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Why don’t more solar installers offer ground mounts?

Merrell Ground Mount

We do a lot of ground mount systems each year, and over the last year or so we did an even higher percentage than usual.

The list below features a dozen recent ground mount systems – ten as part of battery backup (bimodal) systems. Ground mounts are a particularly good option for battery backup systems ( see reason 2 below).

  • 36 module system – New Martinsville, WVDSC_3252
  • 44 module system – Williamsport, MD
  • 48 module system – Sharpsburg, MD
  • 28 module system – Greenbrier County, WV
  • 20 module system – Monroe County, WV
  • 24 Module system – Harrisonburg, VA
  • 45 module system – Hagerstown, MD
  • 24 module system – Shepherdstown, WV
  • 32 module system – Romney, WV
  • 20 module system – Rockport, WV
  • 44 module system – Orange, VA
  • 36 module system – White Sulphur Springs, WV

While I encourage people with the property to at least consider a ground mount system, some installation companies take an opposite view. (This may have less to do with the merits of ground mounts and more because they haven’t invested in equipment needed for trenching for wire runs and augering for pier holes.)

DSC_3361

Of course, ground mounts aren’t an option for everyone, but for those with enough property they offer two major advantages over roof mounts (to say nothing of a lot more minor ones):

  1. Most roofs are not perfectly oriented to the sun path. You can precisely orient a ground-mounted array for maximum production, which you obviously can’t do with a house. Over time, the production difference will be significant.
  2. After a big snowfall, you can clear the snow off your ground-mounted array so it starts generating electricity to power appliances (and charge backup batteries, if you have them). When you consider how many snowstorms produce power outages, this can be a very big deal.

Before you buy a solar system, ask the installer these questions:

There’s only one reason I can think of why anybody would take on the serious safety and long-term production risks of having an inexperienced installation company, or one using a group of trainees, install their solar system. That reason is, they may not  know what to ask about, besides price. And when safety and structural integrity are on the line, cheaper isn’t better.

Most non-micro solar systems operate at very high DC current flow and voltages (some as high as 1000 volts DC). Adding batteries takes the installation to a whole other level of complexity. The design and safety issues involved are real and not, in my opinion, a good place for a class project or on-the-job training at the homeowner’s peril.

And while a master electrician license requires knowledge and experience, the license alone doesn’t make someone truly qualified to design and install solar systems. There’s lots more to it than what’s covered in the National Electric Code book or the master test. (I’m sure of that because we have two master electricians on our team, and I’m very familiar with every edition of the NEC Book published since 2005.)

That’s only one part of a solar installation project – and the reason most authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) require a building permit as well as an electrical permit.

So in addition to pricing, licenses and components, you should also ask potential installers about track record, references from previous projects, solar experience and certifications.

Probably the best question you can ask is whether someone who’ll be working on your installation has earned North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners certifications. Their PV (PhotoVoltaic) Technical Sales and PV Installer certifications are tough to get. That’s because NABCEP is the only organization that tests for and credentials every aspect of grid-tied, off-grid and battery backup solar installations – design, mechanical issues, electrical issues, optimized production issues, installation and maintenance. (Please don’t confuse this with NABCEP’s Associate certification, which is an entry-level program; Associates must work under a senior installer, hopefully with full NABCEP certification.) You can check which, if any, NABCEP certifications an installer holds here.

Continue reading “Before you buy a solar system, ask the installer these questions:”

Ground Mount versus Roof-Mounted Solar Systems

On a national basis, the vast majority of residential solar systems are roof mounted.  It makes sense.  It is space that is not being used, and the roof often has the best orientation to the sun’s path, and is the most shade-free area on the property.Untitled1

But in many cases, we encourage customers to at least consider a ground mount system.  The two main reasons are:

  1. You can precisely orient the array to the sun path – allowing for maximum annual production.
  2. If your array is part of an emergency power system (battery backup) and you get a big snow, it is easy to get the snow off of the modules, which is very important for an emergency power system.

For some customers, a ground mount is not a good option. For example, you may have a roof with a great orientation and pitch that is better than, or as good as, any ground mount system.