Learn about the main features of ground-mounted solar panels, including pros and cons, installation costs, system maintenance, and more.
Ground solar panels are panels that you place on the ground, not on the roof. Ground-mounted panels are slightly more expensive than rooftop installations, but can produce more electricity when site conditions are favorable.
In this article, we at the MarketWatch Guides team will cover what you need to know about ground-mounted solar panels, including the pros and cons, cost and system maintenance.
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Solar panels placed on the ground compared to roof ones
Rooftop solar power systems are a traditional option for homeowners, but a ground-mounted solar panel is also viable if you have the space. Solar installers can design a ground-mounted system at the optimal pitch angle to maximize sunlight collection, while the pitch and orientation of your roof can limit traditional roof panels.
Advantages and disadvantages of panels installed on the ground
Installers can install ground-mounted solar panels in the sunniest spot on your property, positioned for maximum energy production. However, ground installations have a higher cost due to labor and equipment. Since you are not attaching the panels to an existing roof, installers must construct a special structure for the system.
ProsSolar panels placed on the ground can take advantage of the ideal tilt angle for maximum energy productionCleaning solar panels is much easier when the system is closer to the groundThe solar panel creates a shaded area that you can use for gardening and other purposesThe panels are more affordable for maintenance, such as system inspections and photovoltaic (PV) module replacements
AgainstIncreased installation and system costs because you need a dedicated structureGround solar systems require more spaceSince you can easily reach the system wiring, you must be careful to avoid electric shockIt can lead to increased wiring costs due to the distance between your panels and your home
Pros and cons of rooftop solar systems
Roof systems are the most popular option for homeowners and businesses. Installation costs are lower because you use the existing roof structure, and roof systems do not require space on the ground. However, rooftop PV systems are limited to the orientations and tilt angles allowed by the existing roof structure, which can affect energy production.
ProsRooftop solar installations cost less than ground-mounted systemsThe installation process is faster since you can use your roof and do not need a new structureIt saves space on the land that you can use for other purposesElectrical components are out of reach, reducing the risk of accidents
AgainstThe design of your roof may not allow the panels to be installed at the optimal pitch angleIn some cases, a solar installation can affect or void your roof warrantyCleaning and access to solar panels is more difficult when they are installed on a roofMaintenance is more complicated because installers hide wiring and connections under your panels
How much do ground mounted solar panels cost?
Installing ground mounted solar panels costs more because you need a special structure for the racking system. Thecost of rooftop solar systemsis lower because installers can attach racking equipment directly to your roof structure. For example, a solar carport is a type of ground-mounted PV system, where the structure is tall enough to allow parking of vehicles. However, the additional height increases the cost of ground-mounted solar projects.
EnergySage conducted a detailed cost comparison for rooftop installations, ground-mounted solar panel systems, and solar carports. The results are as follows:
|Type of solar PV system||Typical price per watt||System cost of 6 kilowatts (kW).|
|Rooftop||2.81 dollars||16,860 dollars|
|Mounted on the ground||3.11 dollars||18,660 dollars|
|Solar canopy||3.31 dollars||19,860 dollars|
Ground solar energy systems are about 11% more expensive than rooftop installations, while a solar canopy is 18% more expensive due to the extra height. However, ground installation is worthwhile when you can achieve panel productivity that outweighs the additional cost. All three system configurations are suitable for30% Solar Federal Tax Credit, and some states offer dedicated incentives for solar carports.
Solar trackers increase the productivity of a PV system by pointing your panels toward the sun, but they are expensive. Some estimates show that tracking systems can increase the cost of a solar installation by 40% to 100%.
There are two main types of solar trackers available:
- Two-axis trackerscan adjust both the tilt and orientation of your solar panels.
- Single axis trackersadjust either the tilt angle or the orientation of the panels, but not both.
Single-axis trackers can achieve a productivity increase of 25% to 35%, and dual-axis trackers an additional 8% to 10%,according to AltEnergyMag. However, adding more solar panels to your system is a more cost-effective way to increase your electricity production. Monitoring systems have been used successfully in large solar farms, buttend to be less effectivein small installations.
Maintenance of terrestrial solar panels
Cleaning is much easier with a floor mounted system as the panels are closer to the ground and easily accessible from both sides. Replacing inverters and other system components is also easier because you can access the wiring and connections under the panels. This approach is not possible with roof systems because technicians hide many components during installation.
A lots ofhigh quality solar panelsthey come with a 25- to 30-year warranty to cover performance issues or repairs and require little maintenance other than regular cleaning. Other system components, such as solar cells and inverters, generally need replacement after 10 to 12 years.
Maintenance becomes more complex and expensive if you add solar trackers as they have moving parts subject to mechanical wear. For this reason, you must regularly inspect and lubricate solar tracking systems.
How many ground mounted solar panels do I need?
If you know your home's annual electricity consumption, you can use the World Bank's Global Solar Atlas to estimatethe number of solar panels you need. Here's a step-by-step example using an average household's energy consumption of 10,632 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the reportUS Energy Information Administration.
- Zoom in on your location withglobal solar atlas, or enter your coordinates.
- Click on the map to display solar data for your location. Look up the "specific PV output" value in the appropriate table.
- Let's say your site lists an output of 1400 kilowatt-hours per kilowatt peak (kWh/kWp), which means that each kilowatt of solar panel capacity produces 1400 kWh per year.
- Divide your consumption (10,632 kWh per year) by this value to estimate how many kilowatts you need to cover your home's energy needs.
- Based on this example, you would need 7.6 kW or 7600 W.
- To estimate how many solar panels you need to cover your electric bill, divide the total power of the system by the power of the individual panel. So, using 400W solar panels, you would need 19 units to achieve a system capacity of 7,600W. Or, a smaller size of 350W would require 22 panels to achieve the same system power.
If you use solar trackers, you will need fewer panels to achieve an electricity production of 10,632 kWh per year. However, the added cost of the tracking engine may outweigh the savings you'll get from buying fewer boards. Thethe best solar companiesthey have experience with all types of roof and ground installations and can determine the ideal system configuration for your home.
Are ground solar panels worth it?
Mounted on the groundsolar panels are worth itif you have a property with the necessary space. While the geometry of your roof can limit the placement and production of rooftop solar, installers can optimize ground-mounted panels to capture maximum sunlight. Or if you want to take advantage of the area below your solar array, you can use a taller structure and build a solar canopy.
Shading can be a problem if there are several trees or other obstructions around where you plan to install the ground-mounted panels. In this case, you may consider a system mounted on an elevated pole instead of a standard ground mount.
Ground-mounted solar systems typically cost more than rooftop systems, but are more efficient, which can lead to more energy production. With favorable site terms and a low-interest financing option (such as a zero-advance loan), we can help you achieve more energy savings to pay for your systemwithin six to 10 years. And with most solar panels lasting 25 years or more, you'll see decades of electricity savings.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Ground Mounted Solar Panels
Leonardo Davidis an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceuticals, education, food processing, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles on energy and engineering topics since 2015.
Tori Addisonis an editor who has been working in the digital marketing industry for more than five years. Her experience includes communications and marketing work in the non-profit, government and academic sectors. A journalist by trade, she began her career covering politics and news in New York's Hudson Valley. Her work included coverage of local and state budgets, federal financial regulations and health care legislation.