When Charles Fritt developed solar cells in 1883, the efficiency was less than 1%. Over the years, different technologies have come in to play to improve the efficiency of solar panels. One such innovation is the solar trackers.
A solar tracker is a device that allow PV modules to follow the sun’s direction to increase exposure to the sun. Consequently, the efficiency of the solar panel system also improves. Although the devices come at considerable cost, there are circumstances under which they serve as the best option.
There are 2 primary types of solar trackers, depending on the movement:
Unlike fixed solar panels, solar tracking enhances efficiency and increase sun peak hours per day. However, the devices do not make financial sense for all homes. Therefore, you should compare the cost of adding solar panels and buying the tracking devices before settling on any option.
When to Consider Solar Trackers
a) Limited Space
If your mounting space is limited, you should consider solar trackers to maximize the solar panels’ efficiency. The devices ensure you capture the sun rays optimally throughout the day. Whether it is ground or roof-mounted solar panels, solar tracking will increase the sun-peak hours considerably. For example, in Texas, the number of sun peak hours can rise from around 5.5 hours per day to 7 hours, depending on the type of trackers you choose.
b) Financial Sense
If the cost of adding more solar panels to boost the existing capacity is higher than the cost of tracking devices, you should go for the latter. A solar tracker for a 5 kW solar panel system can be around $500 or more for a single photovoltaic module. Therefore, for the entire solar panel system, the cost could be above $5,000. On the other hand, the price of solar panels is approximately $3 per watt. You should evaluate the number of units that each option adds to your solar panel system’s output.
You can use solar trackers to maximize the sun’s exposure when roof orientation does not favor solar panel installation. The devices will tilt the modules to face the direction of the sun for maximum exposure. You can also consider solar tracking if your area has extended periods of cloudy days.
d) Shading or Obstructions
If you don’t want to trim trees or remove obstructive objects near your premises, you can use solar trackers to increase efficiency. The devices ensure that the solar panels face away from the object shadow to avoid any shading. An increase in the number of solar panels may not be an option where the free space is even worse off in shading.
Types of Solar Tracking Devices
Solar trackers are categorized into 3, depending on how they work:
1. Manual Solar Trackers
As the name suggests, the trackers require someone to tilt the PV modules to face the sun. Unfortunately, the trackers are not as effective because you can’t keep moving the solar panels. Sometimes, it is even possible to forget to tilt the system.
2. Passive Solar Tracking Devices
This is also another type of solar tracker that is not popular. The devices rely on radiations from the sun to tilt. Passive solar trackers contain a low-boiling point liquid that evaporates on exposure to the sun. After the evaporation, the solar panels tilt to the side to face the sun.
3. Active Solar Energy Trackers
This is an advanced version of the first two types. The trackers have motor parts that adjust depending on the sun’s direction to monitor the direction with the highest sun radiations to enhance efficiency. Although active solar trackers require more maintenance, they are not tedious, and their efficiency is also high.
Apart from the mode of their working, solar trackers can also be grouped depending on directional flexibility. Under this category, we have 2 types of solar trackers:
- Dual-axis solar trackers.
Single-Axis Solar Tracking Devices
The devices are designed to adjust from east to west or north to south only, depending on the sun’s position. The solar trackers can increase efficiency by more than 25%. They are common in large-scale projects like communal solar power plants.
We can further categorize single-axis trackers into decentralized and centralized. Decentralized solar trackers serve a single PV module while centralized can adjust a row or several rows of solar panels.
Dual-Axis Solar Trackers
These devices track the sun’s position and can move in either direction, i.e., south and north or east and west. The trackers help to increase the efficiency of solar panels by up to 45%. Although the cost of dual-axis solar trackers is high, it is ideal for commercial solar installation where space is limited, and users are many.
Apart from adjustment, depending on the sun’s rising and setting, the tracking devices tilt with the sun’s position each season. As the earth rotates, the sun is at different positions in each season.
Advantages of Solar Trackers
- Enhanced solar panel efficiency: single-axis solar trackers increase PV modules’ efficiency by up to 25% while dual-axis can improve output by up to 45%.
- Make solar viable in areas with low eligibility: some regions have an unfavorable climate for solar energy. However, you can boost the total output to reduce the number of solar panels required to make solar energy reliable.
- Ensures full utilization of sun peak hours: if your solar system is grid-tied, solar tracking can reduce your dependence on the grid.
- Optimize land usage: unlike adding more solar panels to increase the system’s capacity, tracking devices occupy a small space.
Disadvantages of Solar Trackers
- Increase in costs: the cost of the devices can double the total cost of a solar energy project.
- Increases maintenance cost: because solar trackers have moving parts, they increase the solar panel system’s maintenance cost.
- Complex to install: solar tracking requires a unique design to fit into the system. They require additional site planning, digging, and preparation. Fixed solar panels are easy to install and manage.
Should You Consider Solar Tracking?
Solar trackers are not ideal for all solar panel installations. Therefore, you should consider factors like climate, space, and shading before choosing solar tracking. The devices are suitable for premises with limited space and high energy requirements. Commercial buildings are the ideal places for the installation of the devices.
Because solar tracking is a considerable capital investment, you should also factor in the projects’ cost. Some solar financing institutions consider it as a high-risk investment and may decline your loan application. Therefore, you should put in mind all these factors.
But if you are in a low solar energy viability location, solar energy tracking system can come in handy. You should also hire a professional solar panel installer to ensure optimum tracking. Get in touch with us today, and we assess whether solar tracking devices are ideal for your premises. You can count on Dynamic for a comprehensive analysis of your project to get value for your money.