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Installing Ground Mounted Solar Panels

Updated: Apr 30


ground mounted solar panels

Do you have potential solar customers who don’t have a roof with optimal solar potential? For example, perhaps it is shaded, or it lacks a southern orientation. Are there dormers, skylights, or mechanical systems that limit their options or the size of the PV system? Does the roof have structural issues that make a rooftop installation questionable? If so, ground mounted solar panels might be an excellent option.


A ground mounted solar panel system is often an excellent solution because it allows you to place the solar panels in the sunniest spot on the property. Clients may inquire if it is an option to install solar panels on the ground or if it is cheaper. If you don't already offer this mounting solution, it might be a great addition.


Offering ground mounts may increase your pool of potential solar energy customers and result in more satisfied customers. Sometimes, it can boost the output of the solar energy system, therefore boosting the return on investment. Some homeowners might want a solar tracking system on their array to increase energy production, making a ground mount essential. Unfortunately, ground mounts are often more complicated to engineer and install, especially for specific soil types.


What Are Ground Mounted Solar Panels?

Ground mounted solar power systems offer design freedom. Instead of only mounting the panels on the house or garage roof, there are expanded options. The bigger the property, the greater the possibilities. Larger rural properties and farms are ideal for ground mounts, but some suburban and urban sites are also suitable.


Sometimes, solar installers can add PV panels to a structure in the yard, such as a trellis or carport. These structures can serve dual purposes and result in very efficient use of limited space. For example, a trellis can provide shade and is ideal on the south side of the home. For solar carports, the PV modules can shade and protect a vehicle from the elements.


Three Types Of Ground Mounted Solar Panel Systems

Ground mount systems come in three primary designs: with standard-mounted panels, pole-mounted panels, and solar carports. We’ll go over all these options.


Standard Mounted Panels

This approach uses ground anchors to hold the metal framing in place with rails. The solar panels are then mounted, typically at a fixed angle.


The configuration and layout of the metal framing will vary by the racking system and desired design. If the array has more than one row, it is helpful to prevent shading from the first row to the second and allow enough space to enable mowing if needed.


It is critical to select the best orientation and angle to meet the energy goals of the customer. Some of these systems are manually adjustable, which will require additional maintenance. It’s not critical to seasonally adjust systems, even if the racking system has the capability, but it will result in slightly less energy production.


Pole-Mounted Panels

Renewable energy contractors mount these solar systems on one or two central poles that are driven into the ground. These installations are usually taller than standard-mounted panels and can have greater permitting requirements due to maximum wind load and soil composition considerations.


Often, pole-mounted systems have a single- or dual-axis tracking device that follows the sun for increased energy production. However, because it is a mechanical system with moving parts, tracking systems sometimes fail or need maintenance. If you install a tracker, conduct research to ensure the manufacturer is known for reliable equipment and provides strong warranties.


If the system is seasonally adjustable, ensure the customer understands the maintenance requirements of manually adjusting the panels to increase electricity production. Solar trackers have become more reliable over the years, but are not right for every client or solar site.



Solar Carports

Solar panel carports are innovative structures that provide dual functionality by sheltering vehicles and acting as a platform for a solar energy system. These structures are typically equipped with solar panels on the roof, which harness sunlight to produce clean and renewable electricity.


Solar carports offer several advantages, such as optimizing land use by utilizing space that might otherwise remain unused, providing shade for parked vehicles, and generating renewable energy. Also, the elevated design of solar carports allows for effective utilization of space beneath, making them suitable for a variety of applications, including commercial and residential settings.


Ground Mounted Solar Panel Installations

Installing these arrays varies widely by the racking system, anchoring approach, property layout, climate, and soil type. Regardless, adequate planning in the project's design phase helps prevent issues with permitting, the installation process, and interconnection. Engineering expertise is critical for successful projects.


Installing Standard Mounted Solar Panels

There are a variety of ways to secure standard-mounted panels. Concrete piers are the most common, but concrete ballasts, helical piles, and driven piers can be used as well. In some cases, the best option depends on the available equipment, maximum wind loads, and soil type. Also, your clients may have a preference because some options have a greater long-term impact than others.


