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California Solar Panel Orientation – Where the West Was Won


alternative-21581_1280When installing solar systems north of the equator, the rule is to do so with the panels facing south. The point of this is to maximize the power generated by the panels, preferably by tilting the panels south by as many degrees latitude your location is from the equator.

But California, part of its wild, wild western tradition, just recently gave more incentives to west-facing panels.  The point of the new scheme is to generate more solar power at dusk, as people get home from work.

The California Energy Commission is giving 15 percent more rebates, around $500, for solar arrays facing west than those pointing south.  Studies showed that doing so can increase solar power production by around half as the sun sets, when power demand starts to peak (see the duck curve below).  CAISO-duck_curve

“Even though it is less energy on an annual basis, it’s more valuable from an air pollution perspective,” said David Hochschild, the Commission’s member who specializes in renewable energy.

This is in line with a study released in November by Pecan Street Research we previously featured on The Green Optimistic. According to the study, although south-facing solar systems produce more energy, those facing west produce the most usable energy.  75 percent of the power produced by west-facing panels is used on site.

Home developers in California are already offering rooftop solar systems as standard equipment to help buyers offset electric power costs.  This year, around a hundred thousand new homes will be built across the state, so the solar panel installation rebate is a big deal.

Though the rebate will most likely accrue to the developers, new home buyers will also benefit from the change. A lot of the power generated from west oriented solar panels is generated during peak hours, when power rates are also high. Since more power is generated then, the home demands less of the peak priced electricity from the grid, resulting in a lower electricity bill.

The Golden State may be the first to promote west facing solar systems, but it won’t likely be the last.  Just the same, you don’t need to be a gold prospector of old to go west.

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