May 4


Application of Solar Tracking Systems: Definition and Functions


May 4, 2023

In this article, readers will learn about the importance of solar tracking systems, which maximize the capture of solar energy and improve the efficiency of solar panels or concentrated solar power systems. The different types of solar tracking systems, including single-axis and dual-axis trackers are discussed, as well as their components and considerations for implementation. Popular solar tracking solutions for residential and commercial applications are also covered, along with future trends and advancements in solar tracking technology.

Importance of Solar Tracking

Solar tracking is the process of aligning solar panels or other solar energy systems toward the sun to increase the amount of sunlight they absorb. In recent years, solar trackers have become increasingly more popular as a method for improving the efficiency of solar energy systems. They are an essential component of large-scale solar installations and can greatly enhance the performance of solar panels and concentrated solar power systems. This section discusses the importance of solar tracking in maximizing solar energy capture, improving the efficiency of solar panels and concentrated solar power systems, and reducing the carbon footprint of electricity generation.

Maximizing Solar Energy Capture

One of the primary reasons solar tracking is important is its ability to maximize solar energy capture. Solar panels and concentrated solar power systems can generate electricity by converting sunlight into electricity. However, their efficiency and energy output are determined by the angle at which they receive sunlight. By adjusting the angle of the solar panels or other solar energy systems, solar trackers can increase the solar energy capture by allowing the panels to align with the sun’s position in the sky throughout the day.

Solar trackers typically use GPS technology, sensors, or other monitoring devices to calculate the sun’s position accurately. Based on this data, solar trackers automatically adjust the angle of the solar panels or other solar energy systems to optimize the amount of sunlight they can capture. By optimizing solar energy absorption, solar trackers can maximize electricity generation throughout the day.

Improving Efficiency of Solar Panels or Concentrated Solar Power Systems

Solar tracking can significantly improve the efficiency of solar panels or concentrated solar power systems by ensuring they receive the maximum amount of sunlight during the day. In addition to optimizing the solar energy capture, solar trackers can help mitigate the effects of shading from adjacent structures or other obstructions.

Solar panels and concentrated solar power systems are typically rated for peak efficiency when the sun is directly overhead. Solar trackers help maintain this level of maximal efficiency for more prolonged periods during the day by keeping the solar energy systems aligned with the sun’s path. In some cases, solar trackers can increase a solar energy system’s efficiency by up to 40%.

Furthermore, solar tracking can also improve the power output of solar panels and concentrated solar power systems on cloudy days. Although cloud cover limits the amount of sunlight that reaches the ground, solar trackers can still optimize solar energy capture by adapting the angle of the solar panels or other solar energy systems to maximize the available sunlight, even in suboptimal conditions.

Reducing Carbon Footprint

Solar tracking plays a crucial role in reducing the carbon footprint of electricity generation by enhancing the performance of solar energy systems. As solar energy is a renewable and clean energy source, its increased use has the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions, combat climate change, and decrease dependence on non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels.

By improving the efficiency of solar panels and concentrated solar power systems, solar trackers enable solar energy systems to generate more electricity per unit of installed capacity. This increased efficiency, in turn, contributes to lower overall electricity costs and less reliance on fossil fuel-based electricity generation. Additionally, the decrease in the cost of electricity produced by solar energy can foster the development of new renewable energy projects, further reducing reliance on fossil fuels and leading to a more sustainable, low-carbon future.

In summary, solar tracking is an essential component for the advancement of solar energy technology. It allows for maximized solar energy capture, improves the efficiency of solar panels and concentrated solar power systems, and reduces the carbon footprint of electricity generation. By utilizing solar trackers, society can move towards a more sustainable future with greater reliance on clean, renewable energy sources.

Types of Solar Tracking Systems

Solar trackers are devices that allow solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to follow the sun’s path across the sky, thus maximizing energy output. The use of solar trackers can significantly increase the amount of electricity generated by a solar power system. Two main types of solar tracking systems are single-axis and dual-axis trackers, each having their advantages and disadvantages.

Single-Axis Solar Trackers

A single-axis solar tracker moves on one axis, either horizontally or vertically, based on the sun’s position throughout the day. The main advantage of a single-axis tracker is its ability to improve energy output compared to fixed-tilt systems. On average, a single-axis tracker will increase the power output by 25 – 35%. There are various sub-types of single-axis trackers, such as horizontal single-axis, tilted single-axis, and vertical single-axis trackers.

