Racking and Installation of Solar Panels

Renewable and Sustainable Energy with Solar Energy

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Chapter 5

Racking and Installation of Solar Panels

There is a rapid increase in the use of solar panels every passing day. New developments in the solar energy sector are on the rise. A lot of people find them to be viable long-term solutions for their electricity needs. Are you also intrigued by the recent wave of interest in solar energy, and have many questions regarding solar panels, installation, and potential utility and drawbacks? Well, then you’re in the right place.

Read below to find out all you should know about solar panels.

Which One is Better, Ground-Mount, or Roof-Mount?

Most people assume that solar panels are only installed on the roof since that is the place where they receive the most sunlight. This assumption is wrong because solar panels can also be set-up on the ground.
Both ground-mounted and rooftop solar panels have their benefits and drawbacks. If you’ve decided to purchase one but just can’t seem to choose between one type or the other, don’t worry! We’ve compiled a list of each panel’s advantages and disadvantages so that your decision becomes easier.

Advantages of Ground-Mounted Panels

Ground mounted solar panels

i. Orientation

The primary advantage of ground-mounted solar panels is their flexibility. Since they function on the ground, you can install them any way you want. You can position them in such a way that they directly face the sun.
Ground-mounted panels also have a greater range of inclination when compared to rooftop panels. The angle of tilt can also be adjusted accordingly to capture the maximum amount of sunlight. In areas where it often snows, you even have the option of increasing your ground-mounted panel’s inclination to prevent the buildup of snow.

ii. Maintenance

The cleaner your solar panel, the more efficient it is. Any form of dirt or sand that gathers on your solar panel reduces its efficiency and give you lower power output.
Ground-mount panels are more accessible, which is a significant advantage. You can quickly inspect them or check for any signs of damage or deterioration, such as cracks on the screen or loose bits of wiring.
The maintenance factor becomes even more critical in northern areas, where it snows throughout the winters. Snow is one of the factors that significantly reduces your solar panel’s efficiency. Snow particles accumulate on the surface of your solar panel and block the incoming sun rays.
Ground-mounted solar panels are superior to rooftop panels because you can regularly check and clean them with ease.

iii. More space

Another benefit relates to low solar panels’ efficiency. To produce an adequate electricity, you may need more number of solar panels. Else, you may install larger solar panels to capture enough sunlight to generate the power required.
To do so, you should have a home that has a large roof. However, most people do not live in mansions. In such a situation, it is ground-mounted panels which are the better choice for you. They solve any issues relating to limited space during installation.
You also don’t need to perform different operations on your roof, such as drilling, cleaning, etc. Thus, ground-mounted solar panels have an easier installation process.

iv. Better performance

Typically, there are many more options available for the design and positioning of ground-mounted solar panels as opposed to rooftop solar panels. You can adjust the solar panel positions according to your home’s specifications to increase the power harnessing.
From a general perspective, ground-mounted solar panels’ performance and efficiency is mostly better than those of rooftop solar panels.

v. The grounding effect

The more wiring you use in a system, the less effective it is and more prone to faults and errors.
However, ground-mounted solar panels require less wiring because of their location on the ground. The distance to the electrical nodes is much less. This helps to safeguard your system against wiring faults and insulation problems.

vi. Cooling system

Another factor that affects a solar panel’s efficiency is temperature. Although solar panels require sunlight to work, extremely high temperatures hamper efficiency and reduce performance.
People living in warmer climates should have some sort of a cooling system that keeps the solar panel’s temperature within an acceptable level. Doing this during the summers is even more crucial.
Ground-mounted solar panels are a good choice for hot areas. The air currents on the ground act as natural cooling systems.

vii. No changes to your home required

One of the most appealing features of ground-mounted solar panels is that they keep your house intact.
You do not need to add any modifications to your roof or the overall structure of your house. Doing this also helps you avoid any possible damage that is possible if the installation is done improperly or by inexperienced installers.

viii. Physical appearance

solar energy in the desert
Many people don’t prefer having solar panels on their roof, since they damage the home’s aesthetic appeal and are even visible from the outside. Many home-owning associations do not permit tenants to install solar panels on the roof.
In contrast, ground-mounted solar panels do not affect aesthetics. The panels are installed on your home’s backyard where they are not visible.

ix. Expansion

Solar panels are not 100% efficient devices. They operate at a low conversion rate of 22%. That is why you need solar panels that are greater in either quantity or size to fulfill your electricity requirements.
Doing either of these two things on a roof is difficult since its size and layout restrict you.
In comparison, ground-mounted solar panels don’t face such hurdles. There is ample space on the ground to install solar panels of any quantity or size.

