When homeowners think of installing a solar energy system on their home, rooftop solar is probably the first thing to come to mind. What many homeowners don’t realize is that installing ground mount solar panels is just as easy and cost-effective.
- Ground-mounted solar panels operate the same way a typical rooftop system would, but typically are more efficient.
- Ground-mounted solar panel installations are usually more expensive than rooftop installations, but could maximize your energy production, depending on your roof’s orientation and shading.
- Standard ground-mounts and pole-mounts are the two most typical types of ground-mounted solar system installations.
- Check out the EnergySage Buyer’s Guide to shop for solar panels for your ground-mounted system.
What is a ground-mounted solar panel?
Ground-mounted solar panels are solar panels that are installed at the ground level Ground-mounted systems function very similarly to rooftop solar systems – panels are exposed to sunlight which is converted to electricity by solar cells in order to power a single building or, in the case of solar farms, communities.
Here are the top three things that you need to know about ground-mounted solar panels and energy production:
1. In many cases, ground-mounted solar panels can be your best option
While rooftop solar arrays are the most common choice for homeowners, there are many reasons to consider a ground-mounted solar panel system.
Generally, ground mount solar panels cost a bit more than rooftop solar on a per-watt basis because of additional labor and permitting that may be required for the installation. That being said, if your property isn’t ideal for rooftop solar, installing a ground-mounted system can actually save you more money in the long run.
Rooftop solar arrays are restricted by the characteristics of the roof on which they are installed. If your roof isn’t at the right angle, doesn’t face south, or has obstructions like chimneys or skylights, then your solar array will be less productive. On the other hand, ground-mounted solar panels can be located wherever the conditions are best.
In addition, if your home uses a lot of electricity, your roof might not be big enough for a solar energy system that meets your electricity needs. In contrast, ground-mounted solar systems can be sized to match your electricity consumption without the space restrictions of a rooftop system.
2. Not all ground-mounted solar panel systems are created equal
There are two basic types of ground-mounted solar panel systems:
Standard ground-mounts use metal framing driven into the ground to hold your solar panels up at a fixed angle. Some standard ground-mounted solar panel systems can be manually adjusted a few times a year to account for seasonal shifts of the sun.
Pole-mounted solar systems support multiple solar panels on a single pole and elevate panels higher off the ground than a standard ground mount. Pole-mounted solar often incorporates tracking systems, which automatically tilt the solar panels to capture the optimal amount of sunshine.
Tracking systems can increase the production of your solar panels by 25 percent or more. If you decide to add a tracking system to your ground-mounted solar array, you have the option of either a single-axis or a dual-axis system. Single-axis tracking systems move your solar panels over the course of the day to follow the sun as it moves through the sky. Dual-axis tracking systems can also adjust based on seasonal variations in the sun’s position.
Standard ground-mounted versus pole-mounted solar systems
|Pros||• Typically less expensive than pole mounted systems|
• Easier to install and perform any maintenance on than pole-mounted systems
• Can use alternative mounting if the ground is too hard for poles
|• Tracking allows pole mounts to rotate, maximizing exposure
• Tracking system tilts panels according to time of day and season
• Takes up less surface area on your property
|Cons||• Fixed angle limits how much sunlight panels can absorb|
• Standard mount systems don’t work as well with areas prone to snow
• More accessible, which means higher risk of damage due to wildlife or vandalism
|• Often cost more due to the tracking system and a complex setup
• Tend to require more maintenance
• Electricity needed to operate tracking system may not be worth the added benefits
3. Ground-mounted solar panel systems offer benefits for all homeowners
Even if you are a good candidate for a rooftop solar energy system, there are many benefits to choosing a ground-mounted solar panel system.
First, ground-mounted solar panel systems are very easy to place, because they can be located on open land. They don’t require drilling into your roof, and the bracings used in standard ground-mount systems are lightweight and easy to remove. (If you opt for a pole-mount, they will usually be installed more securely.)
Second, a ground-mount solar panel system can be more productive per panel than a rooftop solar array. Because they’re not dependent on your roof, ground-mounted solar panels are set at the perfect angle to optimize energy production. This means you can generate more electricity than a comparably-sized rooftop system, and save more money in the long run.
