If you clicked on this article, then there’s a good chance you already know a little bit about solar power. Just in case though, here’s a little background on solar trackers. The solar tracker is an automated module fitted to your system that reads the angle of the sun and adjusts your panels to compensate, thus maximizing your system’s solar output.
There are two different types of trackers: single-axis and dual-axis. Single-axis trackers are just what they sound like: they rotate panels on only one axis, so back and forth, for instance. Dual-axis trackers rotate panels back and forth, but they also rotate to the left and right, as well, thus eeking out the absolute maximum amount of solar power from a set of panels.
Okay, now that we have everyone up to speed, it’s time to get into the advantages—and disadvantages of installing a solar tracker when you add solar panels to your home. More specifically, we’ll help you decide if a solar tracker is right for your solar installation.
Pro: Solar Trackers Improve Panel Output and Efficiency
The biggest advantage to installing a solar tracker comes in the form of improved energy output. By some estimates, adding a tracker to your panels could improve their productivity by 10 to 25 percent, depending on where your home is located.
Fixed angle panels, on the other hand, are usually tilted at the degree that gets the most sun all year. But because the Earth is constantly moving around the sun, the exact optimal angle at any moment depends both on the time of day and the time of year.
You may be able to address seasonal changes and improve output of a fixed panel by adjusting its angle manually two to four times a year—but you can’t exactly change it yourself all day. That’s where trackers come in. By automating the process, they ensure that you use the greatest amount of sunlight throughout the day.
Con: Panels With Trackers Are More Expensive
Unfortunately, there’s one distinct drawback to a tracking system: the price. Trackers can add a $0.08 to $0.10 per watt capacity overall increase to a solar module. That’s certainly a bit of a price bump, but the improved output could potentially wipe that premium out. It’s really a matter of getting a clear estimate of your solar costs and system potential before you decide on a module.
Pro: Solar Trackers May Help You Get The Most Out of Time-of-Use Pricing
Some utilities have implemented time-of-use pricing plans, where customers are charged more or less depending on when they use their electricity. If it’s a popular time of day, they charge a higher rate. Not so popular? The rate drops.
These schemes usually aide solar households, since solar panels tend to generate the most energy during the middle of the day, the time that say, people would be running the AC on high. However, having a solar tracker installed on your system ensures that you’re able to eek the most energy out of those high-rate hours.
Con: Panels with Solar Tracking Systems Usually Need More Maintenance
Anytime you add additional mechanical components to a device, you increase the amount of maintenance that product will need. Solar energy systems with trackers, which move frequently, usually require more frequent inspections and maintenance than those with fixed panels.
Generally, your installer will offer an operations and maintenance plan when you purchase the system, but this plan may a little bit more expensive for a module with a tracker than other systems.
Pro: You Can Get More Energy from a Smaller System
One surprising benefit from a solar tracker is that it may reduce the size of the system you need in order to meet your home’s energy needs. If you don’t have a ton of space on your roof or your lawn—or just want to minimize the amount of room you have to devote to a solar installation—this can be a real advantage. Plus, the smaller your system is, the cheaper it will be, so the extra cost may work out, on the balance.
Con: Solar Trackers and Snow Don’t Mix Well
Live in an area that receives lots of snow? A tracking system might not be for you, then. As you can imagine, a heavy layer of snow impacts a tracker’s ability to re-position the panels, because it makes them much heavier than they would ordinarily be.
That means you may have to go out and clear off your panels if you don’t want to ruin the tracker. Fixed racking systems make a better choice for colder climates where large snow accumulation is a routine affair.
Like most decisions in solar, though, the best equipment for you depends on your particular needs and budget. Still, if you have the ability to install a tracker, it certainly can squeeze a lot more energy out of the day. And that will definitely have an effect on your monthly energy bills!