What Makes a Good Solar Site

off grid living off grid power solar energy Nov 09, 2020
solar power, off grid power

Despite the many advantages of solar energy, first and foremost, the initial question to be answered is whether solar is truly practical for your particular situation. If you decide it is a practical choice, the second question is whether or not your site is suitable for solar energy production. Consequently,  you need to know what makes a good solar site.

Solar energy is quite versatile. Panels can in fact be installed practically anywhere. However, the simple fact is that some situations are more practical than others and some sites are more suitable than others. Consequently, before deciding to invest in this type of renewable energy,  these two questions must be answered.


Why Location Makes a Difference


The location of the installation directly affects the total sun hours. This is the amount of time the panels are exposed to sun light. Total sun  hours directly affects energy production. The amount of energy production directly effects cost savings and return on investment.

Obviously, the smartest thing to do is first assess your site and determine if it is appropriate for solar installation. Additionally, a site assessment will help determine  which portion of your property makes a good solar site.


When is solar the practical choice?


Under the following circumstances,  solar should be considered as a practical choice for supplying electricity:


When no other source of electrical power is available.     

This is a common situation in many parts of the world.

-When other sources of electrical power are unreliable.

This is not necessarily the case in developed countries. But I’ve lived and worked in plenty of other places where you simply could not rely on the local power grid.

-When a solar electric system is the safest and most convenient option.

For example, installing a low voltage solar lighting system in more remote portions of your property. In my case, I installed a simple lighting system in my chicken barn.  It  works great and only cost a couple of hundred dollars.

-When bringing in grid power is cost prohibitive.

This was the case with my property. Twenty years ago I was quoted $35,000. I can’t imagine what it would cost now. I eventually installed a full solar array. It  produces more energy than I use and it cost me $8,500 in 2016. That included a battery bank with 4 days of autonomy. Huge difference!

-It is possible to become entirely self sufficient by producing your own electrical power.

This is my favorite option. I am completely off the grid and completely independent in my energy production.


What makes a good solar site?


For a solar installation to work well, you need to survey your site and answer the following questions:

-Is there any location on the property that is suitable for a solar site?

-Are nearby obstacles going to shade out too much sunlight?

1) Tall buildings: if you are in the city and surrounded by tall buildings, these structures will most likely produce considerable shading on your array.

2) Mountains: if you have a mountain range directly south of your location, this may produce considerable shading and reduce your productivity.

3) Trees: A single tree is not a problem. Simply do not install the array under its shadow. However, large numbers of trees, such as a forest, pose a considerable problem for shading.

You can purchase the best solar panels on the market and make every effort to maximize their output. However, you will never appreciate their full benefits if your choice of a solar site has poor conditions. By far, the most common reason that solar energy fails to reach the expectations of the consumer is obstacles blocking out the sunlight.


Important characteristics of a good solar site



The orientation of solar panels directly affects the efficiency of the entire system. South facing panels are approximately 87% efficient. East facing panels are approximately 81% efficient. Most residential systems are approximately 82% to 85% efficient.

Structural integrity

If solar panels are going to be installed on a roof, that structure must be strong enough to support the weight of the panels, rack systems, and ballast if needed. Wind lift and snow loads also have to be factored in as appropriate. If the roof is an older structure, you may need to consult with a structural engineer.

Solar panels do not have to be a roof top installation. There are also ground mount and pole mount systems. You need to account for the distance between the solar array and the structure that is being supplied with electricity.

Minimal distance to transmission lines

If you are going to be grid tied, generated electricity can be fed into the local grid. Therefore, proximity and ease of access to transmission lines is a key consideration. Installing new transmission lines can be very expensive.


Site Survey/Assessment


From a practical point of view, a careful site assessment is extremely important. This will help to answer the questions of whether or not solar is a viable option and which area would make the best solar site. A proper site assessment is beyond the scope of this article. However, it will be covered in detail in another post.


Some comments from personal experience.


When I purchased my off grid property in 1996, I had a few simple goals in mind. I wanted to not only live off the grid but also do it well. I wanted to live as economically as possible. Additionally, I wanted to reach a high level of self sufficiency. And, most importantly, I wanted to preserve the land in it’s original state as much as possible.

These goals were important to me but they also brought mixed blessings. Ultimately I had to make some compromises in order to achieve those goals. I can honestly say that I gave very careful consideration to what compromises I made. At the same time, some of those compromises made me cringe.  Others made me question the utility of what I was doing. Allow me to explain.

My entire property is covered with dense forest.  I  cleared an area to build the cabin and provide some fire mitigation. At the time, I considered this was sufficient. However, when it came to the solar installation, I had to rethink some things.

Most of the trees around my cabin are greater than 50 feet tall. Consequently, I needed to back up the tree line in order to prevent significant shading on the solar array in the winter months. Actually, it was 18 trees in all, mature trees. After thinking this over,  it seemed ridiculous that I was destroying one resource in order to take advantage of another. However, the end result of my choice pleased me even more.

The forested area around the cabin is so thick that sunlight is blocked out. There is very little growth of other plants under this thick canopy. The thinning of the trees accomplished two things. It not only eliminated my shading issue but also brought in an enormous amount of sunlight. This encouraged the grow of several new species of trees, flowers, shrubs, and grasses that sometimes grow 6 feet tall. All the new growth encouraged the grazing of wildlife. The growth of new  flowers brought in numerous species of bees, and of course the humming birds that I affectionately refer to as my favorite “crack heads”.

Surely I am not the only person out there that cringes at the idea of destroying one resource in order to take advantage of another.  If you are one of those people that have to remove trees, I would encourage you to promote the growth of other plants.  Build a green house, plant a garden, and provide a grazing area for other species. By doing so, you are not only taking advantage of renewable energy but you are also being friendly to our planet at the same time.

For more information, read this other post on the reasons to choose solar power:

23 Reason to Use Solar Power

Is Wind Energy Right for You?

Introduction to Renewable Energy Systems


Go off grid and live well,


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