ooftop solar has become a synonym for residential solar, and homes covered in photovoltaic panels are the first thing we imagine when we think of solar systems for households. Nevertheless, solar rooftops aren’t the only possible way to tap into solar power. In fact, sometimes installing the modules on a roof is far less efficient and even dangerous. Here's a helpful guide that will help you understand what are ground based photovoltaic installations and whether you should go for ground mount solar panels instead of a traditional rooftop solar system.
What is a ground mount solar system?
A ground mount solar array is a free-standing installation mounted on the ground level and supported by either rigid steel frames or a single pole mount firmly anchored to the ground. A ground solar system can be mounted anywhere in your yard where solar panels can receive maximum sunlight throughout the day.
Ground solar vs. rooftop solar. Is ground mounting less suitable for homes?
Since rooftop mounted solar panels are way more popular with homeowners, one might assume ground mount solar systems are somehow inferior or less suitable for residential applications. The truth is that both rooftop and ground solar can be ideally suited for domestic use, and the right choice depends on your particular situation. Below are some examples of cases when you should consider getting ground mount solar panels instead of rooftop mounted modules.
Sure-fire ways to know ground mounted solar will suit you better than rooftop solar
So let’s discover when ground mount solar panels are a better choice for residential use than conventional solar rooftops.
You have little space to set up rooftop solar, but enough room on the ground beside your home
In some cases, there isn’t enough space on the roof needed to install solar panels. Sometimes the house area isn’t big enough to allow placing the number of solar modules a family needs, and sometimes some obstructions can interfere with a solar system, such as chimneys, vents, or windows. Often solar installers can mount the modules around these obstructions, which makes the mounting process more complicated and increases labor costs. Ground solar panel systems, by contrast, have much fewer limitations in terms of space.
So how do you determine whether your roof is large enough for solar or you should choose ground mount solar installation? First, calculate the size of your system based on your power consumption; this will help you roughly determine how many panels you need. An average solar module takes up around 15.5 square feet; therefore, a 5kW solar system consisting of 14 modules will require at least 217 square feet of roof space. So if your roof can’t provide it, consider installing your solar modules on the ground, as ground mount solar installations usually allow accommodating a larger amount of panels.
Your roof orientation isn’t suitable for mounting solar panels
The amount of energy your solar installation will produce strongly depends on the direction of your panels. Ideally, your roof must face true south to allow solar panels to capture maximum sunlight. North-facing solar modules can generate up to 30% less energy than systems facing south.
So if you are unlucky to have a north-facing roof, ground mount solar panels can be the key. When installing your modules on the ground, you can position them optimally so that they collect as much sunshine as possible.
Your roof is too shaded to install solar panels
Another case when a ground base solar system can be a better option is a shaded roof. As you probably know, photovoltaic modules are most efficient under direct sun. Whenever a solar array is shaded, it significantly reduces the amount of electricity it generates. These shading losses can be minimized if you pair your modules with microinverters, but your rooftop system will still underproduce.
Ground mount solar installation might work better if you have a ground space in your backyard with fewer obstructions than your roof. Ground solar panels will allow you to unlock the full potential of your solar panel system and keep power losses to a minimum.
Your roof isn't sturdy enough to support solar panel mounts
Solar modules are pretty heavy, so your roof must be strong enough to handle the additional weight of a photovoltaic system. Setting up the modules on an old or damaged roof creates a high risk of collapse, so if you're not sure about the safety of a rooftop mounted solar system, give thought to installing ground mount solar panels. In this sense, ground installations are safer, as with a ground solar panel system, you won’t have to worry that your roof is on the verge of collapse.
Pros and cons of installing solar panels on the ground
As you could see in the previous section, installing solar panels on the ground can be a workable alternative to rooftop setups. However, ground arrays have both benefits and drawbacks, so consider them before you choose a ground solar system. Below, we take a closer look at both pros and cons of ground mount solar installations.
Advantages of ground mount solar
First, let’s see what benefits a homeowner can get when setting up ground mount solar modules.
Ground solar mounts are easier to install
Ground mount solar panel systems are generally easier to place, thanks to which they are more popular among DIYers. First, the racks used for ground solar mounting is lightweight and easily removable. Second, setting up solar modules on the ground is less hazardous since a ground solar installation process doesn’t involve climbing onto the roof with rather heavy solar panels.
With ground mount solar, you can choose an optimal module position
Ground mount solar helps optimize energy output by selecting the optimal direction and tilt of solar panels. While with rooftop mounted solar the direction of your PV modules is predetermined by the orientation of your roof, the ground mount array enables you to find the ideal position where your solar panels will face the sun most of the time.
