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Through net metering programs, homeowners who have installed solar energy systems can get utility credits for any electricity their panels generate during the day that isn't used to power home systems. These credits can be "cashed in" to offset the cost of any grid electricity used at night.

Where net metering is available, solar panels have a shorter payback period and yield a higher return on investment. Without this benefit, you only save on power bills when using solar energy directly, and surplus generation is lost unless you store it in a solar battery. However, net metering gives you the option of selling any excess electricity that is not consumed within your home.

Generally, you will see more home solar systems in places with favorable net metering laws. With this benefit, going solar becomes an attractive investment even for properties with minimal daytime consumption. Homeowners can turn their roofs into miniature power plants during the day, and that generation is subtracted from their nighttime consumption.

What Is Net Metering?

Net metering is a billing arrangement in which surplus energy production from solar panels is tracked by your electricity provider and subtracted from your monthly utility bill. When your solar power system produces more kilowatt-hours of electricity than your home is consuming, the excess generation is fed back into the grid.

For homeowners with solar panels, the benefits of net metering include higher monthly savings and a shorter payback period. Utility companies also benefit, since the excess solar electricity can be supplied to other buildings on the same electric grid.

If a power grid relies on fossil fuels, net metering also increases the environmental benefits of solar power. Even if a building does not have an adequate area for rooftop solar panels, it can reduce its emissions by using the surplus clean energy from other properties.

How Net Metering Works

There are two general ways net metering programs work:

  1. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your utility company, and a credit is posted to your account that can be applied to future power bills.
  2. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your home's electricity meter. Modern power meters can measure electricity flow in both directions, so they tick up when you pull from the grid at night and count down when your solar panels are producing an excess amount of electricity.

In either scenario, at the end of the billing period, you will only pay for your net consumption — the difference between total consumption and generation. This is where the term "net metering" comes from.

How Does Net Metering Affect Your Utility Bill?

Net metering makes solar power systems more valuable for homeowners, as you can "sell" any extra energy production to your utility company. However, it's important to understand how charges and credits are managed:

  • You can earn credits for your surplus electricity, but utility companies will not cut you a check for the power you provide. Instead, they will subtract the credits from your power bills.
  • If your net metering credit during the billing period is higher than your consumption, the difference is rolled over to the next month.
  • Some power companies will roll over your credit indefinitely, but many have a yearly expiration date that resets your credit balance.

With all of this in mind, it is possible to reduce your annual electricity cost to zero. You can accumulate credit with surplus generation during the sunny summer months, and use it during winter when solar generation decreases.

You will achieve the best results when your solar power system has just the right capacity to cover your annual home consumption. Oversizing your solar array is not recommended, as you will simply accumulate a large unused credit each year. In other words, you cannot overproduce and charge your power company each month.

Some power companies will let you pick the expiration date of your annual net metering credits. If you have this option, it's wise to set the date after winter has ended. This way, you can use all the renewable energy credits you accumulated during the summer.

Is Net Metering Available Near You?

Net metering offers a valuable incentive for homeowners to switch to solar power, but these types of programs are not available everywhere. Net metering laws can change depending on where you live.

In the U.S., there are mandatory net metering laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Most states without a mandate have power companies that voluntarily offer the benefit in their service areas. South Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states with no version of net metering or similar programs.

If net metering is available in your area, you will be credited for your surplus energy in one of two ways:

  • Net metering at retail price: You get full credit for each kilowatt-hour sent to the grid. For example, if you're charged 16 cents per kWh consumed, you'll get a credit of 16 cents per kWh exported. This type of net metering is required by law in 29 states.
  • Net metering at a reduced feed-in tariff: Surplus electricity sent to the grid is credited at a lower rate. For example, you may be charged 16 cents per kWh for consumption but paid 10 cents per kWh exported. Feed-in tariffs and other alternative programs are used in 17 of the states where retail-rate net metering is not mandatory.

Note: This is just a simplified example — the exact kWh retail price and solar feed-in tariff will depend on your electricity plan.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about net metering and other solar power incentives in your state. You can also look for information about solar incentives by visiting the official websites of your state government and utility company.

Other Financial Incentives for Going Solar

Net metering policies are one of the most effective incentives for solar power. However, there are other financial incentives that can be combined with net metering to improve your ROI:

  • The federal solar tax credit lets you claim 26% of your solar installation costs as a tax deduction. For example, if your solar installation had a cost of $10,000, you can claim $2,600 on your next tax declaration. This benefit is available everywhere in the U.S.
  • State tax credits may also be available depending on where you live, and they can be claimed in addition to the federal incentive.
  • Solar rebates are offered by some state governments and utility companies. These are upfront cash incentives subtracted directly from the cost of your solar PV system.

