Advantages and Challenges of Ground-Mounted Systems

Solar Guide

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By Smartpowr

Are you considering a solar installation for your home or business? One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to opt for a rooftop or ground-mounted system. While rooftop arrays are more common, ground-mounted solar systems have gained popularity in recent years due to their unique advantages. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of ground-mounted solar, helping you make an informed choice for your specific needs and property.

What are Ground-Mounted Solar Systems?

Ground-mounted solar systems are photovoltaic arrays that are installed on the ground rather than on a building’s roof. These systems can be fixed in place or designed to track the sun’s movement for optimal energy production. Ground-mounted arrays come in various sizes and configurations, making them suitable for both residential and commercial properties with ample open space.

The Growing Popularity of Ground-Mounted Solar

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), ground-mounted systems accounted for over 50% of new solar capacity installed in the United States in 2020. This growth can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Technological Advancements: Improvements in solar panel efficiency and mounting systems have made ground-mounted arrays more cost-effective and easier to install.
  2. Reduced Costs: As solar technology has matured, the overall cost of ground-mounted systems has decreased, making them more accessible to a wider range of property owners.
  3. Land Availability: The abundance of open land in rural areas has made ground-mounted systems an attractive option for large-scale solar projects.

Advantages of Ground-Mounted Solar Systems

1. Optimal Orientation and Tilt for Maximum Efficiency

One of the most significant advantages of ground-mounted solar is the ability to orient and tilt the panels for optimal sun exposure. Unlike rooftop installations, which are limited by the existing roof orientation and pitch, ground-mounted arrays can be positioned to face south (in the northern hemisphere) and at the ideal angle for the location’s latitude. This flexibility allows for maximum energy production throughout the day and across seasons.

A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that properly oriented and tilted ground-mounted systems can generate up to 30% more electricity than rooftop arrays. This increased efficiency translates to greater energy savings and a faster return on investment for property owners.

2. Enhanced Cooling for Improved Performance

Ground-mounted solar panels benefit from better airflow and cooling compared to rooftop installations. When solar panels overheat, their efficiency decreases, resulting in reduced energy output. With ground-mounted systems, there is typically more space between the panels and the ground, allowing for improved air circulation and heat dissipation.

Some ground-mounted designs feature rear ventilation, which further enhances cooling and efficiency. A study published in the journal Solar Energy found that rear-ventilated ground-mounted panels can operate at temperatures up to 20°C lower than rooftop panels, resulting in a 5-10% increase in energy production.

3. Easier Installation and Maintenance

Installing a ground-mounted solar system is often easier and safer than a rooftop array. With no need for roof penetrations or specialized climbing equipment, ground-mounted installations can be completed more quickly and with fewer potential complications. This ease of installation can also translate to lower labor costs for property owners.

Ground-mounted systems are also more accessible for cleaning, inspection, and repairs. Technicians can easily reach the panels without navigating a rooftop, making maintenance tasks more efficient and less hazardous. This accessibility is particularly beneficial in regions with heavy snowfall, as snow can be cleared from ground-mounted panels more easily than from rooftop arrays.

4. Flexibility and Expandability

Ground-mounted solar offers more flexibility in system size and layout compared to rooftop installations. With ample space available, ground-mounted arrays can be designed to accommodate a wide range of energy needs and can be expanded more easily as those needs grow.

This scalability makes ground-mounted systems an attractive option for properties with increasing energy demands or those planning for future growth. By starting with a smaller array and adding panels over time, property owners can spread out the cost of their solar investment while still reaping the benefits of clean energy.

5. Preserving Roof Integrity and Aesthetics

Installing a rooftop solar array involves drilling holes and attaching mounting equipment to the roof structure. This process can potentially lead to leaks or damage if not done properly. With a ground-mounted system, there is no need to alter the roof, eliminating the risk of leaks and preserving the integrity of the building.

Moreover, ground-mounted arrays can be located away from the main structure, minimizing their visual impact. For property owners concerned about the aesthetics of solar panels on their roof, a ground-mounted system offers an alternative that maintains the building’s appearance while still harnessing the power of the sun.

Challenges of Ground-Mounted Solar Systems

1. Higher Upfront Costs

One of the primary challenges of ground-mounted solar is the higher upfront cost compared to rooftop installations. Ground-mounted arrays require additional materials, such as concrete footings, steel posts, and mounting racks, which can add to the overall expense. Specialized equipment, such as ground screws or helical piles, may also be needed for secure anchoring, further increasing costs.

According to EnergySage, ground-mounted systems typically cost 10-20% more than rooftop arrays due to these additional materials and labor requirements. However, it’s important to consider the long-term benefits of ground-mounted solar, such as increased efficiency and energy production, which can offset the initial investment over time.

2. Land Requirements and Site Preparation

Ground-mounted solar systems require a significant amount of open land, with a typical array needing 100-300 square feet per kilowatt of solar capacity. This land requirement can be a barrier for properties with limited space or those located in urban areas.

