Tom Konrad CFA
Today the Obama administration issued an executive order re-establishing one of the proclamations from the climate change plans it issued this summer: significantly boosting the U.S. federal government's support of renewable energy to supply 20 percent of its energy consumption by 2020.
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Tom Konrad CFA
Compass photo via Bigstock
Contrary to some confused bloggers, solar panels produce
the most electricity over the course of a year when pointed
south, not west.
A recent report from the Pecan
Street Research Institute started a chain of articles
with increasingly inaccurate conclusions.
The lemmings at Quartz, Gizmodo,
followed each other off the cliff of delusion saying that
homeowners could produce more power by pointing their solar panels
west, rather than south. (UPDATE: Now even USA
Today is jumping off.) The title of an article “Are
Solar Panels Facing the Wrong Direction?” on Greentech Media
seems to have started the lemmings rushing cliff-ward, even though
the article itself got the facts right.
It simply ain’t so. The study found that
the average house in a sample of 14 houses with west-facing solar
arrays produced more electricity than the average of 24 houses
with south facing arrays in Austin, Texas during the three months
from June 1 to August 31st, 2013.
The study (which I obtained from Pecan Street) specifically says
“Over the course of a full year, a south-facing orientation
produces more total energy than other orientations.” In
addition, Brewster McCracken, the president and CEO of Pecan
Street, told me that he did not expect that the finding that the
west facing arrays produced more energy even during that three
month period was statistically significant, given the small sample
Point It West
That said, the study concluded that there were significant
benefits to pointing solar panels west. While the highest
annual electricity production will be produced with south facing
panels, west-facing arrays are much better at reducing peak loads
in climates with air-conditioning driven peak demand, such as
According to the study, a equal sized west facing system would
have produced 49% more electricity during the peak demand hours of
the summer months than a south facing system. Only 58% of
electricity from south facing systems was used in the home, with
42 percent being sent back to the utility grid. Fully 75% of
electricity from west facing systems was used in the home, with
only 25% sent back to the grid (see charts.)
Because they help more to reduce peak load, and put less strain
on electricity distribution systems, west-facing PV systems may
have more value to the grid than do south-facing systems, despite
producing less total energy over the course of a year.
More solar arrays should be pointed west, but not because they
produce more power that way. They should be pointed west
because, in many cases, the power they produce is more valuable.
Utilities and governments should structure their incentives
McCracken told me that some of the utilities in his area don’t
even offer incentives for west facing solar arrays because “they
don’t produce enough energy.” Those utilities are just as
confused as the media lemmings who think you get more energy by
pointing solar panels west.
This article was first
published on the author’s Forbes.com blog, Green Stocks
on November 22nd.
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