In addition to seeking out solar incentives available to you, you should compare quotes from multiple installers before signing a solar contract. This will ensure you're getting the best deal available and help you avoid overpriced offers and underpriced, low-quality installations. You can start getting quotes from top solar companies near you by filling out the 30-second form below.

Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Net Metering

Why is net metering bad?

When managed correctly, net metering is beneficial for electricity consumers and power companies. There have been cases in which power grids lack the capacity to handle large amounts of power coming from homes and businesses. However, this is an infrastructure issue, not a negative aspect of net metering itself.

In places with a high percentage of homes and businesses using solar panels, surplus generation on sunny days can saturate the grid. This can be managed by modernizing the grid to handle distributed solar power more effectively with load management and energy storage systems.

How does net metering work?

With net metering, any electricity your solar panels produce that isn't used to power your home is fed into your local power grid. Your utility company will pay you for this power production through credits that can be applied to your monthly energy bills.

Can you make money net metering?

You can reduce your power bills with net metering, using surplus solar generation to compensate for your consumption when you can't generate solar power at night and on cloudy days. However, most power companies will not pay you for surplus production once your power bill has dropped to $0. Normally, that credit will be rolled over, to be used in months where your solar panels are less productive.

On very rare occasions, you may be paid for the accumulated balance over a year. However, this benefit is offered by very few electric companies and is subject to limitations.

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If you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you're a business owner renting a commercial space, a community solar project may help you save on electric bills. Community solar power is a great option for individuals and businesses who can't install their own solar panels.

You can join a community solar project by purchasing a share or by paying a subscription. Then, the electricity production that corresponds to your ownership percentage or subscription will be measured and subtracted from your power bills. This is possible even if the community solar panel installation isn't located in your neighborhood — by investing in the project, your share of the solar generation is simply subtracted from your bill.

In this article, we'll outline the pros and cons of community solar subscriptions and help you decide whether to invest in your local program.

What is Community Solar?

Community solar is a term used to describe photovoltaic systems that are shared by many consumers, including homeowners, renters, businesses, nonprofit organizations and more. Electricity savings and other benefits from the solar project are split among its shareholders and subscribers at a rate based on the level of investment.

When starting a community solar project, developers will establish the geographic area from which consumers are eligible to join. Some programs have installed multiple solar power systems in the same area, allowing a larger number of shareholders and solar subscribers.

Community solar power is possible thanks to virtual net metering. Through this process, a percentage of the electricity produced by the community solar panels is subtracted from the total amount of power you use in your home even though the panels aren't located on your property. Here are a few key things to note:

  • The kilowatt-hours produced by a community solar project are measured for each billing period and are divided based on ownership shares.
  • If a community solar array produces 10,000 kWh of electricity and you own 5% of the project, you get 500 kWh for that billing period.
  • The value of those 500 kWh will be subtracted from your power bill, so if you use, for example, 750 kWh of electricity in your home, you'd only pay your utility company for 250 kWh.

Benefits of Community Solar

The main benefit of community solar is saving on power bills, especially in places with high electricity prices and abundant sunshine. However, the concept of sharing a solar array brings many other benefits, both technical and economic. These include:

  • Community solar can be used by homeowners or renters who can't install rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels. Some roof structures are not suitable for solar panels, and others are too shaded from surrounding buildings or objects to be effective. Community solar may also be an option if you live in an apartment without its own roof or if you simply don't like the appearance of rooftop solar panels.
  • You can easily take your solar savings to another home or apartment. If you install solar panels and decide to move in a few years, you must either sell them or take them with you. On the other hand, when joining a community solar project, you can simply assign the savings to your new address.
  • You can sometimes sell or donate your community solar share (depending on program conditions). This is useful if you move to a location that is not covered by the community solar program or if you decide to install your own solar panels in the future.
  • Community solar supports a more diverse customer base. To install your own solar panels, you must have the cash for an upfront payment or qualify for a loan. This financial barrier is eliminated with community solar — consumers can pay a monthly subscription or can purchase a small share according to their budget.
  • With community solar, you can forget about maintenance and part replacements. Solar panels need regular cleaning to stay productive, and components like inverters and solar batteries must usually be replaced after about 10 years. However, you don't have to worry about maintenance with community solar, as there is a project developer in charge.
  • Community solar shareholders are eligible for the federal solar tax credit. When purchasing a share of a community solar project, you can deduct 26% of your investment on your next tax declaration. Just keep in mind that this benefit is not available when joining as a subscriber, since technically you don't own a part of the community solar farm.

