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Solar Power Primer: Panel Tilt

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Solar Power Primer: Panel Tilt
Dec 03 2010 Published by Patrick Newell under Renewable Energy Technology If you have attended a Civitas Energy free solar seminar (hint, hint!), then you have heard Tw eet us stress the importance of panel tilt as it pertains to solar energy efficiency. To summarize, a solar panel at its optimum tilt can produce 22% more energy than the same panel laid flat on the ground (using the assumptions described shortly), which means you would need 22% fewer panels to offset your energy needs. But why, exactly, does the tilt of a solar panel impact its output? Is there an optimum tilt? Does it vary by location? The quick answers: 1) that’s complicated, so continue reading; 2) there sure is; and 3) it sure does. Optimum Tilt & Location NJ Bright Future

The prime tilt for a solar panel results when the face of the module is perfectly perpendicular to sunlight. Creating a perpendicular surface reduces the chance of the protective glass coating reflecting light away from the panel. Additionally, when a surface is not perpendicular, it has a smaller effective surface area. Here’s an example: take the nearest book, piece of paper, or even your keyboard. Hold it up so that it is perpendicular to your line of vision. Now start tilting it away from you; it appears smaller to more you tilt it, right? The actual ideal measurement varies by location; it varies by time of day; and it varies by time of year. Let’s make a few assumptions before discussing what the optimum tilt is going to be: 1. Our solar PV array is located in Princeton, NJ 2. Today is the Vernal Equinox (when the sun is directly above the equator) 3. It is noontime Given these assumptions, the optimal tilt for our solar panels is 40.3° degrees from the horizon. That was easy, right? Ok, ok, here is the explanation: our assumptions were carefully chosen such that the result is exactly equal to the line of latitude on which Princeton lies, 40.3°. So for those of you in Princeton with pitched roofs of 40.3°, congratulations, you have the perfect site for solar energy! Let’s clear this up with the image below. Photons of light are emitted from the sun on very close to parallel paths. At the equator, these photons hit the horizon a perpendicular angles, which is ideal (remember, we are assuming that it is the equinox). In Princeton, however, light hits at an angle, so we tilt our solar panels to create a perpendicular surface.

at its optimum tilt, a solar energy system may be 22% smaller than a system installed parallel to the ground

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