North Facing Solar Panels on Roof? Decoding the Best Direction for Solar Panels

Can you put solar panels on a north-facing roof

The common perception about solar panel installation is that the best orientation is facing south if you’re in the northern hemisphere, to capture the maximum amount of energy throughout the year. But does this rule of thumb stand up to scrutiny when it comes to installing panels on north facing roofs? Is there ever a reason to consider “north facing solar panels” or to ask “can you put solar panels on a north facing roof?” In this article, we delve into the nitty-gritty of solar panel orientation, debunking some misconceptions and providing insight on the best way to face solar panels.

Understanding the Significance of a North-Facing Orientation

The direction of your solar panel installation is critical to maximizing solar production. North-facing panels capture the largest amount of solar energy, offering homeowners substantial savings on energy bills by utilizing solar power as it’s generated. In certain cases, structures oriented 10° east of north are even considered to have an optimal orientation.

A north-facing orientation is particularly advantageous if you are home during the day. By positioning solar panels on the northern side of the house, you can potentially maximize energy generation during peak sunlight hours. Moreover, this arrangement supports a more sustainable lifestyle, contributing positively to the environment.

Breaking Down the Performance Gap

While it’s a widespread belief that solar panels should always face the sun, north-facing panels can also offer decent performance due to two key reasons:

  1. Diffuse sunlight: The direct sunlight beam and the diffuse light from the sky are two components of sunlight. While south-facing panels capture direct sunlight more effectively, north and south-facing panels receive almost the same amount of diffuse light, which accounts for approximately 30% of a panel’s energy.
  2. Direct sunlight and the cosine function: The amount of direct sunlight a panel receives is based on the cosine of the angle, which is somewhat flat, especially near the peak. This means the difference between facing the sun directly and being slightly off is not as significant as one might think.

Moreover, during the summer months, when solar panels are most productive, north-facing panels perform nearly as well as south-facing ones.

The Orientation Dilemma

Conventionally, the ideal orientation for solar panels in the Northern Hemisphere is south-facing. This ensures maximum energy production throughout the year as it optimally captures direct sunlight. Nevertheless, there are instances where homeowners may consider installing solar panels on a north-facing roof, perhaps due to aesthetic preferences or practicality issues with south-facing rooftops.

Contrary to the common rule of thumb, mounting solar panels on a north-facing roof isn’t a cardinal sin. In fact, the performance reduction is not as drastic as often feared. The worst-case scenario will lead to about a 28% reduction in energy output, compared to an optimally oriented panel1.

The Power of North-Facing Solar Panels

The Power of North-Facing Solar Panels

When installed on a north-facing roof, solar panels can still generate substantial energy. Even though the efficiency of north-facing panels might be lower than their south-facing counterparts, the north-facing modules could still be economically viable if they significantly expand the system size2.

In essence, installing north-facing modules could help homeowners cut their energy costs, as the additional energy produced offsets the marginal costs associated with hardware and installation. Also, since these costs are typically fixed, the potential for profit escalates if more panels are added.

Exploring Different Panel Orientations

When considering the best way to face solar panels, it is essential to understand how different orientations affect energy production. This involves looking at various panel positions, such as west, north-west, east, north-east, and south orientations, and how they correspond to the energy consumption habits of the household3.

West Orientation

West-oriented panels produce about 15% less electricity than north-facing ones. However, their power output is highest in the afternoon, making them ideal for homes with high energy needs during summer afternoons.

North-West Orientation

North-west oriented panels generate around 5% less electricity than north-facing panels. However, their production peaks in the afternoon, making them a good choice for households with high energy demand during this period.

East Orientation

East-facing panels are ideal for homes with high energy consumption in the morning, although they produce 15% less power than north-facing panels.

North-East Orientation

North-east facing panels, while producing about 5% less electricity than north-facing panels, present a balanced energy output throughout the day.

South Orientation

Even though south is traditionally the least favored orientation, with solar panel prices dropping significantly, it has become economically feasible to mount panels on south-facing roofs.

Making an Informed Decision

The decision to install north-facing solar panels or opt for a different orientation depends on several factors. You must consider your household’s energy needs, consumption patterns, and the specific solar potential of your location. Though north-facing panels may generate the highest energy overall, other orientations could provide a more consistent supply of electricity throughout the day, potentially maximizing your savings.

While the installation of solar panels isn’t a “set and forget” project, regular maintenance and potential repositioning can ensure optimal performance. A reliable solar installer can help determine the best solar system for your home, providing valuable advice on solar panel orientation and placement.

By exploring the possibility of north-facing solar panels, we’ve seen that solar panel orientation isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, it’s a tailored approach that requires a deeper understanding of your specific circumstances.

The Impact of Solar Panels on Roofs

While north-facing homes may seemingly reap the most benefits from solar installations, homes facing other directions can also significantly profit. The difference in benefits between north-facing installations and those facing other directions like north-west may be closer than anticipated.

The optimal orientation for your solar panels will ultimately depend on your energy consumption habits and the specific circumstances of your home. It’s not always about facing the panels north, but aligning them to your unique energy needs and consumption patterns.

Conclusion on North Facing Solar Panels

The question, “Can you put solar panels on a north-facing roof?” shouldn’t be a stumbling block when considering solar power for your home. Indeed, while the orientation matters, it’s not the sole determinant of a solar power system’s viability. Understanding your energy consumption habits and working with a reliable solar installer will ensure you get the most out of your solar panels, regardless of their orientation.

In the end, north-facing solar panels can be a valuable addition to your solar system, providing you with substantial savings on energy costs, contributing to a greener environment, and ultimately enhancing your solar energy experience.

FAQs on North Facing Solar Panels

Q: Can I install solar panels on a north facing roof?

Yes, solar panels can be installed on a north-facing roof, although the energy output might be less compared to south-facing panels (for the northern hemisphere). The exact impact depends on your location, roof pitch, and local climate conditions.

Q: Why is north the best direction for solar panels?

Solar panels face north to capture the most sunlight throughout the day, leading to higher energy production. This is particularly true for locations in the southern hemisphere.

Q: Can east or west-facing solar panels be effective?

Yes, east and west-facing solar panels can still generate significant amounts of electricity and may align better with certain household energy consumption patterns, especially those with higher electricity usage with north-facing solar panels.


Optimum Tilt of Solar Panels. – Solar Electricity Handbook. Link

Solar Panel Direction Explained – South vs East vs West. – EnergySage. Link

Solar Panels: Optimal Angle.- Green Energy Jubilation. Link

Does Solar Panel Orientation Really Matter? – Solar Power World. Link

Which Way Should Solar Panels Face? – PV Magazine. Link


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