Do solar panels go on the roof? Or the ground? Or where?
We find most that homeowners who are interested in solar power envision installing the solar panels on their roof. And why not? Solar roofs offer the opportunity to turn otherwise unused space into great savings on monthly electric bills. What could be better than that?
As it turns out, however, not all roofs are good for solar panels. There may be trees that cast too much shade on your roof, for example, or you might not have enough south-facing roof space to install a system that’s big enough to suit your energy needs. Depending on your situation, a ground-mounted solar energy system may in fact make the most sense for you.
You can learn more about which characteristics make for a good solar roof by reading this article. Beyond this, we hope you’ll find the following pro and con list useful in deciding which route to take for your solar home energy project: rooftop solar or a ground-mounted solar installation.
In the end, you won’t really know which type of solar installation is right for you until you’ve had a site visit from a qualified solar installer in your area.
Pros of solar roofs:
- Depending on the pitch and orientation of your roof, it may be possible to install the solar panels out of view.
- Beyond standard equipment, rooftop solar energy systems typically don’t require a lot of additional racking and other mounting hardware that's needed for ground-mounted systems.
- Solar roofs make productive use of space that would otherwise go unused, as noted above.
- Related to the previous point, solar roofs don’t eat up land that could otherwise be productively put to use. This consideration is particularly important when it comes to larger commercial and utility-scale projects, which can take up multiple football fields’ worth of space.
Cons of solar roofs:
- Shade, from trees or nearby buildings, can be a real problem.
- Sometimes a roof is too small to accommodate enough solar panels to suit the family’s energy needs.
- Roofs with lots of contours or other funky shapes can see increase costs associated with solar energy system design and installation. In the worst case, oddly shaped roofs don’t have enough uninterrupted area to accommodate the panels.
- It can be a bit more expensive to install solar panels on some kinds of roofs (like clay tile and wood shake shingle roofs) than it is on others (asphalt shingle).
- It can be kind of a pain to clean/rinse off the panels. Usually a rain shower does the trick. But if you live in a low-rainfall area that gets a lot of dust, this may be a consideration.
Ground-mounted solar array
Pros of ground-mounted solar installation:
- It’s relatively easy to optimize the placement of the solar panels in order to maximize their electricity output. Unlike a roof -- the pitch and orientation of which is already set -- a ground-mounted array can be built so that it captures the most sunlight possible throughout the year.
- While unusual for residential projects, it’s possible to install a tracking system with a ground-mounted system. (Note, too, that tracking systems increase the cost of solar installation.)
- Solar panels perform best in cooler temperatures. More air tends to circulate behind the solar panels of a ground-mounted array than those of a rooftop system. Because ground-mounted panels manage to stay cooler, they often outperform their solar roof counterpart. (The difference in performance, however, is admittedly not that noticeable.)
Cons of ground-mounted solar installation:
- Ground-mounted solar systems typically require additional racking and mounting equipment, which can increase the cost of solar installation.
- There may not be enough usable room on your property to accommodate a ground-mounted solar energy system.
- It may not be possible to find an inconspicuous area to install the solar panels on your property, which may prompt aesthetic objections by you (or your family members). Usually, however, a solar installer can work with you to design an array that addresses these concerns.
- Ground-mounted solar energy systems may come with added costs for trenching. “Trenching” means digging a trench to bury the electrical wiring that runs from the solar panels to your home. If you live in an area with really rocky soil, or there would be a long distance between the solar panels and your home, the added costs for trenching and burying conduit could be substantial.
Rooftop Solar vs. Ground-Mounted Installations