Community solar is an easier alternative to installing your own solar power system. The project developer is responsible for financing, installation, operation and maintenance, and you can reduce your electricity bills by simply buying a share of the project or subscribing.

However, installing your own solar power system also brings many benefits. You save the full economic value of the electricity generated, for example. Onsite solar power also increases the value of homes and commercial buildings, and many incentive programs are only available when you buy solar panels directly.

If you're weighing each option, it can be helpful to get a free quote for a home solar installation. Fill out the form below to get connected with a top solar company near you.

How Does Community Solar Work?

In a few words, community solar lets you save on power bills with a shared photovoltaic array, instead of having your own system. However, not all community solar projects are alike, and they can be classified into several types:

  • On-site vs. off-site
  • Ownership vs. subscription

Community solar should not be confused with group purchasing, which happens when many homeowners or businesses purchase individual solar systems at bulk prices. This does not count as community solar, since the project is split into many private installations.

On-Site Vs. Off-Site Community Solar

Many real estate developers use on-site community solar projects in their residential, commercial or mixed-use projects. The electricity generated by solar panels reaches consumers through a private power system, without depending on the local electric grid. On the other hand, off-site community solar is supplied via the grid.

Here are the main benefits and drawbacks of each type of community solar project:

On-Site Community Solar Off-Site Community Solar
Pros On-site community solar systems often achieve higher savings — because they don't use the local electric grid, they don't pay transmission and distribution fees to a utility company. Off-site community solar projects can serve a larger number of customers. You can also keep your ownership share or subscription when moving to another address, as long as you stay within the project's service area.
Cons On-site community solar is only available for local property owners and tenants of communities that have installed these energy projects. Depending on limitations with your local power grid, you may not yield as high of savings with off-site community solar.

Ownership Vs. Subscription Model

Community solar projects offer ownership shares and subscriptions. Some projects only have one option available, while others let you choose. You can save on power bills with both options, but understanding the differences between them is important:

  • When you purchase an ownership share in a community solar project, the corresponding percentage of power generation is yours for the entire service life of the project. Also, since you're a partial owner of the system, you can claim 26% of your investment as a federal tax deduction. However, owning part of a community solar project means you must have the capital to pay upfront.
  • When you subscribe to a community solar project, there is no upfront investment. Instead, you pay a monthly fee. This means there is an ongoing cost, but the corresponding power bill savings are higher than the subscription fee. Keep in mind that subscription costs may increase over time, while an ownership share represents a single upfront payment.

Each option has pros and cons — you will generally save more when you become a shareholder in a community solar project, but a subscription comes with zero upfront cost. Also, consider that you must sell your share if you move to a location not covered by a community solar project, while a subscription can be easily canceled.

Is Community Solar Available Near You?

Community solar offers many benefits, but it is not available nationwide. To scale these types of projects, state governments must first enable this business model by law. Also, developers are more likely to invest in community solar projects if market conditions are favorable. Generally, the best states for solar power are those with incentive programs, abundant sunshine and/or high electricity prices.

There are currently 40 states with at least one community solar project in operation, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that 3.1 GW of community solar were online and operational by the end of Q1 2021. There is an optimistic outlook for community solar, and the SEIA has forecast a growth of 4 GW over the next five years. Each gigawatt of solar power can cover the electricity needs of around 186,000 American homes.

If you're interested in community solar power, you can check local government and utility websites — there could be several projects available near you.

FAQs: Community Solar

Is community solar legit?

Like all power generation projects, community solar systems are subject to laws and regulations. If you look for a developer that uses high-quality solar components and qualified installers, community solar is a reliable option to save on power bills for many years.

Is community solar a good deal?

To join a community solar project, you must become a shareholder with an upfront investment or pay an ongoing subscription. The power bill savings achieved will be higher than your monthly utility payments in both cases, but depending on the pricing model of your community's program, one option may present a better deal than the other.

What is community solar, and how does it work?

Community solar is an alternative to installing your own solar panels: You participate in a shared solar project as a shareholder or subscriber, and you get part of the electricity produced. This is a great option for individuals or companies who can't install their own solar panel systems due to lack of space or other limitations.

