Solar Panel Installation: A Complete Guide

Where and how should you mount solar panels? Most people simply mount solar panels on their roof. But what type of roof is best for solar panels and are ground-mounted solar panels a better option? Let’s get right into it and find out.

Where Should You Install Solar Panels?

Solar panel position is the most important factor that determines the output of a solar energy system. The correct position involves location, orientation and tilt. More than anything else, these three factors control how much energy a solar panel will produce.


Site your solar panels where they will be in direct sunlight. Having even a portion of your solar panel in shade will reduce its output. This can short-circuit and damage the solar panel. Shade can be from a chimney, tree branches, other solar panels and even dirt.


The best direction for solar panels to face is North if you live in the Southern hemisphere as we do. A south-to-north orientation ensures your solar panels get more peak sun hours. Facing your solar panels east or west works as well but they will not generate as much as they would if they were turned south.

Peak sun hours are the hours when the sun is producing 1000 watts of energy per square meter. In the morning and evening the sun is lower in the sky. This translates to less available sunlight from which to produce energy from.


Tilt is the angle at which your solar panels are installed. Tilting solar panels 30 degrees off the horizontal allows them to receive more sunlight. This is especially important in winter when the sun is lower in the sky.

For sloped or pitched roofs, there generally isn’t a need to worry about tilt as much as with a flat roof. In the latter case you might need to have mounting installed to create the tilt.

Why Are Rooftop Solar Panel Installations So Popular?

Virtually every new solar system is a rooftop solar installation. There are several advantages to a rooftop installation. One of the main reasons we have more solar panels on the roof is because it takes up less space.

Pros of rooftop solar panel installation

Aside from taking up less space, rooftop solar installations have two other advantages:

  1. They are cheaper since there is less materials involved. Rooftop solar panels don’t need as much mounting (racking) equipment as ground mounted solar panels.
  2. Roof mounted solar panels are more secure. There is less likelihood of tampering or theft when they are high up on a roof.

Cons of rooftop solar panels

  1. They are much harder to install and maintain. This is particularly an issue on sloped roofs and multiple story buildings. Access to the roof and the solar panels is more complicated especially when any maintenance or repairs need to be carried out.
  2. Temperatures are much higher on a roof. High temperatures can reduce the energy output of solar panels if it gets hot enough.

Roof mounting solar panels is the default for most installations. There are rare occasions where it might not be an option or where a ground-mount might be better.

Two men installing solar panels on a roof.
Rooftop solar installations are the first choice for most solar systems. (Source B Sarangi)

Ground-mounted Solar Panels

Ground-mounted solar panels are the only alternative where there isn’t enough space on the roof. A ground-mount also has a few advantages over a roof-mount.

Pros of ground mounting solar panels

  1. You have a potentially unlimited amount of space on the ground as opposed to the roof.
  2. Easier access to the solar panels. Far much easier to service and clean solar panels that are on the ground.
  3. Temperatures are much cooler on the ground. Solar panels won’t overheat.

Cons of ground mounting

  1. Ground-mounts can involve a lot of mounting equipment. This is why they can be more expensive than rooftop mounting.
  2. Higher possibility of tampering or theft.
  3. They can also take up too much space.
Solar panels mounted on the ground.
Ground mounted solar panels require extra material supports (Image Creative Commons)

Which Are The Best Solar Panels?

There are two main types of solar panels to choose from. These are monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

Monocrystalline solar panels have a higher efficiency. This means they generally produce more solar energy. Mono-Si panels as they are also called have a dark, almost black color. If you have limited space and you want to maximize the little space you have, consider getting monocrystalline solar panels.

Polycrystalline solar panels have a reduced efficiency of between 2 to 5% compared to mono-Si panels. They are however, typically cheaper. Poly-Si panels have a bluish color. If you don’t need to squeeze every last bit of solar energy possible then polycrystalline solar panels will work just fine.

What Type Of Inverter Do I Need?

There are three main types of inverters. These are grid-tie, off-grid and hybrid inverters.

Grid-tie inverters are used in grid-tie solar energy systems. They are distinct in that they shut down when there is no electricity from the grid. This makes them less ideal for situations like ours where there are a lot of power outages.

Off-grid inverters are used in off-grid solar systems. These are systems where there is no connection to the grid. Off-grid inverters are more suited for game lodges, new homes or places where there is no electricity.

Hybrid inverters are perfect for homes or businesses that have electricity but also want backup solar power. They work both on and off-grid.

Do I Need Solar Batteries?

Solar batteries are the most expensive single component of a solar energy system. They are not necessary if all you are looking to do is reduce your power bill. They are absolutely necessary if you need backup power in case of load shedding or for an off-grid solar system.

There are two main types of solar batteries. These are lead-acid and lithium solar batteries.

Lead-acid batteries are a category of batteries that includes flooded lead-acid and sealed lead-acid. Flooded lead-acid (FLA) batteries are similar to the lead-acid batteries in your car. They are usually the cheapest but they have the shortest life span.

Sealed lead-acid (SLA) batteries include AGM and gel batteries. Unlike flooded lead-acid batteries, sealed lead-acid batteries can be stored sideways which is very handy if you are pressed for space. They also have a longer lifespan and don’t require maintenance like FLA batteries.

Lithium batteries are the most expensive solar batteries. But they make up for the extra cost by giving you better performance than lead-acid batteries. Lithium batteries give you more energy and they have a longer lifespan.

Solar Companies in Zimbabwe

If you have worked out that solar is for you, the next step is to find a reputable solar company to guide you through the whole process. For most people, getting a company that supplies and installs will save you the headache of mismatched equipment and some of the other problems that come with DIY solar.

Solar Companies in Harare

Taqon ElectricoHarare
Zonful EnergyHarare
Electrosales HardwareHarare
Clamore SolarHarare
Global SolarHarare
Mwenje SolarHarare
Genking Power ServicesHarare, Bulawayo, Gweru
Frecon SolarHarare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Karoi
Cool SolarHarare
Felicity solarHarare, countrywide
Shinko Solar And BoreholesHarare
Madison SolarHarare
Wakanda SolarHarare
Solar installers in Harare

Solar Companies in Bulawayo

Electrosales HardwareBulawayo, Harare
Genking Power ServicesBulawayo, Harare, Gweru
Frecon SolarBulawayo, Gweru, Karoi, Harare
Felicity SolarCountrywide
Electro-Tech SolutionsBulawayo
Kalahari SolarBulawayo
Solar installers in Bulawayo

Solar Panel Installation FAQs

Do Solar Panels Cause Roof Leaks?

Properly-installed solar panels will not cause a roof leak. Not all solar panel installations require drilling into the roof. In the case that the roof is drilled into to fit the solar panels, the holes are sealed to prevent leakage.

What Type of Roof Is Best for Solar Panels?

Solar panels can be installed on just about any roof. This includes asbestos, asphalt, clay and metal corrugated roofs. The main factor to consider is the condition of the roof. Installing solar panels on a roof that is too old or in bad condition can be a costly mistake if you have to replace the roof after you have had solar panels installed on it.

How Far Can Solar Panels Be Installed From Your House?

Solar panels should be within 10 meters of where the electricity generated will be used. A shorter distance between solar panels and an inverter reduces voltage drop. Voltage drop is the power loss which occurs when electricity is moved from one point to another.

How Much Does Solar Panel Installation Cost in Zimbabwe?

The average cost of a solar system in Zimbabwe is between $2500 to $3500. The price will vary depending on the system size and requirements. A system without batteries will work out far much cheaper as batteries make up between 20 to 30 percent of the cost of a system.

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