Do I Have to Cut Down Trees for Solar?

Solar production from photovoltaic (PV) panels is adversely affected by any obstructions that might cast shadows.  Trees and HVAC equipment are the most common and notorious obstructions but objects as narrow as a flagpole can negatively impact output.

Engineers will take pains to situate panels in locations that will provide the greatest insolation or hours of sunlight.  In general, most commercial properties that are suitable for solar will be located in spaces that have minimal obstructions.  Flat rooftops of so-called “big box” stores will often provide sufficient area for unobstructed panels.

However, if a building is only one or two stories trees could pose a problem, either now or in the future.   Homes will commonly face problems from trees.  We never want to recommend destroying ornamental trees for the sake of solar production but there are many cases where building owners have made the difficult choice of opting for greater solar production – an environmental positive – in exchange for taking down mature trees – an environmental negative.

One potential alternative to rooftop solar is ground-mounts.  However, ground mounts often require clear-cutting land to ensure maximum insolation.  Even if a ground mount system is built on land that is clear at the time of installation the borders of the land will need to be kept trimmed in order to avoid long term degradation in the PV output.

The most ideal solution for consumers with substantial shade is community or shared solar.  This relatively new approach – available in only eight states but newly proposed in New York and Connecticut – allows commercial building owners, non-profit institutions like churches and homeowners – to take advantage of solar production on remote solar farms that are not contiguous to a building’s rooftop.

Community or shared solar affords building owners with the best of all possible worlds:  The benefits of solar production with the preservation of desirable environmental attributes such as ornamental trees.