When you think of solar panels for a residential home, you probably think of the panels being on the roof. Or, if you are really into solar, maybe you think of them being the roof itself, as in Tesla’s Solar Roof. Either way, solar panels are most commonly installed on the roof of a home. But would Tesla ever install solar panels on the ground?
Tesla does not currently install solar panels on the ground for its customers. Generally speaking, solar panels can be installed on the ground, and there are situations where that might even be preferable. Nevertheless, the best place for a solar panel installation is usually the roof of the home.
Why should a roof be better than the ground for solar panels? And what are the instances when a ground installation would be better? This article will address those questions while looking at possible reasons why Tesla does not install its solar arrays on the ground but only on the roof of homes.
Why Does Tesla Not Install Solar Panels on the Ground?
There are five reasons why roof installations are usually preferable to ground installations:
Tesla’s website merely says that it only does roof installations, not why. But the reasons listed above are commonly known in the solar industry, which means they are part of Tesla’s playbook as well. These and other factors (which this article will discuss later) have no doubt influenced their decision.
It costs more to install solar panels on the ground, contrary to what you might initially think. If it involves climbing around on the roof and drilling through shingles or tiles, then it must be expensive, right? That is not necessarily the case here because most roofs already have three things that solar panels need:
- The right angle and placement in relation to the sun
- The available space
So when it comes to installing solar panels, it makes sense to use what already works. In this case, it is your roof.
Cost is a critical factor for both the company and the customer. The company needs to make money, but the customer does not have all the money in the world to spend. In the case of Tesla, both factors could be contributing to the company’s decision not to do ground installations.
Ground installations generally cost more because they involve more work to create a structure that already exists in the case of roof installations. More work means more material to make the structure and more labor to put the material together. This means a higher cost for installation when Tesla has been trying to cut costs and lower prices.
Since 2019, Tesla has been scrambling to get its solar arm back to the strength of SolarCity days. SolarCity was the largest company in the solar industry, but after Tesla bought it, installations of units declined and reached their lowest in 2019. Tesla has since implemented price-cutting measures to make their Solar brand more attractive.
In May of 2019, the company implemented a price matching guarantee that allowed prospect customers to hunt up cheaper bids for a solar installation that Tesla would match. The company also implemented a service that allows you to subscribe monthly for solar energy without having to pay for the unit.
Why should the need to anchor your solar panels drive up the cost of installation? For that matter, you might be wondering why you should have to anchor them at all? They are heavy, right?
Whether you install your solar panels on your roof or on the ground, they are out in the elements, and the most problematic one they have to face is wind. If you picture the aerodynamic shape of solar panels in a strong wind, then you can begin to understand why they might catch flight in high winds and cause damage.
If a high wind or gust of wind was able to lift the panel off the ground, it could tip over and cause damage to itself or the whole system. Even worse, it could potentially cause damage to another structure or even hurt someone if it was not properly secured to the ground and able to resist high winds.
The Support of a Roof
A roof already comes with all the support solar panels need. Roofs are made up of four things:
- Shingles (or tiles)
For the purposes of this article, it is the roof truss that is the key factor. Roof trusses are made as triangles that are spaced between 2 and 4 feet apart and connect to the supporting walls of the house on one end and the center beam on the other. Roof trusses are built to support between five and ten pounds every square foot.
Added up over all the square footage of a typical roof (1,700 square feet), that means your roof can support between 8,500 and 17,000 pounds. That is a lot of weight, and that means that your roof is more than up to the challenge of supporting the weight of your solar panels.
Roof Trusses can also support the roof and panels against the force of the wind. Up to a point, of course. Typically your roof is built to withstand 60 miles per hour winds, at least. In areas prone to hurricanes or tornadoes, roofs can be reinforced to withstand even higher winds. Your roof is the perfect support system for your panels.
The Support of a Ground Installation
To make your panels safe on the ground, you need to create a foundation equal to the support that your roof naturally gives them. This means digging holes and pouring concrete. Depending on the system you have, your holes could have to be 5 to 8 feet deep, with as many as ten poles supporting the system.
That means manually digging the holes that you need for the support structure, then placing the poles and filling them with concrete, making sure they are level. Once you have the support poles in concrete, then you have to build the structure on them that will support the panels. That adds up to time and material for an installation crew.
Now, this can be done, of course, and, as this article will discuss later, there are situations where a ground installation would be the preferable choice (and Tesla will not be able to help you). The point is that if you want to create a ground installation for solar panels, you have to do more work to create the support system for that installation.
This is one of the reasons that ground installations drive up costs. They require more time and more material, and Tesla is not looking at pursuing avenues that make their solar products more expensive and, as a result, less attractive.
