Which direction should solar panels face in Australia?

April 4, 2023

10 plus years ago, the direction and orientation of your solar panels was considered a hugely important factor to consider when you are thinking about solar for your home or business. This was because the cost of solar panels was very expensive and you needed to optimise their angle to get every last cent back.

Nowadays solar panels are less expensive so you can afford to make up on directional losses by simply adding more solar panels on. For example, 13 panels facing south might produce a similar amount of energy as 10 panels facing north. 

Often, you’ll hear that north-facing panels perform best in Australia. This is where the sun is for most of the day, so you’ll generate the most solar power in this position. While this was true when exporting power back to the grid was the most cost-effective strategy, this isn’t the case anymore! 

Solar panel technology has come a long way. Panels are better than ever at soaking up that sweet sunlight and this means east, west, and even south-facing panels are well worth weighing up!

We’re here to walk you through the main considerations that impact the best direction for solar panels on your Australian home or business.

Why does the orientation of my solar panel installation matter? 

The aim of the solar game is to use as much of the solar power you generate as possible - this is self-consumption. It’s the most effective way for you to save on the cost of power, as exporting energy back to the grid for the feed-in tariffs isn’t the money-maker it once was. 

Self-consumption of your solar energy delivers eight times more value than exporting it back to the grid (40 cents per kilowatt hour vs. 5 cents per kilowatt hour) in 2023. This gap is only expected to grow with the way energy prices are headed too.

Now, you need to optimise your solar panels’ position for your power needs and habits, not the sun’s movement. 

What factors will impact the best solar panel orientation for me?

Remember, we’re looking to optimise solar panel positioning for your energy usage, not the sun. We’re walking you through the main considerations that will impact your decision. 

Perhaps the most critical factor to consider for placement is your personal energy usage. Your solar system needs to be designed with your usage habits in mind and optimised for how you will use your power. 

For afternoon/night shift workers who are only home in the morning, this could mean incorporating east or northeast-facing panels into the design to maximise energy in the morning when the sun is here. Alternatively, you could automate some loads to your solar panels’ peak power production time - set your energy guzzler appliances such as the pool timer to run when you know it’ll be powered with your free, green energy. 

So, how does panel orientation affect energy production? 

Line graph showing energy production vs. time for north and east-west facing solar panels

North-facing panels

If you’re home and consume most of your energy during the day, north-facing solar panels will likely suit you best. Consistent and reliable, this placement has the biggest peak in energy production which lasts for a brief window of the day. 

This allows for greater flexibility to use your electricity throughout the day, meaning you can run your dishwasher, washing machine and pool pump during peak sunshine with little worries. Because this orientation generates the most energy, this lends itself to having the greatest environmental impact too.

East-facing panels

East-facing panels can generate up to 15% less energy overall than north-facing ones, but produce more energy in the morning and considerably less during the afternoon. If you’re a busy coffee shop that’s only open early or a big family who loves a morning hot shower with your electric water heater, this orientation could be optimal for you.

To compensate for the drop in total energy production, self-consumption during the morning will need to be prioritised. This means automating those appliances that use the most energy during the morning when you have that peak production.

West-facing panels

West-facing panels act just like east-facing panels but in the reverse. While they produce approximately 15% less energy overall than north-facing ones, most of the energy they produce is from the afternoon sun. This can be great for places where energy demand in the morning is low but ramps up later in the day. It’s especially useful for households and businesses where the air con is blasting to combat the late afternoon heat. 

Again, this panel orientation is only optimal when self-consumption takes over that 15% loss of overall energy production. This means automating your loads during or intentionally using your appliances during this time.

South-facing panels

Despite lower energy production, south-facing installations are becoming more and more popular in Australia. They’re sometimes installed for aesthetic reasons, or if objects are obstructing the sun’s rays. 

An experienced solar consultant can help you understand if south panels will work for you. Again, it comes down to consumption - if you use most of your energy in summer and not as much as in winter, then south-facing panels will work very well. The sun is directly over your roof in January and your south panels will produce the same amount of power as north-facing panels for that month.

East- and west-facing combination panels

Why not have both? Panels on both the east and west side of your roof produces a steady stream of energy throughout the day and is very popular as well.

No matter what direction your roof is facing, an experienced solar designer can help you make the most out of it. But it’s important you understand what you will be achieving before signing on the dotted line. 

Take control of your energy bills with a solar system that’s tailored to your unique energy needs. Contact NRG Solar and one of our consultants will help design a system that works for you.

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