West vs. South: Rethinking the best orientation for solar panels

Solar panels have become a beacon of hope in our fight against climate change, promising a future powered by clean energy. But as technology and research advance, some long-held beliefs are being challenged. One such belief is the optimal orientation for solar panels. While the south has traditionally been the favored direction, new studies suggest that looking westward might be the way forward.

solar panel
Bill Mead

The Traditional Belief: Why South?

From the inception of solar energy utilization, the southward orientation for solar panels was the unanimous choice. The rationale was straightforward: the south receives the most consistent sunlight throughout the day, translating to efficient electricity production. Moreover, the sun’s angle of incidence is more direct when facing south, allowing the panels to absorb solar rays more effectively.

The Westward Shift: A New Perspective

However, a paradigm shift is on the horizon. A recent study by the Pecan Street Research Institute has brought to light that west-facing solar panels might have an edge. Their findings indicate that panels oriented to the west generate, on average, 2% more electricity throughout the day compared to their south-facing counterparts. While 2% might seem minuscule, it can significantly impact the overall performance and efficiency of a solar energy system.

Peak Hours: The Game Changer

A compelling reason behind the westward tilt is the electricity production during peak hours in the late afternoon and early evening. It’s during these hours that electricity demand spikes, making it pricier. Thus, generating more electricity during these high-demand periods can lead to substantial savings on energy bills, making the westward orientation more economically appealing.

Practical Considerations for Solar Panel Orientation

While the westward shift is promising, it’s essential to understand that the best orientation for solar panels isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Factors like local shading can influence the optimal direction. Additionally, the tilt or inclination of the panels plays a pivotal role in maximizing electricity production, sometimes even more than the orientation itself.

Seeking Expertise: Given the nuances involved in determining the best setup for solar panels, consulting with a professional is paramount. They can assess the specific conditions of your location and provide guidance on the ideal orientation and tilt for your solar installation.


The world of solar energy is dynamic, with new research continually reshaping our understanding. While the south has been the traditional favorite, the west is emerging as a strong contender in the race for optimal solar panel orientation. As homeowners and businesses look to harness the sun’s power more efficiently, it’s clear that staying informed and adaptable is the key to a brighter, more sustainable future.