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Can You Put Solar Panels on a Pergola?

Placing solar panels atop your pergola is, in fact, great use of extra roof space – be it to support household energy use or to create a solar off-grid or on-grid power system for your outdoor space. It is an innovative home solution that offers a clever take on fusing functionality with sustainability.

It’s undoubtedly a highly efficient way of collecting solar power, and the best part is: it will not ruin your home’s aesthetics.

While installing solar panels alone is a smart move, combining that with a pergola adds a bonus to your home. If you’re further interested in solar panel pergola, here’s a comprehensive guide on the matter.

What Is A Solar Pergola?

Before we begin on the solar pergola in general, let us understand what the latter means first. A pergola is an outdoor living space constructed to aid the house.

It’s a structure consisting of a roof backed by four/or more pillars. Home experts generally consider a pergola an intelligent initiative to shade your outdoor environment.

Now, circling back to the initial question.

Solar pergolas are shaded, weatherproofed & power generating structures placed as a roof atop standard pergolas. It is known to be a more practical & beneficial alternative to a conventional pergola roof.

Think of solar pergolas as a collab between solar-paneled roofs & standard pergolas.

A solar pergola is similar to a traditional pergola, except it has solar panels. If you’ve ever visited Italy (or traveled anywhere else), then you know what a typical wooden pergola looks like. It’s usually tall and narrow and made up of slats of wood laid horizontally. You sit underneath it when you want to get away from the heat of the sun. These pergolas are often called “shade umbrellas,” “sun sheds,” or simply “pergolas.”

Solar Energy + Pergola

Solar energy has been around for decades, but it has only recently become widespread due to technological advances in photovoltaic cells and their ability to generate electricity from sunlight.

This technology allows homeowners to harness free electricity by installing solar panels on their homes or businesses. While this may sound like a fantastic idea, some issues need to be considered before planning your project.

Pergolas have been used for centuries as garden structures. The word “pergola” comes from Italian, meaning “canopy.” They provide shade and also allow light into the structure. Modern pergolas come in all shapes and sizes.

Some are even built with glass roofs. Some pergolas are permanent, while others are collapsible. There are many different uses, including sunrooms, greenhouses, shelters, arbors, gazebos, playhouses, etc.

In addition to providing shelter, pergolas offer additional advantages such as providing privacy, protecting against harsh weather conditions, adding natural beauty to gardens, and they’re great conversation starters.

Important Questions to Ask

What materials do we need to install a solar pergola? Can we use our imagination to turn any old pergola into a solar panel installation? And if so, how does it work?

A solar pergola will consist of two parts – the actual structure itself and the solar panels. You’ll need to decide whether you want to build a freestanding structure or attach it to another object, such as a house.

The first thing you should consider when thinking about this project is its size. Are you looking at something small enough to install easily on your property? Or do you plan on erecting a larger version that requires professional help?

These are some of the important questions you might want to ask yourself beforehand to have a successful solar pergola installation.

What’s In A Solar Pergola?

solar panel pergola does not deviate much from the standard pergola in its structure. However, it does vary a bit in terms of roofing. Hence, numerous items go inside the making of a solar pergola.

Typically, a complete solar pergola kit includes:

  • Solar panels
  • Pillar posts
  • Top slats
  • Support timbers
  • Installation hardware

It also requires additional items such as MPPT charge controller+, Inverter, and Batteries.

Pergola Materials

You’ll also need to determine the type of material you’d prefer. Wood tends to rot over time, which means you need to look for other materials. Steel and aluminum tend to last longer, but they cost more to purchase and require maintenance.

Vinyl tends to bend rather than break, so it’s probably not a good choice unless you’re going for aesthetics. However, it is very durable and easy to maintain.

Can a pergola carry the weight of solar panels?

To put it short, yes. However, there’s a catch. Since the weight of solar panels can vary, you have to consider both the size of your pergola and the weight of the panels.

Once you’ve decided on the design, size, material, and placement, it’s time to think about actually installing the panels. Will the structure be able to support the weight of the solar panels? Many pergolas aren’t strong enough to hold heavy objects. Therefore, you should check the manufacturer’s specifications before purchasing the solar panels.

