Do you want to completely optimize the energy harvest from your solar panels? Realizing the importance of positioning them correctly towards the true south can significantly increase their efficiency. In this guide, we’ll unveil simple techniques to accurately find true south, helping you improve your solar system’s output.

Keep reading – it’s easier than you think!

Understanding True South and Magnetic South

A person uses a compass to find true south in a forest.

Now that we’ve set the stage for solar panel placement, let’s dive into the difference between true south and magnetic south. True south is the direction along the earth’s surface towards the South Pole.

In contrast, magnetic south is where the compass needle points and leads to the magnetic south pole. The Earth has a big magnet inside it, which makes this happen.

However, these two ‘souths’ are not in the same place because of how Earth’s magnet works. This means if you follow your compass needle straight to what it says is “south,” you might not be facing actual true south – important when setting up solar panels! You need to know where true south is so your panels can get as much sun as possible.

Magnetic declination comes into play here. It’s an invisible angle that shows how far apart the true south and magnetic south are from each other at different spots on Earth. For example, if you live in New York City, your magnetic declination will be around 13 degrees west of true north which affects finding true south too.

So always check local information or use special tools when aiming those panels just right!

Methods to Determine True South for Solar Panels

A person uses a compass to find true south in a sunlit field.

The Shortest Shadow Method, using Shadows at Solar Noon, the Magnetic Declination Method, the North Star (Polaris) Method, and using Google Earth are all effective ways to find true south for solar panels.

Each method offers a unique approach to ensuring that your solar panels are aligned correctly for maximum energy absorption.

The Shortest Shadow Method

Finding true south for your solar panels helps them catch more sunlight. You can use the Shortest Shadow Method to do this easily.

  • First, look up the solar noon time for your location. This is when the sun is highest in the sky.
  • Put a straight stick or rod in an open area where it will cast a clear shadow.
  • Watch the shadow that the stick makes as midday gets close.
  • At solar noon, mark the tip of the shortest shadow. This happens just once each day.
  • Draw a line from your stick to the mark on the ground. This line points true south.
  • Now you know where to set up your solar panels! Point them along this line for best results.

Using Shadows at Solar Noon

Setting up solar panels to face true south is best for getting the most sun. The sun is straight south at solar noon, which helps us find where the true south is.

  • Look up your local solar noon time. This is when the sun is highest in the sky.
  • At solar noon, go outside with a straight stick or rod and a level surface like pavement.
  • Stick the rod straight up in the ground or hold it vertically on your flat surface.
  • Watch as the shadow from the stick points directly opposite of the true south. In the northern hemisphere, this will be north.
  • Mark the end of the shadow with a stone or chalk. This shows you one line to true south.
  • Check that your line points to true south using a compass adjusted for magnetic declination. Declination varies based on where you are.
  • Use this line to set your solar panels so they face true south.

The Magnetic Declination Method

To use the Magnetic Declination Method for aligning solar panels:

  1. Find the magnetic declination value for your location using a compass or by checking online resources such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  2. Adjust the orientation of your solar panels based on the magnetic declination value, ensuring they are aligned with true south rather than magnetic south.
  3. Take into account the annual change in magnetic declination as you continuously monitor and adjust the alignment of your solar panels.
  4. Remember that accurately accounting for magnetic declination is crucial for maximizing the efficiency and energy output of your solar power system.

The North Star (Polaris) Method

To find true south for solar panels using the North Star (Polaris) Method, you can locate the North Star, which always sits in the direction of true north. Once you have identified Polaris, you can determine the true south by facing away from the North Star.

This method allows you to establish a line pointing from your location toward true south based on where Polaris is positioned.

This method is particularly useful when other tools such as compasses or digital devices are not available or reliable. By leveraging the consistent positioning of Polaris about True North, individuals can accurately orient their solar panels for efficient energy capture and utilization.

Using Google Earth

Google Earth is a helpful tool for determining the true south for solar panels. By zeroing in on a specific location, you can easily observe the orientation concerning lines of longitude.

This allows for the accurate placement of solar panels to maximize sun exposure and energy production. Additionally, Google Maps’ aerial imagery can be used to measure roof size and determine its orientation relative to the sun’s path, ensuring proper placement of solar panels.

This method helps ensure that solar panels are aligned optimally for maximum efficiency in harnessing solar energy. With Google Earth and Google Maps, it becomes easier to make informed decisions about the placement and alignment of solar panel systems based on geographical location and the sun’s path.

Importance of Aligning Solar Panels to True South

1. True South maximizes solar panel efficiency by ensuring they receive the most sunlight throughout the day.

2. Aligning panels to true south optimizes energy production and increases the overall output of a solar power system.

3. Panels facing true south capture more sunlight, which is crucial for areas with shorter daylight hours or less intense sunshine.

4. Correct alignment reduces the need for additional panels, making solar energy systems more cost-effective.


In conclusion, finding the true south for solar panels is crucial for optimal energy generation. Using methods like the shortest shadow, shadow tracking at solar noon, or magnetic declination can help determine the correct orientation.

It’s important to differentiate between magnetic south and true solar south when aligning solar panels. By understanding these methods and factors, solar panels can be accurately positioned to face true south for maximum efficiency in harnessing solar energy.

To further optimize your solar setup, learn how to hard wire solar lights for a more permanent solution.


Can I use a compass to find the true south for my solar panel setup?

Yes, you can use a compass but remember that it points toward magnetic north, not true south. You’ll need to adjust for this difference based on your location’s latitude and longitude.

Is there a simple way to find True South without using special tools?

You can find out when it’s solar noon, which is when the sun is highest in the sky. Look at the shadow your panel makes; this will point almost exactly north-south due to how light falls at that time.

Does where I live affect how I find true south for my solar panels?

Yes, knowing your geographic location, including latitude and whether you’re north or east of certain lines like meridian lines, helps you correct for any tilt or rotation needed due to North Pole influence.

Will tracking sunrise and sunset help me align my solar panels correctly?

By observing where sunrise and sunset happen from your spot on earth – especially if near the equator – you get useful clues about directions like the east-west line which help turn your array effectively towards true southerly direction.

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