Are solar tracking systems worth it?
Posted by Jason Ramsdale on 14 March 2016 at 2:30 pm
Solar tracking systems are devices that rotate solar panels towards the sun throughout the day or year. As solar panels generate more power when they face the sun directly this maximises solar capture and helps to minimise the space required to meet demand. The use of solar trackers is commonplace in commercial solar farms, however they remain innovative for domestic use as they can be quite expensive to install. Integrated monitoring systems can help to safeguard the array from adverse weather conditions such as high winds or heavy snowfall.
Efficiency of solar trackers
Solar tracking systems can give substantial benefits in the summer and marginal benefits in the winter and overall are said to deliver up to 40% more electricity than a static array annually.
How solar trackers work
Active trackers move the panels along one or two axis using software and motors to turn the array towards the sun. Passive tracking relies on the sun to heat a liquid contained in canisters on the sides of the array. As the unshaded canister heats up, the liquid expands into a gas, pushing the remaining heavier liquid to the shaded canister, shifting weight to that side of the array causing it to rotate.
Cost of solar trackers
The additional cost (the Lorentz ETA-600 tracking system for up to 6 m2 arrays retails at £1,100 ex. VAT) often cannot be offset by the increased income. In many cases it could be cheaper to simply add more solar panels. However, it can be worth considering tracking for larger ground-arrays to maximise output from a given space, or when the greatest power demand occurs in the summer e.g. to power air conditioning or to heat a swimming pool.
Are solar trackers right for you?
Solar trackers are ideally used on non-shaded ground arrays. However they can also be used on flat roofs. While they are more commonly used in commercial settings and homes with large areas of land in more remote places, you'd need to consult potential installers as to whether a tracking system is right for you.
An owner's perspective
Ciprian (Cip) Presecan, an electrician living in Plymouth, Devon, is one of the first people in the UK to install a domestic tracking system. Although it was initially challenging to source the parts, Cip's system can be used for both on and off-grid generation. It is mounted onto a pole that extends one metre below the ground to provide stability and Cip notes that thus far it has been stable in quite severe winds.
Asking Cip whether he was happy with the system he responded:
"I used to be happy, not anymore, being a DIY project I can't get anything from the government."
However, Cip would no longer be eligible for FiT payments even if his panels had been installed by a certified installer, as he has since moved them to a new home.
"Now, I have to store the energy and drain it into the house as I need it."
We asked Cip whether his system requires any maintenance, he replied:
"The system I have doesn't require any maintenance. It is the best choice for those without electrical knowledge. The battery (used to move the solar panels) is a sealed AGM one (no liquid can spill) and the charge regulator keeps the battery in a perfect state of charge..."
We asked Cip whether he was concerned about someone trying to steal the system. He explained that his system was heavy, bolted to the ground and connected to 240v. He warns potential thieves:
"If you want to steal it you must be aware that you can easily be electrocuted if you don't have a clue with what you're dealing with."
A video of his tracking system in motion can be seen below (although a DIY solar project has be be undertaken at your own risk, Cip has said that he’d be willing to share his experience - just leave a question in the comments section on his video):
 Solar PV Tech
Image: Cip's Solar Tracking Array.
More information about Solar Electricity on YouGen.
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