There has been a realization of the need for dependency on environmentally friendly energy production worldwide now. It has resulted in the increase in the usage of solar panel systems to fulfill electricity and power needs.
The introduction of solar trackers has revolutionized the output level of solar panels. Essentially, solar trackers improve and increase the output of power without having to install more solar panels to achieve it.
If you plan on investing in a solar tracking system for your solar project, read through this guide. Here, you will find the answers to all your questions and the information you need to make the right decision.
What is a Solar Tracker?
A solar tracker is essentially a device that is paired with solar panels. It assists the solar panels to move to follow the sun for maximum sun exposure. By following the sun’s path, the power output of the solar panels is maximized. Solar trackers optimize the angle of the solar panels to receive maximum solar radiation. Tracking systems determine how efficiently incoming light gets converted into energy for use.
Most commonly, solar trackers are used with solar systems mounted on the ground. It allows for a broader range of movement. Of late, solar trackers have also started being paired with rooftop panels.
Solar trackers are largely more prevalent in commercial projects than in residential projects.
How Do Solar Trackers Work
The angle at which the solar panel and sun rays meet defines the amount of energy that can be produced from that much sunlight. This angle also called the angle of incidence, is inversely proportional to the energy production of a photovoltaic panel. The job of a solar tracker is to minimize the angle of incidence as much as possible. They position the panels at such an angle, so that sun’s rays hit perpendicularly.
Solar tracking systems come in 3 different types. These are the improved versions of a fixed solar panel system to a rotating solar panel mount.
Manual Solar Trackers
As the name suggests, manual trackers require operators to adjust the trackers depending on the sun’s movement. Solar panels need to be manually adjusted throughout the day to keep up with the sun’s movement throughout a single day. Although not exactly practical, this tracking system creates employment and ensures there is staff available to maintain the system regularly.
Active Solar Trackers
The most commonly used solar tracker system, active solar trackers, change positions with the help of hydraulic cylinders. In some cases, a solar tracking system may also operate with the help of a motor. Active systems use a combination of time and date algorithms and sensors to determine the sun’s position.
If compared to manual tracking systems, active tracking systems provide more convenience. Since the active tracking system has multiple moving parts, they could break down easily. Therefore, this system calls for higher maintenance costs. It is most suited for complex commercial installations.
Passive Solar Trackers
Passive trackers operate with the help of a liquid. This liquid evaporates quickly on exposure to solar heat because of its low boiling point. On evaporation, the gas tilts the solar panel system towards the sun. As the sun sets, the gas begins to cool and condenses into the liquid again. Thus, the panels return to their original position.
However, this is the least accurate solar tracking system. Since the level of precision is low, this system is not suited for complex installations. Moreover, this system is not suited for a solar panel system in cold climates. This is because the liquid will take time to heat up and evaporate.
Categorization of Solar Trackers
A solar tracker can be further categorized into two types based on the direction of the movement, a single-axis tracker and a dual-axis tracker.
Single Axis Solar Tracker
A single-axis solar tracker is usually aligned from north to south. It allows the movement of solar panels from east to west, i.e. from sunrise to sunset. This solar tracking system provides maximum efficiency since the solar panel system faces the sun at the right angle from dawn to dusk. Furthermore, it eliminates the need for installing additional solar panels.
Installing and maintaining a single-axis tracking system can be expensive. However, this tracking system can generate enough power to recover the costs attached to running it. Notably, a single-axis tracker can increase energy production by almost 22%.
Dual Axis Solar Trackers
Contrary to single-axis solar trackers, dual-axis trackers move on the north-west and east-west axes. The annual output of solar production is maximized through these dual-axis trackers.
However, the dual-axis system is not common even among utility-scale projects that span across vast open grounds. This solar tracker is highly useful for commercial projects with limited roof space. Since the number of solar panels installed cannot be increased, the scope of movement of this dual-axis tracking system can generate more power.
According to research, on a sunny day, the output voltage of dual-axis solar trackers is 12.93% higher than when in the absence of tracking equipment.
