When it comes to installing solar power, most homeowners think of roof-mounted solar panels. However, there’s another way to power your home with clean energy: Ground-mount solar panels. With this option, your solar power system can be placed near your home, anywhere from a few inches to a few feet off the ground, rather than on your roof.
How do you determine if a ground-mount solar array is the right renewable energy option for you? This article examines the pros and cons of ground-mounted solar panel systems, including factors such as space, price, and electricity requirements.
What Is a Ground-Mount Solar Panel System?
A ground-mount solar power system is a method of generating electricity from sunlight using free-standing solar panels that are installed near ground level, either on a metal frame or attached to a pole. These ground-mounted solar installations differ from rooftop panels in a few ways:
In terms of ground-mount solar installation, there are two main options:
- Standard Ground-Mount Solar Power - A metal frame or racking system is attached to the ground, and holds your panels at a specific angle.
- Pole-Mount Solar Power - Solar panels are attached to a metal frame, and that frame is then attached to the top of a pole mount, elevating the panels higher off the ground and allowing for additional customization. With pole-mounted solar, you can add a tracking system (either single-axis or dual-axis) that rotates throughout the day to maximize exposure to sunlight.
Ground-mount solar panels typically require more empty space around them than rooftop panels, as they have to contend with shading from trees, buildings, and other tall objects. This is why you usually see them on farms, ranches, and other properties with a lot of flat, open land, but rarely see them in traditional urban and suburban residential areas.
Because they aren’t mounted to a building, ground-mounted solar panels have more options for alignment to optimize the amount of sunlight they can receive, allowing them to generate more electricity than a fixed, roof-mounted option. That’s why you’re more likely to see these panels installed as utility-scale solar power systems in areas with higher peak sun hours.
Requirements for a Ground-Mount Solar Power System
When researching whether or not you can install a ground-mount solar power system on your property, there are three primary factors to consider.
1. Physical Space
When installing a ground-mounted solar power system, you will need sufficient space to install the hardware, including the panels themselves, and trenching for the wiring. The panels must get plenty of sunlight, so most experts recommend at least 50 feet of open space between the solar panels and any adjacent structures.
In many areas, your city or town may have setback requirements that control how close you can build to the edge of your property line. This means that you need to account for your proximity to your neighbors, especially if they have buildings, foliage, or anything else that could block the sunlight.
2. Soil Type
Your solar power system needs a deep, strong foundation to avoid settling and alignment issues, remain secure during inclement weather, and maintain distance from groundwater.
We recommend having a geologist or similar expert test your soil. A trained professional can ensure the soil can support the weight of a ground-mounted solar panel system and its base, and they will confirm the area doesn’t have large rocks that can cause issues with drilling the foundation for the mounts.
3. Financing Options
Ground-mount solar panels can have a higher upfront cost than rooftop solar panels, making them a less cost-effective option. Many homeowners opt to finance the investment by securing a solar loan through their bank or other lenders, but some of those options may be specific to roof-mounted solar. To get detailed information about your options for solar financing, you should talk to an experienced solar company in your area or your preferred banking institution.
The Pros of Ground-Mount Solar Panels
1. Simpler Installation
The braces and racking for a standard ground-mount solar system are lightweight and easily removable. Since the solar panels are installed on open land, the installation is typically safer since you don’t have to climb on a roof.
2. Easier Placement
Usually, the space you have available on the ground is larger than that of your roof. (For more information, check out How Much Roof Space Is Needed For Home Solar Panels?) Thus, a ground-mounted system gives you more variety in terms of panel design, and the number of panels you can install, both of which can increase your total power output.
Depending on your property size, you might also be able to increase the number of solar panels over time (as your budget or energy needs increase) with greater ease than with a rooftop solar panel system.
3. More Solar Production
It’s a common misconception that rooftop solar panels are more efficient because they’re literally closer to the sun. Ground-mount solar panels can sometimes be more productive per panel than rooftop solar arrays because you aren’t limited by the size and angle of your roof. Instead, they can be placed at the ideal angle to optimize energy production.
Yes, you can tilt your rooftop solar power system a bit, but not to the same degree as a ground-mounted system. Some ground-mounted solar panels can even be programmed to rotate and tilt throughout the day to match the direction of the sun, although these systems usually come at a significant extra cost.
4. Simpler Maintenance
Because your solar panels are on the ground, cleaning and maintenance require less effort. You can usually reach and clean these panels yourself with soap, water, and a soft brush. With roof-mounted solar panels, you typically need to hire a solar specialist to perform the necessary maintenance, since they have the tools and equipment needed to do the job safely.
The Cons of Ground-Mount Solar
1. Higher Installation Costs
Ground-mounted solar power systems are typically more expensive because they require additional structure, materials, and time for installation. This is especially true for a pole-mounted system.
For example, the system requires a sturdy foundation to anchor the components in place. This means that you will need a structural analysis and potential site upgrades to prepare the area before you can schedule installation.
2. Increased Safety Risk
Ground-mount solar panels may put expensive electrical equipment in reach of kids, pets, and other animals. Even with proper fencing and other precautions, the potential for damage to your solar panels, and danger to yourself and others may be higher. Because of the proximity to the ground, there is a greater possibility of exposed wires that may pose a risk due to weather conditions or a system malfunction.
3. Shading Concerns
One of the big advantages of mounting solar panels on your roof is that it naturally elevates your system above many of the objects that could block access to sunlight. With a ground-mount solar power system, the efficiency of your solar panels could be negatively affected due to nearby trees or structures. Admittedly, shading is a concern for rooftop solar panels too, but you can always prune back overhanging trees to address that issue.
Solar easement laws that promote your right to access solar energy may exist in your area, but it can still be difficult to convince a judge or your Homeowners Association that your neighbors should change their home to improve your access to sunlight. For this reason, it is advisable to not install your solar power system near your neighbors’ property.
4. Extra Permitting
Ground-mount solar power systems are a new use of your property, which may require additional solar permitting in certain areas. These zoning, environment, and planning authorities may want to review your system before and after installation, which can add time and cost to your overall system.
Ground-Mount Solar Panels - Pros & Cons
When it comes to choosing between rooftop solar and ground-mounted solar panels, you should compare the pros and cons - including safety, cost, and efficiency - to make the right decision for your home and your family’s needs.
Ultimately, what matters to most homeowners is which option gives you the best potential for maximizing the solar energy savings of your home. Be sure to consider which one gives you the most sunlight, so you can generate the most electricity possible on your property. You should weigh all of your options in advance when it comes to your residential needs since solar power systems typically last 25-30 years on average.
If you want to learn more about installing a rooftop solar power system on your home, you should talk to Palmetto about your solar project. While we don’t offer ground-mount solar panels, you can still use our Free Solar Design and Savings Estimate Tool to find out how much you could save on your electricity bills by going solar.