Can I Put Solar Panels on My Land?

Some commercial property owners and homeowners choose to forego rooftop installations of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels in favor of ground-mount installations.   Many municipalities have taken advantage of brownfields – unused land that may have once been developed or warehoused for development but is no longer useful – or landfills and dumps.

The ground mount approach avoids many of the pitfalls and obstacles of rooftop arrays.  At the same time ground mounts bring with them their own issues and risks, some generic and others site-specific.

This article examines some of the considerations that will arise in undertaking a successful ground mount installation.

Adverse Rooftop Issues.  In assessing the benefits of ground mount installations it is useful to consider some of the factors that weigh against rooftop installations.  These include:

  • Size constraints of usable rooftop area,
  • Rooftop orientation or slope,
  • Shadows from HVAC equipment, chimneys, water towers, flag poles, and trees,
  • Roof conditions that call for improvements over the next 10-15 years that would require removing the solar panels,
  • Risks of roof penetration resulting in leakage, mold, rodent infestation, or other damages, and
  • Installation costs, particularly in the case of steep rooftops that require special equipment or safety considerations.

Ground Mount Considerations.  Engineers, contractors and solar hosts must consider a number of factors to determine whether ground mounts are even feasible.  These include:

  • Area available for ground mount,
  • Obstructions from trees, buildings, and other physical objects that could cash shadows on ground mount PV panels,
  • Drainage or subsidence issues that could affect the land on which the ground mounts are located (an issue of particular importance when dealing with municipal landfills or dumps),
  • Wind shear issues, particularly in areas prone to strong wind gusts (e.g., hurricane sensitive areas or Northeastern seaboard states subject to storms like Nor’easters,
  • Presence of sensitive wildlife or archaeological items that could interfere with construction schedules,
  • Air rights to periphery that could, if absent, result in neighboring trees or buildings that reduce the solar electricity output, and
  • Access to the site by heavy equipment for construction and repairs.

Cost factors.   In general ground mounts have proven to offer economies of scale when compared to rooftop installations.   At the same time other costs – such as ballasts required to position panels over landfills, the cost of anchoring and embedding cement posts, or lashing against wind shear – can add costs that may not be seen in rooftop projects.