Solar panel orientation: Taking a western view

It is commonly accepted that the best orientation for solar PV in the southern hemisphere is to the north, but Adam McHugh, a lecturer in energy economics and energy policy at Murdoch University, has suggested if we want to make a real difference to our energy usage, we should be facing them westward.

At the present, where governments and energy retailers are looking to reduce peak energy demand they are using a combination of “time of use” tariffs and smart monitoring technology–the Smart Grid, Smart City project funded by the NSW Government is an excellent example of this. McHugh suggests that a new pricing system be put in place that encourages customers to face their solar PV panels westward, which would be more effective in reducing grid demand at peak times than leaving them in a northerly position.

Such changed tariffs would benefit the energy retailers, as well as the customers. Energy costs dearer–to both customers and retailers–during peak times due to the additional energy sources that need to be activated to meet demand. In the first instance wind and hydro plants are accessed as these are the cheapest options. If these do not generate sufficient power,  coal fired plants are then activated, followed lastly by natural gas. If peak time demand is lowered the additional, more costly energy sources are not required and this saving to the retailers can be passed onto the customer.

The Smart Grid, Smart City project aims to tackle peak time demand by changing customers behaviour through energy monitoring technology and retail pricing schemes. McHugh, however, suggests that residential solar PV could play a major role in reducing not just household bills, but network costs as well. McHugh proposed that a restructure of retail energy tariffs would result in significantly lower bills for customers in autumn, winter and spring in exchange for 10 – 12 energy prices spikes during the summer. McHugh’s argument is that people could go shopping or head to the movies, where air conditioning will be running anyway, during price spikes, this will boost the Australian retail sector and save customers money on their energy bills.

All of these hypotheses are only applicable if changes in energy pricing are enacted. At the current time the best orientation for solar PV systems is still north, as this produces the greatest volume of energy and therefore the greatest returns for the homes and businesses that have solar systems. The recommendations of the research do provide yet another example of how changes to energy tariffs could offer a better deal for all customers, while protecting the solar PV sector. The key factor, it seems, is changing the rules so that there are authentic market incentives for electricity retailers to encourage customers to use less power during times of peak demand.

© 2012 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Rebecca Boyle


  1. Hi Suzanne, Don’t believe all that is said about where you can and cannot mount your solar panels. As you know the experts always talk about the critical angle that the solar panels should be mounted at. However this critical angle is only good for one millisecond on that particular day as the earth rotates. Therefore the angle is best today but what about in one months time when the angle of the sun is different?? Most of these comment come from “The Book” on the subject and do not come from experience or actual trials. I have found through experience that a solar panel can produce the same outputs even when the solar panel is upside down. Yes that right the back of the solar panel was facing the sun and it produced the same output as the correct way round. So providing that you fence is capable of supporting the number of panels you wish to mount and it gets enough sunlight during the day your panels it will work fine.

    1. Hi Suzanne,

      That would be a bit unusual – if you’re talking about the same panels that are ordinarily put on roofs, the answer is in all likelihood a ‘no’ because of the structural issues. If you’re talking about something small-scale (like small solar collectors for LED yard lights or similar) then yes you could probably do it.

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