Which way is the right way for solar?

Uptake of Solar power has reached unprecedented levels in Australia in 2020. A leader in solar panels Newcastle explain that they have seen an increase is solar panel inquiries with a large amount of people being forced to work from home, many have decided to capitalise on solar power and cut their power costs.

What does your house need to have solar? Many of us know that solar panels are usually installed on your roof. But did you realise that there’s a precise science to work out which way will maximise the amount of power you can generate?

A direct north orientation has always been the optimum for rooftop panels in Melbourne, but that’s not always possible. So what if your panels don’t face north? Well east or west facing panels experience a 12% loss, north-east or north-west a 5% loss and south facing panels a 28% loss in output. However, if you can’t orientate your panels directly north, then placing them in multiple directions may help you to recover some of these losses

As far as the angles of your panels are concerned, you are most probably fine. Most roofs are between 15 degrees to 22.5 degrees, which is just under the optimum angle, but doesn’t result in much of a loss (only 4% for a 15 degree angle). For a flat roof, however, we seriously suggest that you install your panels on a tilt frame. Otherwise you can void your warranty and dramatically reduce not only your output, but your efficiency as well.

But what if you don’t have space on your roof? In many areas of Australia, the sight of solar panels on rooftops is now the norm, but what is not so common is the sight of solar panels installed vertically on the sides of buildings. An example of these panels can, seen in Antarctica at the Casey Research Station. This solar farm is the first large scale array installed on an Australian Antarctic research station and provides about 10% of the station’s energy requirements. The vertical configuration of these panels has helped to achieve the maximum solar gain, given that the sun rarely peeks over the horizon, so rooftop panels wouldn’t be suitable in this instance. Further to this the vertical installation reduces the ability for snow and ice coving these panels during colder months.

Adapting solar panels to a building is not a new concept and there are an increasing number of BIPV (building integrated photovoltaics) products coming on to the market. These modules not only generate solar power but can also be integrated into a building in place of the normal building materials. For example, Solar Plus has designed a range of solar rooftop tiles that can be installed by a regular roofer and there’s also a company that manufactures BIPV panels for solar façade cladding systems. As research advances and prices come down on BIPV products, it will become far more commonplace to see buildings covered in different types of integrated solar generating panels.

What are the pros and cons of vertical solar panels?

The big benefit is that you can access solar power in areas where it wouldn’t normally be possible to produce much output at all. However, it must be said that vertically orientated solar panels don’t produce as much power as rooftop configurations. In fact, there’s quite a big drop in output. That’s because when facing directly north in Melbourne, the optimum angle for solar panels is between 30 to 40 degrees. Panels that are installed vertically, however, even if facing directly north, will experience a 30% loss in energy production compared to rooftop panels configured at the above optimum angles.

Another potential problem with vertical panels is that they are currently a niche market, so their installation may be too expensive for most people. Replacement or maintenance might also be a problem on tall buildings, and their size and weight will also need consideration.

Whilst we are talking about vertical panels and their orientation, you might be concerned about the angle of your rooftop panels.