Ground-mounted solar panels: what you need to know
Individual panel prices
Prices of DIY kits
Installed system prices
When you think of getting solar panels, you probably picture them on the roof of your house. That's where they always go, right?
Well, not necessarily. While rooftop installations are the most common way to install solar panels, they can actually be installed in many different ways and locations. Of the many alternatives, the most popular one is a ground-mounted setup.
In this article, we’ll explain what a ground-mounted solar system is exactly, its pros and cons, and whether it’s an option worth considering for your home.
A ground-mounted solar power system is just what it sounds like - a system of solar panels that are mounted on the ground on your property, rather than on the roof of your house.
A ground-mounted solar power system is just what it sounds like – a system of solar panels installed at ground level, rather than on the roof of your house.
Depending on your choice of racking system, the solar panels will be positioned a few inches to several feet above the ground.
Module-level power electronics, required for rapid shutdown, will be attached to the panels, but other system components can be located some distance away, so you can put temperature-sensitive equipment like string inverters and solar batteries in your garage.
With ground-mounted installations, you have the flexibility to work with solar panels of any size, including large ‘commercial’ modules featuring 72 cells (or 144 half-cells) or more, whereas rooftop systems are typically restricted to 60-cell panels which are smaller and lighter.
Ground-mounted solar panels can be installed anywhere with good sun exposure and sufficient amounts of open space – a minimum of 350 square feet is usually required.
Ground-mounted solar panels are also known as backyard solar panels, free-standing solar panels, and ground-mount PV systems.
You can use either a standard ground mount, which fixes the panels in one place, or a pole mount, which puts them higher off the ground.
Standard or traditional ground mounts use multiple small anchors to support a racking table for the solar panels. Many anchor types can be used, including concrete piers (most common), driven piers, helical piles, and concrete ballasts. The best anchoring method for you will depend on your ground conditions.
Standard ground mount systems typically hold the solar array in a fixed position, although options for manual adjustment are gaining popularity.
The standard ground-mount system is the easiest and most cost-effective solution for a ground install, and also the most popular.
To build a pole-mount solar system, you’ll dig a single deep hole in the ground. It’ll hold a large pole, upon which you’ll connect your rails and mount your solar panels.
Pole-mount systems offer greater clearance from the ground, which is useful in avoiding foliage or other ground obstructions. We’ve even seen animals grazing and taking shelter from the sun underneath them!
Another advantage of pole mounts is that they can easily incorporate a single-axis or dual-axis tracking system; these enable the panels to follow the sun over the course of the day and thus produce more energy.
On the flip side, pole mounts with tracking systems have a higher cost per watt, so it’s usually more cost-effective to buy a standard ground-mount array featuring a greater number of panels.
Here’s what to consider if you’re thinking about going solar with a ground-mounted solar panel installation.
|Great way to bypass any roof issues, existing or potential (limited space, structurally weak roof, etc.)||More expensive than a rooftop solar system|
|Higher energy production, as you can position your solar panels in the optimal direction and angle||Takes up valuable real estate|
|Easy to clean and maintain||Affects the home's overall aesthetic|
|Harder installation process|
The biggest advantage with ground-mounted solar panels is that they offer greater control over your solar panel direction and angle. Solar panels need to face either south or southwest to receive maximum direct sunlight. On flat ground, you can position solar panels in any direction you want to maximize sun exposure, unlike on a slanted roof.
This advantage means ground panels often receive more sunlight, allowing them to generate more solar power, thus saving you more money.
Your roof may also have obstructions, such as a skylight or chimney, which would make it difficult to install panels there. The ground generally provides more room to install more panels than the roof does.
On the other hand, panels on the ground can interfere with your home's overall aesthetic more than they would on the roof. Installation of ground panels also takes significantly more time and effort and is generally more expensive than rooftop panels.
However, if your ground-mounted system is also able to produce more energy, then this extra cost can be offset over time.
If your home uses a lot of energy, then ground-mounted panels might be better for you. This is particularly true if you have a lot of open space on your property, allowing you to install more solar panels than you can fit on your roof. Installing a larger system will allow you to generate more power and better meet your needs.
Of course, if your yard is on the small side, there might not be enough room to install as many panels as you need. Additionally, if you don’t have the extra space, installing solar panels on the ground will leave little to no room for your lawn, flower beds, or other landscaping. If that's important to you, then rooftop panels may be a better option.
I should also point out here that a ground-mount solar system is not your only option if your roof isn’t suitable for solar panels; you can also consider a solar carport, or even a solar patio, gazebo, or pergola.
The average home requires about 19 solar ground-mounted panels.
Here are the back-of-the-envelope calculations used to reach this figure:
Your home’s electricity usage and sunlight availability may be different from average, of course. To find out the exact number of solar panels required by your home, use our advanced solar calculator below.
Here are the top five companies that provide ground-mounted solar panels.
Yes, some homeowners have been successful with DIY ground-mount solar panel installations.
When it comes to buying the equipment, you can either find a special ground-mount solar kit or ask an equipment supplier to adapt a standard rooftop kit for you by swapping out the mounting & racking equipment.
However, DIY ground-mount installations are generally considered more challenging than rooftop jobs since you’ll need to use concrete and perhaps even an excavator when anchoring the array.
Ground-mounted solar panels can provide a number of advantages over standard rooftop panels. The extra energy they're able to produce can make them well worth the price. Do some research on your own, and talk to your local solar installer to find out how ground-mounted solar panels can best help you meet your home's energy needs.