Are Ground Mounted Solar Panels Better Than Rooftop?     – CNET

Are Ground Mounted Solar Panels Better Than Rooftop? – CNET

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Solar panels popping up on top of houses are part of an expansion of renewable energy that’s showing little sign of slowing. Solar power is expected to be about half of new energy generation in the U.S. in 2022. While most of that comes from big solar farms and other non-residential sources, rooftop solar on homes accounts for close to one gigawatt (about 2.5 million solar panels) of that new solar power every three months.

If you want to join the ranks of residential solar adopters but have a roof that’s too shaded, at a bad angle or otherwise unsuited, there are still options for you. You can still take advantage of the federal tax credit, local tax incentives and the long term savings solar can bring by ground mounting solar panels. If you have the space but not the roof, here’s what you need to know.

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Ground mounted vs. rooftop solar panels

The difference between ground mounted and rooftop solar panels is really in the name. While the more familiar rooftop panels go on a rooftop, ground mounted panels are affixed to the ground.

There’s more to it than that, and ground mounted panels have some advantages over rooftop panels, but come up short elsewhere.

Pros of ground mounted panels

The true advantage of ground-mounted panels is that they don’t have to go on your roof. If your house is in a nice shady spot but you’ve got a nice sunny backyard, you can put them there.

Rooftop panels are also captive to your roof design, since solar panels work best at a specific slope and direction. While the optimum tilt depends on your latitude, the best direction is basically toward the equator. Since most roofs weren’t designed with solar panels in mind, they likely aren’t exactly positioned to maximize solar energy production. A ground mounted system can be ideally positioned.

Read moreCNET’s review of the ground mounted Smartflower solar sculpture

Another advantage to leaving your roof out of the equation is eliminating the risk of damaging it. While solar installers offer warranties against roofs leaks, they don’t always extend for the length of your solar panels life. While this is a manageable issue and solar panels typically require little maintenance, keeping panels off your roof eliminates the issue altogether.

If your panels do require maintenance, reaching them on the ground is easier than climbing up on the roof. In areas that get a lot of snow, they’ll be easier to brush off, too.

Cons of ground mounted panels

The biggest drawback of ground mounted panels is cost. Instead of using a structure that’s already been built — your roof — installers will need to build a new one. They’ll also need to run more wiring from the panels to your home than for rooftop panels. Both will increase the cost.

Ground mounted panels might also be more susceptible to damage. While a lawn mower probably won’t throw a rock up onto the roof, ground mounted panels might be in the line of fire depending how close to the ground they are. Being close to the ground brings your panels closer to animals or kids or other potentially destructive agents. There isn’t definitive data on maintenance costs for ground mounted panels, though.

While rooftop panels don’t take up any space that’s regularly used, ground mounted panels, depending on lot size and layout, might eat into heavily utilized real estate, like a backyard or flowerbeds. 

The upshot of ground mounted solar panels

Ground mounted solar panels represent a small enough portion of residential installations that they’re rarely called out in reports on the residential industry. Cost and space are the main factors holding them back. Still, in some cases they might be the best option available and still save you money.

Before making any solar panel purchase, it’s best to identify the best fit for your specific needs. Get multiple quotes and make sure you understand your contract and warranties before moving ahead. Solar panels can save you a lot of money in the long run, but they can save you more if you find the right fit.

Andrew Blok

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