Finally, ground-mounted solar panels are very easy to access for cleaning and maintenance. If you live in an area that receives a lot of snow in the winter, being able to easily sweep the snow off of your solar panels is a major convenience.
Most installers offer a ground-mount system option, and the cost of standard ground-mounted solar is comparable with a rooftop solar energy system installation. If you decide to include a tracking system in your installation, you will pay an additional upfront cost, but the resulting increase in electricity production can make tracking systems cost-effective for many homeowners.
What makes a solar panel fit for ground-mounting?
Typically, ground-mounted solar systems use 60-cell panels, similar to rooftop installations. So, you’ll want to consider factors such as efficiency, price, and warranty when comparing options. To learn more about which panel to choose for your ground-mounted system, check out our article on the best solar panels in 2021, which breaks down some of the top solar panels available today.
The pros and cons of ground-mounted solar panels
If you’re considering a ground-mounted solar system over a rooftop system, you’ll want to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks associated with these systems. Ultimately, your decision will depend on your needs and what parameters you and your solar provider have to work within.
Advantages of ground-mounted solar
One advantage of free standing solar panels is their ability to maximize sunlight exposure. Your rooftop may not be ideally oriented (i.e., south-facing with a slope between 30 – 40 degrees), but you’ll be able to choose the orientation of your ground-mounted system to increase energy production. Ground-mounted systems also tend to operate more efficiently because they have more air circulation beneath the panels, allowing them to stay cool. Finally, if your system requires any maintenance, it will be much easier for your installer to access a ground-mounted system, typically reducing potential labor costs.
Disadvantages of ground-mounted solar
Ground-mounted systems aren’t a good fit for everyone. First of all, rooftop systems sit on your roof, occupying unused space on your property; with a ground-mounted system, you may need to use valuable land for the system. This alone may be a challenge for some homeowners, particularly those that utilize that space for gardening, recreation, or farming (though in some instances, you can effectively combine farming and ground-mounted systems through agrivoltatics!). Free standing solar panels are also more prone to damage due to wildlife or people tampering with the equipment. Finally, ground mount solar systems tend to be more expensive, assuming that extensive roof repair isn’t necessary to accommodate a rooftop solar system (which you’ll probably need to fix eventually anyways).
Frequently asked questions about ground mounted solar panels
Ground-mounted solar panels are installed on the ground, rather than on a rooftop surface. Whether it’s a single large pole for multiple solar panels, or a framework that sits on the ground, the system will be considered ground-mounted.
Typically, no. Rooftop solar systems use an existing structure to be mounted, eliminating the need for creating mounts – like pole structures or cement foundations – that panels can then be installed on. But, it depends on the roof and if any renovations need to be made to accommodate solar panels. Ground-mounted solar panels are also at a higher risk for damage, so expenses may add up down the line.
The cost of free standing solar panels can vary significantly. Private homeowners can expect to pay anywhere from $17,000 to over $34,000 (after tax incentives). Companies or communities hoping to establish a solar farm can expect to pay anywhere from $800,000 to over $1.3 million: significantly more than the $20,474 average cost of a residential install.
Ground solar panels are safer to install. Maintaining them is safer and easier as well because your installer won’t have to climb onto your roof. The electric magnetic field (EMF) radiation emitted by solar panels is almost negligible, making solar arrays a safe and efficient way to power a home or building.
Installing free standing solar panels far from your home is perfectly fine. The only caveat here is that the farther your home is from the structure, the more wiring you’ll need, increasing the system’s cost.
Solar panels, regardless of if they’re installed on the roof or ground, can make a significant difference in power production and will pay for themselves decades before they need to be replaced, making them a good investment.
Start your solar journey today on EnergySage
Whether you’re looking for a ground-mounted solar system or to install solar on your rooftop, you’ll want to compare quotes from installers. On the EnergySage Marketplace, you’ll receive up to seven quotes from installers in your area, allowing you to find a system that meets your needs at the right price. Register your property today and speak with our expert team of Energy Advisors who can answer your questions throughout the solar process.