Why are some solar panels installed in landscape?

Fast read

Portrait and landscape solar panels are the same product, it's just the installation direction that varies. 

Landscape solar panels, can offer certain advantages depending on the specific circumstances of the installation. They are suitable when the roof has more width than height, allowing for the installation of more panels and increasing the overall power output.

Such panel installs can help reduce shading from neighboring structures, and can maximise sunlight exposure throughout the day.

However, portrait panels tend to be easier to install, and cand are therefore preferred. They also need less rail per panel and are therefore a little cheaper.

Factors such as panel efficiency, installation aesthetics, and location-specific considerations should be taken into account when deciding between landscape and portrait solar panels. An experienced solar professional usually recommend which direction is the most advantageous for your particular roof.

Are solar panels installed in landscape format any different?

Over the last decade, solar energy has growing at exponential due to its clean and renewable energy supply, appealing to consumers both financially and environmentally. If you are into solar and have been looking at finally investing in some panels, you may wonder why some panels on the roof are installed in a portrait format, and some are installed in landscape.

Are landscape solar panels a different model?

Portrait and landscape installed solar panels are exactly the same physical panels; only the racking is mounted differently on the roof, and the panels are fastened onto the solar rail in a different direction.

The traditional, more popular option for solar panel installation is a vertical, also known as a portrait PV panel orientation. However, from time to time, one will walk past a roof and notice that the panels are installed in a landscape way. So why is this the case?

Landscape vs portrait solar panels explained

Portrait solar panels, otherwise known as the traditional solar panel installation, are the more common of the two. About 95 % plus of Australian homes would have the panels installed that way. One of the reasons is that the balance of the system rail needed behind a residential panel in a portrait install is only around 2 metres per panel (1m on the top and 1 m on the bottom).

Installed in landscape position, it needs at least 60% more rail, e.g. around 3.6 metres (1.8 top and bottom). So a landscape installation will cost more in PV rail components and brackets, as more brackets are needed to fasten the more extended rail. As the bracket installations take time, the labour cost is also higher for a landscape panel installation than the traditional portrait set-up.

In Australia, solar sales are very cost-competitive, so salespersons and installers will not easily suggest a solution that adds to the cost without having some significant benefits.

solar panels installed in a landscape position
As a landscape installation is usually a little more expensive, why would anyone install panels that way?

So why does it happen?

There are various reasons why a solar installer may have installed solar panels with a landscape orientation. The fact that that particular roof had more width than height may be one factor, making landscape orientation the more sensible option. In this situation, a landscape solar module orientation would enable the installation of more solar panels, hence allowing for the installation of a larger PV system with a bigger kW capacity. Larger systems generate more power output.

Landscape-oriented panels are typically used and found in areas that are tighter in space and where it would be hard to install them vertically. Installing solar panels in landscape orientation can also lessen the effects of shading as this helps avoid a particular shaded part of a roof or the shading from a nearby antenna or satellite dish.

It is also recommended if it can reduce shadowing from neighbouring structures, like trees or buildings, on the panel in this installation position if the shadowing covers a particular part of the roof for long parts of the day.

Popular in commercial tilt systems

Landscape tilt frame orientation may also be advantageous for placing solar panels on flat-roofed commercial structures because it enables the installation of more panels on the roof. This is because the panel does not stand up too high from the roof, as in a portrait tilt.

The wind load on the panel is less, and the panel throws a lower shadow onto the panels installed behind the initial row of the PV panel. This self-shading situation is to be avoided in commercial setups at all costs, as it would mean a lot of generation is lost, and the overshadowing will cause stress on the bypass diodes within the panels.

commercial solar
Some commercial solar systems with tilt frames prefer landscape orientation for the panels to minimise the self-shading of the panels during the late afternoon hours.

When is a landscape panel position the clear winner?

The ideal panel position is when they face True North, allowing lots of sunlight to hit the panels throughout the day. In some residential roofs, the North side is full of gables and other structures, or it faces the street, and the homeowner wants to avoid seeing panels when they drive into their driveway.

So sometimes, especially in narrow homes, the North-East or North-West facing roofs are very long but not high enough to accommodate a portrait install, or it needs to be higher to accommodate two portrait rows but high enough to fit 1 portrait and 1 landscape row.

As it is not recommended for panels to go above the ridge cap, due to wind load and mounting bracket issues, in such an instance, it is best to fit the panels sideways (landscape).

Another option to consider if your roof only offers limited portrait positions is to buy more efficient panels. Such panels required overall less roof space.

Often ground-mounted PV systems use the landscape panel position

Landscape installs are also popular when it comes to free-standing ground-mount solar structures. The higher the structure, the more the wind load and the stronger the rail foundations will need to be. So installers prefer a broader structure that does not tower too high above the ground like in the photo below.

black landscape solar panels
There is usually a specific reason that the solar panels were installed in a landscape instead of a portrait direction

Aesthetics can be important  

It is also interesting to consider the final look of the solar PV power station. For example, if one has a flat roof, one could install the panels flat on the roof so no one sees them from the ground. One disadvantage of this solution is that one will spend more on panel cleaning, a flat panels have the dust and dirt washed off less regular.

Alternatively, a tilt frame solution could be considered. If the panels are in a tilt and landscape, they sit lower, making them less likely to be seen from the ground than portrait panels. Their wind load exposure will also be lower if they sit in a side-on position. If you do not want to see tilt frames on a roof from the ground, a sideways-installed panel offers a potential solution.

In summary

Landscape solar panels can be a good option for some solar panel systems. It is important to carefully check out the pros and cons of panels position and consult with a solar professional to determine whether they are the best choice for your system. By considering the position and angle of the panels and the system’s aesthetics, you can decide which way is correct for you.

Should you consider getting solar, batteries, or other energy products, we recommend contacting a local installer to advise you. To find the right partner try our company finder and ask our recommended experts to assist you. Using a Your Energy Answer Authorised Partner will give you an experienced company to serve your needs.

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