Image Source: US Dept of Energy
The whole world seems to be going solar!
While having solar panels on rooftops is becoming less strange every passing year, some folks are keen to have solar panels cover other parts of their building as well, so these additional panels could generate additional power.
So, is it a good idea to have solar panels on places such as the sides and the front walls of a building?
Well, no one is really stopping you from having solar panels in any place you want on your building, like the building owners have done in the image above.
A better question you may want to ask would be: Is it economically a good idea to have solar panels on the sides and along the walls of a building?
The answer is: No. At least not with the current stage of solar photovoltaic technology.
Except in very select cases, solar panels generate reasonable power only if they are oriented in a direction that faces the sun – ideally, the solar panels should be in a direction perpendicular to the sunlight.
By having solar panels along your walls and in other odd orientations, one is not orienting the solar panels optimally. Hence, these could generate half or even much lower amounts of electricity compared to output from solar panels that are optimally oriented.
Interestingly, this is one of the aspects on which few authentic estimates are available. So, a couple of years back, I took time off to do some calculations of how much electricity solar panels placed on a north facing roof could generate in regions where the ideal orientation would be south facing (the case for most regions located north of equator). After using multiple data sets from reasonably good sources, my estimates suggested that the solar panels on the north facing roof in these regions could end up generating only about 40% of electricity that the panels on the south facing roof generate.
Now, imagine yourself pasting solar panels on walls that are facing away from the sun. You could end up with far less than 40% of output generated by ideally-oriented solar panels.
Put another way, you could be generating less than 40 units of electricity with this sub-optimal orientation, while your neighbour could be generating 100 units by having it on his rooftop.
It is unlikely you will be considered the smartest guy in your neighbourhood.