Installing solar panels is not an easy procedure, and it’s also not cheap. Since solar panels create energy by being exposed to sunlight, it makes sense that they should be set up to get a lot of it, right?
More exposure means more power generated, and the more power you generate, the more you can save on your utility bill every year.
Things get technical really fast, however. It leads us to question whether our homes are ready for a solar system installation or not.
We’ve gathered a lot of information on this one, and by the end of it, you’ll know exactly what to do before going solar.
Why Does Roof Pitch Matter?
Speaking in broad terms, the best angle for your roof is dependent on its steepness. A roof’s steepness is different depending on where you are in the world.
The steeper your roof is, the more sunlight can directly hit the panels. There’s also the amount of potential energy that can be gained just by adjusting the slope of the panel.
Going beyond a certain point has the opposite effect; creating more shade and becoming more vulnerable to winds.
You might also have heard about something called the “angle of incidence”, which is a technical term for the angle at which the sunlight reaches a solar panel. You need that angle to be close to perfect most of the time because different results can come from various angles.
What’s the Best Angle for Solar Panels?
Generally speaking, any angle between 45° and 85° is ideal for a rooftop solar system. These kinds of angles expose a lot of surface area for the photovoltaic cells to absorb as much sunlight as possible.
Homeowners with a roof pitch between these angles should see much higher levels of efficiency. Compared to the average levels, these are 25% more efficient.
Angles lower than 45° are still feasible, but they’ll yield less.
How Important Is Panel Orientation?
By now, we know that how solar panels are installed and which direction your solar panels are facing has a significant impact on how much sun exposure they get throughout the day.
For all of us living in the northern hemisphere, the ideal direction solar panels should be facing is south. In the southern hemisphere, panels should face north.
Getting the Most Out of Your Solar Panels
Let’s say your solar panels are facing either directly east or west. Chances are that they’re going to produce about 20% less electricity compared to the panels facing south.
You can still save money with this kind of setup but if the idea is to entirely cover your electrical usage by only using solar panels, you might have to consider installing more solar panels. This would be more than you need in a southern-facing setup.
Sure it’s possible to install solar panels on the northern side of your roof but it’s not ideal. In fact, you’ll need special mounting so that the panels can be tilted upward and oppose the slant of your roof.
The panels won’t be flush with your roof and still produce little reasonably small amounts of energy. If a north-facing roof is all you have to work with, it’s worth it to look into other installation options, like ground-mounted solar and carport installation.
What Factors Affect the Optimal Solar Panel Angle?
Loads of factors have an impact on the best angle your solar panels have. These factors include latitude, the design of your roof, and the time of the year.
The best roof for solar panels can depend a lot on where you live, particularly in the U.S. Solar panels rely a lot on the angle at which they’re installed because the angle optimizes the panel for the best sunlight exposure possible.
The best angle for a solar panel to be installed is either close to or the same as the latitude of your home. Depending on where in the U.S. you find yourself, the angle will vary.
Let’s look at cities like Portland (OR), Albuquerque (NM), Richmond (VA), and Miami (FL). If you had a map of the U.S. in front of you, you’ll have noticed that Oregon is located in the north-west; New Mexico in the south-west; Virginia in the north-east; and Florida in the south-east.
Portland’s optimal angle year-round is about 46°. The angles are different according to the season, too. In winter the angle goes up to 61°, and in the summer it can go as low as 31°.
Albuquerque is situated toward the center of the U.S., to the left of Texas. Here, the best angle on average is about 35°. In winter it can go up to 50° while it can go down to 20°.
Richmond, Virginia sits right on the eastern coastline, situated in the northeast. Here the best year-round angle is 37°, while the winter season needs an angle of 52°, and in the summer 22°.
Lastly, Miami, Florida. If you’ve noticed the pattern, then you’ll know where this is going. The best year-round angle sits at 25°, while the winter goes up to only 40° and the summer is down to 10°.
This perfectly demonstrates why latitude can influence the optimal angles of your solar panels. Having your solar panels tilted to match your state’s year-round average ensures the solar panels are getting enough exposure throughout the year.
The average roof has a slope that can range between 30° and 40°.
At this angle, solar panels can usually lie flat against it without needing to tilt it, and produce enough electricity to make a substantial return. However, some roofs can be steeper or lower.
Steeper roof angles make it difficult to install solar panels with standard racking systems. The steep angle could already be higher than the optimal angle for energy production.
In these cases, it’s better to simply install the panels flush against the roof.
Installing solar panels onto a low angled roof will need the necessary mounting equipment to have the panels tilted at the best angle. This could mean that there’ll be additional labor/installation fees.
Then there are homes with flat roofs.
Solar panels on flat roofs can generally be installed flush against the roof, although it really depends on the surface area you’ve got to work with. The standard procedure with a flat roof requires a racking system that mounts the panels.
Tilting your panels up to the best angle, in this case, could mean that the panels cast a shadow onto the others depending on where the sun is during the day.
Spacing the panels further apart solves this dilemma but if there’s no space to work with, it’ll be best to let the panels lie flat against the roof.
At this point, it might already be clear that seasons do have an impact on solar panels’ optimal angles. Typically, winter months needed a higher angle and summer months needed a lower angle.
Solar panels perform well no matter the season but winter and summer months both have their own disadvantages to be aware of.
During the winter you’ll most likely see a dip in the solar panel’s total production rate.
This is particularly prevalent during bad winter months when snow can end up covering parts of your solar system. One way to solve this is to have your solar panels tilted to a steeper angle.
Additionally, if you’d like to save on air conditioning during the winter or summer months we found that a metal roof with solar panels helps a lot to regulate indoor temperatures. This can help to shave off electrical usage on a space heater
The sun is usually much lower and closer to the horizon during winter. Having the solar panels tilted means that more of the panel’s surface can be exposed to the sun. As a bonus, accumulating snow can slide off of the panel much easier.
It’s best to work ahead and adjust your solar panels accordingly before the next season settles in.
Doing this saves you the trouble of making adjustments during the next season. It also guarantees that your solar panel maintains an optimal level of energy production.
As far as answers go, it’s not a single one. The best roof pitch by the average standard is about 45° to 50°. This is the most suitable angle for solar panels to perform optimally.
Although, we know that not all of us have what you’d consider “standard” roof pitches. Some of us might have lower or steeper roof pitches, each of which requires that certain conditions be met.
Steep roof pitches can’t use mounting racks, so the panels are laid flat against the roof. Lower roof pitches do need the mounting racks to be tilted at the best possible angle.
In the end, we’ll leave it up to you. Your roof, your solar panels. The best advice we can give is to assess what your roof looks like, and then use the information we provided to make an informed choice.
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