Disadvantages

Ground-mounted panels also have drawbacks.

i. More expensive

It is much more difficult to install solar panels on the ground than on the roof. This difficulty in installations makes ground-mounted panels to be more costly, resulting in people preferring rooftop panels.
A strong base is required to anchor the device in place. Furthermore, your installation company will also conduct an analysis of the soil in your installation area to make sure it is conducive to hold a solar panel system.

ii. Space occupied

Since solar panels have long lifespan, before installing a ground-mounted panel system, you should be sure you want the system to take up space in your yard for the next 25-30 years.
The solar panel presence may also stop you from indulging in any kind of leisurely activities, such as physical sports, Bar B-Q’s,etc., for fear of damaging the panels.

iii. Safety Hazard

Solar panels produce electricity. Therefore, having them closer to your home can pose a risk to the family members, especially children. The danger of children electrocution is something that all parents worry about.
Ground-mounted solar panels are grounded, and wiring is well-covered to avoid spread of electricity in the surrounding areas. However, it is still possible that with time and deterioration, a few loose wires get exposed. If wires get exposed, it can be a grave concern and is an issue to consider for people who have children.
The smartest course-of-action in this situation is to regularly inspect your solar panels to ensure their protective coverings are intact. If you are having the installation process done by reliable and credible companies, it will also decrease the chances of your solar panel becoming dangerous for other people nearby.

iv. Shading

You can control how you position your solar panel, but you cannot control what other people will do. If your neighbors build a structure that will block the sunlight falling on your solar panel, then you will face obstruction of sunlight.
Even the presence of a tree will create issues. Therefore, before you install a ground-mounted solar panel, make sure you have friendly and caring neighbors!

v. Speed of installation

The final thing to consider is the time taken for your solar panel to be ready for use. Since ground-mounted panels have a more complex structure, it will take more time for installation

Rooftop Solar Panels

Many people don’t prefer having solar panels on their roof, since they damage the home’s aesthetic appeal and are even visible from the outside. Many home-owning associations do not permit tenants to install solar panels on the roof. In contrast, ground-mounted solar panels do not affect aesthetics. The panels are installed on your home's backyard where they are not visible. ix. Expansion Solar panels are not 100% efficient devices. They operate at a low conversion rate of 22%. That is why you need solar panels that are greater in either quantity or size to fulfill your electricity requirements. Doing either of these two things on a roof is difficult since its size and layout restrict you. In comparison, ground-mounted solar panels don’t face such hurdles. There is ample space on the ground to install solar panels of any quantity or size. Disadvantages Ground-mounted panels also have drawbacks. i. More expensive It is much more difficult to install solar panels on the ground than on the roof. This difficulty in installations makes ground-mounted panels to be more costly, resulting in people preferring rooftop panels. A strong base is required to anchor the device in place. Furthermore, your installation company will also conduct an analysis of the soil in your installation area to make sure it is conducive to hold a solar panel system. ii. Space occupied Since solar panels have long lifespan, before installing a ground-mounted panel system, you should be sure you want the system to take up space in your yard for the next 25-30 years. The solar panel presence may also stop you from indulging in any kind of leisurely activities, such as physical sports, Bar B-Q’s,etc., for fear of damaging the panels. iii. Safety Hazard Solar panels produce electricity. Therefore, having them closer to your home can pose a risk to the family members, especially children. The danger of children electrocution is something that all parents worry about. Ground-mounted solar panels are grounded, and wiring is well-covered to avoid spread of electricity in the surrounding areas. However, it is still possible that with time and deterioration, a few loose wires get exposed. If wires get exposed, it can be a grave concern and is an issue to consider for people who have children. The smartest course-of-action in this situation is to regularly inspect your solar panels to ensure their protective coverings are intact. If you are having the installation process done by reliable and credible companies, it will also decrease the chances of your solar panel becoming dangerous for other people nearby. iv. Shading You can control how you position your solar panel, but you cannot control what other people will do. If your neighbors build a structure that will block the sunlight falling on your solar panel, then you will face obstruction of sunlight. Even the presence of a tree will create issues. Therefore, before you install a ground-mounted solar panel, make sure you have friendly and caring neighbors! v. Speed of installation The final thing to consider is the time taken for your solar panel to be ready for use. Since ground-mounted panels have a more complex structure, it will take more time for installation Rooftop Solar Panels
The final thing to consider is the time taken for your solar panel to be ready for use. Since ground-mounted panels have a more complex structure, it will take more time for installation