In addition to the space needed for the array itself, the site must be prepared for installation. This may involve grading, excavation, and soil compaction, which can disrupt the local ecosystem and require additional permits or environmental impact assessments. In some cases, the installation may need to be modified to minimize soil disturbance or protect sensitive habitats.

3. Potential for Shading and Vegetation Management

While ground-mounted solar systems offer flexibility in orientation and tilt, they are more susceptible to shading from nearby trees, buildings, or other structures. Shading can significantly reduce the energy output of solar panels, making it crucial to assess the site carefully and address any potential obstructions before installation.

Vegetation around and under the solar array must also be managed to prevent shading and ensure optimal performance. This may involve regular trimming, mowing, or herbicide application, adding to the maintenance requirements and costs of the system. Failure to properly manage vegetation can lead to reduced energy production and potential damage to the panels.

4. Permitting and Zoning Challenges

Ground-mounted solar systems often face more stringent permitting and zoning requirements compared to rooftop installations. Local regulations may dictate setbacks from property lines, height restrictions, and other constraints that can limit the size or placement of the array. Navigating these regulations can be time-consuming and may require additional fees or professional assistance.

Homeowners associations (HOAs) or community covenants may also restrict the installation of ground-mounted solar systems. It’s essential to review any applicable HOA guidelines or local ordinances before proceeding with a ground-mounted installation to avoid potential legal issues or fines.

Making the Right Choice for Your Property

Ultimately, the decision between a ground-mounted or rooftop solar system depends on a variety of factors unique to each property and its owners. By weighing the advantages and challenges outlined in this article, you can make an informed choice that maximizes your energy production, savings, and overall satisfaction with your solar investment.

When considering a ground-mounted system, it’s essential to work with experienced professionals who can assess your site, design an optimal array, and guide you through the permitting and installation process. Look for reputable installers who are familiar with local regulations and have a track record of successful ground-mounted installations.

Additionally, be sure to explore available incentives, such as the federal solar tax credit and state or local rebates, which can help offset the upfront costs of a ground-mounted system. Many utilities also offer net metering programs, allowing you to sell excess electricity back to the grid and further reduce your energy bills.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much land do I need for a ground-mounted solar system?

A typical ground-mounted array requires 100-300 square feet per kilowatt of solar capacity. However, the exact land requirements will depend on the size of your system, the efficiency of the panels, and the layout of the array.

Can I install a ground-mounted system myself?

While it is possible to install a ground-mounted solar system as a DIY project, it is generally recommended to work with professional installers. Solar installations involve electrical work, permitting, and site preparation that may require specialized knowledge and equipment. Improper installation can lead to safety hazards, reduced performance, and potential damage to your property or the solar components.

How long do ground-mounted solar panels last?

Most solar panels are designed to last 25-30 years or more. However, the actual lifespan of your ground-mounted system will depend on factors such as the quality of the components, the level of maintenance, and the environmental conditions at your site. Regular cleaning, inspection, and repairs can help extend the life of your solar array and ensure optimal performance over time.

Are ground-mounted solar systems eligible for incentives and rebates?

Yes, ground-mounted solar systems are typically eligible for the same incentives and rebates as rooftop installations. These may include the federal solar tax credit, state or local rebates, and performance-based incentives. Be sure to research the specific programs available in your area and consult with your solar installer to maximize your savings.

Can I use a ground-mounted solar system to power my entire home?

Yes, a properly sized ground-mounted solar system can be designed to meet your entire household’s energy needs. However, the feasibility of powering your home solely with solar will depend on factors such as your energy consumption, the size of your array, and the availability of net metering or energy storage options. Your solar installer can help you determine the appropriate system size and configuration to meet your energy goals.

The Future of Ground-Mounted Solar

As solar technology continues to advance and costs decline, ground-mounted systems are becoming an increasingly viable option for property owners seeking to harness the power of the sun. With their flexibility, efficiency, and potential for large-scale installations, ground-mounted arrays are poised to play a significant role in the transition to a clean energy future.

Ongoing research and development in solar technology, such as bifacial panels and advanced tracking systems, promise to further enhance the performance and cost-effectiveness of ground-mounted solar. As these innovations become more widely available, property owners will have even more options to customize their solar installations to meet their specific needs and goals.

Moreover, the increasing adoption of energy storage solutions, such as batteries, is making it easier for properties with ground-mounted solar to maximize their energy independence and resilience. By storing excess solar energy generated during the day, property owners can reduce their reliance on the grid and power their homes or businesses even when the sun isn’t shining.


Ground-mounted solar systems offer a flexible, efficient, and scalable solution for property owners looking to harness the power of the sun. By understanding the advantages and challenges of ground-mounted arrays, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your energy needs, budget, and site constraints.

As with any major investment, it’s essential to do your research, consult with experts, and carefully consider your long-term goals. With the right planning and execution, a ground-mounted solar system can provide clean, renewable energy for decades to come, helping you save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

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