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How to Maximise the Efficiency of PV Panels: Should they Face South or West?

Despite what the Telegraph’s headlines suggest, south-facing solar panels generate more power than those facing west. But why are sections of the media and a small group of scientists rooting for west-facing panels?

Sensationalist Headlines

Telegraph managing editor Keith Perry says that according to energy experts, “thousands of people have spent vast sums of money installing eco-friendly solar panels but most will have probably had them fitted facing the wrong way.” As is often the case, probably is the key word here. Turns out that south-facing solar panels actually generate more electricity than west-facing solar panels, and whilst Perry probably knows this, his headline suggesting that the opposite is true is much more newsworthy, though also a little misleading.

The whole west is better than south argument first made waves back in November 2013 when a report from the Pecan Street Institute found that west-facing solar panels generated more electricity than south-facing solar panels for twenty four houses in Austin, Texas, but only over a three-month period. The same report concludes that over the course of a year south-facing solar panels provide “more total energy than other orientations.” Question marks have since been raised as to the report’s validity due to small sample size.

What’s the Argument for West?

West-facing solar panels don’t produce a higher energy yield than south-facing solar panels, but there is some credit to the idea that a mix of west-facing solar panels and south-facing solar panels might be better for the country in general. In Germany, the world leader for solar energy, so much energy is generated by solar panels at midday that the grid struggles to handle it. The German government is now advising people to build east and west-facing solar panels so that solar energy can be generated more evenly throughout the day

The same situation is occurring in Cornwall. Many people have built solar panels in the sunny Southwest and the grid is unable to handle any more energy. As such, they’ve had to reconsider construction for the time being. So whilst the individual homeowner gains more power from a south-facing solar panel, in places that already have a lot of solar panels it’s better for the grid to build east-facing or west-facing solar panels. It’s also worth considering that west-facing solar panels generate most of their energy in the afternoon, which is when demand for electricity generally peaks.

The government’s current feed-in-tariffs (FIT) pay out to homeowners based on the amount of electricity that they generate for the grid, with a typical system in the South of England generating an income of £330 plus savings annually. A homeowner with a south-facing panel will earn more through FIT than a homeowner with a west-facing panel. Unless the government changes the incentive system to reward west-facing solar panels, it’s unlikely that very many homeowners will opt for a less efficient, less financially rewarding placement of their solar panel.

What else to Watch out for?

In addition to to choosing a south-facing orientation, there are a number of other ways to maximise the efficiency of your PV solar panels:

  • Make sure that there are no shadows on your panels.
  • Make sure that there isn’t a layer of dust on your panels.
  • Keep your panels at the right temperature.
  • Although FITs are a nice source of income, it makes more financial sense to try and use the electricity that you generate, rather than sell it to the grid. If you have a south-facing grid, set your appliances to go to work at midday when you have plenty of solar energy available.

Of course, the most efficient way to use you PV panel is to get a fully automated solar tracking mount. This kind of mount follows the sun as it moves through the sky, so your panel is always facing the best possible angle. However, these kind of rigs can be expensive, so until the price comes down your best bet is probably sticking with a south-facing panel!

Are you interested to know how much money you could save with renewable energy? You can either keep reading our blog, or speak to a member of the team at 01621 827015.

Immersun solar hot water heater

Solar Heating Installation Explained

Solar heating systems use the sun’s natural energy to generate hot water for your home and cut your water heating bill by up to 60%. If you already know how solar heating systems work, then it’s time to find out about the installation process too.

What are the Costs of a Solar Heating System?

The installation costs for solar heating systems have dropped dramatically over the last few years, and UK demand has never been higher. Costs vary considerably from household to household, so getting a quote from a trusted local installer is the best thing to do. When you get a solar heating system installed you may also be eligible for money back through the government’s renewable heat incentive scheme.

Location is Very Important for Solar Panels

Location is the most important factor to consider when installing solar panels. For best results, solar panels should be installed on a south-facing roof at a 30 to 50-degree angle. It’s important to consider shading too, as this can inhibit performance. Chimneys, satellite dishes and plants should not cast a shadow over your panels. Most solar panels work without problems for decades, but maintenance is another thing to bear in mind when deciding on a location. You may want to check your panels for leaks or other faults every year or so, but this can be difficult when your panels are on the roof.

Planning Permission Isn’t Necessary for Most Domestic Solar Panels

Good news! For the vast majority of domestic solar panels under a certain size, you don’t need to apply for planning permission. However, if you live in a listed building, a conservation area or a world heritage site you might be an exception. You can get in touch with the Energy Saving Trust for more information about solar panels and planning permission.

What Needs to be Installed for a Solar Heating System to Work?

In addition to the panels themselves, a solar heating system requires pipework, a thermostat and a hot water cylinder. Fortunately, it’s usually possible to add a solar heating system to an existing hot water system, although you may need either an additional cylinder or a twin coil installed. Older combination (combi) boilers do not work with solar hot water systems, though a good number of the newer models are acceptable.

Choosing the Right Solar Panel Brand

It’s important to choose the best solar panel brand when installing a solar heating system. There are plenty of cheap solar panels on the market, but as solar hot water systems are a long term investment, the cheapest option probably isn’t the best option. You want a system that has the durability to last for decades. LG is an excellent brand whose solar panels come with an outstanding reputation and a twenty five year power output guarantee. They have also just upgraded their Mono X Black solar panels from 250W to 270W, generating more energy for you for the product’s entire lifetime. Dimplex is another brand that has an exceptional reputation for affordable heating products. They are also constantly innovating, so you can be sure that they have an efficient system.

If you have any questions regarding solar heating installation or thermal fitting in Essex and the surrounding area, you can talk to a dedicated member of our team on 01621 827015.