Do Solar Panels Have to Be Mounted on a Roof?

Once upon a time, commercially available solar panels were too inefficient and costly to be anything more than a high-tech novelty item.

Over time, however, engineers and scientists found ways to both increase efficiency and lower production costs.

Thanks to their hard work, more and more homeowners discovered they could save a significant sum of money with a simple rooftop system. So many, that solar panels have now become a regular feature of the American landscape.

But, while the term “rooftop solar” is almost synonymous with the small-scale residential projects you see popping up everywhere, mounting panels on the top of a building isn’t always feasible.

Sometimes, other options have to be considered.

Factors affecting residential solar

It doesn't matter how efficient they become.

Solar panels still can’t generate any power without sunlight.

And the roofs of some homes simply don’t get enough of it to make solar panels a viable option. This can happen for a couple of reasons.

·        Sunlight is obstructed by taller buildings, trees, or other objects that the homeowner can’t or doesn’t wish to remove.

·        Because the sun travels on the south side of the sky in our hemisphere, a roof surface that faces too close to due north will catch little or none of its light.

Ground mounts

Fortunately, solar panels can also be mounted on the ground. All it takes is a little bit of unused and unobstructed space.

Mounting your solar panels on the ground can even have some advantages.

·        Because the solar panels and other equipment don’t need to be hauled up to and installed on a roof, labor tends to cost less.

·        The direction that solar panels mounted on a roof face and the angle at which they sit are determined by the roof surface and, hence, may not always be optimal. Whereas ground mounts can be constructed so your panels get the maximum amount of possible sun. This can mean fewer panels and, hence, a somewhat lower installation cost.

Residential solar panels are about 65 inches by 39 inches or 17.5 square ft. That means an average 20-panel system only requires around 350 square feet of unobstructed ground space. A little less, actually, since the panels will be sitting at an angle.

Most homeowners prefer to take advantage of the unused space on their roof, regardless. But a small fraction who also have a suitable bit of land on their property do choose ground mounts, instead.

"Floating solar”

Rooftop mounting isn’t even an option for large-scale industrial solar projects that contain tens or even hundreds of thousands of solar panels.

Even putting that many panels on the ground requires an enormous plot of land.

So, while most industrial projects are ground-mounted, sometimes the panels are affixed to platforms built to float on the calm waters of a lake or a damn.

“Floating solar,” as such systems are called, requires special racking material designed to be buoyant. It’s also got to be very resistant to humidity and generally well-protected from the effects of water.

That means that—depending on the availability and cost of land—floating solar systems can turn out to be vastly more expensive than ground-mounted ones.

When it comes to residential solar, the number of homes with a suitable private lake is vanishingly small. And, even for those lucky few, floating solar is all but certain to be too expensive to make any financial sense.

For homeowners and businesses looking to save money on energy, a roof or ground-mounted solar system is the way to go.

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