Which Direction Should Solar Panels Face For Best Efficiency?

Did you decide to use solar energy for your home? If so, know that the costs associated with it decrease each year ever since 2009. It’s a trend expected to continue since the costs of panels, installation, and permits are dropping.

But how do you get the most out of your solar energy investment?

The direction of the panels matters the most. With that said, the best direction to maximize solar panel efficiency is south, especially if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s always better to make your solar panels face the True North Direction. You can get this by using magnetic declination.

Along with this, you need to think about other considerations. After all, this electric system has some complexities that go beyond the usual panel setup. Read on and find out more today.

Should Solar Panels Face South or West?

South-facing panels will give the most energy. This holds best with homes located in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s possible since the sun is in the Southern sky all year, making it ideal when trying to get as much sun as possible.

The sun is still on the south side even during the summer, when it’s higher in the sky. During winter, if you have north-facing panels, they get almost no direct sunlight. This is due to the sun’s angle being lower.

But some cases will prompt you to have a west-facing solar panel instead. For example, if you’re still connected to the grid, the local power company might make you pay higher bills during the afternoon. If this is the case, your panels need to be west-facing to make you save the most amount of money.

Solar Panel Azimuth and Zenith Orientation

Solar panels gain maximum efficiency when their surface is at a 90-degree angle to the incoming sun rays. The sun’s position in the sky uses two angles for plotting—azimuth and zenith. The solar panel orientation’s angle will depend on the value of these angles.

Azimuth Orientation

This term refers to the compass angle of the sun while it travels over the entire day. As a general rule, you can calculate azimuth as one of the true south angles. At noon, the sun’s position is directly south relative to the Northern Hemisphere.

The opposite applies to the Southern Hemisphere. The azimuth angle of the sun have negative value east of due south. That means its due east will have a -90-degree angle. The opposite applies to the azimuth angles to the west of due south.

As a general rule, the necessary azimuth angle to get the right orientation of the solar panels can vary. The two factors that determine this includes your location’s latitude and the current time of the year.

Zenith Orientation

This is the sun’s angle that looks up from the horizon or the ground level. This angle will change as the day progresses, forming an arc that reaches its maximum height around noon. The elevation of the sun is at 0 degrees during sunrise and sunset, and 90 degrees during high noon.

But the midday elevation of the sun will change during summer and winter solstice. These two events represent the longest and shortest days each year. The sun will form an arc across the sky, which represents either autumn or spring.

Why Are Solar Panels Tilted at an Angle?

The panel’s tilt matters since it allows them to be directly perpendicular to the sun. That way, they can maximize the amount of energy they make.

For example, the sun in the Northern Hemisphere is low when compared to the horizon during the winter. To maximize the performance, the panels need to be at a steep angle of 60 degrees. That means you need to tilt the panels at a 45-degree angle during spring.

During summer, the solar panels should have a low tilt at a 20-degree angle. After all, it’s the season when the sun is at its highest in the sky.

Can Solar Panels Face East?

Most homeowners will find it sensible to install solar panels despite not having a roof facing south. After all, an east or west roof will cost lesser compared to its south-facing counterpart. The good news is that a solar power system facing these directions can become a great investment.

You can improve the efficiency of these solar panels with the roof’s angle. To make the most out of this, you need to ensure that your east or west roof has a flat angle. It helps offset the decrease in efficiency.

Take note, depending on your house design, your efficiency decreases by 8-14% if you opt for east and west-facing roof panels. As the roof’s angle starts turning toward the south, the difference in percentage will decrease.

Lots of homes will have roofs that face east, west, and south. That’s where you can place your panels. Putting them in all these directions will decrease the efficiency difference more.

What’s the Best Solar Panel Orientation for the Southern Hemisphere?

If you’re located in the Southern Hemisphere, you need to make your panels face True North. Remember, this direction isn’t the same as the magnetic north. When using a compass for solar panel orientation, you need to account for the variation between locations.

To find the True North, look for resources that talk about magnetic declination. These will often give you an idea of your specific area’s correction.

Fixed vs. Adjustable Panels

Both types will have their own set of advantages. Fixed panels are simple when mounted, so all you need to do is to install them and leave them be. But adjustable panels are better since you can change the panels’ tilt depending on the current season.

With that, you can optimize the amount of energy you get, whether it’s summer or winter. If you adjust the panel tilt twice a year, you’re likely to get a substantial boost in solar energy. Doubling the number of adjustments only yields a little more, but it can become a necessity when optimizing spring and fall production.

What Are Solar Trackers?

Solar trackers help maximize the electricity production of your solar panels by moving them throughout the day. They follow the sun, optimizing the angle of the panels. They’re typically seen in ground-mounted solar panels. As a result, they’re not often used in residential homes.

A common problem encountered by solar panels is the angle of incidence. It’s the angle of the sun’s rays that hit the solar panel surface. This can affect the panel’s ability to convert sunlight into electricity.

The rule of thumb is that a photovoltaic panel can make more energy if their angle of incidence is narrower. That’s what makes solar trackers important since they orient the panels in a way that light will strike at a perpendicular angle to its surface.

If you opt for a ground-based solar energy system, a solar tracker is a must. It has two types of systems, which are:

Single-Axis Tracker

This system makes your panels move on a single movement axis. It usually has a north and south alignment. With this setup, your panels can move from east to west, tracking the sun’s movement from sunrise to sunset.

Dual-Axis Tracker

The system enables two-axes movement for your panels. That means it has an alignment for all cardinal directions — north-south and east-west. That makes the dual-axis tracker the better choice since it ensures that your solar energy collection stays consistent throughout the year.

It has the means of tracking seasonal variations. It does this using the differences in the sun’s height. This feature is an addition to the normal motion done by single-axis trackers every day.

What Are the Benefits of Solar Trackers?

The biggest advantage of using a solar tracking system is the electricity production boost. In most cases, solar panel systems that opt for a single-axis solar tracker will gain a 25%-35% increase in electricity gained. You can increase this figure by 5%-10% by installing a dual-axis solar tracker instead.

It’s an especially important system if you’re living in a high-latitude location. After all, the position of the sun will vary a lot between the summer and winter months. The dual-axis tracking system best fits this situation since it can give your property enough power regardless of the season.

What Are the Drawbacks of Solar Trackers?

Even with these benefits, solar trackers have drawbacks. Its main problem is the higher costs of both installation and maintenance. You’ll need to pay higher upfront costs compared to a fixed solar system due to its technological complexity.

Summing Up

With the development of solar technology, having a solar panel system is much cheaper. But if you want to make the most out of your investment, you should know the right orientation and tilt. That way, you’ll maximize the amount of sunlight your panels absorb regardless of the season and time of the day.

With this guide, you can now determine what orientation works best for you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. With the right direction, you get enough power to keep your home going.

Did this guide interest you? If so, read more of our posts and learn more about similar topics today.

Mike Reyes

I'm Mike Reyes, a guy behind eDrivePlanet.com. I have a background in electrical engineering and I was interested into technology since my early age. My passion is sustainable transport and energy, and my objective is to make eDrive Planet a pillar of the electric vehicles industry with hopefully millions of site visitors each year. I am counting on you, please spread the voice!

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