Horizontal single-axis trackers (HSAT) are the most common type used in commercial and large-scale solar installations. They rotate on a fixed axis, typically oriented north-south, following the sun from east to west throughout the day. Tilted single-axis trackers (TSAT) work similarly, but the panels are tilted at an angle and can be more effective in high latitude areas. Vertical single-axis trackers (VSAT) rotate around a vertical axis and are less common due to their reduced energy production efficiency.

Sensors and Controllers

Sensors and controllers play an essential role in single-axis solar trackers. The sensors detect and track the sun’s position, and the controllers adjust the solar panels accordingly. There are two common types of sensors: passive and active. Passive sensors rely on the light and heat generated by the sun to measure the sun’s position, while active sensors use electronic devices like photo-sensors or GPS systems to track the sun.

Controllers are either open-loop or closed-loop systems. Open-loop controllers use pre-programmed data regarding the sun’s position to move the solar panels. Closed-loop controllers use feedback from the sensors to adjust the panel’s position continually. Closed-loop systems tend to be more accurate, maintaining optimal solar panel orientation.

Mounting Systems and Foundations

Different mounting systems are used for single-axis solar trackers, including pole-mounted, ground-mounted, and rooftop-mounted systems. The choice of mounting system depends on factors such as available space, ground conditions, and the project’s budget. Each mounting system type requires a suitable foundation to ensure stability and prevent the tracker from falling or shifting during strong winds or extreme weather conditions.

Pole-mounted systems are popular due to their space-efficiency and ability to accommodate irregular terrain. Ground-mounted systems often use concrete foundations for added stability, making them bulkier and more expensive. Rooftop-mounted systems require additional precautions to ensure the building’s structure can support the added weight of the trackers.

Dual-Axis Solar Trackers

Dual-axis solar trackers move on two axes, allowing for even greater energy output. These trackers follow the sun not only horizontally but also vertically, accounting for changes in the sun’s elevation throughout the day and the year. As a result, dual-axis solar trackers can increase energy output by up to 45% compared to fixed-tilt systems.

Sensors and Controllers

Just like single-axis trackers, dual-axis trackers rely on sensors to detect the position of the sun and controllers to manage the movement of the solar panels. Both active and passive sensors may be used, with similar advantages and disadvantages as in single-axis solar trackers. Controllers may also use open-loop or closed-loop systems, with closed-loop systems providing greater accuracy and real-time responsiveness.

Mounting Systems and Foundations

Dual-axis solar trackers require robust mounting systems and foundations due to the increased weight and complexity of the tracking mechanism. Pole-mounted systems are common, with significant reinforcement in the pole structure and foundation to ensure stability. Ground-mounted systems also need strong foundations, often using concrete or a combination of concrete and steel structures.

Rooftop-mounted dual-axis trackers are less common due to the added weight and complexity of the mechanism. If installed, additional precautions and the building’s structural analysis are crucial to ensure that the weight and wind loads will not compromise the building’s integrity.

Components of Solar Tracking Systems

A solar tracking system is designed to optimize the performance of solar panels by continuously adjusting their positioning to face the sun. This allows the system to generate the maximum amount of energy possible, thereby increasing efficiency and the overall return on investment. There are several components that make up a solar tracking system, including the drive system, controller unit, and supporting structures and hardware. In this section, we will delve into each of these components and discuss their purpose.

Solar Tracker Drive Systems

The drive system is responsible for the movement of the solar panel. It is typically an electromechanical system that works in conjunction with a control unit to determine the optimal position of the solar panels.

Motor Types

There are different types of motors used in solar tracker drive systems, and the choice depends on factors like size, cost, and energy efficiency. The most common types of motors used in solar trackers are:

  1. Direct current (DC) motors: They are simple, reliable, and cost-effective. Their simplicity contributes to the long life of these motors, making them a popular choice for tracking systems.

  2. Alternating current (AC) motors: These motors are also widely used in solar tracking systems, especially in larger installations. They are known for their efficiency and power range, making them suitable for heavy-duty use.

  3. Stepper motors: Stepper motors are precise and controllable, which is a desirable feature for solar tracking systems. These motors offer better accuracy and stability when compared to DC motors, although they tend to be more expensive.

  4. Linear actuators: Linear actuators are ideal for small-to-medium sized tracking systems, offering precise and smooth movement.

Each motor type has its benefits, and the choice depends on the specific requirements of the tracking system.

Drive Mechanisms

In addition to the types of motors, there are different drive mechanisms used to provide motion within the solar tracking system. Some common types of drive mechanisms include:

  1. Gear-driven systems: These systems use a gear assembly to translate the motion of the motor to move the solar panels. They offer high precision and accuracy at a relatively low cost.

