3 Options for Installing a New Solar Energy System

Compare the Pros and Cons of Each Option

So you’re ready to install new solar panels.

You understand the huge savings you’ll reap in the long run because of power bill savings and tax incentives. You love the idea of energy independence and inflation-proof electricity from the sun. You appreciate the small but vital contribution you’ll be making to reduce pollution and help the earth.

But now, you’ve got a new question to answer:

What type of solar panel is right for my situation, and what are my options?

There are three types of solar panel arrays you can choose from, each with pros and cons. And this may even impact how many solar panels you need to begin with. Take a look at each installation option, and decide which one is best for you.

Solar System Option 1: Rooftop Array

new solar energy system on home with roof angled in several directions has solar panels placed only on certain sectionsProbably the most common type of solar energy system, especially for residences, rooftop arrays have the advantage of not needing any additional land. They become part of your home. They’re also the most attractive option and are generally the easiest to install. That means faster and less costly.

On the flip side, you’re limited by the size and orientation of your roof. A roof with lots of angles and slopes may allow only partial coverage with solar panels, if some sections don’t face the right direction. See photo for an example of this – panels have to receive enough direct sunlight to justify being placed on a section of roof.

Also, any roof repair issues will be complicated by having panels on the surface. You can plan ahead for this by taking care of any repair or replacement issues before installing solar panels. And, if done in conjunction with a solar panel installation, your roof repair costs may count as part of your federal solar tax rebate calculations. Consult your tax professional to get official answers on this question. But part of your roof replacements costs might count as part of the Investment Tax Credit (26% until 2020).

Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of rooftop solar arrays:

Rooftop Solar Advantages:

  • Requires no extra land
  • Compact placement is very efficient
  • Requires fewest extra materials
  • Most visually attractive option

Rooftop Solar Disadvantages:

  • Array size is limited by area of roof
  • Future roof repairs are complicated
  • Roof orientation limits where panels can be placed

Ideal choice for: residences, small businesses, large industrial businesses with big warehouses or farm buildings like poultry houses that have ample roof space.

Solar System Option 2: Ground Array

ground solar energy systems can be much larger than rooftop arrays, if you have the landThe ground array’s main benefit is space. Unlike the rooftop, if you have the land for it, a ground solar array can be as large as you need it to be. And because it’s not on the roof, you don’t need to worry about any future changes you might make to your roof. And, you are free to orient the panels in whichever direction will bring you the maximum direct sunlight.

Ground arrays basically address all the drawbacks of rooftop arrays.

But, they also require land. So if you don’t have the land, this just isn’t an option. And once you’ve committed land to a solar energy system, you can’t use that land for anything else. And 15 years later, you might get an idea for that land but be unable to act on it.

Ground Array Advantages:

  • No limits on size – only limited by land
  • No limits on orientation – max sunlight
  • No effect on future roof repairs

Ground Array Disadvantages:

  • Limits future land use options
  • Less attractive
  • More complicated to install – needs more equipment