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What is the best direction for my solar panels?

4 min read

When you’re thinking about getting solar panels to adorn your rooftop and power your home, there’s a lot to consider. Apart from how much power each panel can produce, how many panels you’ll need, what size, and how well they’ll work with your rooftop, you’ll also want to consider the best direction for solar panels to face.

As you might have guessed, the direction your panels face can be a major factor in how much energy your rooftop solar system produces. In this post, we’ll talk about a couple of options for solar panel positioning based on the rate structures at different utility companies.

What is the best direction for my solar panels?

The traditional advice is to position solar panels to be south-facing. This is because, for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is always along the southern part of the sky as we complete our yearly orbit around it. This being the case, the general best practice to date has always been to position solar panels facing south in order to capture the maximum amount of sunlight overall.

Generally, it’s common knowledge in the solar industry that these south-facing panels should be tilted between a 30- and 40-degree angle. This angle varies and is just about equal to the latitude of your home (how far north you are in relation to the equator).

The reasoning behind this angle specificity is to ensure sunlight hits panels at a perpendicular angle, which produces the most energy. An angle along these lines also helps snow to slide off of solar panels more easily during winter in the northern latitudes.

Some rooftops slope just about perfectly in a way that lets installers secure the panels flush against them and still be at a great angle for capturing the sun’s energy. Other rooftops might be steeper, or some others are flat. Depending on the type of roof you have, there are different mounting systems to help position your solar modules so that they can produce at their best.

Why you might consider west-facing solar panels

South-facing panels work well when you have a standard tier-based rate structure with your utility company. This rate system charges you based on how much energy you use on average. If you’re a big-time energy user, you’re charged a higher rate than those who use less energy overall.

If you have a time-of-use (TOU) rate structure, then west-facing panels might make more sense. This is because time-of-use rates mean you will be charged more for electricity during peak use times, rather on usage volume.

Peak use times are when most people will need and use power. For most places, this is highest in the late afternoon or early evening. This is because it’s generally when we return from school or work and run the AC, cook dinner, do homework, watch TV, and any other activities that might require electricity for light and other power needs.

During this time, the sun will be heading toward the western horizon to set. If your solar panels face west, you’re able to capture the sunlight during the most critical time for the best energy production.

The advantage here is that you can use the power that your panels are producing live. When you do this, you avoid the need to pull extra energy from the grid, which means you won’t be charged the higher utility rates.

The difference can be a big one when you consider that it’s possible to generate 49 percent more power during peak electricity needs in time-of-use areas with west-facing panels.

Of course, another way to work around time-of-use rates is by installing a solar backup battery. With a battery, you can store energy during the hours when sunlight is hitting your solar panels the most, whether they’re facing south or west. Then you can use that stored energy when you want to avoid high utility rates.

Talk to a pro about the best solar panel direction for your home

You don’t have to make this decision on your own. While we can’t predict the future, we here at Vivint Solar are always up-to-date on what’s to come in the utility sector. When we know what’s on the horizon in your area, we’re able to serve and advise you on making the best decision to save you more.

Even if you don’t have TOU rates where you live at the moment, they could be on the horizon. We are solar pros and can help you navigate the options for sizing, positioning, and even the best ways to save with tax breaks and incentives when you go solar.

See how much solar could save you!

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