Should You Get Solar Panels for Your Shed?

Factors to weigh include the size, structure, and location of your shed.

Solar panels covering a shed in an open field.

Oliver Strewe / Getty Images

Putting solar panels on your shed has its pros and cons. While it's less expensive than a full rooftop solar system on your house, it might be less economical in the long run.

Other factors to weigh are the size, condition, and location of your shed—as well as why you want your shed to run on solar energy in the first place. Here, we'll review all of the considerations for getting solar panels on your shed.

Reasons for a Solar Shed

In most cases, you won't be able to supply all your household electricity needs from a solar shed. So why invest in solar panels for your shed at all? Here are a few key reasons to consider.

Supplement an Existing System

Solar panels are long-term commitments, lasting 25 or more years. While this is sufficient for some, electricity needs might change over that time period for others.

Whether your family is expanding or you've shifted to working full-time at home, installing solar panels on a shed roof can help supply any extra needs.

Heat Additional Structures

Supplying energy to heat an out-building, like a greenhouse or the shed itself, may turn a three-season building into a four-season one. Grow your own food year-round in a heated greenhouse, or turn your shed into a year-round art studio.

Charge an Electric Vehicle

You can use the roof of your shed to recharge your electric vehicle (EV). The solar energy can flow directly into your EV or be stored in a battery to be used later.

Create a Virtual Power Plant

Store excess electricity in a solar+storage battery so that you can participate in a “virtual power plant,” where individual homeowners aggregate their solar batteries and sell energy to their electric utility. The electricity you've stored in your battery can earn you money in times of peak electricity demand when the cost of electricity is high.

Store Emergency Power

Perhaps instead of an entire rooftop solar system to power your house, you want to generate enough electricity to store in a battery backup system in case of power outages. A solar shed can be used for that.

Shed Size and Structure

If you know your "why" for a solar shed, you can move on to specifics. The first question is how many solar panels do you need for the roof of your shed.

Consider that the average solar panel is 5' x 3'. A relatively large-sized 10' x 12' shed with a roof has a minimum of 120 square feet, capable of fitting six to eight standard solar panels.

It's also important to consider the structural suitability of your shed, as it may not be able to support the weight of solar panels. If you're unsure, a solar installer or structural engineer can determine if your roof is structurally sound enough to support solar panels.

Sunlight Exposure

Solar panel efficiency depends partly on the amount of sunlight available, as well as the intensity of that light.

A gabled roof may have the advantage of attracting more sunlight over more hours of the day. The sun is at its most intense during the middle hours of the day, which a flat roof is fully capable of taking advantage of. It may turn out that your shed receives more sunlight than your home, making it a better option.

On the other hand, obstructions—such as other buildings and tree limbs—may create limiting factors. Whether these obstructions are fixed will help you determine if a solar shed is worthwhile.

Cost Considerations

The two major costs for this project include installation and the solar panels themselves.

If you're planning on tying the solar panels on your shed to the grid, you'll want to work with a solar installer who will have experience working with your local utility in the inspection and connection process. While solar kits are available online and from big-box home improvement stores, we recommend hiring someone with electrical qualifications, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the solar installation process.

If you plan on using the extra electricity for your home, wires will need to be run from your shed to your home, where your electricity meter is most likely located. This may involve burying the wiring in electrical conduits, which will be an additional cost.

The larger your project, the higher your upfront expenses—but the more likely it is that you will recoup the money you invested. The cost of solar panels has declined over the last decade, so most of your installation costs will be labor, permitting, and other business costs. It may be more cost-effective to invest in a rooftop solar system capable of meeting your household needs.

There are federal incentives for installing solar panels. Keep an eye on federal legislation, however, as this may change—hopefully for the better. Many states also have tax credits and rebates as well.

Treehugger Tip

Should your shed not be suitable for solar panels, you still have other options, such as ground-mounted solar, a solar carport, or community solar. There are many ways to adopt solar energy.