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Which direction should solar panels face?

which direction should this solar panel face?

Most solar panels are fixed in place, and can’t be faced wherever you like, unlike this one on a ‘heliostat’

One of the first things you’re going to ask yourself when considering solar power for your home is: “Which direction should my solar panels face?” In other words, what’s the best direction for new solar panels on your roof so that they will produce maximum power?

Basically, your solar installer will help you pick the perfect placement and you should feel quite comfortable with their explanation of where and why. But in general there’s one big rule: if you’re in the U.S. (or elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere), your solar panels should face true south (though there is an exception).

The more sunlight reaches your solar panels, the more electricity you can generate and the more money you’ll be able to save on your electric bill. If your panels face south, they’ll receive light throughout the day.

What’s the difference between regular ‘south’ (magnetic south) and ‘true south’?

which direction should solar panels face - true south

at exactly noon, wherever a shadow points is true south (flip that if you’re talking about the southern hemisphere)

When you look at a compass, it’s showing you magnetic south, not true south. What’s the difference? A compass points toward the south pole of the earth’s geomagnetic field. It’s the right general direction—but not exact. The earth has a fluid outer core made of iron and nickel, which pulls the needle of your compass slightly away from true south. The “pull,” or magnetic declination, will vary in direction and strength depending on your location.

The direction solar panels should face is true south, a.k.a. solar south or geographic south. To correct the compass reading, your solar installer will calculate the magnetic declination of your site. True south can also be calculated at noon, when shadows from vertical objects run north-south. Another simple method is to look at your house on Google Earth; after centering the image on your home, you can view the north-south grid lines Google provides. In the View menu, select “Grid”.

(In most places though – true south ain’t all that much different than magnetic south, and facing them magnetic south is almost just as good. At least you’re not facing them north and getting basically zero energy… and yes, I have seen this happen).

Where should I install solar panels if the direction of my roof doesn’t face the south?

solar panels face the same direction of your roof

Since they typically lay flat, solar panels most often face the same direction as your roof, and your only choice is really: “WHERE on my roof?”

If your roof faces east-west rather than north-south, you have a few options. Solar panels facing east or west won’t get as much light as those on a southern-facing roof. One solution is to compensate by increasing the solar collector area, either using more panels or larger collectors. You may also be able to mount the panels on racks that orient them to face south, although this will be more expensive than a standard installation.

(Sorry, I know that’s a buzz-kill for some, but basically it’s too expensive and inefficient from an installation perspective, there are serious wind implications, and well, it just ain’t done barely ever).

Another option is to mount the panels somewhere other than your roof. Although this is more unusual, some people choose to mount panels on a south-facing wall. If you have space in your yard, the panels can also be mounted on the ground. This is less expensive, and also gives easy access to the panels if you need to clean them, brush off snow, or do any other maintenance. Ground-mounted solar panels can even be placed on trackers, which adjust the position of the panels throughout the year in order to maximize the amount of sunlight reaching them. If ground or wall-mounted panels don’t work for you, solar panels can also be mounted on a building near your house, like your garage or a storage shed.

Any of these options can also work well if your roof faces south but happens to be heavily shaded from trees or nearby buildings.

But what about the direction your solar panels should face from an ANGLE perspective?

After finding the best place to install your solar panels, your installer will select the ideal tilt. The angle is calculated based on your latitude. A simple rule to follow in the United states is to multiply your latitude by 0.76, then add 3.1 degrees. That should work from Key West to the northern tip of Maine, and there is only 1 (very large) state that isn’t covered in that range. For more information about optimal tilt of solar panels, check out our friend Charlie’s site that is dedicated to exactly that.

Although most people select a fixed position, it’s possible to adjust the angle based on the seasons to squeeze even more power out of your solar panels. Basically, as you get closer and closer to the equator, the more you want your solar panels to face straight up, and vice-versa, as you get closer to the poles, you want to aim them lower in the sky, but still toward the equator.

Are there any exceptions to this rule?

As with anything in life, there are situations in which this cardinal rule doesn’t hold true—or rather, situations in which it’s advisable to break the rule. In the case of solar panel direction, the reason you’d want to break the rule is if you can get a greater benefit from a different orientation, and that’s the case if you live in a place with expensive time-of-use (ToU) rates.

You see, in many places, electricity consumption goes way up in the evening when people come home from work and school and turn on their air conditioners, microwaves, TVs, and Playstations (or Xboxes, or Wiis, we don’t discriminate). Some electric utilities try to avoid the huge spikes in usage that can occur during these periods by increasing the cost of electricity during them. That’s where solar owners come in.

Having panels on your roof means you’re drawing less electricity from the grid, which means you’re spending less on that expensive afternoon (aka, “Peak”) power. But if your panels are pointed south, they won’t be generating as many kilowatt-hours (kWh) as they could if they were aimed to take advantage of the late-afternoon sun in the western sky.