If you settle on a 300W panel that weighs around 40lbs, a small-sized pergola will not be able to withstand the weight. Even if it can carry the weight, it risks the durability of your pergola during heavy wind or storms.

However, you can use smaller solar panels as lightweight panels can pair well with small-sized pergolas. A flexible or portable panel is also an excellent option for smaller roofs. On another note, solid pergolas are constructed to handle weights, and hence, they can manage several 200W solar panels.

Although solar panels are highly suggested for installation on large-sized pergolas with a robust structure, there are plenty of alternatives for small-sized pergolas as well. Just make sure to hatch a proper installation plan.

Can I use Bifacial Solar Panels for my pergola?

Installing bifacial solar panels on a pergola is an excellent idea. If your surrounding is composed of light-colored materials, they can reflect more light into the backside of the modules.

In this case, you could achieve the rear-side solar power gain, which could add up to 10% of the capacity of the PV system. Additionally, bifacial solar modules look more attractive than normal panels since they allow sunlight to pass through.

How much energy can a solar pergola give?

Normally, the amount of energy collected from the panel varies according to the quantity of solar power that falls on its surface.

This value often varies due to differences in location. However, many professional installers utilize four kWh/m2/day, an average estimate value.

Supposing you have a standard pergola roof, which is 12-by-12 ft. A roof that size can fit 6x400W panels (2m x 1m). Now, combine that with an average peak of 4 hours, and each panel can generate around 1600W-hours in a day.

To cut short, it simply means a 12-by-12 ft pergola with 2400W solar can provide about 9.6kWh in a day.

This is the simple math of solar pergolas!

Advantages of building a solar pergola

These are some of the advantages you can get from installing this structure:

They offer the best spot for placing solar panels.

As a pergola is usually constructed on the most exposed outdoor space, it serves as a great host for solar panels.

This way, you’re able to increase solar power even with minimal space.

It increases the expandability of solar usage.

If you feel as though you’re not gaining enough power from your main solar module, mounting solar panels atop a pergola reduces this power shortage.

Thus, increasing the solar power supply.

Solar panels enhance the visuals of your home.

A pergola is undoubtedly a beautiful extension that increases the look of your house.

However, when you combine solar panels with a standard pergola, it elevates the design even further.

You’ll gain a multipurpose power station.

When you construct a solar panel pergola, it instantly doubles your investment as it will act as both a power generator and a shade. 

What are the disadvantages of building a solar pergola?

These are some of the cons of constructing a solar panel pergola: 

Not ideal for small pergolas 

If you’re planning on a solar installation, your pergola must support an adequate amount of panels. This means the pergola should be large-sized, thus, limiting the construction of smaller pergolas.

Constructing a new pergola is expensive.

As a solar panel pergola requires the panels to act as the roof, additional supplements are also needed to install the panels. This makes a new construction quite expensive.

It needs modification if you’re working with an old pergola.

If you plan on converting your standard pergola, the roof will most likely be flat. However, solar panels must be placed at a 30-45 tilt angle to collect optimum energy. Hence, you’ll have to re-adjust the roofing system.

How much will it cost?

A basic 12×12-ft solar panel pergola should cost around $1500 (excluding the cost of installing the panels). This roughly equals approximately $10 per square foot, and this area can easily accommodate about six standard-sized panels (400-Watts).

Now, consider the cost of each panel as $2.5 per watt, and the total expense, including labor, can cost around $6000.  

The estimated saving from such a set-up can be around $80 on the power bill per month. Combine that with solar panel covering, and the average ROI comes up around 8%.

Conclusion

Solar panel pergola is a smart choice of investment towards sustainability. On top of that, it is a brilliant venture for those looking to accommodate solar modules but has limited roof spaces.

While there are certain obstacles in terms of cost and sizing, the long-term effect of constructing a solar pergola is quite rewarding.

That said, we hope our guide has been as rewarding as we hope your next solar panel pergola will be.

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Can You Put Solar Panels on a Pergola?
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Super Human

He loves to read news and articles about renewable energy and technology. He is experienced in the solar energy industry. He loves to write articles, guides, and tutorials about solar PV technology.

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