Five Reasons You Might Love Ground-Mounted Solar

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The vast majority of residential solar installations these days are going on the roof of the home or garage. Mounting solar panels directly on the roof of a house has many advantages over a ground-mounted rack… there is no trenching involved, there is less wire to run, and it does not take away yard space. But what if your roof is shaded by big, old trees? Or maybe there isn’t enough room on the roof to fit as many panels as you might like? There are some situations where only a ground mounted array will work, and in fact there are a lot of great reasons to LOVE ground-mounted solar. Here are few of my favorites.

1. Tracking: It’s Just…Really Cool!

One great big advantage that ground-mounted solar over roof mounts is adjustability. A rack can be designed and built to take full advantage of the sun, no matter where the sun is in the sky. Seasonal adjustability can be achieved by adjusting the North/South tilt as the angle of the sun changes (unless you live on the equator, where the angle never changes…) But if you have a wide open space, you can also add a tracking system to your solar array that allows the solar panels to follow the sun throughout the day. A tracker adds cost, but can as much as DOUBLE your output. And did I mention that they are really cool?

2. Maintenance: Roof Mounts Are A Pain In The…Knees.

I don’t know anyone who really LIKES to work on a roof. Some roofs are better than others, but unfortunately climbing on roofs just comes with the territory. What I really dislike is doing maintenance on a roof rack. The wiring is hard to reach, and it often requires removing panels to reach it. If you are using microinverters that mount under the panels…fuggetaboutit. Big pain. Ground mounts, on the other hand, are easy, easy, easy to work on. Everything is wide open and easy to reach.

3. Love To Shovel Snow? I Thought So.

If you live in the Northern part of the world like we do, you get to experience the joys of winter snow removal. I just love to shovel my driveway, don’t you? Okay, not so much. Now just imagine that you need to also clean the snow off of your solar panels. Are you going to climb on the roof to brush them off? If so, please consult a mental health professional immediately. Chances are, you will end up blowing it off and losing production, or struggling with a REALLY long squeegee. Ground mount? No problem! You can sweep them off in a couple of minutes.

A small system with a passive tracking system.
A small ground mounted solar array with a passive tracking system.

4. A Cool Solar Panel Is A Happy Solar Panel

Solar panels work best when they are cool. One thing that roofs rarely are is cool. Even in the winter, when it gets sunny, the roof can get pretty warm. Also, microinverters are more likely to fail in extremely hot conditions. When you only have a few inches between the panels and the roof, it gets pretty hot under there, and your production drops. Ground mounts get plenty of air circulation, and that means better performance and more kWh.

5. Hey You Kids…Get Off My Roof!!

No matter how careful we are, walking on the roof is rough on shingles. I have seen installations that were done in the hot part of the summer and the installers literally left tracks on the roof, all around the array. Not good. Unless the roof mounts go in before the roof, there are also roof penetrations, and the opportunity for leaks to develop. And, with the life expectancy of solar panels exceeding the life expectancy of most shingles, at some point you will need to take them down to re-roof. Ground mount? Again, no problem. Plant some hostas around them and you won’t even need to get out the weed-wacker.

A big residential system.
A big ground-mounted residential system.

Of course, on to every solar installation a little rain must fall. Ground-mounted systems have a higher upfront installation cost. Trackers have moving parts that can break. And, as one friend of mine recently discovered, panels close to the ground are easier to steal. Still, if you have the room and can cover the cost, a ground-mounted solar array just can’t be beat!

Photo of author

About Rich

Rich Dana loves to build things, to tinker on things, and to grow things. After more than a decade as a historic building remodeler in Brooklyn, New York, he and his wife Ericka moved to their back-to-the-land dream home (and fixer-uper nightmare), an 1870s farmhouse on 15 acres in eastern Iowa that they call “Catnip Farm.” For the last 18 years, Rich has specialized in super-efficient historical renovations and solar PV installation. He is working to convert much of the farm into perennial food crops like nut trees and berries, and he helps Ericka out with her heirloom seed project. His latest passion is learning to sew.

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