Solar trackers let your solar panels move with the sun like a sunflower to generate more electricity. However, solar tracking systems usually cost a lot of money.
Does the extra solar power production outweigh the added expense of installing a solar tracker? It usually makes more sense just to add more solar panels.
Here, we provide an overview of solar trackers, including their different kinds, whether they're worth investing in, and which ones might be right for you.
Introduction to Solar Trackers
A solar tracker follows the movement of the sun. Coupling solar trackers with solar panels allow them to follow the movement of the sun so they can generate more power for you to use.
Solar trackers are generally used with ground-mount solar panels, but recently, rooftop-based trackers have been introduced.
Solar tracking equipment usually connects to the racking of solar panel arrays. Once installed, the solar panels will follow the sun's movement throughout the day.
The movement of solar trackers depends on the kind of system. There are three main kinds of solar trackers:
Manual trackers need someone to manually move the panels at different times during the day to follow the movement of the sun.
It doesn't always make sense for a person to be permanently monitoring the weather conditions and adjusting the solar panels' position manually every day.
Active solar track systems use motors or hydraulic systems to move panels into different positions. The motorized trackers will rotate the solar panels from their flat orientation to a position where they face the sun.
While this might be more favorable than manual tracking devices without any battery requirements, the small parts inside the motors could easily break down. This could result in higher maintenance expenses over the lifetime of the equipment.
Passive solar trackers contain a fluid that will vaporize when subjected to sunlight. An imbalance occurs as soon as the fluid evaporates, causing the panels to lean toward the side where the sun shines.
Solar trackers can be classified into two categories according to their movement. These are:
These solar trackers follow the sun's movement as it travels across the sky from east to west. They're usually used for large-scale power generation. A single-axis solar tracker system can improve a solar panel's productivity by up to 35 percent.
This tracker measures the sun’s movement throughout the day from east to west and records its movement from north to south. Residential and small commercial solar systems usually prefer two-axis tracking because they need to generate enough electricity to meet their daily energy demands.
Dual-axis trackers increase the efficiency of solar panels by up to 40%
Cost of Solar Tracking Systems
Solar track systems can significantly increase the costs of a PV system. A standard 4-kilowatt, ground-mounted solar system costs around $12,000. Tracking panels can range from $500 to $1,100 per panel.
Including a single-axis tracking system could increase the price by about $20,000. That's a price difference of 57% over the fixed arrays' cost for just 35% more energy production.
A dual-axis tracking device would cost even more than a single-axis one at around $25,000. It costs twice as much as the complete ground-mounted system.
Solar Tracker Benefits and Drawbacks
Like everything else, solar tracker systems have their own pros and cons.
Is it Worth Investing in Solar Trackers?
Most solar track systems aren't worth the extra cost, even though they generate more power. As solar panel prices continue to drop, installing more solar power systems will be cheaper than including a tracking system.
Let's assume you installed 15 ground-based solar panel systems, each with a capacity of 300 watts. The system will cost you around $14,000.
Let's assume you want to add a single-axis solar tracker to this system. It would cost an additional $500 per solar module. That would be $7500 just for the tracking equipment alone. The cost of installing double-axis tracking equipment will be $15,000!
There is no doubt that the systems with tracking devices would generate more energy than fixed ones. But are the additional expenses worth the enormous extra costs of tracking equipment?
The next figure shows how much electricity you'd be able to cut from your monthly electric bills if you were using a fixed system, a single-axis tracker, or a dual-axis tracker.
Spending $15,000 on solar trackers isn’t worth it, especially when you save only $440. The payback period for the system would be almost 20 years long!
You could instead install six additional solar panels and produce the same amount of energy that a dual-axis generator would provide. The best thing is that you'd only need to spend an additional $5,850 to add more panels to your solar power system.
Solar Tracker Applications
Solar trackers are usually not worth the extra cost for most situations, including home solar installations. That's why solar trackers aren’t widely used in the residential sector.
Solar trackers are most useful if you have limited space for a solar panel installation.
If you don't have enough area for extra solar panel installations, a solar tracking system could allow you to generate more energy in a smaller space. They're also useful for larger-scale applications, including utilities and commercial properties.
You need to talk to a local solar tracker installation company to find out the cost of a solar tracker system. Our solar calculator can help you estimate the cost of installing solar panels and how much money you could save by switching to solar energy.