The placement of solar panels is as much a question of aesthetics as it is of exposure and the subsequent production of energy. In today’s renewable energy market homeowners want choices that allow them to retain as much of their recreational space as possible while maximizing the potential for energy production. This often leads to conflicts in the siting of solar arrays, and it has created a market for varying types of mounts that are designed for rooftops as well as on-grade-level units, with some of these following or “tracking” the sun. These can be mounted as close or as far away from the residence or business as is preferred.
Solar trackers are by far the most expensive installation option but provide the best overall production due to the constant orientation to the sun as it moves through the sky. Some of these trackers work off photovoltaic eyes, and others are now being produced that function off of GPS. The weights associated with these units mean that they need to be mounted on the ground and therefore are likely to infringe upon recreational space. Another factor to consider is the cost of the wire run. The farther away the unit is mounted from the service the more wire you will need, and copper isn’t cheap. For those with limited outdoor room this may not be an option, in which case a roof mounted array would need to be utilized. This can also be expensive due to the structural factors that need to be considered when doing the install. The least expensive route is to go with a stationary ground mount. Again, here we run into the problem of finding a location that is free from shading without losing recreational space.
No matter what type of solar panels mount you decide to use the orientation of the panels needs to be in a place where they can receive the most hours of unimpeded sunlight. This means if mounting on a roof in the northern hemisphere, it would be best to locate the array on a southern facing portion of the roof and vice versa if in the southern hemisphere. The panels need to be free from obstructions of any kind. The shadow of a tree or even something as small as the shadow from an overhead power line can cause a decrease in the output of any array. Remember that trees grow and generally houses do not, so plan ahead. If you are planning to let the tree in the backyard grow unrestricted it may just end up causing a shading problem down the road. This should be addressed before the installation. If the option of a southern facing array is not available (in the northern hemisphere) then anything close to that will have to do. If you have to go more than 90 degrees out of south (west is better than east) then it might be better to give up that space in the yard. The optimal tilt for a solar panel is the same as the latitude of the location, but often panels that are roof top mounted conform to the pitch of the roof in order to make installation easier. A pitch between 10 and 30 degrees is generally considered acceptable.
This should give you a pretty good understanding of the various considerations that need to be addressed when making a siting choice for a solar array. The main idea is to find the spot with the most sun and the least amount of intrusion upon the aesthetics of the yard and its surroundings. Once the installation is up and running you will not have the option of moving it very easily, so it is important to be sure of the site before starting any installation. Another factor to consider is whether or not you plan to expand the number of panels. If there is a chance that more panels are in your future then plan for it now by siting in a place that will allow you to add on to the existing installation. It is a lot cheaper to add panels then to add a second, complete installation.