panels directly north to improve energy production.

Hence, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere and if a north-facing roof is all you've got, it's wise to consider other spots, like a garage rooftop or a ground-mounted setup.

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What's the Best Angle for Solar Panels?

Latitude is a key determinant for the ideal solar panel tilt. When crafting a solar system design, installers use this as a primary reference.

Typically, the most effective year-round angle for your solar panels mirrors your latitude.

This means that for residents in northern regions, a steeper angle is more suitable. For instance, a solar system in Washington, Wisconsin, or New Hampshire would likely perform best at an angle of around 45 degrees. Meanwhile, systems in states like New Mexico, Louisiana, or Florida would be more efficient closer to a 30-degree tilt.

The sun's position varies with the seasons, being higher during summer and lower during winter. To determine the most efficient year-round tilt, solar professionals average out the optimal summer and winter angles. Consequently, the chosen tilt of your panels influences seasonal power output.

To elaborate, a steeper angle can be beneficial if you're aiming to maximize energy production during the winter months due to the sun's lower position in the sky.

However, many solar professionals focus on maximizing annual energy output, especially in regions with net metering, when deciding on the tilt. If you're operating an off-grid solar system and require substantial winter energy, a more pronounced tilt may be the way to go.

Solar tracking systems may increase complexity and maintenance costs, but they may also increase energy production sufficiently to justify their use. On the other hand, no tracking system means very simple construction.

Perhaps the best of these two worlds are systems where solar panel azimuth is fixed (south on Northern Hemisphere), but the angle is manually changed 2-3 times per year, depending on the season - such systems are not as complex as automatic tracking systems, but they also improve energy production when compared with fully fixed solar panels.

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Choosing the Right Angle for Your Solar Panels

Several considerations influence the optimal positioning of your solar panels:

Your Roof's Characteristics

The structure and attributes of your roof play a significant role.

Typically, panels are mounted parallel to your roof, but for flat roofs, they're often set at an angle using metal, mostly aluminum, racks.

Features like shade, dormers, skylights, vents, and chimneys can affect both the usable space for the panels and the energy they generate.

Seasonal Weather Patterns

Your regional weather conditions determine the best angle and direction for your solar setup.

For instance, if morning fog is common in your location, an east or southeast-facing system might yield less power. In snow-prone areas, a steeper tilt can assist panels in shedding snow efficiently.

Your energy consumption can also fluctuate with the seasons and weather. Cold weather might decrease the efficiency of electric vehicles, requiring more power for charging. Conversely, frequent use of air conditioning could spike your energy needs during warmer months.

Your Geographical Location

Your geographical location influences the ideal tilt of your solar panels due to its effect on your latitude. It also affects your 'sun number,' a scoring metric that evaluates your home's solar energy potential.

This score considers various elements, including local climate, electricity costs, roof orientation, roof size, etc.

Finding the Best Solar Panel Angle Using Your Zip Code

To pinpoint the best tilt for your solar panels, simply search on Google for the latitude linked to your home address or zip code.

Generally, the optimal angle for your panels is roughly equivalent to your home's latitude. Yet, it's important to note that the ideal angle varies throughout the year.

During the summer or warmer periods, subtract 15 degrees from your latitude for the best tilt. Conversely, for winter or cooler months, you'll want to add 15 degrees to your latitude for optimal positioning.

Thus, systems with manual angle change feature two or three positions that differ ~15 degrees from the central position, which is (or should be) your latitude.

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Solar Panels Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Here are a few of the most common Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about solar panels:

Should solar panels be flat or angled?

To improve energy collection, solar panels should face south (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere) and at an angle equal to your latitude.

However, in many situations, roof-mounted solar panels are in a fixed position, parallel to the roof.

Sometimes, the simplicity of the design allows the owner to mount a few more solar panels to compensate for non-ideal solar panels' angle and orientation.

What's the optimal tilt for my solar panels?

In the U.S., a tilt of 30 to 45 degrees is typically ideal. However, for homeowners concerned about the appearance, it's worth noting that many systems on sloped roofs are mounted flush - parallel to the roof, as close to the roof as possible.

It's best to get advice from your solar provider for tailored recommendations.

Which direction should my panels point?

The gold standard is to have panels facing true south. However, roof orientation can impact this.

If panels are directed southeast, they'll yield more in the morning but less in the afternoon. Conversely, southwest-facing systems will generate more during the afternoon.

What if my roof isn't south-oriented?

Even if your roof doesn't have a southern orientation, solar panels can still be a smart choice.

However, it's advisable to avoid a northward direction. For roofs facing east or west, incorporating a few more panels can offset the diminished energy production that comes with not having a south-facing alignment.

Are solar trackers beneficial for my panel setup?

Solar trackers are more common in ground-mounted systems than rooftop ones. While they do boost power generation, they also raise both costs and maintenance needs.

A stationary system, without tracking, has the advantage of fewer moving parts, thus needing minimal upkeep.

Is it worth tilting your solar panels?

Yes, it is - mounting solar panels at a certain angle improves sunlight exposure, improving energy production.

However, if you should go with solar panel systems with fixed or adjustable angles, that depends on numerous, very specific conditions.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to follow the KISS principle - Keep It Simple & Stupid.

And when you learn a thing or two over the years, you can switch from one system to another.

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Few Final Words

The design of your solar system plays a pivotal role in influencing your energy output for years to come.

The direction (azimuth) and tilt of your panels are among the most crucial elements. Mounting them at an excessively steep or overly flat angle can reduce your overall production throughout the lifespan of your setup.

Also note that your solar panel setup must adhere to local rules and laws - if unsure, perhaps the best course of action is to contact certified local contractor(s) and let them do all the work, design included!