south facing roof for solar panels

Does my solar roof have to face south?

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You don’t need optimal conditions for your solar power system to be a great investment. One of the biggest myths about the financial viability of solar is that it requires a really sunny location and a south-facing roof. While these may be ideal conditions, folks outside of Southern California with roofs that face other points on the compass, such as east to west-facing roofs, can still satisfy most of their electricity needs and reap significant financial returns when they adopt solar power systems.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2020

Which way do solar panels face?

The conventional recommendation is that a roof direction should face south for best exposure to the sun. Though south facing roofs will have the most direct sunlight exposure, the takeaway is that your roof does not have to face south for solar to make sense. Factors like the cost of energy and available incentives will affect your solar economics much more than roof orientation.

South facing roof orientation comparison

solar roof with panels facing south energysage
This beautiful solar roof is facing south into the sunlight but could be equally as efficient with a different roof orientation.

We looked at differences in solar panel production and savings in different areas of the country in our post Top 10 Cities for Solar (Hint:  They Aren’t the Sunniest). But what happens to these numbers when the roof in question doesn’t face south?  We took a closer look at six cities– Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—to see what happens with their solar roofs. Here’s what we found:

Even when solar panels aren’t facing directly south, they can still produce large amounts of electricity, even if you live somewhere that doesn’t receive much sun. In general, regardless of where you live, if your solar roof is oriented directly east or directly west instead of the optimal south-facing, you will only see a 20% decrease in the amount of electricity you produce. Even with this decrease in performance, your solar panels would still produce enough electricity to save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Solar panel orientation in cloudy cities

Additionally, lowering the tilt angle of the panels on your solar roof can also contribute to the total economic benefits east and west-facing solar power systems provide. Panels facing directly east or directly west with a 30° tilt, produce about 20% below peak performance levels. If the tilt is dropped to 15°, production levels at the east and west extremes only decrease by about 15%. While this 5% gain may not seem like a significant difference, this slight change in panel orientation can be enough to save an additional $50-$75 per year even in cloudy cities.

Let’s look at Boston to see how the numbers work.  Boston, unlike somewhere like San Diego, is not known for its abundant sunshine, but an average-sized, east-facing solar system in Boston is still capable of producing more than 4600 kWh of usable electricity per year. That’s enough to save more than $650 each year on electricity bills. If you adjust the tilt angle of those panels to 15°, the savings will be between $700 and $725 per year. Those savings in and of themselves are significant, but when you consider that Massachusetts residents qualify for local, state and federal incentives such as tax breaks and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), the financial returns of adopting solar power, despite the “sub-optimal” conditions become even greater. The point is, you don’t have to have the perfect climate and the perfect south facing solar roof to reap the tremendous financial benefits that solar power can deliver. When it comes to solar, good enough is almost always more than enough.

Three Tips for Solar Shoppers

1. Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more

As with any big ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.

To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you’ll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. You can receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you when you register your property on our Solar Marketplace – homeowners who get 3 or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.

2. The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price

The bigger isn’t always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all of their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, make sure you compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don’t overpay for solar.

3. Comparing all your equipment options is just as important

National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can have a significant impact on your system’s electricity production. By collecting a diverse array of solar bids, you can compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.

There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find the “sweet spot” for your property is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.

For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would just like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator that offers upfront cost and long-term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.

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11 thoughts on “Does my solar roof have to face south?

  1. Craig Beltsen

    I don’t really care if my solar installation is producing more KWH as I am consuming. If potential customers think that’s the point, they need to sit down and think very hard about why they’re looking at Solar for their grid-connected home.

    What’s important to me is that it is an overall reduction in costs. That means that my X year electric costs including installation, ownership, and finance costs, needs a very high chance of being less expensive than my X year electric costs would be without a solar installation. If I can save a few thousand dollars over its lifetime, then that’s an easy win. Because I can always use that money in a way better than sending it to the electric company.

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  2. Ion

    I paid $21k for my solar system(12 panels with microinverter…I got back from federal and state taxes aproximative 8k(like someone said , you have to pay enough taxes during the year to get money back through solar program)…I installed myself a second system I’m top of my garage which is producing aprox 3/4 compare with the house roof solar…Added both systems, I’m getting more than I’m consuming with no problem,so solar system is good but you have to be smart…I know energy companies are paying crap for what I’m pushing extra to the grid, so I’m not willing to do that…to use the extra energy I installed a 6 gal hot water heater with a circulation pump and I tap it into my heating system on one of my house zone…so in a wither season, I’m using the extra electricity saving on gas bill…of course all this I did with some extra expenses and some work(electric and plumbing)…hope this will help people who are not really happy at the beginning of the green energy use.

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  3. Ed

    As with any expensive investment, you need to be fully informed as to the costs associated with your system. The federal tax rebate (30% of the cost of your system) only applies to reduce your taxes when you file in the year after installation. If you don’t pay a certain amount in taxes, you may not get the full rebate. Your panels will produce variable amounts of power throughout the year, the lowest being when you turned them on, in the winter. Financing the panels/system also adds to the cost and prolongs the time frame before you are saving money. You also may not get paid for any excess electricity you generate other than once a year. In my state (CT) Eversource only settles up in March and pays me approximately 1/6th as much for the energy I generate as compared to the energy they sell me. If borrowing money to purchase the panels is a financial hardship, you probably would have done better with a “free” installation and then buying your electricity from the installer. Typically this shaves 20-30% off a bill in my area.

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