Some local ordinances will require a security fence around the solar array, increasing the cost, labor, and materials needed to complete the project. Also, plan accordingly for the fence to prevent it from shading the panels or to make it difficult to mow around the photovoltaic solar panels and perform maintenance.


Installing Pole-Mounted Solar Panels

Installing a pole mount will require completing some site work and may have more stringent permitting requirements. In some jurisdictions, an engineer must specify the foundation details, taking into account soil composition and maximum wind loads. Typically, a tractor-mounted auger is the best equipment for digging the narrow hole needed, but they might not perform well in rocky soil. The given racking system will have a maximum number of panels, which varies by model.


Pros And Cons Of Ground Mounted Solar Panels

There are some major benefits and drawbacks for ground mounting PV panels:


Pros

No drilling into the roof: Some potential customers are very concerned about creating roof penetrations. Perhaps this could void their roof warranty, or they are worried about roof leaks. One big plus to ground mounted systems is that they require no drilling on your roof and, therefore, no roof penetrations.


Potentially more efficient: If the roof does not have a good solar resource, solar panels might generate moderately or significantly more energy as a ground mounted system. In this case, it might result in a higher return on investment and be more cost-effective, depending on how much the ground mount increased the total system cost. Also, installing a single- or dual-axis tracker can boost solar production.


Seasonally adjustable: Some ground mounted systems can be manually adjusted. This means that the panels can be at a steeper angle in the winter because the sun is lower in the sky. The panels can be at a gentler angle during the summer because the sun is higher in the sky. Seasonal adjustments can modestly increase the total solar electricity generation.


Reduce rapid shutdown requirements: The National Electrical Code (NEC) dictates when rapid shutdown on each panel is required to reduce the shock potential to first responders. Typically, ground mount solar systems do not need to meet the same rapid shutdown requirements, but the interpretation of the laws can vary by region, the layout of the ground mount, and the location of the balance of system.


Bifacial Solar Panels Can Boost Efficiency: Integrating ground mounted solar systems with bifacial solar panels can maximize energy generation by harnessing sunlight from both sides, increasing overall efficiency and output. This is most effective when installing solar panels near reflective surfaces.



Cons

Additional cost: Often, ground mounted solar systems have a higher upfront cost. This is because of the additional racking, permitting, and installation costs. Digging holes can require special equipment and even meeting engineering requirements to determine maximum wind loads and soil types. In some cases, the racking system does provide an additional benefit, though, like a solar carport.


Takes up yard space: Typically, ground mounted solar panels occupy more space than solar PV modules mounted on the roof unless the installer incorporates them with a useful structure, like a trellis or solar carport.


Vegetation control: To prevent shading of the solar panels, it is still critical to control vegetation for ground mounted solar. For example, it is not recommended to plant trees or allow tall vegetation on the south side of the solar panels because this will decrease solar energy production. Even tall grass can hinder total system output.


Are PE stamps required to permit a pole mounted solar system?

If a Professional Engineer (PE) stamp is required for pole mounted solar systems, it can vary depending on local regulations and building codes. In many jurisdictions, projects that involve structural engineering elements, such as pole mounted solar systems, may require the involvement of a licensed Professional Engineer.


A PE stamp issued by a licensed Professional Engineer indicates that the design and installation of a structure comply with relevant engineering standards and regulations. It provides assurance that the structure is safe and meets the necessary requirements. To determine whether a PE stamp is required for a pole mounted solar system, it's essential to check with local building authorities, permitting offices, and relevant codes and regulations in the specific jurisdiction where the installation is planned.


GreenLancer specializes in solar engineering reviews. Our network includes Professional Engineers licensed in all 50 states.


Rooftop Vs. Ground Mounted Solar Panels

Solar companies can provide critical information to help solar shoppers make informed decisions. Explaining the pros and cons of ground mounts and determining if your client will benefit from this mounting option is critical.


Don’t let design and engineering hurdles deter you from installing ground mounts. GreenLancer's network of design and engineering professionals are specialists in all types of solar projects, including ground mount design. Connect with a rep today!





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