  2. Chain and sprocket systems: Chain and sprocket systems use a chain to connect the sprockets on the motor and solar panel, providing rotation. They are generally less accurate than gear-driven systems but offer more flexibility in terms of layout and configuration.

  3. Screw-driven systems: These systems use a threaded rod to move the solar panel linearly. They are generally known for their high accuracy and smooth, silent operation.

Controller Units

The controller unit plays an important role in the solar tracking system, as it is responsible for determining the optimal position of the solar panels.

Tracking Algorithms

The tracking algorithms used in controller units are designed to calculate the most efficient position of the solar panels based on factors such as time of day, geographic location, and sun angles. There are several types of tracking algorithms, including open-loop algorithms that do not rely on feedback and closed-loop algorithms that use real-time sensor data.

Communications and Remote Monitoring

Most modern solar tracking systems include communication and remote monitoring capabilities. This enables operators to monitor performance, optimize system settings, and troubleshoot any issues from a remote location. Some solar tracking systems also offer integration with energy management software, allowing users to obtain real-time data and analyze the performance of the entire solar installation over time.

Supporting Structures and Hardware

A solar tracking system requires robust supporting structures and hardware to ensure stability and performance.

Mounting Solutions

Mounting solutions are essential to ensure that the solar panels are securely attached and can be moved without any issues. Common mounting types include pole mounts, ground mounts, and tracker-specific designs, such as single-axis or dual-axis trackers.

Foundations and Grounding

The foundation and grounding of a solar tracking system are critical to its overall stability and safety. The type of foundation used may vary depending on variables such as soil type, land topography, and local regulations. Grounding the solar tracker system is crucial to protect the installation from electrical faults and lightning strikes that can damage equipment or cause harm to personnel. Proper grounding also helps maintain consistent energy production and system performance.

Considerations for Implementing Solar Tracking

Before implementing a solar tracking system, it’s essential to carefully evaluate various factors that influence the performance and feasibility of the technology. In this section, we’ll explore the economic, environmental, and maintenance-related aspects that should be considered.

Economic Factors

The economic aspects of a solar tracking system are vital since they determine if the investment is financially viable.

Costs vs. Benefits

When weighing the costs and benefits of implementing a solar tracking system, it’s crucial to consider not only the upfront expenses but also the long-term returns. Although solar trackers typically come with a higher initial price tag compared to fixed systems, their increased efficiency can offset the additional costs over time.

The enhanced power generation capabilities of solar trackers can result in reduced energy consumption from the grid, which may lead to lower electricity bills. Additionally, if your location has net metering policies in place, surplus energy generated by your solar tracking system can be sold back to the grid, providing a revenue stream that can further offset the cost of the system.

Return on Investment

When calculating the return on investment (ROI) of a solar tracking system, it’s essential to factor in the initial installation cost, the additional cost of the tracker setup compared to fixed systems, the potential for increased energy generation, and any financial incentives or rebates available for renewable energy projects.

A higher ROI signifies a faster payback period and greater overall financial benefits. While the payback period can vary depending on various factors such as energy prices, location, and climate, solar trackers generally provide a quicker ROI compared to fixed systems due to their higher efficiency.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors play a significant role in determining a solar tracking system’s efficiency and overall effectiveness.

Location and Climate

The location and climate of the installation site can have a significant impact on the performance of a solar tracking system. Regions with high solar radiation levels, such as deserts or tropical areas, would naturally benefit more from solar tracking technology. However, even in colder climates with less sunlight, the increased energy generation from tracking systems can still provide substantial benefits.

It’s also essential to consider the potential impact of weather events on the solar tracking system’s operation. For example, heavy snow loads or strong winds may require additional support structures, which could add to the overall investment.

Sunlight Availability

The success of a solar tracking system is heavily influenced by the amount of sunlight it receives. As trackers are designed to follow the sun, it’s crucial to ensure that the installation site has minimal shading issues caused by trees, buildings, or other obstacles that may reduce the system’s energy output.

Land Requirements and Terrains

Solar tracking systems typically require more space than fixed systems due to their moving parts and the need to avoid shading between panels. This may limit their suitability for small or crowded sites. The terrain of the installation site is also a crucial factor, as uneven ground may make it challenging to install and maintain the tracking mechanism.

Maintenance and Reliability

Maintaining the performance and reliability of a solar tracking system is essential to ensure optimal energy output and a return on investment.

Service Life and Warranty

When considering a solar tracking system, it’s essential to evaluate the projected service life and warranty offered by the manufacturer. A longer service life and warranty can provide more assurance that the system will perform efficiently and operate without issues over an extended period, reducing the chances of costly repairs or component failures.

