How Much Sun Do Solar Panels Need: Experts Weigh In on Renewable Energy
Solar energy is fast becoming a significant energy source for millions of Americans nationwide. Today, the nation produces enough electricity from solar to power 24 million homes. While this industry is still in its infancy, its fast growth means it will become one of America’s largest energy sources in the decades to come.
But how much sun do solar panels need to function? That is a question that often confuses people because they believe that you either need direct sunlight or nothing. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In this guide, we’ll answer questions like, “Do solar panels need direct sunlight?” and “How much sunlight solar energy is required to power your home?”
Do Solar Panels Require Direct Sunlight?
All solar panels work best when exposed to direct sunlight. Naturally, prolonged exposure to the sun’s powerful rays will generate more electricity. And in some states, you may be able to generate a small side income by selling excess energy back to the power companies.
That is one reason why 67% of homeowners say they would be interested in installing solar panels.
So, two main factors determine how the shade will impact your solar panels.
The Amount and Duration of Shade
Panels that spend longer in the shade will generate less electricity. However, sunlight and shade vary dramatically throughout the day and between seasons.
For example, if you live in Pennsylvania, you may experience days without direct sunlight during the wintertime. But they may spend days receiving large amounts of direct sunlight in the summer.
Likewise, if your roof points to the east, you may only receive enough sunlight to generate electricity in the morning. In the afternoon, your solar panels don’t receive enough sunlight because the sun points from the west.
But just because you don’t get sunlight all day doesn’t make your home ineligible for solar panels.
Solar inverters transform Direct Current (DC) electricity into Alternative Current (AC). The latter is the type that powers your home.
Homes have one of two types of inverters: string and microinverters. If you’re using a central string inverter, shade on a single panel will impact electricity output for your whole solar system. On the other hand, microinverter-equipped solar systems will only affect the panel in the shade, whereas the rest of the system can continue producing electricity as usual.
Do Solar Panels Need Direct Sunlight or Just Light?
The good news is that solar panels can work in cloudy weather. If you live in the New England region, you already know that cloudy weather is a standard part of the region’s weather pattern.
So, do solar panels have to be in direct sunlight? No, because while clouds will limit the sun’s energy, your solar panels still receive some of the sun’s rays.
Over the years, solar panels have become more adept at harnessing the sun’s power on cloudy days, and we expect it to continue to improve in the years to come. That underlines the importance of spending a little more on high-performance solar panels.
Solar Batteries Store Energy
All renewables suffer from the problem of downtime. Whether wind, tidal, or solar energy, you cannot expect your system to produce energy every minute of the day.
For this reason, solar batteries are an essential part of your solar system. Installing a solar battery gives your home power, even when it’s cloudy or rainy.
Today, a single lead-acid battery costs between $200 and $800, with the average home requiring an 8 kWh battery to store adequate energy. On a side note, solar batteries are an excellent insurance policy for your home because you can rely on them even when there’s a power outage in your area during bad weather.
How Much Sun Do Solar Panels Need?
Over time, solar panels have needed less direct sunlight to generate electricity because of advancing technology. But you likely still have questions, including:
- Do solar lights need direct sunlight, and if so, how many hours’ worth of sunshine?
- Is my home viable for solar energy?
- How many hours of sun do I need on average?
Today’s solar systems require four to five peak sun hours to function. Naturally, this is highly unlikely in the New England region in winter. Despite this, Boston, Massachusetts, still enjoys 200 sunshine days on average yearly, making solar systems viable throughout the year.
However, not all types of sunlight are equal. The definition of peak sun hours means an average of 1,000 watts of power per square meter. If you’re not getting at least four peak sun hours daily, your solar system cannot perform to your expected standard.
How Weather Affects Solar Power
The US is well-equipped for solar energy. One study found that the entire country could receive a permanent, uninterrupted power supply with 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels, equivalent to a tiny corner of Nevada or Texas.
While these parts of the US may receive near-constant sunshine, the same cannot be said for states like New Jersey. But do solar panels need direct sunlight to charge? Changing weather patterns will impact the efficiency of your solar panels, but even with ambient light, they can produce electricity with less-than-ideal weather.
Let’s discuss how different weather types will impact your solar panels.
Solar panels always work best in direct sunlight but also perform when it’s cloudy. Solar panels can produce 30% and 50% of their capacity on overcast days.
