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I was just wondering how viable this would be and if this seemed too crazy. I have a fairly large lawn that just so happens be sloped and facing east. Assuming the city ordinances don't bar me from doing it, would it be a good idea to cover most, if not all, of the lawn with solar panels? What other factors should I be considering?

(I'm new to this Exchange; I didn't know where else to ask this)

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    This isn't a good fit for SE since this question is primarily opinion based.
    – Steven
    Mar 26 '15 at 14:10
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    Facing south would be better, in the Northern Hemisphere. (My roof array faces SSW and I lose some morning sunlight.) Whether it's crazy depends on how much you like having a yard, how much work you're willing to do keeping weeds at bay and guarding against erosion, and whether you expect to sell the house before the solar panels have given you enough net profit to make up for buyers being put off by the solar farm. Run the numbers and figure the odds. Roof arrays are attractive to (some) buyers; losing yard space less so. Ground panels may also be shaded by trees...
    – keshlam
    Mar 26 '15 at 14:29
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    @keshlam: The reason panels face south is not to catch the morning (or evening) light, it's to optimally catch the midday light. There's virtually no usable sunlight in the morning; it's all about the peak hours. If the array isn't pointed directly south during peak hours the efficiency goes down.
    – Hank
    Mar 26 '15 at 14:42
  • @henryjackson: true. Though I do get some poser early and late, midday is definitely strongest,, and one would expect that.
    – keshlam
    Mar 26 '15 at 14:53
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    The cost of mounting panels at ground level is probably higher than on a roof, since you will need to provide some type of footings and structure to support them. If you are in the north, you'll need footings that reach below the frost line.
    – TomG
    Mar 26 '15 at 20:53
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I don't know about "Crazy" but there are a few issues you should consider:

Cost

This is obviously going to vary a lot depending on where you live and how big the yard is, but you're probably talking about tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover a yard.

Power Usage

What are you going to do with all that power? Many electric companies in the US allow (or are required to) let you sell back excess power to "the grid", but you usually have to have a special meter installed and often there is a limit on the size of the installation. The terms of this buy-back are unfavorable to the utility so they don't want you running a large power generator and making money at their expense.

Orientation

As has been stated by another user, the best angle for solar panels is south (if you are in the northern hemisphere; otherwise, north). The optimal tilt angle depends somewhat on the purpose of the panels but is approximately the same as your latitude. (E.g. Boston is at about 42º N so if you live in Boston the panels should be tiled at 42º.)

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I'm not sure that East side is the best orientation for panels, since South side gets the most of the sun during the day. Also if you place the on the ground you should think about shades; do any buildings, trees etc. cast shadow on your panels. Another thing you should keep in mind is damage risk. Someone could just for fun throw a rock during the night and break the panel. Keep in mind that you will lose your beautiful lawn for any other purpose. Other than this I see no problems. One other thing you should keep in mind: solar and wind produced electricity is by far most expensive ones, since equipment cost a lot and still aren't that efficient.

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Crazy is a very relative term.

So let's go with reasonable.

Where do you live. This is what drives the answer.

Visit PV Watts http://pvwatts.nrel.gov/

Plug-in the numbers you know, experiment with the direction, south and/or west will give you the best results, and see what you get.


Below is my experience.

  • I am in Maryland, and just hit a total of 2 Mega Watts from my PV system today.

My system is only 8 months old, so I have not seen summer numbers yet.

For incentives, there is the 30% Federal Thing that comes off the bottom line, that can drop the 'true' cost by 40%. This rebate covers everything needed to produce solar power.

This required replacing my panel, a Federal Pacific that I would have done in the next year anyway. So anything I saved there was free money.

I paid for the transfer switch,its interconnection, power inlet, and so on, but since the heavy-up was happening, it was a modest add on, and I now have a full 200 amp switch, permit pulled and county inspected.

Maryland makes zoning a non-issue, the purchase is tax free, and they gave me a one-time $1,000 for installing renewable energy.

The County gives me a one time - one year, property tax credit, up to $2,500. The solar system also can not be used to raise the value of my house.

The Maryland PSC requires the local power utility to buy my excess production back at retail cost.

Maryland also has a meet 2% of electric production using solar by 2021 program. This is currently done with 'Solar Renewable Energy Credits,' bought by power producers on an open market. However currently for small retail customers there is a floor value in Maryland created by the PSC.

For power produced in 2015 and 16 the value is $350 MW, it will continue to drop every 2 years. The open market value is currently about $100. For small generators the credits are based on the calculation by PV Watts - http://pvwatts.nrel.gov/ instead of power generated at the meter. Sometimes this is good, sometimes bad - but it is constant, and that is nice.

At 10 KW peak, or less, the local electric has a streamlined process for connecting to the grid, and PJM, the local grid operator also makes it fairly painless.

10 KW is a tipping point, anything over that and the regulations for grid-tie become less than easy.

The grade of your yard heading to the east is not a problem, your panels can point any way you wish.

Racking is a surprising portion of the install cost. Mine cost about 75% of the panel price. Mine are also mounted on the roof.

If you are looking at putting them in you yard, the savings mount quickly. Lower is less expensive, and can easily become a do it yourself project. A segment between 2 uprights, or 1 edge on the ground, are very do-able.

The only place on the install where you will need a licensed electrician is to tie into the house/grid wiring.

My payback is currently looking at about 7 years, less if the price of electricity increases. Next increase is slated for May, payback will be coming more quickly.

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From an economics perspective, an (unshaded) lawn and a roof the same size are similar, except for needing additional support structures on the lawn. So if "crazy" relates to issues with aesthetics and resale value, I propose these can be dealt with by integrating the photovoltaics panels nicely into the garden.

I haven't seen it yet, but integrating ground-based photovoltaics and plants into a garden (even permaculture / edible landscape if desired) seems a nice spot for landscape architecture innovation. Plants can be selected to profit from the microclimate provided by the panels (shade, cooler temperatures due to shade, perhaps wind protection).

Panels on posts (usually sun-tracking) could be the simplest to integrate, since they do not obstruct anything on the ground and can easily be high enough to not be shaded by the plants:

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(Picture from WikiMedia, licenced under a CC0 Public Domain Dedication)

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