Solar modules placed on the ground are easier to access and maintain
Unlike rooftop panels, solar modules mounted on the ground are easily accessible. Both rooftop and ground based solar systems require very little maintenance, but they still need to be periodically cleaned and inspected. With rooftop mounted modules, this process may be complicated, whereas ground mounted systems allow you to visually check and wash the panels without climbing on a house roof.
Solar modules installed on the ground are easier to troubleshoot
Convenient accessibility of ground solar panel systems also means their components are easier to repair. If something goes wrong with your ground mount solar installation, a solar technician will be able to quickly investigate the problem and fix it without much preparation since working with ground based panels doesn’t require tons of safety equipment.
Ground mount solar is not limited to the size of your roof
One day you might want to expand your solar system, which can be done much easier if your solar panels are mounted on the ground. Even if you don’t have too much open space on your property, ground mount solar systems usually offer considerably more expansion opportunities than rooftop mounts.
Ground solar modules are cooler, which means higher efficiency
Even though solar panels need much sun, higher temperatures actually decrease their efficiency by 10-25%. Here lies another strength of ground solar mounts: solar panels installed on the ground don’t heat up as quickly as rooftop mounted modules.
Ground mount solar arrays benefit from better airflow underneath. While rooftop mounts have only small air gaps between them and the roof, ground solar mounting creates much more space for air circulation which cools the panels down.
Ground solar mounts don’t need to be removed when the roof is being replaced
Redoing your roof may be challenging if you have a rooftop solar system. The panels must be removed before the roofers can get to work, meaning you won’t be able to generate solar energy throughout the roof replacement process. But if you have a ground solar array, replacing your roof won't be a problem. You won’t have to carry the additional costs of removing and re-installing the modules, and ground mount solar panels will keep providing power without any interruptions.
Disadvantages of ground mount solar
Now let’s examine some drawbacks of ground solar you may want to consider if you're already curious about getting ground mount solar panels.
Ground mount solar panels cost more than rooftop solar
Photovoltaic panels installed on the ground tend to cost more than rooftop solar. Instead of using the existing supporting structure of your roof, as in the case of rooftop mounts, ground mount solar systems require building this structure from scratch. This means you need more mounting components for ground solar systems, and the labor costs will be higher.
The installation of ground solar systems requires more permits
Another drawback of ground solar mounts is a more complex approval process. Ground mount solar panels are regarded as a new application for a property; that’s why in some areas, the arrays mounted on the ground are subject to approval from local zoning and land use authorities. Also, keep in mind that extra permission fees also add up to the final costs of ground mounted solar systems.
Solar modules installed in the ground take up space on your property
While rooftop mounted panels occupy space that is usually unused, placing solar panels on the ground means you will have to sacrifice valuable space on your property that could have been otherwise used for gardening or recreation. That’s why ground mount solar systems are best suited for those with large open spaces on their property.
Types of ground mount solar panels
There are two types of ground mount solar systems. Below, we briefly examine standard and pole types of ground mount for solar panels to help you decide which kind of ground solar system will suit you best.
Standard ground mounted solar systems
A standard ground mount solar is a type of ground solar installation that uses a metal A-frame set onto a concrete footing lying on the ground. These regular ground solar mounts usually cost less and are easier to install than pole mounted ground systems. However, they are less efficient at capturing sunlight than pole ground mounts.
Pole mounted solar installations
Pole-mounted ground solar is a type of ground solar system where the panels are mounted on the top of or on the side of a pole fixed on the ground using a concrete base. A single pole set on the ground can hold many solar panels. Pole gound mounts are usually equipped with sun tracking systems – devices that rotate the ground based modules so that they face the sun as it moves across the sky. The most significant benefit of this type of ground mounted solar system is improved efficiency, as it adjusts ground mount solar panels according to the time of day and season so that they can collect more sunlight. Additionally, it takes up less ground space on your property. On the flip side, pole ground mount solar arrays are more expensive and difficult to install.
So are ground mount solar panels worth it?
To sum up, ground mount solar panels can be a worthy alternative for those who can't install rooftop solar panels for one reason or another. So if you have some extra ground area in your backyard to spare, you should seriously consider a ground mount solar panel system. Photovoltaic modules placed on the ground are just as efficient as rooftop alternatives, so you don’t need to sacrifice your power output. Moreover, ground installations can include sun-tracking systems that take solar performance to new heights.