The Best Direction for Your Solar Panels

Aerial shot of a large two-story house with solar panels installed on different pitches

When you’re weighing the decision of whether solar panels are right for your home, it’s only natural to wonder whether your home’s orientation will affect your power generation. The reality is while there is an optimal direction and orientation for solar panels, the ideal may not be achievable on your home. However, there is no need to give up on installing solar energy if your home doesn’t allow solar panels to face the right direction. There are plenty of workarounds to ensure your panels produce optimally.

Which orientation is best, and why does it matter?

For homes in the northern hemisphere, or above the equator, south-facing panels produce the most energy. Earth’s orbit and natural tilt toward or away from the sun during different times of the year mean your panels will receive the most sunlight if they’re facing south. (For homes in the southern hemisphere, the opposite is true; in this case, north-facing panels are best. As Blue Raven Solar serves customers in the northern hemisphere the information presented in the rest of this article is focused on panels installed in this region.) It’s important to note monocrystalline solar panels are most effective facing “true” south—aligned with the Earth’s axis—rather than magnetic south, which is the direction a compass will give. 


Solar panels work when the sun’s rays are absorbed by the solar cells in each solar panel. In this process, electrons are shifted from the panel cells’ atoms through the photovoltaic (PV) cell, creating an electrical current and generating energy. This means there’s a direct correlation between the amount of sunlight hitting your panels and the amount of energy generated.

Aerial shot of a large two-story house with solar panels installed on different pitches

What if I can’t install south-facing panels on my home?

Not every home is designed or capable of having south-facing panels. The panels may need to face a different direction due to the home’s roof angle or shape, or the orientation of the home itself. 


When panels are placed east- or west-facing, they typically produce 15% less energy than south-facing panels. North-facing panels usually produce 30% less energy than south-facing. The energy output may further decrease if a home is located further north or is in a cloudy climate


Depending on your home’s location and the angle possible for your panels (discussed in further detail below), your installer may recommend having your panels face a different direction. Perhaps your roof doesn’t have enough space on the south side, or your house faces south but you don’t want panels on the front of your home. No matter the reason, systems can be designed to compensate for a less-than-optimal orientation with solutions like including additional panels to capture more sunlight or optimizing the angle of other panels. 


Blue Raven Solar’s experts can determine the best plan for your home so you can generate enough energy to meet or exceed your energy needs and cut your electric bill costs.

Is south-facing always better?

While south-facing panels reliably produce the most energy for homes in the northern hemisphere, there are certain areas—such as Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri—where southwest may be the best direction for your solar panels to face. This is not because the panels will produce more energy, but rather due to a way of charging for energy called a Time-of-Use (TOU) Energy plan. 


While facing a panel southeast or southwest typically decreases energy production by 8%, some states charge more for energy at different times of the day. The afternoon and early evening hours typically require more electricity for homes because people are home from work and school. In TOU states, energy costs more at these times, so having solar panels which absorb the most energy in these afternoon and early evening hours will create more savings. During these specific hours, facing the panels southwest will absorb more energy, and efficient energy usage in these peak hours will save you the most money. 


TOU rates are only required in a few states, but most energy companies offer it as a billing schedule. If you are required or choose to use TOU rates, be sure to let your Blue Raven Solar expert know so they can factor this into your optimized system design.

Roof angle view of an 8 panel system installed on the back of a home

Which angle is best for my solar panels?

The best angle for the solar panels on your home depends on where you live and what time of year it is. The further away from the equator you live, the greater the angle you will need to absorb optimum sunlight. This is because the sun sits lower in the sky in areas further from the equator, and higher in the sky in areas closer to the equator. The lower the sun is, the harder it is for the light rays to hit a flat surface—tilting the solar panels up helps them absorb more sunlight. 


The latitude of your home can help you find the best angle. Latitudes are the horizontal lines on a globe. Typically, the latitude of your home is the correct angle for your solar panels. In the United States, this angle is typically between 30 to 45 degrees.


The time of year also affects the optimal angle of your solar panels. The sun hits higher in the sky in the summer and lower in the sky in the winter, so ideally your panels would have a lower angle in the summer and higher angle in the winter. However, making these adjustments each season is unrealistic and may not make a significant difference in your energy production.

Does my roof affect the angle of my solar panels?

Different homes have different roof styles, and this can affect the angle of your solar panels. For example, a flat roof would be a different challenge than a roof with a steep pitch. No matter your situation, the goal for your design team will be to get your panels as close to the ideal angle for your area (again, typically between 30 to 45 degrees) as possible. However, we also recommend you install your panels as close to your roof line as possible to minimize any risk of damage from wind and other elements. Your solar panel design team will find the ideal balance between your panels’ orientation and angle and the number of panels in your system to produce the energy needed.


Your Blue Raven Solar team will survey your home early on to optimize the angle of your solar panels, taking into account seasons, climate, landscaping issues (such as shade from trees and other homes), and other factors.

Birdseye view of a home with large solar panel system installed on multiple roof lines

Is the orientation or angle of rooftop solar panels most important?

While orientation and angle both affect the amount of sunlight your panels will be exposed to, orientation has the greatest effect on how much energy your panels can produce. Optimizing angles can increase energy production, but if you have to choose between south-facing orientation or a better angle, south-facing orientation will make the most significant difference in energy levels.

Let Blue Raven Solar Help.

No matter your home’s situation, Blue Raven Solar’s experts are available to help you design and discover the best layout for your home. Even if the ideal orientation and angle are not possible, you can still experience electricity savings and make enough energy to offset your current energy needs. 


To schedule an obligation-free consultation, reach out to Blue Raven Solar to get started on your solar journey.

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