Solar, not just for your rooftop

By Brandon Walton on July 1, 2015
Ground-mounted solar install.
Don Alexander installs his ground-mounted solar system.

While it may be common to think of solar as attached to rooftops, many solar users find that solar works better for their home mounted on the ground. Take for example Mary Wildfire and her husband Don Alexander. Since 2009, the couple has generated electricity for their home from four 220-watt panels.

Ground-mounted systems have a few advantages over their rooftop cousins. Ground-mounted systems allow for increased airflow around panels. This can result in cooler cell temperatures. This translates to higher efficiency, and thus higher energy production. Additionally, ground panels are easier to clean and maintain.

Mary and Don have a house that is built up against shade providing trees. The trees cool the house and lower electricity demand for home cooling. But, they make rooftop solar a poor choice for the roof. The ground-mount option allows Mary and Don to have the electricity panels provide.

Some ground-mount designs allow orientation of the panels to be adjusted manually or mechanically. This will increase energy production. The introduction of moving parts may result in additional costs and maintenance requirements. This will depend upon the complexity of the system. Systems that provide constant panel movement to track the sun do increase output but also have higher maintenance costs.

Mary and Don’s system is simpler. It is built with a support rack that only requires them to move a few screws to adjust the angle of their panels. Their panels are nearly vertical in the winter and closer to horizontal in the summer.

Ground-mounted panels do require an amount of clear ground space that limits their ability to be installed in densely populated areas. They also may be more expensive to install, as they require the construction of additional structures to support the panels.

Mary said the most important advice she could give someone considering adding solar is to “DO IT!” She said it was important to do your research so you have the system that best fits your needs.