What is a solar panel tracker?

Solar panel trackers can boost output by 30% to 50%, but they’re not cheap

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solar panels with tracker on a field under blue sky

One way to make solar panels more efficient is by mounting them onto solar tracker panels. Using a tracker instead of a flat mounting system can increase a solar panel’s output by 30% to 50%.

Unfortunately, this modification is typically for solar farms, not residential, use, since the increased efficiency may not make up for its steep upfront and maintenance costs.


Key takeaways:

  • Tracker can increase a panel’s output by 30% to 50%.
  • Solar trackers are expensive, and many require regular maintenance.
  • Solar panel trackers are divided into a few categories: manual, passive, active, dual-axis and single-axis.

Types of solar panel trackers

Solar panels can be mounted on solar panel trackers, which position the solar panels throughout the day to get the most sunlight possible. The more sunlight a panel gets, the more energy it can create. There are several different types of solar panel trackers.

Active and passive solar panel trackers

Solar panel tracking systems that move themselves are divided into passive and active categories. Active systems use electricity to position the panels using hydraulics, sensors and computers to determine the best position for the panel throughout the day.

Solar panel trackers help maximize a panel’s output but can be expensive.

These systems are sub-categorized into two tracking types: Some systems use algorithms to determine the best position for the panel, while others use light sensors.

Instead of being electrified, passive systems use a gas that is heated by the sun. As the gas is heated, it moves, tilting the panel with gravity. Passive systems have fewer moving parts and no electronics, requiring less maintenance.

» DISCOVER: What are ground-mounted solar panels?

Manual solar panel trackers

Manual solar panel trackers are human-powered — you’ll need to go outside and reposition the panels throughout the day to collect the most sun. While this sounds like a pain, these trackers are less expensive and don’t require as many repairs as active or passive trackers.

Dual- and single-axis solar panel trackers

Single-axis trackers follow the sun as it rises in the east and sets in the west. Single-axis mounts can provide 15% to 25% more output than nonmoving mounts.

Dual-axis trackers follow the sun east to west throughout the day, like single-axis trackers. They can also follow it north to south as the seasons change, though. This extra feature makes them up to 2.4% more efficient.

Can I use solar panel trackers with my home’s solar panels?

There are solar panel trackers made for home use, some of which you can purchase online. Solar energy system companies also sell trackers to their customers.

Trackers are expensive, though, and potentially not worth the investment. Most trackers available cost anywhere from $500 to $10,000 each. In most cases, homeowners would be better off just buying extra panels to boost solar output than purchasing trackers for panels.

“Currently, the most cost-effective solution is installing solar panels on exposed rooftops that get sun exposure either throughout the day or during a significant part of the day,” said Shaun Sharabi, the co-founder of Better Earth, a solar energy company.

» LEARN MORE: How much do solar panels cost?

Do you own or rent?

FAQ

Can solar panel trackers be used with any type of solar panel?

Solar panel trackers can be used with most types of solar panels. It’s important to consult with a solar installation professional to ensure compatibility, however.

Are solar panel trackers suitable for all geographical locations?

The effectiveness of solar panel trackers can vary based on geographical location. They are most effective in areas with a high level of solar coverage.

Are solar panel trackers a good investment for homeowners?

While solar panel trackers can increase a panel’s output, their high cost often makes them a less practical investment for homeowners than buying additional panels to boost the system’s total output.


Article sources
ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
  1. Solar Energy, “ Improved photovoltaic energy output for cloudy conditions with a solar tracking system .” Accessed June 28, 2023.
  2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, “ Solar tracker technology .” Accessed June 28, 2023.
  3. U.S. Department of Energy, “ Single-Axis Tracker Control Optimization Potential for the Contiguous United States .” JAccessed June 28, 2023.
  4. U.S. Department of Energy, “ Model and Validation of SingleAxis Tracking with Bifacial Photovoltaics .” Accessed June 28, 2023.
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