Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

James Menart (Advisor), Rory Roberts (Committee Member), Daniel Young (Committee Member)

Degree Name

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MSME)


A rule-of-thumb for orientating fixed solar panels for optimum yearly collection of solar radiation that is not influenced by atmospheric effects is to face the panel due south in the Northern Hemisphere or due north in the Southern Hemisphere and to tilt the panel from the horizontal plane at an angle equal to the latitude of the location of the solar panel. The work presented in this thesis shows that this rule-of-thumb is an approximation for no-atmosphere, panel orientation; but not a precise value. This project presents a detailed method for determining the precise optimum tilt angle of a fixed solar panel that captures the most solar energy from the sun for the cases of no-atmosphere and clear atmosphere, over the course of a year, for any azimuthal orientation, including due south and due north azimuthal orientations. The mathematical development of the integral equations used to obtain these optimum tilt angles is presented in detail and some discussion of the numerical technique used to solve them is given. Results from the analysis are given for many azimuthal angle orientations for both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. This work shows that the optimum tilt angle for maximum, no-atmosphere, solar radiation capture for due south and due north facing solar panels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, respectively, is close to the latitude angle for low latitude locations, but noticeably different at higher latitudes. The deviations between the rule-of-thumb results and results when the effects of a clear atmosphere are included in the analysis increase. The results calculated as part of this work indicate that the optimum tilt angle deviations from the rule-of-thumb and the optimum tilt angles published by many investigators who have included cloudy atmospheric effects in their analysis are not solely due to clouds or a clear atmosphere, as many of these investigators have concluded. A portion of these differences is due to the sun-earth geometry ignored by the rule-of-thumb, but included in this work.

Page Count


Department or Program

Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Year Degree Awarded


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.