Ways to Maximize Energy Intake by a Solar Panel
- Maintenance is an important part of ensuring solar power efficiency. Dust can accumulate on the surface of your panel and block sunlight from coming into contact with your photovoltaic (PV) cells, thus reducing energy input and power output. To avoid these reductions, regularly clean the surface of your panels with a mild soap solution and plenty of water. Make sure no soap accumulates on the panel, as it can block even more sunlight than dust or dirt. Clean your panels regularly to keep anything from accumulating on the surface that could interfere with solar input.
- To maximize solar intake, position your panels in a place with ideal sun exposure. In the northern hemisphere, panels should always face south (north in the southern hemisphere). Make sure there are no obstacles between the sun and your panels. As the angle of the sun changes throughout the day, from nearly overhead at noon to lower in the sky at other hours, make sure that no obstacles exist between your panel and the angle of the sun at any point in the day. Trim branches or remove garden appliances if necessary to maximize exposure.
- Just as the sun's angle changes throughout the day, sunlight changes position throughout the year. Several tracking kits are available for solar panels that automatically adjust the panel to follow the sun. If you can't afford a tracking kit, you can also adjust the panel manually on a seasonal basis. During the fall and spring, panels should be set at an angle equivalent to the latitude of the location. Chicago, for instance, is at approximately 45 degrees north latitude, so solar panels should be set at 45 degrees toward the north (therefore, facing south). During the summer, however, turning your panel 15 degrees down (south) will help maximize solar input during long summer days, just as turning your panel 15 degrees up (north) during the winter will maximize exposure during the winter.
- Although solar intake depends largely on the amount of sunlight in your area, you can at least make more efficient use of the sunlight available. By placing a long mirror in front of your solar panel, for instance, you can reflect the sunlight that hits the ground in front of your panel back onto the PV cells, effectively increasing the amount of sunlight, the energy intake and the power output of your panels. The mirror should be about twice as long as the height of your panel, placed in front of the PV panel so that the angle reflects back onto the panel and, like the panel itself, regularly cleaned to maximize reflection.