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Solar Panel Trackers: A Homeowner's Guide

Solar Panel Trackers

The importance of solar energy has been skyrocketing... and for good reason. It's a clean, renewable source of power that can help reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change. Interestingly enough, as the demand for solar energy increases, so does the need for maximizing its capture. This is where solar panel trackers come into play. These ingenious devices play a crucial role in optimizing the amount of sunlight that solar panels can convert into usable energy.

But I wonder if, when most people think of solar energy, they realize the significance of solar panel trackers. This guide will put some flesh on the bones of this often-overlooked component of solar energy systems. Let's dive in!


Key Takeaways

  • Solar trackers significantly increase solar panel output by optimizing the angle of the panels throughout the day.

  • There are different types of solar trackers: passive, active, single-axis, and dual-axis, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

  • While solar trackers have higher initial costs, they can lead to long-term savings by reducing the number of panels needed and maximizing energy production.

  • Solar trackers may not be suitable for all installations, especially residential rooftops, due to their weight and movement.


What Is A Solar Tracker?

A solar tracker is a sophisticated piece of mounting hardware designed to optimize the performance of solar panels. It allows solar panels to move in sync with the sun's movement, ensuring that the photovoltaic (PV) array absorbs as much solar radiation as possible and converts it into renewable energy. This is essential for powering homes, businesses, or even an entire electrical grid.

Here is the real kicker though: the sun moves throughout the day, which means the optimal angle for solar panels to capture sunlight changes constantly. Additionally, obstacles like trees or buildings can cast shadows, causing solar modules to receive less of the sun's rays. If your property isn't perfectly suited for a PV array, a solar tracker can minimize this problem by adjusting the orientation or angle of the modules.

It's just a friendly reminder that solar trackers are typically used for ground-mounted solar modules. They may put too much strain on a home's roof, both from weight and the panels moving in heavy winds. In contrast, fixed solar panel systems remain stationary and do not adjust to the sun's movement, which can lead to less energy capture and, consequently, less power generation.

How Solar Trackers Increase Solar Panel Output

Solar trackers play a pivotal role in enhancing the efficiency of solar panels. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), single-axis solar trackers can boost solar panel output by up to 30%, while dual-axis solar trackers can increase it by 50% to 70% compared to same-sized fixed solar installations. This significant increase is due to the rotating motion of the solar arrays, which enables the panels to follow the sun and collect more of its energy.

Most single-axis tracking systems are set at a latitude angle, meaning they tilt in one direction to follow the sun and stay as close to facing the sun as possible. On the other end of the spectrum, dual-axis trackers move on both east-west and north-south axes, ensuring maximum solar energy collection by keeping the solar panels perpendicular to the sun's rays.

Here's the catch: by increasing the output of solar panels, solar trackers reduce the number of solar panels needed to achieve the desired energy goal. For instance, a solar tracker system with 1000 watts capacity can, under the right conditions, produce the same output as a fixed rooftop solar power system with 1450 watts capacity. Consequently, solar trackers require less installation space, making them an ideal choice where space is limited.

Types Of Solar Panel Tracking Systems

Dual-Axis Solar Trackers

Solar panel tracking systems are crucial for maximizing solar energy capture. These systems are broadly categorized into passive and active solar trackers, single-axis, and dual-axis solar trackers.

Passive and Active Solar Trackers

Passive solar trackers use a low boiling point liquid that evaporates when exposed to solar radiation, causing an imbalance that tilts the solar panel towards the sun. As the sun moves back to the east and the rays lower, the panels cool, and the evaporate returns to liquid form, tilting back the solar panel.

Active solar trackers, on the other hand, have a drive core with motors or hydraulic cylinders linked to sensors that react to sunlight or an algorithm-based tracking system using pre-programmed data like GPS coordinates of the sun's position. Although more complex and expensive, active solar trackers are far more reliable and popular than passive solar trackers.

