Solar panels are amongst the most popular choices when it comes to green innovations. Over the years, manufacturers have introduced innovations to make them better. A good example of the latter is a solar tracker. It improves the performance of the solar panels, making sure that it harnesses the most energy from the sun. It results in optimal performance by maximizing yield.
Some people might see the solar tracker as an unnecessary expense. Truth is, it is a necessity and not a luxury. If you are not convinced, keep on reading and allow us to change your mind. We’ll not only talk about the functions of a solar tracker, but we’ll also help you differentiate the types available.
What is a Solar Tracker?
A solar tracker is a device that tracks thesun’s orbit. As the sun circles from the east to the west, the main job of the solar tracker is to monitor its movements.
With a traditional solar set-up, the photovoltaic (PV) cells are in a fixed orientation. This means that throughout the day, they remain in the same angle. In contrast, when you are using a solar tracker, the solar panels will change their position when necessary to optimize the yield of the panels. It increases exposure to the rays of the sun, and in turn, will maximize the ability to convert the sun’s energy into electricity.
How does a Solar Tracker Work?
To learn about the fundamentals of a solar tracker, you must be familiar with sunlight’s components. It has a direct beam, which is responsible for carrying more than 90% of solar energy. To add, there is also a diffused sunlight. Between the two, direct beam is more important for your solar panels. Maximum collection of the direct beam is impossible all the time because there are variations in weather. The solar tracker can help solve this problem.
During the exposure of the PV cells to sunlight, an angle of incidence is created. The latter is a technical term that refers to the angle where the solar panels meet the sun rays. This determines the effectiveness of the panel in the conversion of sunlight into electricity. The narrower the angle is, the more energy the solar panels can produce. To do this, the light should be hitting the PV cells perpendicularly, and that is what the solar tracker can do.
While a solar tracker maximizes the production of solar panels, they are uncommon in residential applications. Instead, they are more popular in large-scale applications, such as solar trees. It is more commonly used in solar panels that are mounted on the ground.
The Advantages and Disadvantages
Are you looking for more reasons to believe that a solar tracker is beneficial? Listed below are some of its remarkable benefits.
- Improve Efficiency: If there’s one reason why you should use a solar tracker, it would be that it is efficient. According to expert estimates, it improves efficiency by as much as 25%. With the constant movement of the Earth around the sun, solar trackers are excellent to maximize efficiency compared to installing solar panels in a fixed position.
- Different Types for Different Users: Another good thing about solar trackers is that they exist in different forms. You’ll find one that suits your needs and applications. More of these types will be discussed in the next section of this guide.
- Supplementary Income: Using solar trackers can also mean having supplemental income, specifically in places with time of use rate plans. There are some companies that can purchase the excess power generated in a solar farm or facility. By having increased energy gains, it is also possible to realize additional revenues.
To be fair, let us also list down some of the most common drawbacks…
That might make you think twice about the installation of solar trackers.
- Expensive: The high cost of the device hinders many people from embracing it. They are more expensive than fixed solar panels. It can increase the price by as much as $.10 per watt. Nonetheless, if you look at its benefits, you will realize that the pros easily outweigh the cons.
- Requires Intensive Maintenance: Compared to traditional fixed PV cells, solar trackers will require more maintenance. Otherwise, it might fail to demonstrate its peak performance, making the tracker useless.
- Complex System: From its installation to the way it works, solar trackers are known for their complexity. It requires more work when preparing the site, which will involve work like trenching.
The Cost of Solar Trackers
Earlier, we mentioned that solar trackers are expensive. The prices will vary from one provider to another, so take our computation with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, it should provide you with a general idea.
A four-kilowatt solar system mounted on the ground will cost as much as $13,000. The tracking equipment that will be added to the set-up can be anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per panel. Emphasis should be on the words per panel. In a conventional set-up, the price can go as high as $20,000. It can even go as high as $26,000 depending on the chosen solar tracker.
What are theTypes of Solar Trackers?
The benefits of a solar tracker will depend mostly on which type is used. There are many ways to categorize them, but one of the best would be through their axis.
Single Axis Solar Tracker
This kind of a solar tracker moves from the east to the west, following the direction of the sun. It has a single angle at which the panel rotates. It improves energy production by as much as 30%. Nonetheless, it is still dependent on several things, such as the quality of the solar system.
It can be further classified depending on the angle of orientation. For instance, there is a horizontal single axis tracker. It is positioned horizontally to the ground. To lessen the installation costs, some posts are shared by several trackers. There is also a vertical single axis tracker, which is a better option in high altitudes. Another option is a tilted single axis solar tracker. It decreases elevation and reduces wind profile.
Dual Axis Solar Tracker
The name itself should already give you an idea of how it is different from a single axis solar tracker. It faces the sun all the time because the panels move in two directions. There is a primary axis, which is the one that is fixed to the ground. Meanwhile, there is also a secondary axis, which is referenced to the other axis.
Similar to the single axis solar tracker, there are also different orientations. In the case of a tip-tilt dual axis solar tracker, there is a panel that attaches to a pole. On the top of this panel, there is a T or H-shaped device, which allows panel rotation. The posts can be shared, which is often done to improve cost efficiency.
Aside from the axis, another good way to differentiate the solar trackers available would be in terms of their drive. This will affect the movement of the tracker. Below, let’s quickly look at these drives.
Active Solar Tracker
It is equipped with a motor and gear that enables solar tracking. Sensors and microprocessors are also common, as well as time-based algorithms. It is through these technologies that the tracker determines the sun’s movement. Recent developments have made them more advanced resulting in more sophisticated functions and notable benefits.
Passive Solar Tracker
This kind of a solar tracker does not come with a motor. It relies on the heat of the sun, which dictates the direction of its movement. There is a compressed gas fluid with a low boiling point in this tracker. The movements of the panel will be dictated by the imbalance in the gas pressure.
In sum, a solar tracker is an advanced technology that maximizes the efficiency of solar panels. A common device used in large-scale installations, such as in solar farms, it allows the panels to move to yield the highest possible energy from the sun. In turn, it significantly increases its output. While it is initially expensive and requires high maintenance, the long-term benefits will be worth every dollar!