How does community solar make money?

Based on your ownership share or subscription type, you get part of the electricity produced by a community solar array. The kilowatt-hours generated are subtracted from your power bill — just like when you own solar panels directly.

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.

PavloBaliukh / iStock / Getty Images

Through net metering programs, homeowners who have installed solar energy systems can get utility credits for any electricity their panels generate during the day that isn't used to power home systems. These credits can be "cashed in" to offset the cost of any grid electricity used at night.

Where net metering is available, solar panels have a shorter payback period and yield a higher return on investment. Without this benefit, you only save on power bills when using solar energy directly, and surplus generation is lost unless you store it in a solar battery. However, net metering gives you the option of selling any excess electricity that is not consumed within your home.

Generally, you will see more home solar systems in places with favorable net metering laws. With this benefit, going solar becomes an attractive investment even for properties with minimal daytime consumption. Homeowners can turn their roofs into miniature power plants during the day, and that generation is subtracted from their nighttime consumption.

What Is Net Metering?

Net metering is a billing arrangement in which surplus energy production from solar panels is tracked by your electricity provider and subtracted from your monthly utility bill. When your solar power system produces more kilowatt-hours of electricity than your home is consuming, the excess generation is fed back into the grid.

For homeowners with solar panels, the benefits of net metering include higher monthly savings and a shorter payback period. Utility companies also benefit, since the excess solar electricity can be supplied to other buildings on the same electric grid.

If a power grid relies on fossil fuels, net metering also increases the environmental benefits of solar power. Even if a building does not have an adequate area for rooftop solar panels, it can reduce its emissions by using the surplus clean energy from other properties.

How Net Metering Works

There are two general ways net metering programs work:

  1. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your utility company, and a credit is posted to your account that can be applied to future power bills.
  2. The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your home's electricity meter. Modern power meters can measure electricity flow in both directions, so they tick up when you pull from the grid at night and count down when your solar panels are producing an excess amount of electricity.

In either scenario, at the end of the billing period, you will only pay for your net consumption — the difference between total consumption and generation. This is where the term "net metering" comes from.

How Does Net Metering Affect Your Utility Bill?

Net metering makes solar power systems more valuable for homeowners, as you can "sell" any extra energy production to your utility company. However, it's important to understand how charges and credits are managed:

  • You can earn credits for your surplus electricity, but utility companies will not cut you a check for the power you provide. Instead, they will subtract the credits from your power bills.
  • If your net metering credit during the billing period is higher than your consumption, the difference is rolled over to the next month.
  • Some power companies will roll over your credit indefinitely, but many have a yearly expiration date that resets your credit balance.

With all of this in mind, it is possible to reduce your annual electricity cost to zero. You can accumulate credit with surplus generation during the sunny summer months, and use it during winter when solar generation decreases.

You will achieve the best results when your solar power system has just the right capacity to cover your annual home consumption. Oversizing your solar array is not recommended, as you will simply accumulate a large unused credit each year. In other words, you cannot overproduce and charge your power company each month.

Some power companies will let you pick the expiration date of your annual net metering credits. If you have this option, it's wise to set the date after winter has ended. This way, you can use all the renewable energy credits you accumulated during the summer.

Is Net Metering Available Near You?

Net metering offers a valuable incentive for homeowners to switch to solar power, but these types of programs are not available everywhere. Net metering laws can change depending on where you live.

In the U.S., there are mandatory net metering laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Most states without a mandate have power companies that voluntarily offer the benefit in their service areas. South Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states with no version of net metering or similar programs.

If net metering is available in your area, you will be credited for your surplus energy in one of two ways:

  • Net metering at retail price: You get full credit for each kilowatt-hour sent to the grid. For example, if you're charged 16 cents per kWh consumed, you'll get a credit of 16 cents per kWh exported. This type of net metering is required by law in 29 states.
  • Net metering at a reduced feed-in tariff: Surplus electricity sent to the grid is credited at a lower rate. For example, you may be charged 16 cents per kWh for consumption but paid 10 cents per kWh exported. Feed-in tariffs and other alternative programs are used in 17 of the states where retail-rate net metering is not mandatory.

Note: This is just a simplified example — the exact kWh retail price and solar feed-in tariff will depend on your electricity plan.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about net metering and other solar power incentives in your state. You can also look for information about solar incentives by visiting the official websites of your state government and utility company.

