Solar Panel Installation
At the heart of every solar power system are the solar panels, no matter how good the quality of the panels used they will not deliver the PV goods if they are not correctly installed.
Solar panels must be installed correctly to gain the maximum amount of sunlight possible for their location.
Solar panels should only ever be installed by a fully licensed electrician who is accredited by the Clean Energy Council with the Solar PV Accreditation, remember we are dealing with an electrical appliance so the same rules apply with solar PV systems as they do with any electrical hard wired installation.
Is your roof or proposed area where you want to use solar panels suitable?, is there enough sunlight to make installing solar panels viable?. The best and probably the only way to get a real idea of this is to take several visual inspections throughout the day, obviously the PV panels need direct sunlight to function and how much sunlight and at what angle is important.
If you live on a wide open plane with no hills or trees then you should have no problem as that's the ultimate solar location, at the other end of the scale living at the bottom of a deep valley surrounded by tall mountains and trees there may only be a few short hours of good solar power generating sunlight each day, further more the changing angle of the sun at different times of the year may further complicate things, you can only take a look yourself to gauge this.
Solar Panel Mounting Angle
Fist of all the best direction on the compass when living in the southern hemisphere for solar panels to be facing is North, this will provide the optimal exposure to sunlight as is possible all year round, if your home has a north facing roof space then that's the best place to install your solar panels. If your roof faces to the NW or NE then the power loss will be negligible at around -2.9% to -4.1% not a major issue, if your roof is facing in a Westerly or Easterly direction the loss in power could be anywhere from -14.9% to -21%. If the only option you have is a South or SW, SE facing roof its not the end of the story, if the roof angle is shallow your installer may be able to compensate with mounting frames to flatten the panel angle out.
The best angle for a solar panel to be facing the sun is 90° however to achieve 90° at all time is not possible with a fixed panel mounting so we need to calculate the best solar panel angle based on latitude. The reason that latitude is the basis for solar panel angle calculation is that it represents the angle of the sun halfway between the middle of winter and the middle of summer, therefor your latitude will give you the best all year round sunlight.
Solar panels can also be optimized to produce more power at different times of the day, for example a North facing panel could be tilted Easterly for more power before to midday, or in the opposite direction Westerly generating more power after midday, it really comes down to your specific choice or needs. Another example could be a business that operates between 8am and 12pm, generating solar power after closing time would be useless, in this case you would want an Easterly tilt to maximize power around 10am.
Sunlight is more powerful when it is directly overhead and hitting the earths surface or a solar panel at an angle of 90° such as at midday in summer, so keeping the sunlight striking the surface of the solar panel close to 90° is desirable for maximum efficiency.
When the sun shines on an angle the same amount of sunlight is spread out over a wider area so the amount of energy is reduced, there is also a reduction in energy reaching the Earth due to atmospheric filtration because the sunlight is now traveling through more atmosphere.
Because the sun shines at different angles at different times and locations it is necessary to tilt the solar panel to face the sun and bring the angle of the sun closer to that magic 90° angle.
Solar Tracking Systems
Some solar panels are equipped with a solar tracking device that constantly adjusts the angle and direction of the panel to always be at the maximum power generating position. These types of systems are usually but not always employed on ground mounted systems and can make a big difference in energy output depending on how far from the equator the system is installed.
Racking and Mounting Systems
The quality and build of the hardware used to mount solar panels in their operating position is important, also is the manner and aspect of the panels in relation to catching the wind, care should be taken not to create a situation where the panels could come unstuck in a high wind event like a storm or cyclone. Placing a large flat rigid object where it can catch the wind and it will act just like a sail, the last thing you want so see in a storm is your solar panels tumbling down your street.
It is advisable to use only good quality racking and mounting brackets that are well suited to corrosion resistance, especially near the ocean with exposure to salty air and constant strong gusts of wind.
In Australia strict regulations and guidelines apply to the installation and mounting of solar panels, this can vary between the different states and territories and does so due to the variation in local environmental conditions, in particular the northern areas of Australia have a much higher risk of exposure to high winds and cyclones meaning building codes must take these factors into account. Be sure to check that your chosen solar panel installer is accredited with the Clean Energy Council, this should ensure that she or he is well aware and will adhere to the standards for your state or territory.