However, their performance hinges upon their efficiency rating. Cutting-edge solar panels will always make more electricity in cloudy conditions.
Does a ring solar panel need direct sunlight? While the answer is no, you may be worried about what happens if you live in an area with regular rainfall.
Solar panels can still work because sunlight can poke through rain clouds. In these cases, you may get up to 20% of your usual energy output during a rainstorm.
One upside of rainfall is that it can help you out with maintenance. Solar panels get dirty and grimy during the summer, so some much-needed rain can clean and restore efficiency.
The sun never disappears. Even during the winter, sunlight can continue to make its way through the clouds. Moreover, below-freezing temperatures don’t prevent your solar panels from functioning.
Solar panels absorb light, not heat, so the outdoor temperature doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that sunlight continues hitting the panels.
You can expect a 10% to 20% decrease in total energy production capacity. You may need other energy sources to keep your home running during bad winters.
How to Get the Most Sunlight Possible for Solar Panels
Solar panel efficiency depends on a range of factors, including where your home is located, the position of the panels, and the environmental conditions. Two homes in the same neighborhood may get different performances from their solar panels.
But there are ways you can improve solar panel performance to get the highest energy production possible. You now know the answer to “How much sun do solar panels need?” This section will introduce you to ways to maximize your sun exposure.
Install Solar Panels in the Best Location
Location is everything for solar panels. Where your home is located and how you position your panels will determine how much energy it can realistically produce.
Since you live in the northern hemisphere, your panels should face south because that’s where the sun will always be. If your home faces east or west, you’ll experience a 20% drop in energy production.
In contrast, north-facing homes are a problem for solar panel systems as the sun is on the opposite side. That could make the system viable if you have land to install standing solar panels.
Choose the Right Angle
The angle of your panels is the vertical tilt. Understanding the proper inclination is tricky because it depends on your location and the time of year.
Generally, the angle of your panels will increase as you move further away from the equator. That is because if you’re closer to the equator, the sun will be higher in the sky. It’s why solar panels in Pittsburgh will have more tilt than in Miami.
So, how do you determine the correct tilt?
Technically, you can discover the optimal angle using your ZIP code. That can tell you the latitude of your home, and the latitude of your home roughly should be what the tilt of your solar panels is.
Of course, your tilt will change based on the seasons. As a rule of thumb, your tilt should be 15 degrees minus your latitude during the summer. In the winter, your tilt should be your latitude plus 15 degrees.
Any obstructions can impact how much sunlight your solar panels receive. For example, if an overhanging tree branch is nearby, trim it down to give your solar panels more sunlight exposure.
After all, there’s a reason why most solar panel systems are installed on your home’s roof rather than in the yard.
Before installing solar panels, evaluate your property to determine whether anything could cast shade on your roof. A professional installer will do this when planning your new solar panel system.
Invest in a Solar Tracking System
The purpose of a solar tracking system is to orientate your solar panels as the sun moves through the sky. These advanced systems can follow the sun’s movements and adjust so that your solar panels are always in the optimal location.
Solar tracking systems are traditionally a tool installed with commercial and industrial solar PV systems because of their cost. However, as the technology has improved, prices have come down for residential solar PV systems.
So, how much can a solar tracking system increase your energy production?
It all depends on the type of solar panel tracker you have. A single-axis tracker with a tracking motor can increase energy production by 30%. On the other hand, dual-axis solar trackers can increase energy production by 40% because they will follow the sun as it moves from east to west and north to south.
The problem is that solar tracking systems can cost from $500 to $1,000 per solar panel, making them sizeable investments for residential users.
Buy a Better System
Finally, the reality is that you get what you pay for. Older solar panels may be less expensive, but they use legacy technology.
Cutting-edge systems cost more but produce more energy in the long run. While staying within your budget is essential, you must also consider the return on a long-term investment.
Let EMT Solar Set Up Renewable Energy for You
Do solar-powered lights need direct sunlight? Absolutely not, and that’s why millions of homes in the Northeast are eligible for solar panels.
By switching to solar panels, you can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save on energy bills. If you’re interested in the benefits of solar panels or want to know how much it will cost, contact EMT Solar.
Talk to our team to learn how to add more value to your home and make a generational investment for the planet today!