Other Financial Incentives for Going Solar

Net metering policies are one of the most effective incentives for solar power. However, there are other financial incentives that can be combined with net metering to improve your ROI:

  • The federal solar tax credit lets you claim 26% of your solar installation costs as a tax deduction. For example, if your solar installation had a cost of $10,000, you can claim $2,600 on your next tax declaration. This benefit is available everywhere in the U.S.
  • State tax credits may also be available depending on where you live, and they can be claimed in addition to the federal incentive.
  • Solar rebates are offered by some state governments and utility companies. These are upfront cash incentives subtracted directly from the cost of your solar PV system.

In addition to seeking out solar incentives available to you, you should compare quotes from multiple installers before signing a solar contract. This will ensure you're getting the best deal available and help you avoid overpriced offers and underpriced, low-quality installations. You can start getting quotes from top solar companies near you by filling out the 30-second form below.

Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Net Metering

Why is net metering bad?

When managed correctly, net metering is beneficial for electricity consumers and power companies. There have been cases in which power grids lack the capacity to handle large amounts of power coming from homes and businesses. However, this is an infrastructure issue, not a negative aspect of net metering itself.

In places with a high percentage of homes and businesses using solar panels, surplus generation on sunny days can saturate the grid. This can be managed by modernizing the grid to handle distributed solar power more effectively with load management and energy storage systems.

How does net metering work?

With net metering, any electricity your solar panels produce that isn't used to power your home is fed into your local power grid. Your utility company will pay you for this power production through credits that can be applied to your monthly energy bills.

Can you make money net metering?

You can reduce your power bills with net metering, using surplus solar generation to compensate for your consumption when you can't generate solar power at night and on cloudy days. However, most power companies will not pay you for surplus production once your power bill has dropped to $0. Normally, that credit will be rolled over, to be used in months where your solar panels are less productive.

On very rare occasions, you may be paid for the accumulated balance over a year. However, this benefit is offered by very few electric companies and is subject to limitations.

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.

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When installing a solar power system for a home or business, choosing between monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panels is an important step in the planning process. But how do you decide which is right for you?

In this article, we'll break down similarities and differences between the two types of solar panels, going over costs, aesthetics, efficiency and more to help you determine the best choice for your solar installation.

What are Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Solar Panels?

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are the two most common types of solar energy receptors. Both work using photovoltaic cells made of silicon — the same material that's used in chips for electronic gadgets. The difference between monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar cells is the configuration of the silicon:

  • Monocrystalline solar panels: Each solar PV cell is made of a single silicon crystal. These are sometimes referred to as "mono solar panels."
  • Polycrystalline solar panels: Each PV cell is made of multiple silicon crystal fragments that are melded together during manufacturing. You may see them called "multi-crystalline panels" or "poly panels."

Both types of solar panels have the same purpose: converting sunlight into electricity. However, the crystalline silicon structure of individual solar cells affects their performance and appearance. In fact, you can identify the type of panel by simply observing the shape and color of its solar cells.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar panels are characterized by their black PV cells with rounded edges. They have a higher conversion efficiency than polycrystalline panels, which means they produce more kilowatt-hours of electricity. If you want to install a solar panel system but your space is limited, monocrystalline panels will be more productive per square foot.

While they're the most efficient solar panels, they're also the most expensive, since the manufacturing process of single-crystal silicon cells is more complex.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels have blue-hued PV cells with straight edges. They have a lower efficiency compared with monocrystalline cells, which means you need more panels to reach the same power output. However, polycrystalline panels also have a lower price, since their manufacturing process is simpler.

Polycrystalline panels are very durable, but they tend to last slightly less than monocrystalline panels. They are also affected more by high temperatures, which reduces their productivity on the hottest days.

Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels: Key Differences

Now that you know the basics of monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panels, let's discuss how each type of solar panel technology performs. The following table summarizes the most important differences between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels:

Factor Monocrystalline Solar Panels Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Silicone Arrangement One pure silicon crystal Many silicon fragments melded together
Cost More expensive Less expensive
Appearance Panels have black hue Panels have blue hue
Efficiency More efficient Less efficient
Lifespan 25-40 years 20-35 years
Temperature Coefficient Lower temperature coefficient,
making them more efficient in heat
Higher temperature coefficient,
making them less efficient in heat

Solar Panel Cost

The silicon structure of each solar panel is the main factor that determines cost. To produce polycrystalline panels, manufacturers must simply pour molten silicon into square molds, then cut the resulting wafers into individual cells. On the other hand, to produce single-crystal solar cells, the solidification of silicon must be controlled very carefully. Because of this more complex manufacturing process, mono panels are more expensive.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the cost of solar panels:

  • Monocrystalline solar panels have a higher cost when comparing only the panels.
  • The cost of inverters, wiring, electrical protections, racking and labor is the same for both solar panel types.
  • Because monocrystalline panels are more efficient, you may get a better return on your investment.
  • Homeowners are eligible for the federal solar tax credit whether they choose mono or poly panels.

