Understanding Elevation Angle in Solar Energy: A Guide for Industry Practitioners

The elevation angle, also known as the altitude angle, refers to the vertical height of the sun measured from the horizontal plane. It is an important concept in the field of solar energy and plays a significant role in the design and operation of photovoltaic systems. By understanding the elevation angle, industry practitioners can optimize their solar installations for maximum efficiency and output.


The elevation angle is typically expressed in degrees and represents the sun’s position relative to the observer’s location on the Earth’s surface. At sunrise and sunset, when the sun is directly overhead, the elevation angle is 0°. As the day progresses, the elevation angle changes, reaching its peak at solar noon. This angle varies based on factors such as latitude, declination, and the time of year.

One of the key uses of the elevation angle is in the construction of photovoltaic systems. The maximum elevation angle, which occurs at solar noon, determines the maximum height of the sun in the sky at a specific time of the year. This parameter is influenced by the latitude and declination of a location.

For instance, on the summer solstice, the sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer, resulting in a 90° elevation angle. However, in latitudes between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer, the elevation angle can be higher than 90° during summer, indicating that sunlight is coming from the north rather than the south. Similarly, in locations between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, sunlight can come from the south at certain times of the year.

Understanding how the elevation angle changes throughout the day is crucial for accurate PV system simulations. By considering the dynamic nature of the angle, practitioners can optimize system design and align solar panels for optimal sunlight capture. This knowledge helps ensure maximum energy generation and efficiency.

Here are the top 10 questions and answers for industry practitioners in the energy storage or solar industry:

1. How is the elevation angle measured?
The elevation angle is measured as the vertical height of the sun from the horizontal plane, typically in degrees.

2. What factors influence the elevation angle?
The elevation angle is influenced by a location’s latitude, declination, and the time of year.

3. What is the significance of the maximum elevation angle?
The maximum elevation angle determines the sun’s highest position in the sky at a given time of year and is essential for PV system design.

4. How does the elevation angle change throughout the day?
The elevation angle changes as the sun moves across the sky, reaching its peak at solar noon.

5. How does the elevation angle vary with latitude?
The elevation angle varies with latitude, with higher latitudes experiencing lower maximum elevation angles.

6. How does the elevation angle differ between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer/Capricorn?
At the equator, the elevation angle is never higher than 90°. However, between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer/Capricorn, the angle can exceed 90° during certain times of the year.

7. How does the elevation angle affect solar energy generation?
The elevation angle affects the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels, influencing energy generation and efficiency.

8. Can the elevation angle be adjusted in solar installations?
Solar installations can be optimized by adjusting the tilt and orientation of solar panels to align with the elevation angle for maximum sunlight capture.

9. How can the elevation angle be calculated for a specific location?
The elevation angle can be calculated using mathematical formulas that take into account the location’s latitude and the declination of the sun.

10. How can accurate knowledge of the elevation angle benefit PV system design?
Accurate knowledge of the elevation angle helps optimize PV system design, leading to improved energy generation, higher efficiency, and better return on investment.

By understanding the elevation angle and its implications for solar energy systems, industry practitioners can make informed decisions and maximize the potential of renewable energy sources.