An Alternative to Solar Roof Mounting

Rooftop solar arrays are the most common and the most cost effective way to locate a solar energy system for both residential and commercial needs. However, ground mounting of solar arrays is an option when rooftop mounting proves to be inadequate to meeting long term solar energy production goals.

Expert design and high efficiency solar products generally overcome minor space or interference limitations on a structure’s roof. When these limitations are significant, choosing to mount some or all solar panels on nearby ground expands solar power production options. Designing a solar system off roof like this provide benefits and a few added challenges.

Ground Mounted Solar Benefits

In general, mounting solar arrays to the ground would be considered when sufficient and suitable land is available. Land that is free of any shading obstructions, or where obstructions can be removed is mandatory. Flat land is preferred, however, minor slopes and contours can be accommodated in a good solar energy system design. Ideally, the land should be adjacent to the connection point and energy use to avoid too much added cost in routing the power cables away from the installation

Common Benefits to Ground Mounting

Each site is different. But where ground mounting solar works best, there are a few common benefits with this design:
  • Rooftop solar panels are mounted to contour the roof surface. This means the solar panel tilt relative to the sun will match that of the roof. Ground mounting designs provide more freedom to tilt the solar arrays to a more specific angle for any design and location.
  • Arrays of panels can be oriented in a way that best optimizes year round solar production. For many locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island that is generally more oriented towards the south, although other orientations and solar panel arrangements may work well. Ground mounting makes those choices possible, removing restrictions from residential roof orientation, for example.
  • For facilities with higher power demands, modern solar panels and expert design can provide as much as approximately 250kW to 300kW rated solar capacity per acre of land. For even the largest home, as little as ¼ acre free and unobstructed is usually more than sufficient to meet the highest power demands.
  • Many owners prefer the increased visibility of a ground mounted solar energy system.

Ground Mounting Solar Options

There are plenty of options available to locate and to secure both small and large solar arrays to the ground:

  • Panels can be located 1 high in a single row or up to 4 or 5 panels high in each row.
  • For hard soils, the support structures may be anchored by driving steel beams into the ground, using appropriate threaded hardware, or pouring footings.
  • For sandy soils, ground mounted solar arrays may be ballasted to leverage the weight of entire lines of arrays and keep the entire system secured.

A popular option in Massachusetts and Rhode Island for performance and aesthetics is the use of solar panel canopies and carports.

Ground Mounting Solar Challenges

While mounting solar panels off the rooftop opens up production capacity and design flexibility, there are some challenges that must be balanced for each site and design. This is a big reason why Southern Light Solar is very careful in deciding when to suggest and consider a ground mounted solar energy design.

  • In most Massachusetts and Rhode Island districts, environmental concerns are closely monitored and regulated. Reviews and approvals add time and cost when compared to a rooftop solar energy system.
  • The racking and support structures for mounting solar arrays are typically more extensive and more expensive than what is needed to secure solar panels directly to a roof.
  • Depending on system size and location related permitting, months may be added to a solar energy project timeline. Each month a system is not producing solar power is a loss of significant savings.