Rooftop vs. ground-mounted solar panels: Which is right for you?
Where you install solar panels can make a big difference in how much energy your system will produce. So you may find yourself asking whether you should go with rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels.
As with many other aspects of a solar system installation project, the answer to that question will depend on a myriad of factors that are specific to your property. Roof position, tree shade and yard space will all come into play.
In this blog, we’ll outline some pros and cons of installing panels on your roof and in your yard. Ultimately, an experienced solar installer like Wolf Track Energy will be able to guide you through the system design and come up with a project that will meet your needs.
First, let’s define some terms.
Rooftop solar systems are exactly what you think they are. They are arrays installed directly on a customer’s roof using special racking systems.
Ground-mounted systems involve panels and racking structures that are installed on the ground. They may even include tracking devices that move solar panels throughout the day to follow the sun.
Raise the roof
A rooftop system comes with some inherent benefits. First, you don’t have to build a large support structure to hold up the panels. Your roof is a large, elevated and unused space that’s ready for solar panels.
Moreover, a rooftop system shouldn’t require any trenching to connect wires to your existing electrical system.
But you have less flexibility with your roof. The footprint, compass direction and pitch, or angle of the roof, are fixed.
A fixed footprint means installers are limited in how many panels they can attach to the roof. But why is the compass direction (or azimuth) and pitch important? Because solar panels are better at converting sunlight into electricity when they’re facing south and tilted at the optimal angle. But your roof position is fixed, so there’s no adjusting the azimuth and panel tilt.
Perhaps more concerning is the potential for nearby trees to cover your roof with shade, robbing you of valuable solar production. As Aurora Solar writes, even just a little shade can affect solar production in a big way.
And, as altE Store points out, installing panels on an older roof may make replacing that roof down the line more difficult. Remember, solar panels can last two decades or more.
Maybe your roof isn’t the best for solar panels because there’s limited space and a big tree is growing nearby. All is not lost, and it’s still very possible to go solar. Ground-mounted solar panels offer some flexibility in designing your system and can offer better production.
By installing solar panels in your yard or field, you can point them to the south and set them at the ideal tilt.
You could even install an adjustable system, allowing you to optimize your production during the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky.
Another advantage of ground-mounted solar panels, especially in Duluth: Cleaning them is easier. If a huge winter storm comes through, you won’t have to wait for the snow to melt to keep generating electricity. You can simply clean them yourself. (Although, as we’ll describe in a later blog post, rooftop solar customers shouldn’t worry too much about lost production due to snow cover.)
But installing a ground-mounted solar system is a more expensive proposition than simply slapping some panels on your roof. That’s because you’re adding more materials and labor to the project.
Not only do you have to run wires underground back to your home, but you’ll also need to devise a way to support the panels, whether that’s with beams, ballasts or other devices. Solar Power World broke down various ground mount systems used by installers. In a rooftop system, the support structure is already there.
But even with those added upfront costs, a well-designed ground-mounted system could mean higher solar production and more savings over the life of the system. An experienced solar installer can make those calculations to help customers make an educated decision.
Another consideration: You may not have the yard space for a ground-mounted system. And even if you did, you may not want to sacrifice it for solar panels.
Breaking it down
Solar systems come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. And there’s many different ways to install them, based on the conditions at your property.
Rooftop and ground-mounted solar panels both have advantages and disadvantages, so give Wolf Track Energy a call and we can talk through what makes the most sense for you.
Read more from Northland’s solar energy experts:
- Solar for Schools grants in Minnesota: Learn how to apply in 2024
- SolarSense applications due soon: Learn how to apply with Minnesota Power
- Wolf Track Energy team grows with Real Solar merger
- REAP grants for solar: How to get financing for your system
- Net metering in Minnesota: What to know