Inspection and Servicing Needs

Solar tracking systems often have intricate moving parts, which may require more frequent inspections and maintenance to ensure proper functionality. This can result in additional operational costs compared to fixed systems. Periodic maintenance checks are essential to identifying and addressing issues early on, preventing potential failures and system downtime.

In conclusion, implementing a solar tracking system requires careful consideration of the economic, environmental, and maintenance aspects. Solar trackers can offer excellent benefits in terms of efficiency and returns on investment, but it’s crucial to ensure that the system is well-suited to the specific location and conditions. With careful planning and consideration, a solar tracking system can provide a sustainable and cost-effective solution for harnessing solar energy.

Popular Solar Tracking Solutions

Solar tracking systems are essential for maximizing the energy production of solar panels as they follow the sun’s path across the sky. These systems ensure that the solar panels are optimally positioned to receive the most sunlight, resulting in higher energy generation. In this section, we will discuss popular solar tracking solutions and their various applications, including residential and commercial settings.

Residential Applications

Solar tracking solutions have gained popularity in residential settings, particularly for homeowners who are looking to generate more energy from their solar installations. There are two primary types of solar trackers used in residential applications: rooftop solar panel trackers and ground-mounted solar trackers.

Solar Trackers for Rooftop Solar Panels

Solar trackers for rooftop solar panels are designed to maximize energy production on limited rooftop space. These trackers continuously adjust the angle of the solar panels to keep them facing the sun throughout the day. For residential purposes, single-axis trackers are commonly used, as they track the sun’s east-to-west movement and are less complex than dual-axis trackers.

Rooftop solar tracking systems are available in various designs, such as pole-mounted and flush-mounted systems. Pole-mounted trackers are more versatile, as they can be installed on different types of roofs, while flush-mounted trackers are designed for flat roofs and typically have a lower profile.

One notable advantage of rooftop solar trackers is the potential for increased energy generation. However, they can be more expensive upfront than fixed-mount systems and may require more maintenance due to their moving parts.

Ground-Mounted Solar Trackers

Ground-mounted solar trackers are another popular option for residential solar applications. They are typically installed in open fields or yards, offering more flexibility regarding space and sun exposure. Like rooftop trackers, ground-mounted solar trackers use single-axis or dual-axis tracking systems to follow the sun’s path throughout the day.

Besides generating more energy, ground-mounted solar trackers also offer better cooling for solar panels, as they are not confined to the rooftop. This improved cooling can enhance the panels’ performance and extend their lifespan. However, ground-mounted systems typically require more land space and may be subjected to local zoning restrictions.

Commercial and Utility-Scale Applications

Solar tracking solutions are not limited to residential applications. Commercial and utility-scale projects also employ various solar tracking systems to optimize energy production.

Large-Scale Solar Tracker Installations

In commercial and utility-scale settings, solar tracking solutions can significantly increase energy production rates. These systems can be tailored according to the needs of the project, ranging from small commercial installations to massive solar farms that generate power for entire communities.

Utility-scale solar tracking installations typically use dual-axis tracking systems, as they offer the most accurate tracking and highest energy production. These systems follow the sun’s movement along both the east-to-west and north-to-south axes, adjusting the panels accordingly.

Integration with Microgrids and Energy Storage

Solar tracking solutions can also be integrated with microgrids and energy storage systems to enhance their overall performance. Combining solar tracking with energy storage systems like batteries allows for the captured solar energy to be stored for use during periods of low sunlight or at night.

Moreover, integrating solar tracking systems with microgrids can help optimize energy management in localized networks. For example, when connected to a microgrid, a solar tracker installation could provide flexible, clean energy to power homes, businesses, and other facilities in the network.

In conclusion, solar tracking solutions are increasingly popular for maximizing the energy production of solar panel installations. Their applications are diverse, ranging from residential to commercial and utility-scale installations. As demand for clean, renewable energy continues to grow, solar tracking systems will play a crucial role in optimizing solar energy production and helping to create a sustainable future.

Future Trends and Advancements in Solar Tracking

Solar tracking is the process of adjusting the position of solar panels to optimize their exposure to sunlight, thus maximizing energy output. This technology is gaining traction due to increasing demand for renewable energies and growing population. The future holds several advancements for solar tracking technologies, which will help propel their adoption across various industries. In this section, we will discuss the latest trends and developments that will shape the future of solar tracking systems.

Advancements in Drive Systems and Materials

The performance of a solar tracking system is directly related to the efficiency of its drive system and the materials used in its construction. With advances in materials engineering and manufacturing technologies, lightweight and durable materials are becoming more prevalent. These materials do not only have a lower environmental impact due to reduced resource requirements, but they also require less maintenance, owing to their improved wear resistance.