Efficiency and Temperature Coefficient

As mentioned above, monocrystalline solar panels have a higher efficiency. However, this does not mean that polycrystalline solar panels are inferior products — you can find high-quality solar panels of both types. Here are a few more facts about efficiency:

  • When a solar panel has a higher efficiency, it converts a larger percentage of sunlight into electricity.
  • As of 2021, polycrystalline panels have typical efficiencies below 20%, while the best monocrystalline panels are approaching 23%.
  • You will need more polycrystalline panels to reach a certain kilowatt-hour output per month, since their efficiency is lower.
  • All solar panels suffer a temporary efficiency drop when their temperature increases, but monocrystalline solar cells are less affected by heat.

The temperature coefficient indicates how much solar panels are affected by temperature. All solar panels are factory-tested under the same Standard Test Conditions (STC) to ensure a fair comparison.

In general, polycrystalline solar panels tend to have higher temperature coefficients, which means they lose more productivity when they heat up. However, as technology improves, there are now solar panels of both types with similarly low temperature coefficients.

Solar panel efficiency is not a critical factor when you have plenty of space available. Since polycrystalline panels have a lower price, installing more to compensate for the lower efficiency is not a problem. However, when you have limited space, installing more panels is not an option, so monocrystalline panels will maximize electricity production in the available area.

Appearance and Lifespan

The appearance of solar cells is also a result of their silicon structure, since it determines how they interact with sunlight and how they are perceived by human eyesight. The single-crystal structure of monocrystalline cells gives them a black color, while polycrystalline cells are blue.

Both solar panel types have a long lifespan, while their payback period is less than five years in many cases. Solar manufacturers normally offer a 25-year power production warranty, but some brands now come with 30-year warranty coverage.

Are Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline Solar Panels Best for You?

Each type of solar panel has advantages and disadvantages, and you can get an excellent return on investment with both. However, to make your choice easier, consider the following factors when picking the best solar panels for your home:

Do you want solar panels of a specific color? Keep in mind that monocrystalline panels are black, while polycrystalline panels are blue. If you prefer one over the other, you can buy solar panels to suit your taste.

How much space do you have for solar panels? The exact dimensions of home solar panels depend on their brand and manufacturer. The typical dimensions are 65 inches by 39 inches, equivalent to 17.6 square feet per panel, but monocrystalline panels offer more watts per square foot. Here's a simplified example of how you can install more kilowatts in a given area by using monocrystalline panels:

  • You may find that a polycrystalline panel produces 300W, while an equally-sized monocrystalline panel produces 350W.
  • If you have space for 20 of them, you will reach 7 kW with the monocrystalline panels, but only 6 kW with the polycrystalline panels.

What do your budget and financing options look like? Polycrystalline solar panels are more affordable, but monocrystalline panels are more productive. If you have access to a solar loan with favorable interest rates, you can finance your solar installation and pay the loan off with the money you save on utility bills. In this case, the extra cost of monocrystalline panels is not an issue.

Also, make sure you compare several solar quotes. Monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive individually, but you must also consider other system components and installation costs. There may be cases in which a completed installation with monocrystalline panels is actually cheaper, even if a single panel costs more.

To start comparing costs, you can get a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar installation company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.

Other Types of Solar Panels

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are the most common, but they are not the only types available. You will also find thin-film solar panels, which have a completely different manufacturing process:

  • Instead of using crystalline solar cells, they use a photovoltaic material that is deposited in thin layers.
  • There are many subtypes of thin-film solar panels based on their PV material. The most common are cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper gallium indium diselenide (CIGS) and amorphous silicon.
  • Since thin-film solar panels are not divided into cells, they have a uniform surface without divisions.
  • Most flexible solar panels use thin-film solar cells.

The main disadvantage of thin-film solar panels is that they are much less efficient than polycrystalline or monocrystalline panels. This means you must cover a larger area with thin-film solar panels to reach a certain kilowatt-hour production.

