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Solar Position

The suns movement through the day and through the year is one of the most crucial
environmental factors to understand when designing high performance buildings.
If you design your building with careful consideration of the suns path, you can take
advantage of strategies such as natural daylighting, passive heating, PV energy
generation and even natural ventilation. However, if you are not careful, these same
opportunities can work against you, producing glare or overheating.
Altitude is the vertical angle the sun makes
with the ground plane (0 < alt < 90).
Azimuth is the horizontal angle between the
sun and true north (180 < azi < 180,
positive in a clockwise direction from north)

Sun Path and Solar Position


The first thing to understand is the suns path at your location. At any given point on the suns
path, its height in the sky is called its altitude and its horizontal angle relative to true north called
its azimuth.

Seasonal Variations and Important Dates


The suns path varies throughout the year. In the summer the sun is high in the sky, and rises and
sets north of east-west in the northern hemisphere (in the southern hemisphere, its south of eastwest). It also rises much earlier and sets much later in summer than in winter. To study the
extreme of hot summer sun, you often want to study the suns path on the summer solstice, the
day when the sun is at its highest noon altitude.
In the winter the sun is low in the sky, and rises and sets south of east-west in the northern
hemisphere (in the southern hemisphere, its north of east-west). To study the extreme of the
winter sun path, you often want to study the suns path on the winter solstice, the day when the
sun is at its lowest noon altitude.
To study more average positions, you can look at the suns path on the spring and autumn
equinoxes, when the sun rises and sets due east-west. The altitude of the noon sun at the equinox
is determined by the latitude of the site. This is why the rule-of-thumb for the optimum angle of
solar panels is the latitude of the site. At this angle, the sun's rays are most perpendicular to the
panel for most of the year.
Some tips and rules of thumb include:

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Study particular days:


The solstices: Study the extremes of the suns position.
The equinoxes: Study average sun position.
Study different seasons:
Winter studies: How can you maximize sun to passively heat the building?
Summer studies: How can you minimize sun to passively cool the building?

There are
four
important
dates to
remember
when
considering
sun
position

Look at
specific
times of
day:

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o

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o

Morning: You may want to capture suns energy to warm up spaces when the sun is low in sky.
But youll also need to protect against glare.
Noon: Sun is the strongest and highest in the sky. You may want to avoid the hot midday sun to
reduce cooling loads in some areas. But you may want to capture the sun in other cases for
passive solar heating or energy generation.
Note that sometimes noon is not the highest altitude angle. This is because of the difference
between solar time (determined by position of sun) and local time (determined by time
zone).
Afternoon: You may want to prevent overheating and glare
Occupancy hours: You may be particularly concerned about the times when the building is most
heavily occupied.

Solar Time vs. Local Time


In most locations, there will normally be a difference between solar and local time. Solar time is
determined by the position of the sun. At noon it is at its highest altitude, with sunrise and sunset
occurring at symmetrical times either side of noon.
Local (or clock) time is determined by the local time zone and is taken at a reference longitude.
For example, the local time zone for Perth is taken at a longitude of 120 (in the middle of
Western Australia). However, the longitude of Perth is 116.
For each degree of difference in longitude between the actual and reference, there is a 4-minute
time difference. Thus, to convert solar time to local time, use the following formula:
Tlocal = Tsolar + ((Longitude - Longituderef) * 4)

If you notice in some of your analyses that the sun is not the highest at noon on your building
site, this is the reason.
Youll usually want to do analysis with respect to local times because thats the time that all
other members of the design team will be referencing for things like operation schedules.

Visualizing the Sun Path


There are several ways of visualizing the sun's path. See the Sun and Shadow Studies section for
how to use Autodesk tools.
Stereographic sun path diagrams are used to read the solar azimuth and altitude throughout the
day and year for a given position on the earth. They can be likened to a photograph of the sky,
taken looking straight up towards the zenith, with a 180 fish-eye lens. The paths of the sun at
different times of the year can then be projected onto this flattened hemisphere for any location
on Earth.
Summer Sunpath
On the left is a 3D
visualization of the
stereographic
diagram on the right,
showing the
movement of the sun
throughout the day on
June 21st. (summer
solstice)

(Click to view animation)

(Click to view animation)

Winter
Sunpath
On the left is
a 3D
visualization
of the
stereographic
diagram on
the right,
showing the
movement of
the sun
throughout
the day on
December
21st (winter
solstice)

(Click to view animation)

The Sun at
Noon
On the left is
a 3D
visualization
of the
stereographic
diagram on
the right,
showing the
position of the
sun
throughout
the year at
the fixed hour
of 12pm.