December 15, 2017
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use a sun angle calculator to maximize your solar panel potential

Solar panels are the hallmark of sustainable energy. Harnessing the power of the sun gives us energy that is clean and efficient, but are there ways for maximizing this energy? Surely, without spending a fortune on fancy tools, we can learn how to use a sun angle calculator to reap all the possible energy from the sun in any given season.

The sun angle calculator is a method of devising what angle the solar panel will sit to catch every smidgen of sunlight. Since the position of the sun changes with the seasons, this method involves adjusting the panel to a fixed position that can be tilted towards the sun as needed. Depending on your energy needs, solar panels can be adjusted as so:

  • four times in a year to follow the sun during spring, summer, fall and winter,
  • twice a year for maximum summer and winter harvest,
  • or they can sit stationary in a winter position.

Of course, it is easiest to adjust the solar panel and leave it there the entire year. However, you can gain a significant amount of energy by adjusting it for summer and winter, and a small increase for spring and fall. The typical seasonal dates are:

  • spring, starting March 5,
  • summer, starting April 18,
  • fall, starting August 24,
  • and winter, starting October 7.

Using The Sun Angle Calculator
Calculating the latitudinal degree to point the solar panel is very simple. All you need is a compass, a regional latitudinal map and a calculator. You will also need to find the magnetic declination, which is just a magnetic variation depending on where you are located. The magnetic declination is what makes magnetic north on your compass different from true north.

To start, point the panel true south if you are in the northern hemisphere, or point it true north if you are in the southern hemisphere. Remember, you must correct the magnetic declination to determine what the true direction is. The National Geophysical Data Center has a useful declination calculator.

The simplest way to calculate the tilt of the solar panel is to determine your latitude and add 15 degrees in the winter or subtract 15 degrees in the summer. For example, if you are at 50 degrees latitude in the winter, add 15 degrees and point the panel at 65 degrees. In the summer, subtract 15 degrees and point it 35 degrees.

You can also be more precise. In the winter, multiply your latitude by 0.9 and then add 29 degrees. So, if our latitude is still 50 degrees, it would be (50 x 0.9) + 29 = 74 degrees.

In the summertime, multiply your latitude by 0.9 and subtract 23.5 degrees. So our example would be (50 x 0.9) – 23.5 = 21.5 degrees. This is nearly a ten degree difference, so once you master this formula, it is worth the extra math.

The formula for both spring and fall is also very easy. Simply subtract 2.5 degrees from your latitude. So, 50 – 2.5 = 47.5 degrees.

These formulas point solar panels to gather the most sunlight during the entire day. They assume that you live in a perfect solar panel environment, which is one without trees, mountains, hills, clouds and so on. These calculations can be tweaked according to your situation. For example, if your area is cloudy in the morning but clear in the evening, then point the panel more towards the west for optimal results.

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