Quantcast
EcoWatch is a community of experts publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions for a healthier planet and life.
The Biden administration needs to act quickly to reduce carbon emissions. Andrew Merry / Getty Images

By Jeff Goodell

The Earth's climate has always been a work in progress. In the 4.5 billion years the planet has been spinning around the sun, ice ages have come and gone, interrupted by epochs of intense heat. The highest mountain range in Texas was once an underwater reef. Camels wandered in evergreen forests in the Arctic. Then a few million years later, 400 feet of ice formed over what is now New York City. But amid this geologic mayhem, humans have gotten lucky. For the past 10,000 years, virtually the entire stretch of human civilization, people have lived in what scientists call "a Goldilocks climate" — not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to find easy meals. Alexander Petrov / TASS via Getty Images

By Jim Palardy

As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.

Read More Show Less
tzahiV / iStock / Getty Images

The COVID-19 Delta variant has left businesses and schools across the country backpedaling from their goals for more integrated, in-person participation.

In many areas, virtual learning and remote work are becoming the norm once again, and often, this comes with a significant increase in residential energy consumption. For those concerned about increased electric bills and a greater carbon footprint, however, researchers say solar energy could prove effective in offsetting the costs of working and learning from home.

Read More Show Less
Choosing the Best Carbon Offset Programs of 2021
Hiroshi Watanabe / Getty Images

Carbon offset programs provide a real opportunity to be part of the climate change solution. In 2021, there are a number of impactful carbon offset programs to choose from. The question is, which one allows you to make the biggest difference? Our review will provide an overview of carbon offset programs and recommend the best ones to help reduce and counterbalance your greenhouse gas emissions.

Read More Show Less
Trending
East Austin residents push a car out of the snow on Feb. 15, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather to Texas and many other states, causing traffic delays and power outages. Montinique Monroe / Getty Images

Nearly 5 million electricity customers across the United States lost power over the weekend as extreme weather, including frigid temperatures and ice storms, drove up demand and shut down electricity generation.

Read More Show Less
A seagull flies in front of the Rampion offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. Neil / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.

Read More Show Less
Wind turbines are seen in Palm Springs, California. Mint Images / Getty Images

By Tara Lohan

How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?

According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.

Read More Show Less
Residents get in a car after leaving their homes to move to evacuation centers in central Vietnam's Quang Nam province on Oct. 27, 2020, ahead of Typhoon Molave's expected landfall. MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP via Getty Images

Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Trending
Aerial picture of the Villanueva photovoltaic (PV) power plant operated by Italian company Enel Green Power in the desert near Villanueva, a town located in the municipality of Viesca, Coahuila State, Mexico, taken on April 20, 2018. Alfredo Estrella / AFP / Getty Images

By Gero Rueter

Solar energy has become extremely cheap. In the desert of Saudi Arabia electricity from solar modules is now generated for just $0.01 (€0.009) per kilowatt hour (kWh), and in Portugal for $0.014 cents per kWh.

Read More Show Less
picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty Images

Although you may think of solar energy and picture black boxes on a rooftop, solar panels can be installed on many types of surfaces. If you have a large enough piece of land that is not covered by shadows, ground-mounted solar panels may be a great option.

With ground installation, you can install solar panels with the ideal tilt and orientation for maximum sunlight. Ground-mounted solar panels work best in areas that are not shaded by obstacles like buildings, walls, signs, billboards or trees. Read on to learn more and decide whether ground-mounted solar panels are right for your property.

How Ground-Mounted Solar Panels Work

Ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems use the same types of solar panels as rooftop systems, but with a different installation process:

  • In a rooftop solar installation, the racking system is designed for an existing structure. On the other hand, when using ground-mounted solar panels, the support must also be constructed. The height of this structure can range from just a few inches above the ground to several feet tall.
  • Electrical connections and protection devices are identical in both types of PV systems. The main difference is that ground-mounted systems need more wiring, since they must be located far enough to avoid any shadows cast by your home.
  • Just like in rooftop installations, 60-cell solar panels are normally used in homes, while the larger 72-cell panels are used in solar farms.

Assuming the same sunlight conditions and total wattage, roof-mount and ground-mount solar panels will have the same electricity output. However, a ground solar panel installation can be designed with an orientation and tilt angle that will maximize the sunlight it captures, which makes the system productive. On the other hand, the tilt and orientation of a rooftop solar array is limited by your roof slope.

A ground-mounted solar panel system can also increase its energy production with a tracking mechanism, which keeps the PV panels angled toward the sun all day long. This way, you can increase your electricity output and electric bill savings without adding more panels. Solar tracking is not an option for most rooftop installations, since tracking devices are not designed for conventional roof structures.