For instance, the utilization of carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs) in the construction of solar tracking structures can significantly reduce the weight of the system and improve overall rigidity and torsional stiffness. Additionally, lightweight materials, such as aluminum and composite materials, can reduce the overall size and complexity of the drive system. Moreover, improvement in photovoltaic (PV) panel materials like perovskite solar cells has the potential to revolutionize the solar energy industry with high efficiency and flexibility.

Drive systems are another integral component of solar trackers. The use of more efficient and accurate drive systems, such as brushless direct current (DC) motors and stepper motors, can enhance the performance of solar trackers. The development of nanotechnology enabled coatings for drive systems can reduce friction, wear, and energy consumption. Furthermore, advanced sensors can provide real-time feedback to the control system, leading to improved reliability and energy yield.

Improved Tracking Algorithms

Another frontier in the advancement of solar tracking is the development of sophisticated tracking algorithms. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can facilitate the development of self-optimizing algorithms that autonomously adjust the solar panel’s position according to changing weather conditions and sun angles. These intelligent algorithms can also forecast and incorporate the effect of cloud cover and shading on solar panel performance.

By learning from the past performance data of solar panels, these algorithms can predict the best possible orientation for optimum energy generation. With greater computing power in the form of edge computing and Graphic Processing Units (GPUs), the implementation and improvement of these algorithms will become more accessible and affordable.

Integration with Smart Grids and Internet of Things (IoT) Devices

As the global energy landscape shifts towards distributed generation and microgrids, the integration of solar trackers with smart grids and IoT devices is becoming increasingly important. This integration will enable better load management and demand response by incorporating renewable energy systems in the grid architecture seamlessly.

The use of IoT devices, such as intelligent sensors, communication modules, and energy management systems, can facilitate remote monitoring and control of solar tracking systems in real-time. This integration will also provide valuable data on energy generation, consumption, and performance, which can be used for system optimization and predictive maintenance.

Additionally, the integration of solar trackers with energy storage systems, such as batteries and electric vehicles, can lead to more efficient energy utilization and management. These storage systems can absorb excess energy produced during peak solar hours and distribute it during periods of low solar generation or high demand.

Potential for Energy Harvesting from Organic Solar Cells

One of the most promising developments in the solar energy sector is the emergence of organic solar cells. These photovoltaic devices consist of organic semiconducting materials that can generate electricity from sunlight. The advantages of organic solar cells include their flexible nature, low manufacturing costs, and environmentally friendly production processes.

The potential use of organic solar cells in solar tracking systems can push the boundaries of current technologies. Organic solar cells can be integrated into the tracking structures, drive systems, and electronics, enabling energy harvesting from sunlight and reducing the overall energy consumption of the tracking system. With further advancements in organic solar cell efficiency and material science, this technology has the potential to become an integral part of the solar tracking systems of the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of solar tracking systems?

Solar tracking systems can be classified into two categories: single-axis and dual-axis systems. Single-axis trackers follow the sun’s movement in one direction, while dual-axis trackers provide more precise alignment by adjusting for both azimuth and altitude.

How do solar trackers enhance the efficiency of solar panels?

By continuously adjusting the angle of solar panels to face the sun, trackers can significantly increase energy production. Compared to fixed panels, solar trackers ensure maximum exposure to sunlight throughout the day, leading to higher efficiency and more electricity generation.

What factors should be considered when selecting a solar tracking system?

To choose the most suitable solar tracker, consider factors such as location, available land, initial investment cost, ongoing maintenance, and potential energy gain. Other factors include environmental conditions and any site-specific requirements or constraints.

Are solar trackers suitable for all solar panel installations?

Solar trackers, particularly dual-axis systems, are most beneficial for large utility-scale projects or installations in areas with significantly longer periods of sunlight. However, due to higher costs and maintenance requirements, trackers may not be suitable for small-scale residential applications.

Do solar trackers increase the overall maintenance requirements of a solar installation?

Yes, the moving parts in solar trackers introduce additional complexity and may require more frequent maintenance compared to fixed-mount systems. Ensuring proper lubrication, cleaning, and functionality of tracking components is essential to maintain optimal performance.

What are the environmental impacts of solar tracking systems?

Solar tracking systems increase the efficiency of solar energy production, leading to reduced fossil fuel reliance and decreased greenhouse gas emissions. However, the additional materials, land usage, and maintenance activities associated with tracking systems may contribute to higher environmental impact compared to fixed installations.

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