Pros of Using Solar Trackers
Solar trackers can safely be termed as one of the best ways to improve the performance and output of a solar panel system. The most significant advantage of tracking solar panels is the generation of more energy. Solar panels with tracking equipment produce more electricity.
If your energy supplier charges variable time-of-use rates, relying on a solar panel system can help produce more electricity. This is because the tracking system will produce maximum energy during peak hours. Consequently, you will not have to pay for electricity when it is expensive. If you have a tracking solar panel system, you will need fewer panels.
If you are located in high-altitude locations, dual-axis trackers are the best way to maximize the energy produced. When the sun’s position greatly varies during the extreme summer and winter months, use a dual-axis tracker. With the help of this system, you can generate your own electricity.
Solar trackers generate more energy output than fixed solar arrays. This is because a fixed array cannot track and follow the sun’s path during the day.
Cons of Using Solar Trackers
A significant disadvantage of solar trackers is that they operate only when exposed to incoming sunlight. Therefore, on cloudy days, the solar tracker system efficiency is affected. The installation and maintenance costs of a solar tracker are also high than that of a basic solar panel system. Solar panels carry minimum maintenance costs.
Solar tracking systems are generally heavy for installation on rooftops. Therefore, these can mainly be used for ground-mounted systems only. A solar tracker cost is higher because the system has multiple moving components. Moreover, digging additional wiring trenches is needed for a ground-mounted system.
For residential projects, solar trackers are not exactly required, and they might prove to be too costly. However, solar trackers might be worth the investment for commercial projects with limited roof space. Furthermore, single-axis solar trackers are vulnerable to harsh winds and may get unstable.
Cost of Solar Trackers
After learning how a solar tracker operates, your next question must be, are solar trackers expensive?
Determining the exact cost of installing solar trackers is not quite possible since each installation is highly customized. However, the components of the cost of tracking equipment include the system’s size and difficulty level of installation.
Another component that affects the cost is the type of tracker being installed, whether active trackers or passive trackers.
The cost of installing solar panels gets doubled if you wish to install a dual-axis tracker. Overall, it takes a long time to recover the cost of installing solar trackers.
Are Solar Trackers Worth the Investment for You
With depleting natural resources, solar power has been recognized as a truly sustainable source of energy. However, in most cases, installing a solar tracker is not worth the investment. Since the cost of a basic solar system is very low, it is more economical to install more panels than to install tracking equipment.
Adding just single-axis tracking equipment itself would considerably shoot up your installation costs. The cost of adding additional solar panels would be less than installing a solar tracker, while it would also generate an equal amount of electricity.
If you are based in high latitude locations, solar trackers are a smart investment. They offer a high-value proposition owing to the movement of the sun. However, for those located on lower altitudes, the best option is to install a solar energy system on a surface facing the south. Alternately, a ground-mounted solar panels system also gives good results.
Commercial projects also make the right users for a solar tracking system. This is because these systems are usually ground-mounted, so they have provisions to add a sun tracker. In the long run, it sets off the installation and maintenance costs. On the other hand, for residential use, solar trackers are not worth the investment since such a system is costly.
Why do I need a solar tracker?
If you have a solar panel system in place, installing a solar tracker improves the solar capacity. There are different types of solar trackers you can select from – active trackers, passive solar trackers, single-axis trackers, and dual-axis trackers.
Is a solar tracking system very expensive?
Yes, solar tracking systems are generally costly since the cost of both installing and maintaining the system is very high. In fact, it costs a lot more than installing additional solar panels to the existing system. If your requirement is for residential use, solar tracking systems are expensive. However, if you require it for commercial use, you can recover the cost in a few years.
Does a solar tracking system require maintenance?
Whether you install a single-axis solar tracker, a dual-axis tracking system, or even active trackers, the maintenance cost is high. This is because this complex system has multiple moving parts, which increase the chances of damage and thus, maintenance too.
Are these systems suitable for my home?
If you are aiming to go solar, you must consider installing this system. However, this system is not always suitable. When it comes to residential purposes, this system is appropriate only if you wish to increase your yearly energy output. Another reason to install it would be if your roof space was minimal and covered by shade.