Advantages

i. Low cost and time

It is much easier to install solar panels on your roof. This is why they boast a much lower cost and time for installation compared to ground-mounted panels.
However, keep in mind that there are two scenarios in which your rooftop solar panels will have a cost considerably higher than average.
The first is your rooftop’s condition. If your rooftop material has to undergo renovation to bear the weight of the solar panel, the costs will increase.
Second is your rooftop’s life-span. If it has deteriorated a lot, you may probably need to rebuild parts of it later, so that they can hold the solar panel.

ii. Unused space

People rarely spend their life on the roof. Thus, rooftop solar panels are such an ideal choice. Since most rooftops have lesser use than backyards, their installation won’t cause any inconvenience to homeowners.

iii. Easier installation

It is much easier to install solar panels on the rooftop. There are fewer individual parts required. Fewer workers can complete the task in a shorter period.
If patient is not your virtue, then we suggest buying rooftop solar panels. For ground-mounted panels, you should first get the ground dug up in order to create the foundation.

iv. Protection

Installing solar panels on your roof will increase protection. No, not of your solar panels, but the rooftop. This is an extraordinary benefit, but it is there nonetheless.
You can clear dirt, snow, and water from a solar panel’s surface quite quickly. But these forces can do lasting, irreparable damage to your rooftop. Therefore, installing a solar panel on the roof will serve as a layer of protection. A costly layer, however.

v. Minimum shading

This benefit of minimum shade cast is dependent on where you live. In most situations, a building’s rooftop is the only place exposed to sunlight to the maximum degree. This minimal cover is because obstructions such as buildings and trees do not usually reach and cover a roof.
In most situations, a building’s rooftop is the only place exposed to sunlight to the maximum degree. This minimal cover is because obstructions such as buildings and trees do not usually reach and cover a roof.
In most situations, a building’s rooftop is the only place exposed to sunlight to the maximum degree. This minimal cover is because obstructions such as buildings and trees do not usually reach and cover a roof.
There will be exceptions to this, however. Chimneys, skylights, and other such structures on your roof will significantly obstruct the sun, and in those cases, it is better to opt for ground-mounted panels.

vi. More secure

Solar panels on the rooftop are more secure. It is easy for people to enter your backyard. Children also go there to play all the time. Thus, this makes your solar panels accessible to many people.
Installing them on the roof is more secure. You can keep children away from them, along with any unwanted intruders.

vii. Orientation

This benefit only applies if your rooftop has at least two different sides available to install solar panels. If you have two different sides, you benefit from choosing the best angle facing south so that your solar panels receive the optimum amount of sunlight. If your rooftop has one side only that doesn’t face south, this benefit becomes a weakness.

viii. Visibility

Visibility depends on the style of your roof’s construction. While some people might not mind the look of solar panels, others can feel it ruins the aesthetic. If there are sides available for installation, you can have hidden solar panels. Having solar panels installed in this way is even better than having them in your yard, where they are more visible.
In contrast, certain people like having their solar panels installed right in front of their house, visible to everyone because they give your home an eco-friendly look. Rooftop solar panels allow you to do this.

Disadvantages

Let’s end this discussion by reviewing the cons of rooftop solar panels.

i. Limited size

roof mounted solar panel installation
The most significant drawback of having solar panels on rooftops is limited space. Rooftops have minimal space available, and space directly correlates with the production of power. Therefore, your rooftop solar panels may produce less electricity than your consumption.
If your rooftop is small, then your solar panels probably can’t sustain all the devices in your house. In this case, you should decide which devices are important enough to connect directly to your solar panel.

ii. Maintenance

It is more difficult to access and clean rooftop solar panel. Many owners use high pressured water to clean the panels, but they risk damaging or cracking the glass covering because of the pressure.
Some solar panels are installed entirely out of reach. They require professional solar panel cleaners to do that task, which costs extra money.
Consider these factors before purchasing a certain kind of solar panel. Remember that solar panels are long term investments. Therefore, you should think through the decision before committing to it.

You would be surprised to know that apart from these two types of solar panels, there is now development of floating solar panels as well. Yes, these solar panels float on a body of water. Talk about ample space!

What Are Pole-Mounts, and are they Worthy it?

