What is a solar tracker and is the investment worthwhile?

Your solar panels can create more solar power by following the movement of the sun in the sky, like a sunflower, with the help of solar trackers. But the cost of solar tracking systems is expensive.

Is the extra solar power output worth the solar tracker’s higher price tag? Installing more solar panels makes more sense in the majority of circumstances.

Everything you need to know about solar trackers, including their varieties and whether or not they’re a good purchase, is covered below.

What is a solar tracker?

A tool that tracks the sun’s path across the sky is called a solar tracker. Solar panels that are connected to solar trackers can track the sun’s path and generate more green energy for your use.

Solar trackers are often used in conjunction with ground-mounted solar panels, however rooftop-mounted trackers have lately entered the market.

Normally, solar panel racking will be connected to solar tracking equipment. From that point, the solar panels will be able to follow the sun’s path.

The type of system determines how a solar tracking system travels. Sun tracking systems come in three different varieties:

1. Manual solar trackers

Manual trackers need to have the panels physically adjusted to follow the sun at various points of the day. This isn’t always feasible because you need someone to continuously check the sun’s location and move the solar panel system.

2. Passive solar trackers 

A low-boiling-point liquid found in passive trackers evaporates when exposed to sunlight. The tilt system becomes unbalanced when the liquid evaporates. The panels begin to tilt in the direction of the sun’s beams as a result of this imbalance.

3. Active solar trackers 

In order to alter position, active trackers use motors or hydraulic cylinders. The PV panels will be moved by the motors in active trackers to face the sun. Although this is more practical than manual trackers, the motors’ moving parts could malfunction. Over the course of the system’s lifespan, this can result in greater maintenance expenses.

The direction in which they move can then be used to further divide up solar trackers. Solar trackers come in two varieties:

  • Single axis solar tracker
  • Dual axis solar tracker

Single axis solar tracker 

Single axis trackers follow the position of the sun as it moves from east to west. These are usually used in utility-scale projects. A single axis tracker can increase production between 25% to 35%.

single axis solar tracker

Dual axis solar tracker 

This tracker follows the sun not just as it goes from north to south, but also as it moves from east to west. In order for residential and small commercial solar projects with constrained area to produce enough electricity to meet their energy needs, two axis trackers are increasingly frequently used.

dual axis solar tracker

Dual axis trackers can increase energy production by about 40%.

How much does a solar tracker cost?

Photovoltaic solar installations can become significantly more expensive when using solar trackers. A typical ground-mounted, 4 kilowatt solar system will cost around $13,000. The price of tracking equipment might range from $500 to more than $1,000 per panel.

On the same array, adding a single axis tracking system would increase the price by nearly $20,000. That represents an increase of 57% over the fixed array’s price for just a 35% increase in solar production.

Even more expensive, a dual axis monitoring device would run you about $26,000. That is equivalent to the full price of the fixed ground-mounted system!

What are the pros and cons of using a solar tracker?

Just like everything else, solar trackers have benefits and drawbacks.

Pros of solar trackers 

  • Tracking systems offer greater levels of energy output compared to fixed solar arrays because they can follow the sun’s movements.
  • The variety of trackers available from manufacturers like Allearth Solar and First Sunergy makes it possible to find a unit that’s just right for your needs.
  • Solar trackers are very beneficial in areas with Time of Use electricity rates. More energy will be able to be produced during peak hours, which means you won’t have to pay for grid energy when it’s most expensive. 

Cons of solar trackers 

  • Solar trackers are very expensive and can easily double project costs.
  • Solar trackers are made up of moving parts, which means they are more likely to break. This leads to higher maintenance costs.
  • Deciding to install trackers may require additional site planning and preparation, including digging additional wiring trenches and extra site grading. 

Are solar trackers worth the additional investment?

Solar trackers do produce more electricity, but in most circumstances they are not worth the extra money. More solar panels could be installed for less money than a tracking system because solar panels are more affordable than before.

Take the installation of 15 ground-mounted solar panels with a 300 watt output rating as an illustration. This system would cost $14,625 in total.

Now suppose you wanted a single axis sun tracker to be a part of this system. Each solar module would cost $500 more as a result. Just the tracking equipment costs $7,500. You would have to pay an additional $15,000 to install double axis tracking equipment!

It is accurate to say that tracking systems would generate more electricity than a fixed system. But do the additional cost savings outweigh the astronomical increase in tracking equipment costs?

The savings on your electricity cost for a fixed system, a single axis tracking system, and a dual axis tracking system are shown in the following table:

Solar system typeSystem costAnnual energy savingsEstimated payback period
Fixed ground-mounted system$14,625$1,10013 years
Ground-mounted system with single axis tracker$22,125$1,43015.5 years
Ground-mounted system with double axis tracker$29,625$1,54019 years

A tracking system would cost an additional $15,000, but the increased savings would only total $440 per year. The system’s payback period would increase to over 20 years.

Instead, you might add six more solar panels to your system to produce the same amount of electricity as a dual axis system would. The best part is that adding more panels to your solar energy system would only cost you $5,850 more.

To track or not to track?

Solar trackers are typically not worth the extra cost, particularly for home solar systems. The lack of widespread adoption of solar trackers in the domestic solar market is due to this.

Solar trackers are useful when there isn’t much room for an installation. Installing a solar tracking system will enable you to generate more electricity in a constrained space if you don’t have enough room for extra solar panels. Large-scale utility or commercial systems can benefit from the usage of solar trackers.

To determine the precise cost of a solar tracking system, it’s crucial to speak with a local solar installation. To estimate the cost of solar in your location and how much switching to solar can save you on your electric bill, try our solar calculator.

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