FAQ: Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Which solar panel type is better: monocrystalline or polycrystalline?

Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels have certain pros and cons, which means the better choice for you will depend on your specific project. Monocrystalline panels are recommended when space is limited and when you are willing to make a larger investment to achieve top efficiency. On the other hand, polycrystalline solar panels are recommended when you want to reduce upfront costs and space is not a limitation.

Is monocrystalline more expensive than polycrystalline?

When comparing the price of individual solar panels, monocrystalline products are more expensive. However, when comparing quotes for completed solar systems, you may find similar costs per kilowatt among both technologies. This is because, due to their high efficiency rates, you'll need to buy fewer mono panels overall.

What is the difference between polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels?

Polycrystalline solar panels have blue cells made of multiple silicon crystals, and they are less efficient but more affordable. Monocrystalline panels have black cells made of single crystals, and they offer a higher efficiency at a higher price.

What is the price difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels?

This price difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels varies depending on the exact solar panel models being compared. However, in general, the price difference is comparable to the efficiency difference — monocrystalline panels are around 20% more efficient, but they also cost around 20% more.

Comparing quotes for complete solar power systems is recommended, since they include all other system components and their installation costs.

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.

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Solar energy systems for homes and businesses have become very popular in many parts of the world. However, there are also solar panels for camping and other off-grid situations, which can be taken on trips and used virtually anywhere the sun shines. This is much easier than traveling with a heavy diesel generator, which can run out of fuel when you're in the middle of nature.

In this article, we will review the best solar panels for camping in 2021 based on a detailed comparison of technical specifications, costs, durability and more.

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Making the switch to solar energy can help you lower or even eliminate your monthly electric bills while reducing your carbon footprint. However, before installing a clean energy system in your home, you must first answer an important question: "How many solar panels do I need?"

To accurately calculate the ideal number of solar panels for your home, you'll need a professional assessment. However, you can estimate the size and cost of the system based on your electricity bills, energy needs and available roof space. This article will tell you how.

Factors That Influence How Many Solar Panels You Need

To determine how many solar panels are needed to power a house, several factors must be considered. For example, if there are two identical homes powered by solar energy in California and New York, with exactly the same energy usage, the California home will need fewer solar panels because the state gets more sunshine.

The following are some of the most important factors to consider when figuring out many solar panels you need:

Size of Your Home and Available Roof Space

Larger homes tend to consume more electricity, and they generally need more solar panels. However, they also have the extra roof space necessary for larger solar panel installations. There may be exceptions to this rule — for example, a 2,000-square-foot home with new Energy Star appliances may consume less power than a 1,200-square-foot home with older, less-efficient devices.

When it comes to installation, solar panels can be placed on many types of surfaces. However, your roof conditions may limit the number of solar panels your home can handle.

For example, if you have a chimney, rooftop air conditioning unit or skylight, you'll have to place panels around these fixtures. Similarly, roof areas that are covered by shadows are not suitable for panels. Also, most top solar companies will not work on asbestos roofs due to the potential health risks for installers.

Amount of Direct Sunlight in Your Area

Where there is more sunlight available, there is more energy that can be converted into electricity. The yearly output of each solar panel is higher in states like Arizona or New Mexico, which get a larger amount of sunlight than less sunny regions like New England.

The World Bank has created solar radiation maps for over 200 countries and regions, including the U.S. The map below can give you an idea of the sunshine available in your location. Keep in mind that homes in sunnier regions will generally need fewer solar panels.

Solar Resource Map. Photovoltaic Power Potential United States Of America © 2020 The World Bank, Source: Global Solar Atlas 2.0, Solar resource data: Solargis.

Number of Residents and Amount of Energy You Use

Households with more members normally use a higher amount of electricity, and this also means they need more solar panels to increase energy production.

Electricity usage is a very important factor, as it determines how much power must be generated by your solar panel system. If your home uses 12,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year and you want to go 100% solar, your system must be capable of generating that amount of power.

Type of Solar Panel and Efficiency Rating

High-efficiency panels can deliver more watts per square foot, which means you need to purchase fewer of them to reach your electricity generation target. There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film. In general, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient solar panels, followed closely by polycrystalline panels. Thin-film panels are the least efficient.

How to Estimate the Number of Solar Panels You Need

So, based on these factors, how many solar panels power a home? To roughly determine how many solar panels you need without a professional assessment, you'll need to figure out two basic things: how much energy you use and how much energy your panels will produce.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average American home uses 10,649 kWh of energy per year. However, this varies depending on the state. For example:

  • Louisiana homes have the highest average consumption, at 14,787 kWh per year.
  • Hawaii homes have the lowest average consumption, at 6,298 kWh per year.