Pole mounts are devices for people who don’t want to install solar panels on roofs. The mounts keep the solar panels up in the air and stable during harsh weather. They also make it easier for you to clean your solar panels since they are more accessible.
You should opt for a pole mount if you don’t plan to install your solar panels on your roof, but you still want to increase the amount of sunlight the panels get. Pole mounts are the most suitable if you have many obstructions and tall structures around the homes. The pole mounts ensure that your solar panels receive adequate sunlight.

What Are Trackers, And do I Need One?

Solar trackers are the latest development in solar panel additions. They are rapidly rising in popularity. Solar panel trackers essentially track the sun’s movement and shift your solar panel’s angle accordingly to ensure it receives the maximum sunlight. Solar panels that track the sun’s movements produce 30% more energy than the ones that do not.

At first glance, this seems to be a brilliant piece of technology. Still, before you get excited and make a rash decision, you must understand all the benefits and drawbacks that solar trackers bring.
Although solar trackers come in many different models, you can divide them into two main categories: single-axis trackers and dual-axis trackers.
Although solar trackers come in many different models, you can divide them into two main categories: single-axis trackers and dual-axis trackers.

Single-Axis Trackers

Advantages

1. Single-axis trackers are reliable. They offer consistent performance throughout their life. You don’t have to worry about maintenance and inspection costs. The reason for their reliability is that they are relatively simple to operate and do not require complicated technology.

2. Single-axis trackers also boast a long lifespan. They can continue working for many years.

3. If you’re looking for a cheap solar tracker, then single-axis are the best choice—the low cost results from their simple and easily operable technology.

4. You should consider buying single-axis solar trackers if the area you live in has cloudy weather. It is a cost-efficient solution to this problem.

5. Solar trackers increase your efficiency by around 30%. Make sure to keep that in mind and decide whether the benefit is worth the price.

6. The trackers increase your solar panels’ yearly output power by an estimated 15%— another thing to keep in mind before you make your purchase.

7. Solar panels start saving you money after a considerably long period. Many people aren’t ready to wait that long. If you’re one of those people, then solar trackers may be the right choice for you, since they will drastically reduce the payback period and increase your earnings.

Disadvantages

1. Single-axis solar trackers don’t have a high energy capacity. 2. Since they are simple machines, there are few upgrades or modifications available. Therefore, if you intend to purchase one, remember that it will probably remain the same during the entirety of its existence

Dual-Axis Trackers

Solar trackers

Advantages

1. Dual-axis can follow the sun more precisely. Hence, they give you power throughout the entire day.

2. These solar trackers provide a reasonable solution to your electricity shortage problems if the grid you are connected to experiences frequent power outages or transmission problems.

3. If you’re worried about space, then dual-axis trackers can prove to be a good option. They occupy a minimal area, and you can use the remaining space for any other activity.

4. Solar trackers are an ideal purchase for locations where obstructions block the sunlight. This is where they provide the most benefit, as they can change their positions to match the sun’s movements. If you live in a place where trees and buildings prevent sunlight from reaching your solar panels fully, then you should consider buying dual-axis solar trackers.

5. Dual axis solar trackers shorten your payback period even more than single-axis trackers, and the profits are also considerably more.

Disadvantages

1. Dual axis solar trackers house much more complicated technology and machinery. Therefore, they are also more likely to suffer from technical faults or errors.

2. Dual axis solar trackers have a shorter lifespan. If you’re looking for a solar tracker that will last you a long time, then they probably aren’t right for you. They are also less reliable, as explained previously.

Should You Buy Solar Trackers?

If you do not want to spend a lot of money on a solar tracker, you can build your own tracker in a few simple steps.

So after considering all these pros and cons, should you buy a solar tracker?
The truth is, for most people, solar trackers aren’t a good investment. Wondering why? We have explained this below.
Solar trackers were a smart purchase in the past, when solar panels’ cost was quite high, somewhere around $800 for a 225-watt panel. It made much more sense to simply buy solar trackers and increase your solar panel’s efficiency at such inflated rates.

But now, the opposite is true. Solar panel prices have been dropping steadily for the past 8 or 9 years. Today, if you want to increase your power production, it makes much more sense to simply purchase an extra solar panel.

If you are still unsure or doubtful about this, we have done some simple calculations below to illustrate this point.

Should You Buy Solar Trackers?

