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By tracking the sun's movement across the sky like a sunflower, solar trackers allow your solar panels to maximize their energy output. However, the cost of solar tracking systems is quite high.
Would it be worthwhile to invest in a solar tracker just to get the extra power output it provides? Adding more solar panels is usually the best option.
Learn about the different kinds of solar trackers and if they're worth the money in the following guide.
- To maximize energy production from the sun, solar panels can be equipped with tracking systems that allow them to move in tandem with the sun.
- Although solar trackers increase the energy output of a solar panel system, they are very costly and can easily double the initial investment.
- To enhance the system's energy production at a lower cost, adding additional solar panels is often preferable to adding a solar tracker.
- If you don't have enough space for additional solar panels, a solar tracker may be the best solution.
What is a solar tracker?
One way to keep track of the sun's path through the sky is by using a solar tracker. Using solar trackers with your solar panels will allow the panels to monitor the sun's movement throughout the day, allowing them to generate more of the clean energy you need.
Until recently, solar trackers were only available in conjunction with ground-mounted solar systems.
In most cases, solar panel racking will have to be outfitted with tracking devices. Starting at that point, the solar panels may follow the sun wherever it goes.
A solar tracking system's motion is determined by the system type. There are essentially three categories of sun-following devices:
- Manual solar trackers
In order for the panels to monitor the sun using a manual tracker, someone must manually adjust them at various points during the day. Unfortunately, this isn't always feasible since someone has to watch the sun and adjust the solar panel system accordingly.
- Passive solar trackers
In passive trackers, the sun's heat causes the evaporation of a low-boiling-point liquid. There is a shift in the tilt system's equilibrium when the liquid evaporates. As a result of this discrepancy, the panels now face the wrong way while facing the sun.
- Active solar trackers
Motors or hydraulic cylinders power active trackers' motion. As the sun moves across the sky, the PV panels on active trackers will automatically turn to face it. Although this is easier to use than manual trackers, the motors have moving components that might get jammed or otherwise malfunction. More money may be spent on repairs and upkeep throughout the system's useful life if this is allowed to continue.
The direction in which solar trackers go provides an additional classification scheme. Any of the following are examples of solar trackers:
- Single axis solar tracker
- Dual axis solar tracker
Single axis solar tracker
Single-axis trackers trace the sun's motion across the sky from sunrise to sunset. This is typical for large-scale infrastructure endeavors. A 25%–35% boost in output is possible with a single axis tracker.
Dual axis solar tracker
This device watches the sun as it travels from north to south as well as from east to west. Most homes and small businesses that want to install solar panels but don't have enough space use two-axis trackers because they maximize energy production in a small footprint.
The use of dual-axis trackers has been shown to boost energy generation by around 40%.
How much does a solar tracker cost?
The price of a photovoltaic solar system might climb significantly if solar trackers are used. The average cost of a 4-kW solar array placed on the ground is about $13,000. The cost of tracking equipment ranges from around $500 to over $1,000 per panel.
Adding a tracking device with a single axis to the same array would increase the price by about $20,000. For an increase in solar production of just 35%, that's a 57% premium over the price of the stationary array.
A dual-axis tracking system would be considerably more expensive, coming in at roughly $26,000. That's more than twice as much as an equivalent ground-based, permanently installed system!
What are the pros and cons of using a solar tracker?
There are advantages and disadvantages to solar trackers, just as there are to everything else.
Pros of solar trackers
- Higher energy production is possible with tracking devices since they can move with the sun rather than staying in one place.
- You may discover the perfect tracker for your requirements among the several models produced by companies like Allearth Solar and First Solar.
- Time-of-use power tariffs are ideal for solar trackers. You won't have to rely as much on the grid's pricey peak-hour power since you'll be able to generate more energy then.
Cons of solar trackers
- The cost of a solar installation might easily quadruple if a solar tracker is included.
- The solar tracker's moving components increase the likelihood of a malfunction. Therefore, the expense of upkeep will increase.
- Tracker installation may need more extensive site preparation, such as the construction of new wire tunnels and reshaping of the ground.
Are solar trackers worth the additional investment?
However, despite the fact that solar trackers increase power production, they are usually not worth the extra cost. Thanks to the falling price of solar panels, more solar panels can be installed for the same price as a tracking system.
Say, for the sake of argument, that you put in place 15 solar panels with a combined power output of 300 watts, and that these panels were placed on the ground. A full implementation of this system will set you back $14,625;
Let's assume, however, that you were also interested in including a sun tracker with a single axis into this setup. That would add $500 to the price of each solar panel. The cost of the monitoring gear alone comes to $7,500. You'd have to spend an additional $15,000 to have double axis tracking technology installed.
More power might be generated by the systems with tracking devices compared to the stationary system. But are the marginal cost reductions acceptable, given the prohibitive nature of the tracking equipment?
In the table below, you may compare the costs of a fixed system, a single-axis tracking system, and a dual-axis tracking system, as well as the resulting savings on your monthly power bill.
Your annual savings would be $440, despite spending an extra $15,000 on a monitoring system. The system's ROI would balloon to over 20 years.
Instead of a dual-axis system, you could just add six solar panels to your setup and have the same amount of energy output. The greatest news is that expanding your solar energy system by adding more panels will only cost you $5,850.
To track or not to track?
Solar trackers are often not cost-effective, particularly for household solar systems. Because of this drawback, solar trackers have not found much usage in the home sector.
When installing solar panels, having a small footprint is a must, and this is where solar trackers shine. If you want to increase your energy output from solar but are restricted by available land, a solar tracking system is the way to go. Bigger residential or business projects might benefit from solar trackers as well.
The best way to determine how much a solar tracking system might cost is to talk to a local solar installer. You may use our solar calculator to estimate the cost of solar in your location and the potential savings on your monthly electricity bill if you make the switch.
To get the most out of conventional solar panel technology, significant advancements like solar trackers are essential. Utilities are more likely to use them when physical space is at a premium. Thanks to the improved efficiency, less space is needed for the system's installation. This technology's viability has been assessed, especially in a domestic environment. It has now been discovered that such solar systems are usually not worthwhile. The cost and upkeep of a mechanical system are likely to increase as the number of moving components increases.
What kind of improvement does a solar tracker provide?
An increase in energy output is the primary perk of a solar tracking system. A single-axis solar tracker may increase the efficiency of a solar panel system by 25–35%. The addition of a dual-axis tracker results in a performance boost of 5–10%.
Why are solar trackers important?
Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems often include solar trackers. With its capacity to follow the sun's movement across the sky, PV systems may increase their energy output by as much as 25–35%, as reported by EnergySage.
In terms of efficiency, which solar tracker is the best?
Using dual-axis tracking, the solar panel may be oriented with more precision, resulting in increased energy production by as much as 40%.
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