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Solar panel alternatives: what are your options?

For many solar shoppers, rooftop systems are the best home solar option. However, not every home has a roof that’s suitable for solar. Certain roof types, like slate and cedar tiles, are too fragile for solar panels. If trees shade your roof, you’ll have less-than-ideal solar electricity production, and some homeowners’ associations and historical associations have rules that restrict solar panel installations. Luckily, there are a variety of alternative solar options for every situation – community solar, ground-mounted solar, and solar sheds.

Key takeaways

  1. If you can’t (or don’t want to) install solar panels on your roof, there are several alternative options available. 

  2. Community solar is one of the best ways to enjoy the benefits of solar without actually putting solar equipment on your property, and is an especially good option for renters.

  3. If you have a structure like a shed, or ground space on your property, you can install a solar array on either of those locations.

  4. Solar shoppers can use the EnergySage Marketplace to browse for solar panels and more, including solar shingles, ground mounted solar, and solar for other areas aside from the roof of your home.

What’s in this article?

  1. Top alternatives to solar panels

  2. What makes a property not suitable for solar?

Top alternatives to solar panels

There are several alternative ways to benefit from solar without installing a rooftop system in your home. A few of the top options are community solar, solar shingles, heat pumps, ground mounted solar panels, and solar sheds or carports.

Community solar

If you can’t install solar panels anywhere on your property – or if you don’t own your home – there’s an option for you, too. Community solar, often referred to as “roofless solar” or “solar gardens,” is a way for you to use solar energy even if you can’t build a system at your property.

Your community solar options will depend on where you live. In many cases, you can either “subscribe” to a solar garden, or “own” a share of the farm. If you subscribe, you’ll pay a monthly fee in exchange for a portion of the solar electricity from the community solar array. If you own a share, you pay up front (similar to buying a rooftop system) and receive the solar electricity from your share for the lifetime of the system.

Community solar is a good option for everyone, but it’s a particularly helpful solution if you’re a renter, you plan on moving in the near future, or if your property isn’t suitable for a solar installation. Check out our article on the pros and cons of community solar to learn more about if this roofless solar option is right for you.

Ground mounted solar systems

Even if you don’t have any roof space that can host a solar energy system, you still have options for home solar. Ground mount solar panels offer all of the benefits of a rooftop system, plus a few additional advantages. In many cases, a ground mount system will actually produce more electricity than rooftop solar, because it can be adjusted to capture more sunlight throughout the year as the sun’s position changes in the sky. Additionally, while a rooftop solar system will be restricted by the size of your roof, a ground-mounted system can be sized to meet your exact needs.

If your homeowner’s association has rules against solar panels for aesthetic reasons, or if you live in a historic neighborhood, ground mount solar panels can offer a good solution. In most cases they don’t violate aesthetic regulations as long as you install them so that they can’t be seen from the street.

Solar shingles

Similar to solar panels, solar shingles are an innovative solar technology that can also help property owners save on their energy bills just like traditional solar panels. They look very similar to traditional shingles but are in fact, small panels that are able to convert solar energy into electricity. This option is helpful for those who want to avoid the aesthetic concerns of installing solar panels, but solar shingles can be quite expensive.

Heat pumps

Air source heat pumps are an efficient electric heating and cooling option for your home or business. Like solar panels, they are an efficient way to save money and use renewable energy. In comparison to natural gas or other traditional heating devices, heat pumps use the transfer of existing heat to maximize efficiency. If you’re interested in learning more about air source heat pumps, we answered some frequently asked questions about them.

Solar sheds and carports

The roof is the most common place for a home solar installation, and for good reason. Your roof is elevated, so it’s typically exposed to the sun for most of the day. It’s also an existing structure, which can reduce your installation costs. Many homeowners who can’t install panels on the roof of their home will build a solar energy system on another building on their property. Sheds, garages, greenhouses and carports can all offer suitable locations for solar installations.

If you construct a carport or solar shed, you have an installation that both generates zero-emissions electricity and provides shade. You could even power an electric vehicle with your garage roof solar panels! As an added bonus, these both options can be installed so that they capture sunlight at the perfect angle to maximize your solar energy production.

What makes a property not suitable for rooftop solar panels?

Aside from simply not wanting to install rooftop solar panels, there are several questions you’ll want to consider in order to determine if you’re a good for for a rooftop panel installation:

How much do you spend on electricity?

There are a lot of factors that go into how much you can save with solar, but none quite as impactful as what you currently spend on electricity. The more electricity you use, and the more you pay for it, the more that you can save by going solar, so if you have a low electric bill, rooftop panels may not be the best energy solution for you.

What type of home do you live in? Do you own it?

In general, it’s much more difficult to install solar panels on your home if you don’t own the building. For that same reason, if you live in a multi-family property, whether renting or owning in apartments or a condo building, it may be difficult to take advantage of on-site rooftop solar – check out community solar instead!

Is your roof suitable for solar?

The age, condition, shading, angle, material, and direction of your roof all impact its suitability for solar. If your roof is shaded, you might have sunny space elsewhere on your property for a ground-mounted system. And if you simply don’t have quality space anywhere on property, community solar is once again a good option.

Can you take advantage of solar incentives?

Many states, utilities and even cities offer financial incentives for going solar to help defray the cost and quicken the payback period for your solar investment. If you live somewhere with these types of incentives, you should definitely strongly consider solar. The best financial incentive for solar is the federal investment tax credit, or ITC. Importantly: the ITC, which returns more than 20 percent of what you pay for solar directly to your pocket as a tax credit, is only accessible to people who have enough tax liability. In other words, if you are retired, you likely won’t be able to take full advantage of the ITC.

How much does solar cost in your area?

At the end of the day, solar is a financial decision for most people. The amount you pay for solar influences how quickly you break even on your solar investment, i.e., your payback period. In some parts of the country, solar is more expensive than elsewhere due to labor, permitting costs, equipment availability, and more.

Compare all of your solar options before making a final decision

Each rooftop solar alternative offers distinct advantages, and some rooftop solar alternatives cost more than others. Regardless of which type of installation you choose, we always recommend comparing all of your options before you make your final decision.

If you’re interested in shared solar, use a database of community solar projects to find all of the options available near you. For carports, ground mount solar, and other rooftop solar alternatives at your property, you can receive quotes from qualified solar installers in your area by joining the EnergySage Marketplace – just specify what type of installation you’re looking for when you sign up.

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