Setting Up Ground-Mounted Solar Panels

There are two main types of structures for residential ground-mounted solar panels:

  • A standard ground mount is anchored to the ground in several spots, similar to a canopy or pergola. The top of the structure is a tilted frame, typically made of steel, on which solar panels are installed.
  • A pole-mounted system is attached to the ground with a single mast, similar to a small wind turbine or unipole sign. Solar panels are installed on a square or rectangular frame at the top of the mast.

Residential solar panels have a typical size of 65 by 39 inches (17.6 square feet), and the wind can exert a large force when blowing against them. Without an adequate supporting structure, solar panels can be blown away by a strong enough wind. A strong-enough structure (your roof) already exists when you install rooftop solar panels, but you must build one separately if you're planning a ground installation. This is normally achieved with a reinforced concrete base or driven piles, while the structure itself is typically made of steel beams.

Solar panels are more productive when they face the sun directly. Of course, the sun's position in the sky is always changing depending on the time of the day and the season. Sunlight comes from the east during the first hours of the morning, and from the west during the last hours of the afternoon. Also, the sun's position in the sky is higher during summer and lower during winter.

A roof-mounted solar power system has a fixed orientation, which depends on the slope of your roof. However, ground-mounted solar panels can be equipped with tracking systems, which increase the direct sunlight received by their photovoltaic cells. Solar trackers can be classified as single-axis or dual-axis systems, depending on how they move:

  • To track the sun, solar panels can be rotated horizontally from east to west, and they can also be tilted up and down.
  • A single-axis solar tracker can only perform one of these movements, while a dual-axis tracker can perform both.
  • Among the two types of single-axis systems, east-west trackers achieve a larger production boost than north-west trackers.
  • Dual-axis tracking systems have a higher cost than single-axis systems, since they use a more complex mechanism. However, they may be more cost-effective in the long run, as they can achieve a higher efficiency due to their increased accuracy.

Depending on your geographic location, dual-axis solar tracking can increase the electricity output of solar panels by up to 40% compared to a fixed installation. Single-axis tracking normally improves productivity by 25% or more. Solar tracking can be deployed more easily with pole mounts.

Ground-mounted solar panels are a popular choice for DIY solar panel projects, since their installation process is safer. Each solar panel weighs around 40 pounds, and installing many of them on a roof is a dangerous project without the right tools and training (and a supporting crew). However, the challenge of height is eliminated with a ground-mount solar system.

Is Ground-Mounted Solar Cheaper?

Ground-mounted solar panels are safer to install, since there is no need to work on a rooftop, and their maintenance is also simpler. However, the total project cost is higher. Here are a few reasons why:

  • You must build a structure to support the PV panels. A rooftop solar installation has a lower cost because the roof itself is the supporting structure.
  • The support structure for ground-mounted solar panels also increases the labor requirements for your installation.
  • Ground installations also have a more complex permitting process, since they involve foundations and a structural design and are treated as an independent construction.

Keep in mind that while they are more expensive, ground-mounted solar panels are much more productive, and with a solar tracking system can achieve even higher power output. This means you can recoup your investment faster.

If you want to start comparing the cost of a ground-mounted system or rooftop system for your home, you can fill out the form below to get a free quote from a top solar company in your area.

Ground-Mounted Panels Vs. Roof Mounted Panels: Which Is Right for You?

When comparing roof-mounted and ground-mounted solar panels, each option has advantages and disadvantages. The ideal option for your property will depend on site conditions and design preferences.

A ground-mounted system offers you the following benefits:

  • The installation is safer and easier to do yourself, since there is no rooftop work involved.
  • Maintenance and repair is also simpler, as the solar panels and other system components can be easily reached.
  • A ground installation can be removed and relocated if you need to use that area of your yard for other purposes in the future.
  • If you don't like how solar panels look with your roof design or facade, a ground installation gives you clean, renewable energy without affecting your home's appearance.
  • Ground-mounted solar panels achieve a higher electricity production, since they can be positioned optimally based on local sunshine. This increases your power bill savings.
  • When ground-mounted solar panels are used on farms, the ground below them can be used to grow low-light plants or provide shaded grazing areas for livestock.

Like in any investment decision, ground-mounted solar panels also have disadvantages you must consider:

  • Ground installations are more expensive because you must build a supporting structure. A rooftop installation skips this step.
  • Ground-mounted solar panels are not allowed by many homeowner associations.
  • Even when ground-mounted solar systems are allowed, they tend to have a more complex permitting process than rooftop installations.
  • A ground installation takes up space that could be used for other constructions or yard features.
  • Since they are accessible, ground-mounted solar panels are more exposed to tampering, damage from animals and other nuisances.
  • A ground installation can be blocked from the sun by new constructions or growing trees, while a rooftop system is less likely to be shaded over time.