Here’s an example:

In California, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (aka SMUD, the best utility name ever) has a new ToU plan for 2016-17 under which super-peak electricity during the summertime (from 4 to 7 pm) costs 30.9 cents/kWh, while off-peak electricity is just 8.67 cents/kWh. That’s a 350% increase, and if you can avoid paying it by having solar meet your needs, you come out way ahead.

ToU rates like this and others in CA are a great way for solar to make more cents (groan).

Connect with a solar expert to see if you can take advantage of ToU billing, or whether you’d be better off with panels on a south-facing roof.

How much can you save with a solar roof?

Profit from your roof space: find local deals on solar, eliminate your power bill, and join the solar revolution.

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55 thoughts on “Which direction should solar panels face?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I live in Haiti. Which is the best direction for our solar panels? Thank you for your help!

  2. Asma Pathan says:

    my home is in southern hemisphere so what will be the direction of my panel??

  3. Aradee says:

    I’m in Accra, Ghana Please which direction should my solar panels face?

  4. lalit jung rana says:

    my location is kathmandu nepal, what is the angel of solar panel for maximum radiation

  5. Brihat Energy says:

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  6. Bob says:

    My home is located at 42 degrees 38 minutes north latitude and its mailn roof’s south facing aspect is 10 degrees east of true south and sadly my pitch is only 10 degrees as well. I have solar panels installed aqnd we are on ToD billing. My home’s smaller secondary roof runs perpendicularr to the main roof so its west facing side is oriented 10 degrees south of west. Although it would receive sun late morning and in the afternoon, It receives shading after 7pm (daylight time) in the summer and after 3:30pm (standard time) in the winter. Winter snow would also melt off more slowly than it melts off the south facing panels. Does it make sense to put any panels on that secondary roof?

  7. Phil Geil says:

    We have ground mounted panels arranged two roys high, using Unirac 14′ rails cut to 7′ plus Unirac 72″ legs to mount an array two horiontal panels hign on a home built triple 2×6 wooden beam base. Using additional home cut 1.5″, 1/8″ thick square Al tubing, 15″ long I retilt 4 times/yrar at the optimum angles for our site (central Illinois. The angles are 12°, 38°, 65° and 38° summer, fall, winter and spring. This has resulted, in the last 3 years, in 13% greater production than installer estimated values for a constant 30° tilt ground mount and 33% greater than for 14° tilt roof mount. Optimum angles were obtained from http://www.macslab.com/optsolar.html (This is likely Charlies site)

  8. Peter says:

    35.9375 Latitude and 14.3754 Longitude which best way to position solar panels?

  9. Dishan says:

    Hello! I’m from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I need to install solar system for my farm. Please suggest me the direction that my panels should face and also please mention the optimum angel of panels throughout the year. Thanks in advance!

  10. adrian says:

    note to self: don’t use shift+enter. If you are supplying to the grid and in your area there is lots of solar panels then at noon grid gets overloaded with lots of solarpower. In that case east and west makes more sense because of more spread during the day. If grid pays you different at different times (eg more in the afternoon then early morning or vice versa) then choose either more west (afternoon) or east (morning).

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Thanks for all your replies, Adrian! There certainly can be an advantage to facing panels west, especially if you’re in an area with Time-of-Use (ToU) billing, which often charges more for that late afternoon electricity.

  11. adrian says:

    Also you should take into account what you are doing with your electricity? Store it in your own batteries and almost never supply it to the grid? Get south facing and get as much as possible out of the same surface.

  12. adrian says:

    @George Ajibose you are basically on the equator for you tilt and direction are exactly the same: straight up.

  13. George Ajibose says:

    im in south west Nigeria, what is the right facing direction & tilt, please? Thanx 4ur kind assistance

  14. Dave says:

    My roof faces east/west. If I’m installing 4 panels am I better to install all 4 on the east or west side near the peak or 2 on the west and 2 on the east side near peak.

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Hi Dave,

      As long as neither side of your roof is shaded by trees or other obstructions, we’d say west side, angled on racks as much toward the south as you can get without causing one panel’s shadow to touch another’s.

  15. John says:

    Hi guys, i hope you can help me compute this, I don’t know how much tilt shoud i need with my panel, here’s my location 14.533381,121.009514. thanks in advance

  16. Anonymous says:

    My husband and I are planning to install Solar System on our home. We live in Las Vegas, NV. We have interviewed 3 different companies and all agreed that most panels (due to roof layout) are to install on the South (based on your replies from this website…we agreed with them); however, 2 out of 3 are saying the rest are to install on the west. The company that we are leading toward is saying the east. Can you help determine which direction and angle are best suit for our situation? Thank you so much for your help and we look forward hearing from you! Have an amazing day!

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Hi there! Generally, any panels that aren’t south-facing should face west, because the available sun at sunset is “more valuable” to the grid. This is especially true if you partake in NV Energy’s Time-of-Use (ToU) plan, which charges much more for energy between 2 and 7 pm, when the sun is in the western sky. ToU billing can save solar panel owners a ton because the sun is usually brightest during those hours of peak usage. In some cases, you will pay 5-10 times less for electricity after 7 pm and before 2 pm, and your system will offset all the expensive energy you would have had to pay for in the afternoon.