Single-Axis Solar Trackers

Single-axis solar trackers move in one direction to follow the sun and stay as close to facing the sun as possible. There are two types: centralized and decentralized. Centralized systems use a single motor to drive a driveline between rows that move an entire panel group, while decentralized systems use one motor for each tracking row.

Bifacial panels, which offer dual-sided solar production, are utilized by various racking systems and tracking algorithms to increase power output. On cloud-covered days, solar trackers are programmed to stow the solar panel rows flat, which is their safest position. Modern solar trackers can compensate for heavier winds and, in some situations, system-level monitors can tell which panel rows are unaffected by wind conditions and allow them to continue moving.

Dual-Axis Solar Trackers

Dual-axis solar trackers move on both east-west and north-south axes, ensuring maximum solar energy collection by keeping the solar panels perpendicular to the sun's rays. They generate 30 to 45 percent more energy than a same-sized single-axis solar tracking system, making them the most efficient solar power system today.

Elevated dual-axis solar trackers carry their solar arrays atop a 20 feet pole, optimal for projects where continued use of the grounds below is important. No fencing is necessary around these 30-foot mechanical sunflowers, making them ideal for farms, parking lots, fields, school yards, etc.

Pros And Cons Of A Solar Tracker System

Investing in solar energy is a big decision, and it's crucial to weigh the pros and cons. Solar tracker systems, despite their higher initial cost, come with a host of benefits that make them a worthy consideration.

Advantages of Solar Trackers

  1. Increased Energy Output: Solar trackers increase energy output by 30% to 45% compared to fixed solar installations. This efficiency reduces the number of solar panels needed, consequently lowering your energy bill and taking advantage of time-of-use billing.

  2. Environmental Benefits: By maximizing solar energy capture, solar trackers contribute to reducing carbon footprint and dependence on non-renewable energy sources.

  3. Utility Incentives and Tax Credits: Businesses can offset the installation costs by taking advantage of various tax credits and utility incentives offered by federal, state, and local governments.

  4. Optimal Energy Production in Different Climates: In warmer climates, solar trackers take fuller advantage of longer summer days by increasing energy production. In colder climates, they make the most use of available sun, reducing the need for additional solar panels.

Disadvantages and Considerations

  1. Higher Initial Cost: The initial investment for solar tracker systems is higher compared to fixed solar installations. However, the increased energy output and potential savings on utility bills can offset this cost over time.

In conclusion, while the initial cost of solar tracker systems is higher, the increased energy output, environmental benefits, and potential savings on utility bills make it a worthwhile investment. Additionally, businesses can take advantage of various tax credits and utility incentives to offset the installation costs. Ultimately, the decision to invest in solar tracker systems should be based on a thorough analysis of your specific needs, location, and financial capacity.

Are Solar Trackers Worth the Investment?

Solar Trackers

The cost-effectiveness of solar tracker systems varies based on the scale of the installation and your specific needs. For most residential installs, the investment in a solar tracker may not be worth it. The cost of solar panels has dropped considerably over the past decade, and investing in equipment to continually adjust the orientation of your solar panels requires more money upfront and more energy, which may not be ideal for your household.

However, for commercial builds, the story is different. The long-term benefits and savings of solar trackers can outweigh the initial costs. By maximizing solar energy capture, solar trackers can significantly reduce energy bills and contribute to environmental sustainability.

Environmental Benefits

Solar trackers help in reducing the carbon footprint by maximizing the use of renewable energy. This is a crucial consideration for businesses aiming to meet sustainability goals and reduce their environmental impact.

In conclusion, while solar trackers may not be the most cost-effective option for residential installations, they can be a worthwhile investment for commercial builds, especially when considering the long-term benefits, savings, and environmental impact. It's essential to conduct a thorough analysis of your specific needs, location, and financial capacity before making a decision. Ready to make a difference? Get a free solar quote today and start your journey towards a greener, more sustainable future.


Can You Put A Solar Tracker On A Home’s Roof?

While technically possible, it's not recommended. Solar trackers are heavier and put more strain on a roof due to their moving parts. They are typically used for ground-mounted solar installations.

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