Solar Panel Mounting

There are several different techniques and strategies for solar panel mounting.  The strategy for mounting a solar panel depends on many case by case factors including the location of the system, the amount of sun available, the financial limitations, and more.  Here are the three most common ways to mount a solar panel in a home system:

Tracking Mounts:  Tracking mounts are an advanced PV system that utilizes a moveable panel system that will track the sun’s path through the sky.  These special panels are programmed to face easterly during the night time and then track the sun as it moves westerly across the sky until sunset.  Trackers will greatly increase PV production during summer months, but due to the lower and smaller arc of the sun during the winter, will not increase the PV production as greatly as it will during the summer months.  Tracking systems are very expensive to install and will have a higher maintenance cost that other fixed systems.

Ground Mounted:  The ground solar panel mounting system is a simple and inexpensive way of mounting solar panels.  They can either be mounted directly on the ground or on a small pole mounting system.  The advantages of this system are that the panels are easily accessible for maintenance and cleaning, especially during winter months when snow removal may be a requirement of maintenance.  The disadvantages are that the panels may be more susceptible to damage at the ground level, perhaps by cars or debris from lawn mowers.  Also, panels lower to the ground may be more susceptible to vandalism or theft, because they are expensive products.  Another obvious disadvantage is that the panels cannot move with the movement of the sun without an attached tracking system.

Roof Mounted:  Fixed roof  solar panel mounting systems are usually the least expensive of all the mounting options, and should always be mounted on solar south-facing roofs.  The advantages of roof mounting are the inexpensive cost and the lower probability of vandalism or theft.  A few disadvantages are that they are more difficult to access than ground mounted systems for maintenance and cleaning, and they are in a fixed position and unable to track the sun unless a special tracking system is installed.

Optimal Solar Panel Tilt:  The optimal solar panel tilt depends on your latitude and the time of year, both which determine the angles that the sun will shine at above the horizon.  A general rule of thumb is that the tilt of your panel should be equal to your latitude plus 15 degrees in the summer and minus 15 degrees in the winter.

Solar South:  Solar panel systems should always be facingsolar south to maximize sun exposure.  Solar south is not the same as magnetic south on a compass, solar south exists because the sun is always due south at solar noon, or when the sun is at it’s highest point in the day sky.  Solar south changes as your longitude changes.

One method of determining solar south is to find the exact local times of sunrise and sunset to determine the time of solar noon, then using a vertical object to cast a shadow at exactly solar noon, the shadow will be cast in the solar north-south direction.

Note: Solar South is only optimal for people living in the Northern Hemisphere, the opposite is considered for people living in the Southern Hemisphere, Solar North is the optimum direction for solar panels in the Southern Hemisphere.  One can find solar north using the same method described above for locating solar south.