The increasing demand for renewable energy has led to significant advancements in solar technology. Solar panels, which harness the sun’s energy, have become a popular renewable energy production source due to their environmentally friendly nature and potential for cost savings.
However, conventional solar panels have limitations in their energy efficiency, as they only generate electricity during daylight hours when the sun is directly overhead. The development of solar panels that follow the sun throughout the day has emerged as a promising solution.
In this article, we will explore what solar panels that follow the sun are, how they work, and the potential benefits and limitations of this innovative technology.
What Are Solar Panels That Follow the Sun?
Solar panels that follow the sun are a type of photovoltaic system, also known as solar trackers. They follow the sun’s movement throughout the day to maximize the amount of sunlight the solar panel receives enhancing the energy production of the system.
These solar panels can maintain a perpendicular angle to the sun’s rays, which allows them to capture more energy from the sun and generate more electricity than a fixed solar panel system.
Let’s take a look at the types of solar tracking systems available:
Types of Solar Panels That Follow the Sun
There are two primary types of solar panels that follow the sun: single-axis trackers and dual-axis trackers.
Single-Axis Solar Tracking Systems
Single-axis solar trackers rotate the solar panel along one axis (typically east to west). This system can maintain a perpendicular angle to the sun’s rays throughout the day, increasing the energy production of a solar panel by up to 25–35% compared to fixed solar panels.
Dual-Axis Solar Tracking Systems
Dual-axis trackers rotate along two axes (east to west and north to south). By adjusting the panels in two different directions, this system can increase energy production by up to 40%, depending on geographical location and time of year.
This table summarizes the main differences between single-axis and dual-axis solar tracking systems:
|Feature||Single-Axis Solar Tracker||Dual-Axis Solar Tracker|
|Number of Axes||One (either north-south or east-west)||Two (north-south and east-west)|
|Movement Range||Rotates along one axis||Rotates along two axis|
|Efficiency||High efficiency, but lower than dual-axis trackers||Highest efficiency due to precise positioning of solar panel|
|System Complexity||Less complex||More complex|
|Cost||Lower cost||Higher cost|
|Maintenance||Easier to maintain||More difficult to maintain|
|Weather Resistance||Good resistance to mild to moderate wind speeds||Can withstand high wind speeds and extreme weather conditions|
|Suitable Applications||Suitable for small to medium-sized solar installations||Suitable for large-scale solar power plants|
|Tracking Accuracy||Good accuracy, but less than dual-axis trackers||High accuracy due to the precise positioning of the solar panel.|
How Solar Panels That Follow the Sun Work
Solar tracking panels are designed to track the sun’s movement to maximize the sunlight they receive through a combination of sensors, software, and motors.
The sensors detect the sun’s changing position and send signals to the motor control unit, which activates the motor to tilt the solar panel until it is perpendicular to the sun’s rays.
The tracking system can also be programmed to move slowly throughout the day, allowing it to adjust for seasonal variations in the sun’s position. Solar tracking panels ensure continuous tracking of the sun’s position, thus maximizing energy production.
Benefits and Limitations of Solar Panels That Follow the Sun
Installing solar panels that follow the sun offers several benefits compared to conventional fixed solar panel systems. As previously mentioned, they can increase the energy production of a solar panel by up to 40%, depending on geographical location and time of year. In addition to increased energy production, solar tracking panels offer several other benefits:
Maximizing Energy Production
Solar tracking panels are designed to follow the sun’s path and collect energy throughout the day. This allows them to generate more energy than fixed solar panels, particularly during the early morning and late afternoon when the sun is low on the horizon.
Reducing Land Use Requirements
Solar tracking panels require less space than fixed systems since they are more efficient at capturing sunshine. This means fewer solar panels are needed to generate the same amount of energy, reducing the land required for a solar panel system.
Reducing Operating Costs
Solar tracking panels can reduce operating costs since they require less maintenance and fewer replacement parts than fixed systems because they move slower and use fewer components.
Flexibility and Customization
Solar tracking panels can be customized to fit specific needs and locations. They can be designed to rotate on a single or dual axis and can be programmed to respond to local weather conditions and seasonal changes.
Increased System Efficiency
Solar tracking panels can be paired with other energy-efficient technologies, such as battery storage and smart grid systems, to increase system efficiency further and reduce energy costs.
Despite the numerous benefits of solar tracking panels, there are also several limitations to consider:
Higher Initial Cost
Solar tracking panels are more expensive than fixed solar panels due to the additional components and technology required. The average cost of a single-axis system is around 25–30% higher than that of a fixed system.
Increased Maintenance Requirements
Solar tracking panels require more maintenance than fixed systems due to their moving parts and increased complexity. This can increase the cost of ownership over time if regular maintenance isn’t carried out.
Vulnerability to Damage
Solar tracking panels can be damaged by strong winds and other weather conditions due to their increased surface area and weight. Proper installation ensures the system remains in good condition over time.
Do I Need Solar Panels That Follow the Sun?
If you’re considering investing in solar energy and want to maximize the efficiency of your system, then solar panels that follow the sun could be the perfect solution for you.
Solar tracking panels can generate more electricity, which reduces their carbon footprint and saves on energy costs in the long term.
Your solar panels will have been oriented to capture the most sunlight if your roof faces south, eliminating the need for a tracking system. People in Alaska and some parts of the northern U.S. might consider a tracking system to capture more sunlight due to the lower angle of the sun in northern areas and long winter days.
However, most residents of the U.S. do not need to use a solar tracking panel as the sun is at its highest point during midday, allowing them to capture enough sunlight with fixed panels.
Consider your geographical location and energy needs before investing in a solar tracking system. If you think a tracking system is right, contact an experienced solar installer to discuss your options.
Solar panels that follow the sun offer several advantages over conventional fixed systems. They can generate more electricity and reduce land use requirements while reducing operating costs and increasing system efficiency. However, they are typically more expensive than traditional solar panel installations due to their complexity and increased maintenance needs.