What is a ground-mounted solar panel?
Ground-mounted solar panels are solar panels that are installed at the ground level. Ground-mounted systems function very similarly to rooftop solar systems – panels are exposed to sunlight which is converted to electricity by solar cells in order to power a single building or, in the case of solar farms, communities.
Here are the top three things that you need to know about ground-mounted solar panels and energy production:
1. In many agricultural cases, ground-mounted solar panels can be your best option
While rooftop solar arrays are the most common choice for commercial property owners, there are many reasons to consider a ground-mounted solar panel system, particularly if you own a lot of land.
Generally, ground mount solar panels cost a bit more than rooftop solar on a per-watt basis because of custom racking, additional labor, and permitting that may be required for the installation.
Rooftop solar arrays are restricted by the characteristics of the roof on which they are installed. If your roof isn’t at the right angle, doesn’t face south, or has obstructions like skylights, then your solar array will be less productive. On the other hand, ground-mounted solar panels can be located wherever the conditions are best, and even built to track the sun to maximize solar energy production!
In addition, if your farm or winery uses a lot of electricity, your roof might not be big enough for a solar energy system that meets your electricity needs. In contrast, ground-mounted solar systems can be sized to match your electricity consumption without the space restrictions of a rooftop system.
2. There are two types of ground-mounted solar panel systems
There are two basic types of ground-mounted solar panel systems:
Standard ground-mounts use metal framing driven into the ground to hold your solar panels up at a fixed angle. Some standard ground-mounted solar panel systems can be manually adjusted a few times a year to account for seasonal shifts of the sun. The project showcased above is a standard ground mounted solar panel system.
Pole-mounted solar systems support multiple solar panels on a single pole and elevate panels higher off the ground than a standard ground mount. Pole-mounted solar often incorporates tracking systems, which automatically tilt the solar panels to capture the optimal amount of sunshine.
Tracking systems can increase the production of your solar panels by 25 percent or more. If you decide to add a tracking system to your ground-mounted solar array, you have the option of either a single-axis or a dual-axis system. Single-axis tracking systems move your solar panels over the course of the day to follow the sun as it moves through the sky. Dual-axis tracking systems can also adjust based on seasonal variations in the sun’s position.
3. Ground-mounted solar panel systems offer benefits for all agricultural property owners
Even if you are a good candidate for a rooftop solar energy system, there are many benefits to choosing a ground-mounted solar panel system.
First, ground-mounted solar panel systems are very easy to place, because they can be located on open land. They don’t require drilling into your roof, and the bracings used in standard ground-mount systems are lightweight and easy to remove. (If you opt for a pole-mount, they will usually be installed more securely.)
Second, a ground-mount solar panel system can be more productive per panel than a rooftop solar array. Because they’re not dependent on your roof, ground-mounted solar panels are set at the perfect angle to optimize energy production. This means you can generate more electricity than a comparably-sized rooftop system, and save more money in the long run.
Finally, ground-mounted solar panels are very easy to access for cleaning and maintenance. If your farm or vineyard is in an area that receives a lot of dust, like the Central Valley in California, being able to easily wash the dust off of your solar panels is a major convenience: https://www.beachcitiessolarconsulting.com/solar-panel-cleaning-2/
Most installers offer a ground-mount system option, and the cost of standard ground-mounted solar is comparable with a rooftop solar energy system installation. If you decide to include a tracking system in your installation, you will pay an additional upfront cost, but the resulting increase in electricity production can make tracking systems cost-effective for many agricultural land owners.
The pros and cons of ground-mounted solar systems
If you’re considering a ground-mounted solar system over a rooftop system, you’ll want to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks associated with these systems. Ultimately, your decision will depend on your needs and what parameters you and your solar provider have to work within.
Advantages of ground-mounted solar
One advantage of free standing solar panels is their ability to maximize sunlight exposure. Your rooftop may not be ideally oriented (i.e., south-facing with a slope between 30 – 40 degrees), but you’ll be able to choose the orientation of your ground-mounted system to increase energy production. Ground-mounted systems also tend to operate more efficiently because they have more air circulation beneath the panels, allowing them to stay cool. Finally, if your system requires any maintenance, it will be much easier for your installer to access a ground-mounted system, typically reducing potential labor costs.
Disadvantages of ground-mounted solar
Ground-mounted systems aren’t a good fit for everyone. First of all, rooftop systems sit on your roof, occupying unused space on your property; with a ground-mounted system, you may need to use valuable land for the system. This alone may be a challenge for some land owners, particularly those that utilize that space for farming (though in some instances, you can effectively combine farming and ground-mounted systems through agrivoltaics https://www.beachcitiessolarconsulting.com/agrivoltaics/!). Free standing solar panels are also more prone to damage due to wildlife or people tampering with the equipment. Finally, ground mount solar systems tend to be more expensive, assuming that extensive roof repair isn’t necessary to accommodate a rooftop solar system (which you’ll probably need to fix eventually anyways).
Frequently asked questions about ground mounted solar panels
What does ground-mounted mean?
Ground-mounted solar panels are installed on the ground, rather than on a rooftop surface. Whether it’s a single large pole for multiple solar panels, or a framework that sits on the ground, the system will be considered ground-mounted.
Are ground-mounted solar systems cheaper?
Typically, no. Rooftop solar systems use an existing structure to be mounted, eliminating the need for creating mounts – like pole structures or cement foundations – that panels can then be installed on. But, it depends on the roof and if any renovations need to be made to accommodate solar panels. Ground-mounted solar panels are also at a higher risk for damage, so expenses may add up down the line.
How much do ground-mounted solar systems cost?
The cost of free standing solar panels can vary significantly. Private land owners can expect to pay anywhere from $3.00-$4 per watt depending on the size of the system.
Are ground-mounted solar panels safe?
Ground solar panels are safer to install. Maintaining them is safer and easier as well because your installer won’t have to climb onto your roof.
How far can a ground-mounted solar system be from your main electric panel or switchgear?
Installing free standing solar panels far from your main electrical panel is perfectly fine. The only caveat here is that the farther your electrical panel is from the structure, the more wiring and trenching you’ll need, increasing the system’s cost.
Are ground-mounted solar panels worth it?
Solar panels, regardless of if they’re installed on the roof or ground, can make a significant difference in power production and will pay for themselves decades before they need to be replaced, making them a good investment.
BCSC LLC can help your agricultural organization size its solar and storage system and run a competitive request for solar and storage proposals from thousands of qualified nationwide solar & storage providers. Inquire today through the contact us button below!