Ground-mounted solar panels: what you need to know

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what are ground mounted solar panels?

 

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 blog, we’ll explain what a ground-mounted solar system is exactly, their pros and cons, and whether you should consider them for your home.  

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    What is a ground-mounted solar panel system?

    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

    Ground-mounted solar panels can be installed any place on your property that has sufficient open space and good sun exposure. The panels can be placed anywhere from a few inches to a few feet off the ground, depending on how the racking system is set up. The panels feed power to a solar inverter, which is located either on the mounting system behind the panels or in the house.

    Residential ground-mount solar installations are generally built using 60-cell solar panels - the same solar panel size typically used in residential rooftop solar installations. Meanwhile, larger-scale ground-mounted systems, like ones used in solar farms, tend to use larger, 72-cell solar panels.

    Ground-mounted solar panels are also known as backyard solar panels, free-standing solar panels, and ground-mount PV systems.  

    What are the different types of ground-mount solar installations?

    Solar panels on standard ground mount; Right: Solar panels on pole mount

    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 ground mount 

    Standard or traditional ground mounts use ground anchors to hold up a racking table that supports the solar panels on rails. The exact method of anchoring will depend on your ground conditions: using concrete piers is most common, but driven piers, helical piles, and concrete ballasts are options, as well. 

    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 common. 

    Pole mount 

    To build a pole-mount solar system, you dig one big hole into the ground, instead of several smaller holes as with a standard ground-mount. A large pole is set into the ground, upon which you 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, and can even be used to provide space and shelter for animals to graze underneath. 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 flipside, pole mounts with tracking systems have a higher cost per watt, and most people find it cheaper to instead install a standard ground-mount array with more solar panels. 

    What are the pros and cons of ground-mounted solar panels?

    Here’s what to consider if you’re thinking about going solar with a ground-mounted solar panel installation. 

    Table. Pros and cons of ground-mounted solar panels 
    Pros Cons
    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 the 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.

    Find out how much you can save with a ground-mounted system

    Are ground-mounted solar panels right for my home?

    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

    How many ground-mounted solar panels will I need?

    The average home requires about 20 solar ground-mounted panels

    Here are the back-of-the-envelope calculations used to reach this figure. 

    Let’s assume the use of 300-watt panels at a location that receives 5 peak sun hours per day. Each solar panel will produce 1.5 kWh (1,500 watt-hours) of electricity per day in that time. 

    According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average household uses nearly 900 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per month, or about 30 kWh per day. As we’ve already established, each solar panel produces 1.5 kWh electricity/day, so we can offset the American home’s average daily usage by installing 20 solar panels.

    To get the exact number of solar panels you would need to match your home’s electricity usage at your location, either ask a local solar installation company for a free quote or use our advanced solar calculator below. 

    Calculate how many solar panels your home will need to eliminate your electric bill

    What are the best ground-mounted solar panels?

    Here are the top five companies that provide ground-mounted solar panels.

    • Panasonic: High quality and low priced, Panasonic has one of the best reputations in the business
    • LG Solar: LG panels have one of the top conversion rates of solar energy into electricity
    • Canadian Solar: One of the best values for solar panels
    • Trina Solar: Solid all-around performance at an affordable price
    • SunPower: The most efficient panels on the market; their best solar panels have a conversion rate of 22.8%

    Can I perform a DIY installation using a ground-mount solar kit?

    Yes, some homeowners have been successful with DIY ground-mount solar panel installations

    There are several steps to the process: designing the system, gaining approvals, buying a solar panel kit, and performing the installation. 

    Many online solar panel kits vendors either offer ground-mount solar kits, or can adapt standard rooftop kits for use as a ground-mount system by swapping out the mounting & racking equipment. 

    DIY ground-mount installations are generally considered more challenging than DIY rooftop installations since they require the use of concrete and/or excavators to anchor the array. 

    Learn more:

    Final thoughts on ground-mounted solar panels

    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.

    Key takeaways

    • Ground-mounted solar energy systems are a great option if you can’t - or don’t want to - install solar panels on your roof.
    • There are two main types of ground-mount systems: standard setups (typically built with racking anchored with concrete piers) and pole-mount systems.
    • Ground-mounting your solar panels allows you to build a bigger system and achieve greater power output, but at a higher cost per watt.
    • Ground-mounted solar panels tend to work best for homeowners with high energy usage and lots of space on their property.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Zeeshan Hyder

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Zeeshan is passionate about promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. He developed these interests while studying at beautiful Middlebury College, Vermont, which has a strong focus on sustainability. He has previously worked in the humanitarian sector — for Doctors Without Borders — and in communications and journalism.

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