      That said, certain factors can complicate things. if your west-facing roof is even a little shaded, it will produce far less electricity than it would otherwise, which could mean that east-facing would be better.

      Here’s a few questions for you:
      Why not go with just enough panels to cover the south-facing roof?
      What are the reasons one company has told you to put panels on the east-facing roof?
      Does the west-facing roof point due west, or is is pointed at all northward?

      Read more about ToU billing here: https://www.nvenergy.com/home/paymentbilling/timeofuse.cfm.

  17. my name is Amanda says:

    Im at CapeTown Stellenbosch can you please tell me which direction should my solar face

  18. Anonymous says:

    my house location is in Manila, what is the best position of my solar panel

  19. Anonymous says:

    helllo! i m in kathmandu,capital city of nepal.what should be the angle and direction in which should I install my solar panel system?

  20. Anonymous says:

    my location is 6° 45′ 0″ North, 3° 25′ 0″ E. Kindly help with the angle of tilt for this area. Thank you

  21. Anonymous says:

    17.4968° N, 78.3614° E, how much tilt do I need to keep my solar panel to get maximum benefit. Thanks in advance.

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Hello! Since your latitude is within 25° of the equator, you use your latitude multiplied by 0.87. That’s 15.22°. Angle toward the south.

  22. Anonymous says:

    your kind advice is highly appreciated for Sana’a _Yemen homes

  23. Anonymous says:

    hi Dave, I hope you are doing weltl

  24. Anonymous says:

    Try this again and not hit the “ENTER” button this time. Hi Ben, good write up here and I appreciate it. John Conner here from Boise Idaho and I have the same redundant question as most of the others have for you, just different location. Which direction and angle is appropriate for Boise, Thank you in advance…

  25. Anonymous says:

    Hello ! I am in lubumbashi (DRC Congo) which angle and direction can put my solar panel

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hello Sir, I am from Yemen,Hodeidah Could please tell to which place i have to direct my panels?

  27. Anonymous says:

    I ;ove in SUNYANI, GHANA. Please tell me the direction & angel of tilt for the panels on my roof to get the MAXIMUM amount of energy produced.Eric

  28. Anonymous says:

    I am in Lagos (South west of Nigeria). Please advise me on which angle and direction to place my solar panels.

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      In Lagos, you’re at 6.4°N latitude. Take that times 0.87 to find your degree of tilt. For you, it’ll be 5.6°, aimed toward the south.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I’m in Lebanon, what should be the angle and direction in which should I install my solar panel system?

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      In Beirut, the latitude is 33.9° N, so the calculation is (33.9 x .76) + 3.1°. Your panels should be tilted 28.9° from the ground and aimed south.

  30. Anonymous says:

    hi there, I’m in namibia,windhoek. which way should my panels face

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Windhoek is at 22.57° S latitude, so point your panels north and tilt them at 17.15° from the ground.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I am in Northern Nigeria. Which way direction should i arrange my collector and at what angle. Will the direction and angle be applicable to CSP collectors?

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Because you’re within 25° of the equator, you can use your latitude multiplied by 0.87 to determine the necessary tilt. Face the panels toward the south.

      We don’t know much about CSP, but with a system that costly and complicated, you’d want to invest in sun-tracking racks that capture the maximum possible amount of insolation.

  32. Anonymous says:

    i want to install solar panels in ghaziabad india where what should be the angle and direction in which should i install my system

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Hello! In Ghaziabad, you’re at 28.67° N latitude. Your panels should be angled 24.89° from the ground. If you have no shade on a south-facing surface, install them pointed true south.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I’m a bit confused.. The information in this writeup seems to contradict the information in these.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Why it is necessayr to place the solar panel with certain angle rather than placing perpenducular to the Suns’s direction? And We want to installa solar panel in Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh- india. Please suggest the latitude, multiplication factor, direction and angle

  35. Anonymous says:

    We want to installa solar panel in Tamil Nadu- india. Please suggest the direction and angle

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Hello! Tamil Nadu, India is located at 13° N Latitude. The general rule for Latitudes under 25° is to multiply your latitude by 0.87. Therefore, your panels should be tilted 11.31° relative to the ground. Because you’re in the northern hemisphere, point the panels to the south. Here’s hoping for many sunny days in your future.

  36. Anonymous says:

    im in centeral N.C witch way should i point my pannels. and at what angle

  37. Anonymous says:

    is it posible for solar power to power a full house enery for a month even in clowdy days

    1. Ben Zientara says:

      Yes!

  38. Anonymous says:

    Hello is anyone there?:(

    1. Dan Hahn says:

      Yes, we’re here, do you have a question?

  39. Anonymous says:

    Why couldn’t more home builders have consulted this article before building East-West roofs?

  40. Anonymous says:

    if you have a single fixed solar panel, is it best to orient the panel such that the panel is in a portrait or landscape position perpendicular to true south?

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