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Solar trees: everything you need to know

Solar trees are a type of ground-mounted solar system that offer a unique way to install solar panels on a residential or commercial property. Learn about two companies offering unique solar tree systems, and find out whether you should consider a solar tree for your home or business.

How are solar trees different from other solar options?

A “solar tree” is a type of ground-mounted solar system with a pole that supports many individual panels up in the air. Its visual appearance is similar to a tree, with the solar panels serving as its leaves.

In a standard rooftop solar array, panels are mounted directly to your existing roof with metal racking that is affixed to your roof’s shingles. Similarly, traditional ground-mounted solar arrays feature solar panels mounted on linear racking systems installed on the ground, with panels remaining close to ground level.

A solar tree is a different take on ground mounted panels. Solar tree systems elevate panels high into the air and support them with a single free-standing structure.

Solar trees offer more than just energy output from their panels. Like a real tree, solar trees can offer shade, making them ideal for integration into an open park or property. Often times solar trees have customizable options to add features in the shade below the panels, such as attached seating or a table. Unique features like add-on structures, color customizations, and structure shape give solar trees an aesthetic appeal that traditional panels don’t have for many solar shoppers.

Spotlight Solar solar trees

One of the main installers offering a solar tree solution is Spotlight Solar, a company that specializes in unique ground-mounted solar solutions.

What is Spotlight Solar’s solar tree?

Spotlight Solar’s solar tree is a unique product that offers many interesting features beyond simple electricity generation. They offer four different models of solar trees: the Lift, Curve, Trestle, and Industry, each with unique shapes and panel setups.

Along with four options for panel placement and structure shape, Spotlight Solar’s solar trees are highly customizable – there are more than 200 options for coloring your solar tree so you can match any existing aesthetic or branding themes, as well as options for logo placement on the structure itself. While Spotlight’s solar tree does not offer tracking capabilities, each model’s orientation is adjustable for optimal appearance and solar production.

Spotlight Solar designs and makes the supporting structures for their trees and partners with “solar integrators” who are responsible for installation the structure itself, as well as the attached solar panels and electrical equipment. If you contact Spotlight, they will recommend a “Certified Integrator” in your area to install your new solar tree. All Certified Integrators use Lumos Solar frameless solar modules for installation on solar trees.

What is the price of Spotlight Solar’s solar tree?

According to Spotlight Solar’s website, “Final installed pricing is up to the integrator and is based on product selected, site conditions, and other factors. You can expect a fully installed Spotlight solar system to be in the range of $30,000 to $60,000 depending on the product chosen.” Due to the various product options and customizable features, the price for an individual solar tree installation is highly variable.

Envision Solar solar tree

A different take on the solar tree comes from Envision Solar, a company that also works in electric vehicle charging.

What is Envision Solar’s solar tree?

Although it is called a “solar tree”, Envision Solar’s product can be compared most closely to a solar canopy or carport. Their product is a 35 square foot array of solar panels mounted on a central supporting tower, with at least 12 feet of clearance below the lowest point on the solar array. The solar tree can be used as an electric vehicle (EV) charger or to provide power to a building like a standard solar array.

A unique feature of Envision’s solar tree is its tracking capabilities. Equipped with EnvisionTrak™, a patented tracking solution from Envision, it will follow the sun throughout the day, generating up to 25% more energy than a fixed solar structure.

The solar tree comes in three different formats: Solar Tree, Solar Tree DCFC (DC Fast Charging), and Solar Tree with Customizable Branding. Solar Tree is the standard product, a freestanding elevated solar array with tracking capabilities. The DC Fast Charging option includes a level 3 EV charger along with the solar tree setup, allowing for rapid recharging of electric vehicles. Lastly, the Customizable Branding model offers a unique advertising solution for companies – the option to advertise your company or property with lettering and signage built in to your solar tree.

What is the price of Envision Solar’s solar tree?

Like Spotlight Solar, Envision Solar has many options for their solar tree, which leads to complicated and varying prices. For the base model solar tree with EnvisionTrak sun tracking, you can expect a fully-installed solar tree to cost around $100,000. This number should be taken lightly, as prices vary depending on many factors, including customization, number of solar trees purchased, and location.

How solar tree prices compare to other solar options

Not surprisingly, solar trees have a higher average cost than traditional solar options. The average cost of a 5 kW rooftop or ground-mounted solar system on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace is between $13,740 and $20,450 (before tax credits and other incentives), which is significantly lower than even the lowest price point for Spotlight Solar’s solar tree of $30,000.

For residential properties, this price difference is especially important because you can generate enough power for your entire home from a rooftop or ground-mounted solar system without paying the premium for a solar tree.

The table below lays out the average prices for rooftop, ground mounted, and solar tree options. Customers interested in solar trees will pay a significant price premium for their solar system purchase and installation.

Prices for solar trees compared to traditional panels System typeAverage system sizeCostAverage price per Watt Rooftop5 kW$13,740-$18,150$2.75-$3.63/W Ground mounted5 kW$14,250-$20,450$2.85-$4.09/W Spotlight Solar solar tree1.7 to 5 kW$30,000-$60,000$6.00-$17.60/W Envision Solar solar tree16.5 kW$100,000$6.06/W

NOTE: These prices do not include any tax credits or other financial incentives.

How does a solar tree compare to other solar options?

The main differences between solar trees and traditional rooftop or ground-mounted solar panels are their appearance and physical function. Spotlight’s solar trees are visually bold and offer a modern aesthetic designed to advertise the panels their trees support. For companies looking to add an element of environmentalism and sustainability to their image, a solar tree can be a solid investment.

Both the Envision Solar and Spotlight Solar solar trees are designed mainly for commercial properties, evidenced by their physical design and pricing. If you’re looking for a residential solar option, you can get the same (or better) energy output from a standard rooftop or ground-mounted solar installation at a much lower price point due to the absence of a complicated supporting structure.

Should you buy a solar tree for your property?

If you are looking for a design-savvy solar solution for a commercial property and don’t have the option of installing rooftop solar, a solar tree may be a good fit for you. A solar tree won’t be able to produce enough power for the entire commercial building, but it is a great way for corporations to cut down on energy costs while giving their campus a modern and efficient look. Additionally, the customizable aspect of solar trees is a great way to promote your company or cause.

If you have room on your property and money to spend up front, a solar tree could work in a residential setting, as it could produce enough energy to power an entire home. However, for most residential shoppers, a solar tree won’t make much sense due to pricing and size. A rooftop solar array or ground mount system of comparable size will cost significantly less money while providing similar output. Much of the cost of a solar tree comes from the purchase and installation of heavy-duty mounting structures, which may end up being too large or flashy for a residential property.

Generally speaking, solar trees as they are currently available provide some benefits for large properties and commercial projects, but can’t compete with rooftop installations and ground-mounted arrays when it comes to price.

Even if you have already decided that you want to install solar panels, you should compare multiple quotes from solar different installers before making a final decision. You can get competing quotes for rooftop ground-mounted systems from solar installers local to you on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. If you are interested in ground-mounted solar energy systems, simply make a note in your preferences when you join.

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