Pitch and Placement
There is another main reason, though, which is that your roof has another thing going for it that the ground does not:
- The pitch of the roof in relation to the sun
- The relation of one or more sides of the roof to the relative position of the sun in the sky
When solar panels are installed, they need to be angled and placed on the area of your roof that faces the part of the sky where the sun is going to be positioned. This is necessary for your panels to be able to generate the most amount of electricity. Your panels need to receive direct light from the sun to be at their most efficient.
Most roofs already have a pitch that works in relation to the angle of the sun. They are between 30 and 45 degrees. There is some variance within that spectrum that can affect production. The closer they get to 30 or 45 degrees to the sun, the less energy the panels will produce. For solar production, 36 degrees is usually the sweet spot.
It is for this reason that all Tesla has to do when installing solar panels on your roof is determine which side of the roof is going to get the most benefit. In most cases, that is going to be a simple determination that even the homeowner can make. In Northern Hemisphere homes, the optimal side is going to be the south-facing side.
Pitch and Placement in Ground Installation
When it comes to ground installations, the correct pitch has to be created from the support system, which is another increase in time and labor. As was pointed out earlier in the article, Tesla’s solar brand is not worried about trying to make things more complicated. They need a cheaper price tag to make a more attractive selling point.
The other thing you have to create in a ground installation is the perfect placement. You might think that, with an open space, you would be able to get the ideal placement and not be limited to the way the roof of your house is shaped. You might be right. But the question is: do you have open space to work with?
Not all residential homes have enough land to fit solar panels on the ground. The average residential lot size is about 8,500 square feet, or just under two-tenths of an acre. Think of all the things you want in your backyard: a kiddy pool, maybe a real pool, grass for the dogs, lawn chairs, barbeque. It all takes up space quickly.
Now think of a typical solar array. If you have a 4kW system (which is on the small side), you need about 300 square feet in which to put it. To put that into perspective, imagine the size of a ten by ten room, about the size of an average bedroom. Now string three of those rooms together. That is how much space you need for a 4kW system.
Now consider zoning rules. Some cities or counties restrict how close to the property line you can build something, further restricting space. Finally, consider the aesthetics. You are in your pleasantly cramped backyard having a barbecue, and there, large as life, is your solar panel array, blindingly bright in the sun.
So given all that, where is the ground installation going to go? Look up, and you will see all the space you need for your solar panels on your roof, open and ready to go. No hassle to find space, and you can put the ugly panels in a place where you will hardly ever look at them once they are up there.
This Is Why Tesla Does Not Do Ground Installations
To sum up what we have looked at so far, it is easy to see why Tesla is declining to build ground installations for their solar units and sticking to the roof when you consider:
- Cost – it is more expensive to put the solar array on the ground
- Support – you have to create the support system that the roof already offers
- Pitch – most roofs have a pitch that works for what solar panels need
- Placement – most roofs have an available south-facing placement
- Space – most roofs have all the space you need
Everything you need for installation is already there on top of your house. So as you can see, in most cases, it is preferable to use the roof, and there are five good reasons why Tesla would want to stick with roof installations.
But there might be another reason why Tesla would want to stick with roof installations and not expand to ground installations. Tesla is not only trying to increase its normal solar panel installation business but the installation of another solar product that they have: the Solar Roof.
Tesla’s Solar Roof is made up of interlocking tiles that are made of tempered glass and resemble slate roof tiles. A number of these tiles can contain solar cells and have the ability to generate energy in the same way that solar panels do but without the aesthetic distraction of bulky solar panels attached to the roof.
Aesthetics are important to Tesla. Their solar panels are low profile and look sleek and aerodynamic to give the house as stylish a look as panels can possibly give it. So it makes sense that they would focus their resources on expanding an area of business that is in line with their aesthetic vision. And that rules out ground installations.
Ground installations may have their place at times (more on this in a moment), but solar arrays on the ground will almost always look like they belong in a semi-industrial or agri-industrial environment. Rows and rows of solar arrays may generate electricity, but they will never have a Tesla-esque flair for style. It sounds silly, but they care about that.
Tesla’s Solar Product World Is on the Roof
Tesla has spent nearly the last five years trying to get solar panels from a mockup stage in 2016 to a scalable product that they are currently selling today. That product has gone through three versions, and it is only since version three in 2019 that they have actually been able to scale it.
Tesla has gone through this development while weathering a host of other difficulties, including diverting resources to the automotive branch of the company to get the Model 3 off the ground. This is important to note. In spite of the difficulties surrounding the company, they have persistently pursued the Solar Roof to make it a reality.
Because the solar tiles also function as a real roof, Tesla has also expanded into the roofing business to be able to install their own product. This means creating a labor force that can work with the technical demands of the tiles while also working with the roofing demands. Each carries with it its own branch of knowledge.
