Ground Mounted vs Rooftop Solar – Pros and Cons for Where You Want to Put Your Solar Array

There are many reasons in favor of both a ground mount and a rooftop solar array. But for most homes and businesses, the decision gets made once you assess your property based on a few key factors.

Use this list to learn the advantages of each type of array and determine which one is likely best for your property.

Advantages of Ground Mounted Solar Arrays

1. Directional Flexibility

With rooftop solar, your panels can only face whatever direction your roof faces. If that direction happens to be optimal (generally south, or southwest or southeast) and unobstructed, you can do well. But if you roof isn’t oriented in one of the best directions, your options are limited.

With a ground mount, assuming you have the land space, you can face the solar array in whatever direction will maximize your energy production. You have much more control over the angle and direction of your panels.

2. More Options for Placement

Businesses in particular but also homes are getting pretty creative with where they put their solar arrays. Ground mounted arrays can be in the ground, but also on carports, awnings, pergolas, walkway coverings, and other structures adjacent to the home or business.

Some businesses even include electric car charging stations in their parking lot covered by solar panels. Once you depart from thinking about rooftops, you open up a bevy of creative options for placement.

3. Option for Bifacial Panels

For the most part, rooftops don’t work well for bifacial panels, unless the roof is large and flat. But with ground mounted arrays, bifacial panels give you a way to increase your solar energy production per panel by more than 10% (some say as high as 30%). It depends in part on the reflective surface below the panels.

See the pros and cons of bifacial panels 

4. Eliminates Need for New Roof

If your roof is more than five years old, it is recommended that you replace it before adding a rooftop solar array. This is because installing the array will in a small way compromise the integrity of the roof. If it already has problems, drilling through it can make them worse. That said, with proper installation, your roof will be fine and you will have zero leaks.

But another reason is, if you decide to replace the roof after installing solar panels, you’ll have to temporarily remove the panels. This will greatly increase the complexity and cost of roof replacement down the road.

Installing a ground mounted array lets you worry about your roof some other time.

5. Can Avoid Shadows and Trees

Shadows from trees and other structures across your roof reduce your solar energy production if you have a rooftop solar array. But with a ground mounted array, you can optimize your placement and avoid shadows and obstructions.

6. Freedom with Array Size

A rooftop solar array can only be as big as the roof allows. But a ground mounted array can, in theory, be as large as you want or need it to be.

For businesses in particular, this can be a great benefit, because some businesses, such as manufacturing companies, use a ton of energy but sometimes only have one or two buildings. With a ground mounted array, they can greatly expand their solar energy capacity.

7. Easier to Clean

Cleaning solar panels isn’t a huge factor or problem, but even if you only do it every two or three years, it will still be much easier with a ground array than a rooftop one.

Advantages of Rooftop Solar Arrays

1. More Efficient Use of Space

Most people don’t need to go on their roofs. So that space has little purpose, and putting an array up there keeps the rest of your property usable and accessible for other things. Putting them on the roof keeps them out of the way.

2. Easier for Smaller Properties to Go Solar

If your land space is limited, a ground array simply isn’t practical. Most people don’t want to fill up their backyards with solar panels. For a typical homeowner with an average-sized home, rooftop solar is your only way to make it work.

3. More Attractive

This is debatable of course, but in general more people seem to consider rooftop solar arrays more ‘beautiful’ and visually pleasing than ground mounted arrays. They just look nicer. They fit nicely in the space and add a modern dimension to your property. Again, there is of course no universal agreement on this, but if you choose the most attractive and highest performing panels on the market, such as ones from Sunpower, Solaria, or REC, you will have a beautiful rooftop solar array.

4. Minimal Complications in Installation

If your roof faces an optimal direction and has enough space, buying top quality ‘tier 1’ solar panels and doing a standard installation is the most simple and straightforward option. It’s the most common type of installation, so your solar contractor and installer will just follow their routine procedures that they have mastered.

Simple is often better. Rooftop arrays get installed faster, and generally pose fewer complications for the installer because they’ve done so many of them.

5. Less Costly Installation

Surely you were wondering about cost, and rooftop solar installations cost less than ground mounted arrays, most of the time. The reason is again because the process for rooftop installations is pretty straightforward, unless you have a multi-directional roof or other complicating factors.

Installing a ground mounted array costs more, in part, because the solar panels must be strongly secured in the ground to prevent any chance of them getting dislodged by strong winds or other forces of nature. The design process will also take longer because it will require more customization.

6. More Secure

A rooftop solar array is out of the way. It is generally going to be less accessible to prowlers, whether the human kind or the furry kind. There’s little chance of rooftop panels being hit by a car or run into by someone. Simply put, a rooftop array will be undisturbed. A ground array invites a little more curiosity from passersby.

Reviewing the Pros and Cons of Ground Mounted and Rooftop Solar Panels

As a summary review, here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of each type of array.

Pros of Ground Mounted Solar Panels

  • More flexibility in direction
  • More placement options
  • Option for bifacial solar panels
  • Eliminates need for new roof
  • Can more easily avoid shadows and obstructions
  • Fewer limitations on the size of the array
  • Easier to clean

Cons of Ground Mounted Solar Panels

  • Uses up some of your land
  • Less efficient use of space
  • More costly to install
  • More complicated and slower to install
  • Less secure
  • Not an option for smaller properties
  • Less attractive (for some people…)

Pros of Rooftop Solar Panels

  • Most efficient use of space
  • Less costly to install
  • Simplest installation process most of the time
  • More secure
  • Ideal option for smaller properties with less land
  • More attractive (for most people)

Cons of Rooftop Solar Panels

  • Limited flexibility in size and direction
  • May require a new roof as well
  • Harder to clean
  • Fewer options for placement – your roof is your roof
  • Harder to avoid shadows and obstructions
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