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Maximizing Your Solar Energy Output with a Solar Tracker

The term solar tracker refers to a device that is used to ensure that certain types of solar units are oriented to maximize their exposure to the sun’s rays. They are used for arrays of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells, as well as for mirrors, reflectors, or lenses that are used for concentrated solar power units. 

The trackers themselves require electricity to continually orient the solar device towards the sun, however this energy input is more than offset by the increased efficiency gained through the use of the tracker. Trackers will help produce much more energy in all solar panels because they increase the amount of time that a panel is fully exposed to the sunlight by tilting or turning the panels to correspond with the sun’s movements. 

The tracking systems are absolutely necessary for use in concentrated solar devices, where the sun’s rays are redirected and concentrated on a focal point. Without a tracking system, the sunlight would be lost as it could not be properly focused on its intended target. 

Concentrated solar power is used in large scale commercial applications such as heating water to provide steam to power turbines for solar power plants. They can also be used to generate extremely high temperatures for use in many other industrial and scientific applications, and it's safe to say that none of this would be possible with the use of a solar tracking system.

How Solar Trackers Work

solar trackerA solar system which utilizes a tracking unit can generate 20% (with a single axis tracker) to 30% (with a dual axis tracker) more power than a fixed or stationary unit. When the sun first rises in the morning, the energy that can be harnessed from its rays is already almost equal to that of midday. 

By using a tracking device, a solar cell can be oriented to take advantage of this early morning sunlight. The tracker then slowly moves the cell throughout the day, following the sun to gain maximum exposure to the sun. Tracking units work differently, depending on what type of power they are producing and on the type of tracker:

Types of Solar Tracking Systems

•    Single Axis Tracking System
•    Dual Axis Tracking System

A single axis system is most commonly used for most standard PV cell arrays. The cells are mounted on a moving axis which is oriented to rotate along the earth’s axis. These types of trackers usually have simple levers which can be used to tilt the cells depending on the season to still maximum the exposure to the sunlight. 

This is the type of tracking system most commonly used for residential solar arrays, as well as many smaller commercial arrays. While single axis trackers don’t allow for as much exposure to the sun’s rays as dual axis systems, their main advantage lies in the price. Single axis systems cost only a small fraction of what their dual axis counterparts do, which makes them ideal for all but the biggest solar arrays.

Dual axis systems are typically used in concentrated solar power systems, where it becomes necessary to completely orient the mirrors or reflectors so that the sun’s rays are redirected onto their intended focal point. This type of solar tracker is usually referred to as a heliostat, and consists of mirrors which rotate and tilt to focus their energy on a fixed collector. 

dual axis solar trackerDual axis systems - as their name suggests - are capable of moving in two directions, on both the horizontal and the vertical axis so they can make complete use of the sun’s rays for the entire day. Another type of dual axis system is the moving collector, which is the exact same concept as the single axis tracker, except these systems are still capable of moving on the horizontal and vertical axes, thus increasing the amount of time they are directly exposed to the sunlight. 

The major advantage of dual tracking systems is that they allow the solar cells to be placed much closer together, thus reducing the total amount of space necessary for a large solar array. 

This means that much more power can be produced in a small area, and because of the dual axis system, this power can also be produced in a much more efficient manner as well. Almost all large scale commercial solar applications utilize dual axis systems for their reliability and efficiency, and they allow for much less need for conventional types of power which often burn fossil fuels and release pollution into the atmosphere.

Using Solar Trackers for Your Home or Business

If you have ever considered using solar power, or even if you already have a solar array installed on your property or business, then maybe it’s time you started looking into using a tracking system.

Any solar array, no matter what the size, is only as powerful as the sunlight it receives. A solar tracking system can keep your panels oriented directly towards the sun, which could almost double the amount of power your panels are able to produce.

While many commercial trackers available now are very expensive, it doesn’t have to be impossible to keep your cells pointing at the sun, even on a tight budget. 

For most residential or small scale commercial applications, dual axis trackers are usually far too expensive for the limited gain you would see in a smaller solar operation. However, single axis trackers are relatively easy to use, and can be further tilted to adjust for the angle of the sun depending on the season. These trackers may still have a relatively high price tag, but they will quickly pay for themselves with the increased energy production that you’ll receive from your panels. 

The major problem with all solar energy and other green forms of energy is that the initial startup costs can be quite high, however in time they will more than pay for themselves by producing enough energy to possibly run your entire home. Without a proper tracking system, your solar array may only be functioning at a fraction of its possible capacity. By investing in a solar tracking system, you can help to further reduce your energy bills and your carbon footprint by maximizing the efficiency of any existing solar energy unit.

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