Solar Tracker Guide: Achieving Longer Sun Exposure

solar panels tracker

Due to Australia’s natural positioning, climate, and latitude, the potential for installing solar panels is huge.

A solar tracker is the most recent upgrade for getting maximum efficiency out of your solar panel system.

We’ve set up this solar tracker guide to answer all your questions before you make a purchase.

 What is a Solar Tracker?

A solar tracker is a device that transforms your solar panels, switching them from fixed to solar panels that follow the sun. This device helps position the solar panels by adding motion so that they can follow the sun’s path during the day. This way, solar trackers help you gain maximum efficiency out of your solar panel system. 

Originally, they were launched as a booster mainly for ground mount solar systems, but now, solar tracking devices are being adapted for rooftop systems, as well.

Types of Solar Trackers

A solar tracker is installed to the racking construction on which the solar panels are mounted, upgrading it from fixed to a rotating solar panel mount.  

Based on the type of system that rotates the solar panels, there are:

  • Manual solar trackers – require someone to monitor the phases of the sun and adjust the trackers manually, according to the sun’s motion.
  • Passive solar trackers – contain a smart system based on a low-boiling liquid that evaporates on direct sun exposure; the evaporation of the liquid causes imbalance, thus moving solar panels towards the sun.
  • Active solar trackers – this type contains motors or hydraulic cylinders that rotate; automatic systems are more prone to damage and malfunction. 

There’s also a division based on the direction in which the trackers move: 

  • Single-axis solar trackers, which follow the sun’s position as it moves from east to west, increasing the solar panel mounting installation production by an additional 19% – 29%. 
  • Dual-axis solar trackers, which can rotate on two axes, tracking the sun as it goes from east to west and north to south. This way, the maximum efficiency of the entire solar panel system is most optimal. It may increase the efficiency by 23%-36%.
types of solar trackers
Types of solar trackers depending on its movement (Source: Valldoreix-gp)

Solar Tracker Benefits

The benefits of installing a solar tracking system depend on the latitude and the climate – they are most efficient during the summer, on the longest latitude. The solar tracking system would be 100% efficient if it was located in the North or the South Pole. 

In Australia, it is estimated that installing a solar tracking system would be most efficient in Tasmania. On the other hand, in Hobart, you may gain up to 34% more energy than a  fixed solar panel system in the middle of January. At the same time, in Sydney, you may expect a maximum of 30% gain in summer, while only a 10.9% gain during winter.

Installing solar tracking devices is also highly efficient in areas where time-of-use rates apply. With the same sun exposure, you get more energy than before. This way, you pay less for electricity when it is most expensive because you have more stored.

fixed installation and installation with two-axis PV trackers
Results of fixed installation and the installation with two-axis PV trackers (Source: Valldoreix-gp)

How Much Does a Solar Tracker Cost?

Achieving higher electricity generation comes with a higher price too. Tracking equipment ranges from $500 to $1,000 per panel, on average. So, if you install a single-axis tracking system on your existing solar array, the cost can easily climb to $20,000

Installing a dual-axis solar panel system can cost up to $22,860 and reduce your yearly electricity bill by nearly $5,000. Of course, these purely mathematical presumptions don’t take cloudy days and other forms of malfunctions and maintenance into account. 

The solar panel tracking system price often doesn’t exceed the electricity generation potential, making it a costly solution that only pays off in a longer period. 

 Are They Worth the Investment?

Installing a tracking system is undoubtedly a big investment, and depending on its type and size, it can take even up to 13-19 years to pay off.

Right now, solar panels are as cheap as ever, and installing an average 6.6kW solar panel system containing 18 solar panels would cost you around $9,000 (without the government rebate) and around $6,000, rebate included. Let’s say you wanted to have a single-axis solar tracker included in the system – it would cost you an additional $9,000 just for the tracking equipment.

However, solar trackers might be the best solution if your space is limited and you can’t afford room to put an extra panel. 

If you’re still considering, let’s see some pros and cons:

Advantages:

  • Systems that follow solar rays provide greater energy output than fixed solar arrays.
  • Reduced size of your solar panel system.
  • You can get the most out of time-of-use pricing.

Disadvantages: 

  • Cloud exposure makes solar trackers “blind” – they only work when the system is exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Solar panel installation costs are doubled – purchasing a solar tracking kit would cost you the same as installing the rest of the solar panel system, along with the racking equipment and the installers. See our Solar Panel Installation Guide for all the details and basic steps you must take.
  • The automated motion system might fail, as motion devices are more prone to being broken and damaged than fixed structures.
  • Digging additional wiring trenches is required (if you’re boosting a ground-mounted solar panel system).
  • Prone to storm damage – Australian statistics show that severe storms mostly occur in the late afternoon. The solar tracker array might be in the worst possible position during that period, weak and unsupported.
  • Higher maintenance costs – the more sophisticated the trackers are, the more it costs to fix their malfunctions. For more details on solar panels maintenece check our Solar Panel Maintenence Guide.

Verdict: Is Solar Tracking a Smart Investment? 

In most cases, the seasonal gain of having a solar tracker doesn’t surpass its cost. Also, maintenance costs and damage risks to your tracking equipment are quite high.

Installing additional solar panels is the more efficient and cost-worthy option. Getting a solar tracking system should only be your last resort if you lack space to install more panels.

FAQs

1. Are solar trackers worth it? 

Improving the overall efficiency, but for a high price, solar trackers are an investment that will pay off in the long run. 

2. Are solar trackers expensive? 

Yes, solar trackers are an expensive investment, increasing the solar panel system installation cost by nearly 50%.

3. What is a disadvantage of using a tracking solar panel?

The solar tracker will increase your energy supply in perfect conditions. However, when there’s storm or cloud exposure, solar trackers become virtually pointless.

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