If you're considering ground-mounted solar panels, you must first determine if your property has the right conditions. In general, you will need an area that is not covered by shadows, and you should check if any neighboring constructions could block sunlight in the future. Keep in mind that each solar panel covers around 18 square feet, so if you plan to install 20 of them, you need around 360 square feet of unshaded space.

Although rooftop installations are more common, ground-mounted solar panels are often a better investment for some homeowners. They are ideal for large properties, especially if they have ample areas without obstacles casting shadows. A ground installation achieves a higher electricity production without increasing the number of solar panels you need to purchase, especially if you add a tracking system.

FAQ: Ground-Mounted Solar Panels

Do ground-mounted solar panels need planning permission?

The exact requirements for a construction permit will vary depending on where you live. However, ground-mounted solar panels tend to have a more complex permitting procedure, as they require you to build a supporting structure. Installation will involve processes like excavation and concrete pouring, which are not required for a rooftop installation and may require extra permissions.

Is it better to install solar panels on the ground?

It is better to install solar panels on the ground only when you have proper site conditions — including adequate ground space and approval from your neighborhood — as ground installation makes solar panels more productive.

When on the ground, solar panels can be installed with the ideal tilt and orientation for maximum sunlight, and you can add a solar tracker to make them even more productive. In a rooftop system, the panels are permanently fixed with the same orientation, which is not always the best direction for solar panels.

How far can ground-mounted solar panels be from your house?

Ideally, ground-mounted solar panels should be installed at enough distance to avoid shadows produced by your house. If you install them too close to your house, their electricity output will be reduced by shading.

The ideal location for ground-mounted solar panels is one that doesn't get any shading, from sunrise to sunset. As long as shadows are avoided, almost any spot on your property can be used for ground-mounted solar panels. However, installing them especially far from your house will increase the wiring distance, making the electrical installation more expensive.

What are the alternatives to rooftop solar panels?

If your home isn't well suited for rooftop solar panels, alternatives to power your whole home include ground-mounted solar panels, a solar carport or a solar canopy or pergola. You can also opt for a solar power system for specific home appliances, such as a solar pool heater, yard irrigation system or solar hot water heater. Keep in mind that many solar power options could be suitable for your home, which means you aren't forced to pick only one.

Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.

Trending
Construction on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric station in 2015. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.

Read More Show Less
A new study finds only 10% of global energy utility companies are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas or coal-fired capacity. jwvein / Needpix

By Jo Harper

Only 10% of global energy utility companies are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas or coal-fired capacity. That is the main finding of a study by Galina Alova from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford.

Read More Show Less
Towns like Breckenridge, Colorado, are part of a national organization, Mountain Towns 2030, that's swapping ideas about how to meet a goal of net-zero carbon emissions within a decade. 12019 / Needpix

By James Bruggers

In Maine, state officials are working to help residents install 100,000 high efficiency heat pumps in their homes, part of a strategy for electrifying the state. In California, an in-demand grant program helps the state's largest industry—agriculture, not technology—to pursue a greener, more sustainable future. Across Appalachia, solar panels are appearing on rooftops of community centers in what used to be coal towns.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch is a community of experts publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions for a healthier planet and life.
The Biden administration needs to act quickly to reduce carbon emissions. Andrew Merry / Getty Images

By Jeff Goodell

The Earth's climate has always been a work in progress. In the 4.5 billion years the planet has been spinning around the sun, ice ages have come and gone, interrupted by epochs of intense heat. The highest mountain range in Texas was once an underwater reef. Camels wandered in evergreen forests in the Arctic. Then a few million years later, 400 feet of ice formed over what is now New York City. But amid this geologic mayhem, humans have gotten lucky. For the past 10,000 years, virtually the entire stretch of human civilization, people have lived in what scientists call "a Goldilocks climate" — not too hot, not too cold, just right.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Seabirds often follow fishing vessels to find easy meals. Alexander Petrov / TASS via Getty Images

By Jim Palardy

As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.

Read More Show Less
tzahiV / iStock / Getty Images

The COVID-19 Delta variant has left businesses and schools across the country backpedaling from their goals for more integrated, in-person participation.

In many areas, virtual learning and remote work are becoming the norm once again, and often, this comes with a significant increase in residential energy consumption. For those concerned about increased electric bills and a greater carbon footprint, however, researchers say solar energy could prove effective in offsetting the costs of working and learning from home.

Read More Show Less
Choosing the Best Carbon Offset Programs of 2021
Hiroshi Watanabe / Getty Images

Carbon offset programs provide a real opportunity to be part of the climate change solution. In 2021, there are a number of impactful carbon offset programs to choose from. The question is, which one allows you to make the biggest difference? Our review will provide an overview of carbon offset programs and recommend the best ones to help reduce and counterbalance your greenhouse gas emissions.

Read More Show Less
Trending