When talking about solar energy, most people immediately picture solar panels on a rooftop.
However, while rooftops may be the most common place for solar panels to be installed, it’s not the only option there is.
And if you have a large piece of open land, then a ground-mounted solar system is an excellent option. Experts from Impact Energy, a certified solar provider, share everything about ground-mounted solar energy systems and their numerous advantages.
Understanding A Ground-Mounted Solar System
Like a rooftop solar power system, a ground-mounted solar energy system is a set of photovoltaic (PV) cells producing direct current (DC) electricity from the sun. But instead of being placed on a rooftop, the solar panels are placed on the grounds of your property, typically in the backyard.
There are a number of ways to set up a ground-mounted solar system. However, the two most common ones are:
- Standard Ground-Mounted Solar Energy Systems
This is the most common type of ground-mounted solar energy system in both commercial and residential properties. Standard ground-mounted solar panels have the same installation setup as rooftop panels, only that they are mounted on a metal scaffolding cemented into place on the ground.
This arrangement is often used in unshaded backyard locations where there’s suitable soil for secure construction. It can be a few inches or feet off the ground, precisely oriented, and angled for maximum sun exposure.
- Pole-Mounted Solar Energy Systems
As its name implies, a pole-mounted solar energy system features a complete solar panel array situated on a single tall pole. This type of ground-mounted setup is not common at residential properties and is often used on roadsides to power electronic traffic signs.
Perhaps the major advantage of a pole-mounted over the fixed version is that it offers enough space underneath where animals can seek shelter or shade. So, if you have acres of land, then a pole-mount solar system can be suitable for accommodating farm animals while your property can capture the energy of the sun.
Another important feature of a pole-mounted solar array is that they are not cemented or fixed. This means that you can integrate a sun-tracking system with your array, allowing the panels to move and follow the sun for maximized efficiency.
Ground-Mounted vs Rooftop Panels: Difference In Installation
Other than the location, there are minor differences between ground-mounted and rooftop panels setup.
For a rooftop solar installation, the system is designed for an existing structure. With ground-mounted solar panels, support will need to be constructed, and the height can range from a few inches to several feet tall.
In terms of protection devices and electrical connections, ground-mounted systems will need more wiring since they are located far away from your home to avoid any shadows or shade cast by your house.
Top Advantages of a Ground-Mounted Solar Energy System
If land space is not a problem, then a ground-mounted solar energy system will provide you with twice the benefits of a rooftop system. Below are some of these benefits:
- Stop Worrying About Your Roof
Your roof already has the responsibility of protecting you against outdoor elements. Adding a solar panel can bring more burden to your roof and can be worrisome especially if it’s several years old. Your roof may not have the structural integrity capable of supporting heavy solar panels.
And in case your roof needs replacing, a rooftop solar panel can be a hassle since you’ll have to remove the fixed arrays. In general, it’s suggested that if you’re having a rooftop solar installation, you also consider repairing or completely replacing your roof right away which can increase your expenses.
And even if you have a good roof that can support the weight of solar panels, you can’t simply place them on top of your roof without drilling and fastening them. This means you’ll have to drill them on your roof. Unless you have it installed by a professional, improperly sealed holes can cause a costly mess on your hands, particularly in wet areas with intense heavy downpours.
Other restrictions include having a small roof to meet your energy needs or ones that are heavily shaded by chimneys or trees. And some are just facing the wrong side that cannot allow for capturing solar heat.
Some people may also not like the look of solar panels on the roof. In addition, some homeowner’s associations may prohibit rooftop installations.
All of these situations can reduce the feasibility of a rooftop solar panel. However, these restrictions don’t apply if you choose to opt for a ground-mounted solar panel. As long as you have a wide, sunny, open area with the right dimensions, a ground-mounted solar system can help you gain renewable energy sources without worrying about your roof every now and then.
- More Efficient
Roofs facing the south can support solar panels to generate a good amount of energy. However, the amount of solar radiation they capture may still make the panels inefficient to pay for themselves.
For one, as mentioned before, if your roof has several obstructions such as trees, chimneys, or neighboring structures that cast a shadow over your panel, it can obstruct solar radiation. This won’t be a problem with ground-mounted roofs, provided that you place them in a wide, open space.
Furthermore, ground-mounted solar panels can be easily adjusted according to the season. You can also opt for a solar tracker which follows the path of the sun throughout the day, increasing efficiency up to 10 to 45% than rooftop solar panels.
Not only that, but compared to roof panels, a ground-mounted system offers more cooling efficiency which impacts overall solar production.
Most people think that the higher temperatures outside can provide better solar output. But this is not the case since solar panels are more efficient at converting solar energy to electricity when it is cold outside. This is because the electronics are less likely to suffer from heat buildup which can reduce the panel’s efficiency.
Unlike rooftop installations, a free-standing system allows plenty of airflow around and under the modules. This helps in dissipating heat buildup for better efficiency. Furthermore, a ground-mounted system is better suited for the installation of bifacial solar panels (panels with solar cells at the back), which can capture light reflected off the ground, significantly increasing its efficiency.
- A Safer Option
Faulty wiring in your solar system can create fire hazards. However, with a ground-mounted system, those risks are isolated and are far away from your home. Ground-mounted panels also have independent electrical grounds instead of being bonded to your home’s electrical system.
In addition, rooftop solar panels are prone to lightning during storms which can cause an electrical fire due to the high voltage on your roof. Meanwhile, a ground-mounted system somewhat prevents this issue since your panels are lower to the ground, making lightning strikes less likely.
- Easily Expandable
If your energy needs expand in the future, for instance, if you purchase an electric car or decide to build a greenhouse or barn on your property, a ground-mounted solar energy system can make it easier to expand your renewable energy source.
The versatility of a ground-mounted system allows you to expand it simply by adding more compatible panels to your existing PV system. In addition, if you decide to extend your main residence and want more renewable energy to power it, a ground-mounted system can make it easier to expand.
None of this expansion is possible with a limited roof space. While you can swap out solar panels to more efficient versions or those with high wattages, it may not be practical and might still not provide you with the amount of energy you need.
- Easy To Maintain
Dust, debris, and snow can cover your solar panels and impede their energy production. This is why it’s important that you clean your solar panels every now and then.
Climbing to your roof for regular cleaning of panels can be problematic and cause accidents if you’re not careful. However, with ground-mounted solar energy systems. It’s easier to clean and maintain your panels. Since most freestanding solar panels are usually close or below the height of adults, you can easily sweep off snow or remove dust on the panels.
In addition, all solar energy systems will need periodic inspections from an electrician or your installer. A ground-mounted solar panel offers easy access for inspection and thus helps in potentially reducing maintenance costs of the system since they are easier to inspect and don’t require tools like ladders to access the panels.
- Potentially Cost-Effective
In general, ground-mounted solar systems are more expensive than similar-capacity rooftop installation. Yes, there will be higher upfront costs due to more wirings and creating a concrete foundation for installing the poles.
However, if you can, it’s possible to do the foundation yourself and save money. In addition, the increased efficiency of ground-mounted solar panels can help in significantly lowering your energy costs while boosting your monthly solar renewable energy certificate (SREC), which you can sell to utility providers.
As you can see, adopting solar energy doesn’t mean you’re limited to having a rooftop installation. Unless you’re a city dweller with limited land space, people living in the suburbs or acres of farm could greatly benefit from a ground-mounted solar system on a long-term basis.