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Best Direction for Solar Panels

By Benjamin Strusnik March 15, 2022

Best Direction for Solar Panels

If you want to save money by installing your own solar power system, it is important that you set aside some time to carefully analyze and decide on the best direction and the best location for your solar panels.

As you might expect, the direction your panels face can have a significant impact on the amount of energy your rooftop solar system generates. This article will discuss a few options for solar panel positioning. 

What direction should solar panels face?

Depending on whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere, the best direction for your solar panels to face changes.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, your solar panels must face south and if you’re in the southern hemisphere, they should face north.

To understand why this is so, think of a building structure in the northern hemisphere. The building's north side is always shady. The west is shaded in the morning, while the east is lit up by the sun, and the west is sunlit in the evening, while the east is shaded.

The sun has a southern offset in the northern hemisphere and a northern offset in the southern hemisphere because the earth is tilted on its axis. 

what direction should solar panels face

Only during the morning or evening would panels facing east or west generate a significant amount of energy. To get the best of both worlds, you'll need a system that faces north or south.

Homes With Net Metering

If you live in an area with full retail (1:1) net metering, it is best to face your solar panels south.

With 1:1 net metering, you should prioritize maximizing your solar output as efficiently as possible, regardless of when it is generated.

Overall, a south-facing solar system will generate the most energy although most of it is generated during the day. This is good because many people aren’t home during the day so the least amount of power is consumed at this time so you’ll have surplus power.

You can export this surplus power to the grid then you will get bill credits equivalent to the full value of retail.

To put it another way, if you live in an area where net metering is 1:1, it won't matter if you generate solar energy. Instead, you'll want a solar power system that produces all of your electricity at the lowest possible cost, which you can get when you have south-facing panels. 

Solar panel angle

This is the vertical tilt of your PV system. If your solar panel system is upright at 90 degrees, then it’s perpendicular to the ground. However, when it’s level to the ground, there will be no tilt. 

best direction for solar panels to face

You should angle them to face as close to the sun as possible because the best angle for solar panels is the one that allows the panel the most direct perpendicular light.

Solar panels don’t need direct sunlight to function. However, you get maximum efficiency when the sun is shining directly onto them. So while your panels will still work if they’re installed somewhere where they get only dappled light, it’s not the best decision.

Which Direction Will Maximize Your Energy Production?

The best direction for maximizing solar electricity self-consumption production depends on your household’s electricity usage patterns. Below we’ll look at the types of households that various panel orientations are best suited for. 

West-facing

Solar panels facing west produce about 15% less electricity overall than solar panels facing north. 

Their energy production is less in the morning but more in the afternoon. Around one and a half hours afternoon, their output peaks, and just before sunset, they produce about a quarter of that.

For those who require a lot of air conditioning in the summer, heading west can be a good option. It's also a great direction for people who are out of the house by the time the sun rises but return later in the day.

which way should solar panels face

However, because the total amount of electricity generated is lower than with north-facing panels, the increase in self-consumption that results will need to be significant to justify the use of west-facing solar panels.

North-facing

North-facing panels will generate the most electricity overall. 

If you spend a lot of time at home during the day, consider getting north-facing panels. 

This is because you’ll be there to use the electricity when it’s produced. Another reason is that it is easier for the demand to shift by using pool filters, clothing dryers, washing machines, and other devices during the day. 

North-facing solar panels will have the greatest benefit for the environment because they produce the most electricity overall.

North-West facing 

Solar panels facing the north-west will produce approximately 5% less electricity than panels facing the north. 

During the day, the electricity they produce will be between north and south-facing panels and west-facing panels. They’ll produce slightly less electricity in the morning and a little bit more in the afternoon. 

East-facing

Solar modules facing east produce around 15% less electricity overall than those facing north, but they produce more electricity in the morning and less in the afternoon, similar to west-facing panels. 

They may be appropriate for households with high morning consumption, such as those who use a lot of electric heating on cold winter mornings or those who leave the house in the afternoon.

which direction should solar panels face

In an East/West split

When some solar panels are oriented east and others are oriented west, total energy production is reduced by about 15% compared to when all modules are oriented south.

It has the advantage of providing a more consistent power output throughout the day, which can help with personal consumption. As the roof steepens, the system's energy output will be smoother.

When you have this split, the number of modules facing each direction is usually different. If a home uses more electricity in the afternoon, then they can install more solar panels facing west.

This split is beneficial for people either at home all day or in the morning and afternoon. 

South West

With TOU or Time of Billing, utilities typically charge a higher price for electricity towards day-end, beginning at 4 p.m., which is referred to as peak rates. With grid electricity becoming more expensive during peak hours, your solar energy generation becomes even more useful.

Southwest-facing solar panels produce more electricity at the end of the day because they receive more light as the sun sets. There is a cost, however: the total solar output for the day will be lower.

As a result, the best direction is largely decided by the high peak price in relation to rates off-peak. If the peak fare is twice the low fare, the ideal direction would be slightly southwest.

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