Solar Panel Direction, Orientation and Tilt Factors

For anyone who has owned solar panels in the past, or even many considering solar power installation in the near future, it’s generally understood that direction is important in this field. Specifically, the ability of solar panels to point south, where they will receive the maximum possible sunlight and therefore create the maximum amount of energy, is vital for many solar panel installations – but it’s important to realize that the simple direction of the panels is not the only important variable here.

At Intermountain Wind & Solar, we’re happy to offer both commercial and residential solar panel installation services, including the utilization of the Tesla Powerwall battery backup. We assist our clients with every part of solar panel installation, including important directional and related themes that will play a role in how much sunlight your panels are able to soak up. Today we’ll focus on some of the important variables here, including why south-facing panels are the optimal approach plus several other basic factors to keep in mind when it comes to maximizing panel positioning and direction.

South-Facing Importance

Firstly, while we’ll get into other related themes that also play a role here, the old adage that a south-facing direction for solar panels is ideal remains quite true. This is the direction one faces when looking for the most possible sun absorption, and therefore is the direction panels should be placed in so they can receive the maximum amount of sunlight.

Now, we do want to debunk a common myth here: It is not impossible to install solar panels if there’s no south-facing surface available on your property. While it’s possible said panels will not receive as much sunlight during the course of their operations, there are still numerous situations where the sun they do receive will still be enough to make their installation and use highly cost-effective, and you should still proceed.

Our next several sections will go over some orientation and tilt concerns that our professionals will also be keeping in mind while installing your solar panels.

Azimuth Orientation

When we speak about orientation, we’re talking about the angle at which the panels are sitting at compared to the sun’s location – which, of course, changes throughout the day. The goal is to align panels to maximize their exposure, and there are a couple different forms of orientation that might be used here.

The first is called Azimuth orientation, which refers to the compass angle of the sun as it moves through the sky during a given day. Technically speaking, Azimuth is calculated to be the angle from true south – at solar noon, the Azimuth angle will be precisely zero degrees. Azimuth angles to the east of due south will be negative, with true east holding an Azimuth angle of -90. West of south angles are positive, so due west will have an Azimuth angle of +90. It’s also important to note, however, that Azimuth angles will vary somewhat based on latitude and the time of year, and this will also be considered during solar panel installation.

Zenith Orientation

Zenith orientation, on the other hand, refers to the angle of the sun when you’re looking up at it from ground level or the horizon. As you might have guessed, the Zenith angle varies throughout the day, taking on an arc shape as the sun elevates the full way into the sky at midday and then recedes as the day goes on. These elevations will change between each given day between the summer and winter solstices, when days are longer or shorter.

These orientation formats can be combined and plotted onto what’s known as a solar chart. This allows you to locate the sun at any time of day during any month at any location, and these charts are commonly used during solar panel installation to find the ideal angle and orientation for the panels. You can purchase pre-made charts or diagrams if you’re interested in learning how they work ahead of your solar panel installation, or our team will be happy to detail them to you during installation.

Tilt Factors

Also important here is the tilt of the panels themselves, which is usually fixed but may also be adjustable. Adjustable models can be tweaked throughout the year to find ideal positioning or angling to receive maximum sun exposure – in some of these situations, the increase in power output found from making these adjustments just a few times each year will be as high as 30-40%. Tilt needs are found in close coordination with Zenith orientation, and the precise elevation of the panel will also play a role here.

Sun Exposure Themes

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t include one of the single most important factors at play here, and that’s simple sun exposure. If there are blockages or obstructions between your panels and the sun, whether in the form of trees and branches, buildings, structures or any kind of shade that blocks the panels for some period of the day, it won’t matter how well-positioned your panels are – you’ll get less power output simply because there are fewer hours in the day where it’s collected.

For this reason, ensuring there’s a clear line of sight to the sun for as many hours of the day as possible is vital for solar panel design and installation. While the occasional brief obstruction won’t necessarily doom your system to inefficiency, too much of this sort of thing could be a problem.

For more on orientation, tilt and other directional factors that play a role in solar panel installation, or to learn about any of our solar power services, speak to the staff at Intermountain Wind & Solar today.

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