Tracking the Sun's Power

Jessica PirroDecember 6, 201928431

When it comes to getting a solar panel installation for your property, there are many different ways that you can customize and design your solar-powered system. If you are considering getting ground mount solar panels, you should consider getting a tracking system in addition to your solar-powered system. The tracking system will move your solar panels to follow the sun across the sky to maximize the efficiency of a solar panel.

What is Tracking for Solar Panels?

Adding a tracking system to your solar panel installation will maximize the efficiency of a solar panel by moving your solar panels to follow the sun throughout the day. These trackers will optimize the angle of your solar panels to receive the maximum amount of solar energy radiation. Solar power trackers are normally used for ground mount solar panels and large free-standing solar panel installations such as solar trees. They typically won’t be used in most residential solar energy projects, and are more commonly used in the utility-scale and commercial/industrial solar energy market.

When solar panels are exposed to the sunlight, the angle that the sun’s rays meet the surface of the solar panels is what determines how well the solar panels are going to be able to convert the incoming light into solar electricity. The more narrow the angle of incidence, the more solar energy that the solar panels will produce. Trackers for solar-powered systems help minimize the angle by working to orient solar panels so that the sunlight strikes them perpendicular to their surface.

Single-Axis vs. Dual-Axis Tracking for Solar-Powered Systems

There are two types of tracking systems for solar panel installations: Single-Axis and Dual-Axis.

- A single-axis tracker for your solar panel installation moves your solar panels on one axis of movement, that usually aligned with North and South. These setups will allow your solar panels to arc from east to west and track the sun as it rises and sets.

- A dual-axis tracker for your solar panels to move on two axes, aligned both north-south and east-west. This type of tracking system for solar panel installations is specifically designed to maximize your solar energy collection through the year. This can track the different season variations in the height of the sun in addition to normal daily motion.

Normally, dual-axis trackers for solar-powered systems are significantly less popular for solar panel installations, even among large, utility-scale solar energy projects. A situation where dual-axis trackers might be appropriate on some commercial properties - due to a limited amount of commercial rooftop space for solar panels to be installed. The dual-axis trackers can then produce enough solar energy to fuel their operations in a small space. Utility-scale solar panel installations normally don’t need dual-axis setups, because they are located on large plots of land without the tight space constraints of commercial roof space.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy Trackers

The biggest advantage of tracking for solar-powered systems is that it will offer a boost in solar electricity production. Generally, a solar-powered system with a single-axis solar energy tracker installed sees a performance gain of 25 to 35 percent. A dual-axis tracker bumps performance up by another 5 to 10 percent.

If you live in a high latitude where the sun’s position in the sky is going to dramatically vary between summer and winter months, a dual-axis tracking system for solar panels might be a good way to maximize your solar electricity production and collect enough solar energy for your solar panel installation location.

But there are some disadvantages of having a tracking system for a solar panel installation and maintenance costs. A solar energy tracker is going to cost more money upfront than a fixed solar panel installation because it is more technology and it has moving parts. This will also lead to the second area of increased cost for solar energy tracking systems, the maintenance. The more complex solar energy tracking system comes more maintenance, which will all add up in costs over time.

An additional disadvantage to the tracking system is that they are typically too heave to be used in rooftop solar panel installations. If you want a solar-powered system with tracking features you should be prepared to get ground mount solar panels.

Is a Solar Energy Tracking System Right For You?

A rooftop solar panel installation offers lower costs, and it isn’t going to require dedicated yard space, making it the preferable option for most homeowners who are interested in solar panels. As a result, most of the home solar-powered systems aren’t going to require solar power trackers. If your rooftop is a south-facing roof, your solar panels are already going to oriented to capture the maximum amount of sunlight, which will reduce the need for a solar energy tracking system.

Trackers for solar-powered systems are going to offer the greatest value proposition in the high latitude locations due to the yearly movements of the sun. Because of this, solar energy customers in Alaska and other northern parts of the contiguous U.S. might want to look into including solar energy trackers with their solar-powered systems. But, for most United States residents, the sun’s movement isn’t going to impact your solar electricity production that much. Most customers are going to be better off getting a solar panel installation on a south-facing surface, or a fixed ground mount solar panel installation that faces the south.

Solar energy tracking systems will often be used in large commercial projects, typically over 1 megawatt (MW). For commercial-scale solar-powered systems, the long-term benefit of increased production over time is enough to make the initial cost and maintenance fees worth it. Also, Commercial-scale solar energy projects are usually ground mount solar panels, making solar energy trackers a feasible possibility.

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