To more closely estimate how much energy you use annually, add up the kWh reported on your last 12 power bills. These numbers will fluctuate based on factors like the size of your home, the number of residents, your electricity consumption habits and the energy efficiency rating of your home devices.

Solar Panel Specific Yield

After you determine how many kWh of electricity your home uses annually, you'll want to figure out how many kWh are produced by each of your solar panels during a year. This will depend on the specific type of solar panel, roof conditions and local peak sunlight hours.

In the solar power industry, a common metric used to estimate system capacity is "specific yield" or "specific production." This can be defined as the annual kWh of energy produced for each kilowatt of solar capacity installed. Specific yield has much to do with the amount of sunlight available in your location.

You can get a better idea of the specific yield that can be achieved in your location by checking reliable sources like the World Bank solar maps or the solar radiation database from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

To estimate how many kW are needed to run a house, you can divide your annual kWh consumption by the specific yield per kilowatt of solar capacity. For example, if your home needs 15,000 kWh of energy per year, and solar panels have a specific yield of 1,500 kWh/kWp in your location, you will need a system size of around 10 kilowatts.

Paradise Energy Solutions has also come up with a general formula to roughly ballpark the solar panel system size you need. You can simply divide your annual kWh by 1,200 and you will get the kilowatts of solar capacity needed. So, if the energy consumption reported on your last 12 power bills adds up to 24,000 kWh, you'll need a 20 kW system (24,000 / 1,200 = 20).

So, How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?

Once you know the system size you need, you can check your panel wattage to figure how many panels to purchase for your solar array. Multiply your system size by 1,000 to obtain watts, then divide this by the individual wattage of each solar panel.

Most of the best solar panels on the market have an output of around 330W to 360W each. The output of less efficient panels can be as low as 250W.

So, if you need a 10-kW solar installation and you're buying solar panels that have an output of 340W, you'll need 30 panels. Your formula will look like this: 10,000W / 340W = 29.4 panels.

If you use lower-efficiency 250-watt solar panels, you'll need 40 of them (10,000W / 250W = 40) panels.

Keep in mind that, although the cost of solar panels is lower if you choose a lower-efficiency model over a pricier high-efficiency one, the total amount you pay for your solar energy system may come out to be the same or higher because you'll have to buy more panels.

How Much Roof Space Do You Need for a Home Solar System?

After you estimate how many solar panels power a house, the next step is calculating the roof area needed for their installation. The exact dimensions may change slightly depending on the manufacturer, but a typical solar panel for residential use measures 65 inches by 39 inches, or 17.6 square feet. You will need 528 square feet of roof space to install 30 panels, and 704 square feet to install 40.

In addition to having the required space for solar panels, you'll also need a roof structure that supports their weight. A home solar panel weighs around 20 kilograms (44 pounds), which means that 30 of them will add around 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds) to your roof.

You will notice that some solar panels are described as residential, while others are described as commercial. Residential panels have 60 individual solar cells, while commercial panels have 72 cells, but both types will work in any building. Here are a few key differences:

  • Commercial solar panels produce around 20% more energy, thanks to their extra cells.
  • Commercial panels are also more expensive, as well as 20% larger and heavier.
  • Residential 60-cell solar panels are easier to handle in home installations, which saves on labor, and their smaller size helps when roof dimensions are limited.

Some of the latest solar panel designs have half-cells with a higher efficiency, which means they have 120 cells instead of 60 (or 144 instead of 72). However, this doesn't change the dimensions of the panels.

Conclusion: Are Solar Panels Worth it for Your Home?

Solar panels produce no carbon emissions while operating. However, the EIA estimates fossil fuels still produce around 60% of the electricity delivered by U.S. power grids.

Although the initial investment in solar panels is steep, renewable energy systems make sense financially for many homeowners. According to the Department of Energy, they have a typical payback period of about 10 years, while their rated service life is up to 30 years. After recovering your initial investment, you will have a source of clean and free electricity for about two decades.

Plus, even if you have a large home or find you need more solar panels than you initially thought you would, keep in mind that there are both federal and local tax credits, rebates and other incentives to help you save on your solar power system.

To get a free, no-obligation quote and see how much a solar panel system would cost for your home, fill out the 30-second form below.

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.

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