A standard mount or frame for a single panel typically costs you $80. A six-panel frame is then worth around $480.
A tracker, on the other hand, costs around $600-$1000 per panel!
For the placement of six 300 watt panels on a tracker, you will generate a total power output of around 1800 watts. Even if you choose an inexpensive tracker, it will still cost you approximately $3600.
Let’s also factor in the increased efficiency, around 20-30%. Keeping that in mind, you are still paying around $3000 for just a few extra hundred watts of production.
If that extra production capacity is still an absolute necessity for you, what makes more sense, purchasing a solar panel for a mere 200 dollars, or a solar tracker for $3000?
We’ll let you be the judge of that.

Solar Tracker Cost-Benefit Analysis

A standard mount or frame for a single panel typically costs you $80. A six-panel frame is then worth around $480.
A tracker, on the other hand, costs around $600-$1000 per panel!
For the placement of six 300 watt panels on a tracker, you will generate a total power output of around 1800 watts. Even if you choose an inexpensive tracker, it will still cost you approximately $3600.
Let’s also factor in the increased efficiency, around 20-30%. Keeping that in mind, you are still paying around $3000 for just a few extra hundred watts of production.
If that extra production capacity is still an absolute necessity for you, what makes more sense, purchasing a solar panel for a mere 200 dollars, or a solar tracker for $3000?

Maybe save the money and wait till solar panels are produced out of a groundbreaking material that follows sunlight, without even a tracker. Amazing, no?

Of course, there will always be exceptions, i.e., people for whom solar trackers are a useful purchase. Read on to find out what they are.

Who Needs Solar Trackers?

When considering the merits of solar trackers, keep this point in mind, always: solar trackers don’t save money, they save space.
One situation in which solar trackers are beneficial is when working with a limited space. The trackers will help to generate a sufficiently large amount of power from that area.
This scenario most commonly occurs in commercial and industrial projects.
If you have the task of installing solar panels in a remote area, such as in mountainous terrain, then solar trackers will be ideal for you. It is tough to arrange a large number of solar panels on top of a mountain; digging up holes on rocks is also extremely hard. If you have such a case, then solar trackers will definitely be worth it.
Another place where solar trackers provide great utility is large commercial factories and plants. The production factor comes into play here.
Let’s do the math. A 30% increase in a 3000-watt power capacity isn’t that impressive, given a solar tracker’s price. But a 30% increase in a 100 megawatts of power? That’s a lot!
Lastly, let’s consider two more factors that determine the necessity of a solar tracker.
1. The first factor that we need to consider is that the cost of acquiring extra land is high in certain places. Thus it is more sensible to arrange your existing solar panels in a more compact space, and increase their efficiency and save yourself from extra costs by using solar trackers.
2. The second factor is the cost of installation. Larger, commercial systems have a higher installation cost, since connecting all the solar panels and bringing them into the proper arrangement is more difficult. In this situation, solar trackers save you money, since the drop in labor and installation prices eventually outweigh the high purchase price.
If you fall in the two categories or any of the ones mentioned previously, then it’s possible that solar trackers might just be the perfect option or you.

Can I Install Solar Panels, or I Need External Help?

You can install solar panels yourself, but you shouldn’t. From a technical perspective, it isn’t challenging to install solar panels. You can do it yourself.

But considering the dangers that it poses, you shouldn’t. Solar panels are usually installed on rooftops. They weigh around 40 pounds. Handling such weight on your rooftop isn’t the smartest thing to do.
We haven’t even come to the electrical bit yet. Solar panels conduct electricity, and toying with such complicated machinery on your own may put you in danger. A loose wire or piece of a conductor can be fatal.
Therefore, it is better that you call in a solar panel installation company to do it for you. Doing this will also ensure that your solar panel is installed correctly.

Key Takeaway

How you design and where you place your solar panels depends on your needs. If you have a huge backyard, and you want your panels to be obstructed from the view, you can go for ground-mounted solar panels. Otherwise, going for rooftop panels is a good idea and will prevent unnecessary shade casts on your panel. You should keep the advantages and disadvantages in mind.
Getting a tracker also depends on how much money you have to spare and whether you absolutely need it or not. Given the reduction in price of solar panels, people don’t really need trackers anymore.
So, in the end, there is no one hard-and-fast rule of installing solar panels, it all depends on your preferences and your usage.
Well, that’s all for now regarding solar energy devices and their use. Solar energy is rapidly dominating the industry. We will likely see a host of new devices emerge in the future.
Now this makes solar panel installation seem easy.