Microalgae productivity in tubular photobioreactors depends on algae species, location, tube diameter, biomass concentration, distance between tubes and for vertically stacked systems, the number of horizontal tubes per stack. A simulation model for horizontal and vertically stacked horizontal tubular reactors was made to quantify the effect of these decision variables on production yield. The model uses reactor dimensions, dynamic sunlight patterns over the day and year, and growth characteristics of algae species as inputs. Scenario studies were done to study the effect of decision variables on reactor performance in The Netherlands, France and Algeria. Results indicate that the areal biomass productivity in vertically stacked photobioreactors is 25–70% higher than in plain horizontal systems. Reactor design is location specific because light conditions differ. In The Netherlands, the best horizontal distance between tubes is 0.05 m for horizontal and 0.25 m for vertical systems. For France and Algeria, the best horizontal distance between vertical systems is 0.20 m and 0.15 m respectively. System performance can be improved further by using light reflection materials on the ground surface. Improving the transparency properties of tube material does not significantly affect areal productivity.