Although it’s not always feasible to install a rooftop solar array on your home, that doesn’t mean you can’t harness the power of the sun. If your roof is shaded or improperly positioned for solar photovoltaics (PV), there are several other options. From awnings to gazebos to greenhouses, solar energy enthusiasts can find a creative and suitable method for incorporating solar power that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
“A paradigm shift is needed in how we look at PV,” says Silicon Energy President Gary Shaver. “We need to think beyond the roof … bringing the beauty and benefits of distributed generation of PV into our built environment.”
The following are a few ideas for thinking outside the rooftop:
Ground-mounted arrays: Using a frame to hold your solar panels in place, a ground-mounted array can provide more flexibility than rooftop by tilting the panels at the optimal angle for maximum efficiency. For example, when the sun is lower in the winter the panels can be tilted up for greater sun exposure. There are fixed-tilt arrays and adjustable arrays—where the panels “track” the sun or rotate to follow the optimal rays throughout the day. Ground-mounted solar is also preferred for larger systems, but only where there is ample, sun-exposed land.
Carport covering: Solar carports can provide a more economical alternative that ground-mounted and rooftop systems, while providing shelter for your vehicle. Solar panels installed on carports also utilize existing parking areas, so you don’t have to sacrifice valuable land and space while generating your own power.
Solar sunshade or awning: By offering a dual benefit of providing power and cover, solar sunshades and awnings can be attached to existing structure or take the place of traditional materials. In additional homes, solar awnings have been installed on city buildings, schools and apartment complexes. Solar awnings can also be rigid, integrated panels that remain in place year-round, or they be temporary and more flexible panels that are only kept up in warmer months.
Solar gazebo, pergola or greenhouse: Gazebos and pergolas are garden structures that provide places to relax in the shade and enjoy nature. Residents who incorporate solar panels on top of their pergola or gazebo can generate power to help offset your energy bill—and any electricity used to maintain your yard and garden. Solar panels on greenhouses can be either grid-connected or off-grid, providing power to heat your plants in the winter and power a water pump to mist plants during the hot summer months.
Don Ames of Detect Energy advises homeowners to construct a pergola that sits it the sun most of the day. “Design the roof trusses so the solar panels attach with ease; design the solar panel layout to cover all those roof truss tails so you don’t have to repaint so often,” Ames says.