The point is that after investing all this time and energy into a product that not only revolves around the roof but actually is the roof, it does not make sense for Tesla to also branch out into ground installations. The main thrust of their marketing strategy is all about solar integrating with the roof of your home.
Elon Musk’s Vision for Your Roof
No one has been more fervent about this vision than Tesla’s CEO. True to form, Elon Musk has tried to sell the Solar Roof as not just a product but a change in your way of life equal to a paradigm shift.
He has hyped the rate at which the Solar Roof market will grow and made tongue in cheek statements turning the Solar Roof into a vendetta against the comp shingle. All this is in keeping with how he sells his products, but you should not miss the focus of his vision: your roof.
From the time he unveiled the concept of the Solar Roof, Musk has framed the product in these terms of a roof being active or dormant. In other words, do you want your roof to work for you by making energy, or just to sit there? Musk wants the roofs of American homes to make green energy. Basically, he could not care less about solar in your yard.
When Would You Need a Ground Installation?
Given all that this article has discussed up to this point, the roof of your home is the natural choice for a place to install your solar array. It is certainly the natural choice for Tesla and the one they want you to pursue. But that does not mean that it will always be the best choice. There are rare times when it may not be.
There are some considerations to be given to certain factors of installation where the roof may not be advantageous. If you are looking at getting solar with Tesla, you should know what those factors are before you commit. They relate to three of the five things we have discussed:
It is important to discuss space first because if you do not have the ground-level space, then a ground installation will never be a viable option. But a ground installation is an option if the roof does not work out if you have:
- A large plot within a residential area,
- A residence in a rural area that has land available for you to use
- Property with multiple buildings to power from a large solar array
A ground installation might even benefit you by placing it equidistant from the areas you wish to power. Another thing that a ground installation can do is set up a tracking system, so the panels automatically follow the position of the sun throughout the year.
As you read through the following considerations, bear in mind that Tesla does not do ground installations, likely even in the rare cases where that is the best solution. So, if you need to have a ground installation instead of a normal roof installation, you will have to consider whether or not you can do it through Tesla.
Tesla works only with products they deem up to their standards, and since 2019, they have worked mainly with Panasonic made solar panels. Whether or not they could provide the panels and service while someone else does the ground installation is a question for the company that you could ask during the estimate process.
When Pitch is a Problem
There are some roofs that have a very steep pitch and are not ideal for solar. As mentioned earlier, the ideal pitch for a roof is between 30 and 45 degrees. Even within that range, the steeper you go, you may experience a small decrease in production.
Steeper than 45 degrees, and you have to start making adjustments to your solar panels to compensate. This is rare and would have to be evaluated by a company, but some older homes had very steep pitches to their roofs.
When Ground Installation is a Pitch Solution
In the case that the roof pitch makes the roof a bad option for a solar installation, a ground installation would be an acceptable option. That being the case, the additional cost of a ground installation might be acceptable to make solar work for you.
A ground installation can also have a slight advantage over a roof in terms of pitch, in that you would be able to adjust the pitch of your panels to match the seasonal position of the sun, getting the maximum production out of them. If your panels are on the ground, they are easier to access for this adjustment.
Again, within the 30 to 45-degree range, the pitch will only make a small difference in production. But if you have to install the panels on the ground, you may as well get the most out of the situation that you can. Over the course of weeks and months, even a small change in production can result in more energy in your home battery.
When Placement Is a Problem
What is a more critical factor when talking about the roof installation of solar panels is placement. Some roofs may not have an ideal full south-facing pitch. There are a few placement problems that can impact solar panels.
- It is critical that your panels be placed in the portion of your roof that gets the most sun for the longest time out of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, that is the south-facing side.
- Another problem with placement is that some roofs might be entirely shaded for much of the day, thus making solar panels a bit of a problem.
If your panels are not getting full sun or only getting it for a dramatically decreased part of the day, that means that your roof may not be the best option for an installation.
When Ground Installation is a Placement Solution
Ground installation is a placement solution when your roof is not. If you have land to work with, like in a rural setting or a large lot within a residential setting, then placement can theoretically be solved. After all, the more land you have, the more optimal areas you have to work with, within reason.
You can simply find the sunniest spot on your property, install the structure of the panels in a south-facing attitude, and adjust the pitch as necessary. Again, in a normal situation, these things are not cost-effective when compared with what the roof offers. But when the roof does not work, the ground can.
The upshot to all this is that. Tesla does not install solar panels on the ground. While there are rare cases when ground installation would be beneficial, for most homes, it is going to be cheaper to install solar panels on the roof of the home, not the ground. Simply put, the roof already has the things you need for an effective solar system.
The roof has the pitch, the correct placement, the structure, and the available space for your solar array. All these things you have to make for a ground installation, and space and structure are going to be the most problematic. Plus, Tesla is not interested in your ground. They want your roof to be the part of your home that makes energy.