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A version of the article first appeared in a blog by mounting provider Solar FlexRack. Read the company’s blog here.
Solar trackers are rising in popularity, but not everyone understands the complete benefits and potential drawbacks of the system. Solar panel tracking solutions are a more advanced technology for mounting photovoltaic panels. Stationary mounts, which hold panels in a fixed position, can have their productivity compromised when the sun passes to a less-than-optimal angle. Compensating for this, solar trackers automatically move to “track” the progress of the sun across the sky, thereby maximizing output.
It’s a fantastic system for energy output, but there are a few considerations to bear in mind before pursuing one for a particular jobsite.
- Trackers generate more electricity than their stationary counterparts due to increased direct exposure to solar rays. This increase can be as much as 10 to 25% depending on the geographic location of the tracking system.
- There are many different kinds of solar trackers, such as single-axis and dual-axis trackers, all of which can be the perfect fit for a unique jobsite. Installation size, local weather, degree of latitude and electrical requirements are all important considerations that can influence the type of solar tracker best suited for a specific solar installation.
- Solar trackers generate more electricity in roughly the same amount of space needed for fixed-tilt systems, making them ideal for optimizing land usage.
- In certain states, some utilities offer Time of Use (TOU) rate plans for solar power, which means the utility will purchase the power generated during the peak time of the day at a higher rate. In this case, it is beneficial to generate a greater amount of electricity during these peak times of the day. Using a tracking system helps maximize the energy gains during these peak time periods.
- Advancements in technology and reliability in electronics and mechanics have drastically reduced long-term maintenance concerns for tracking systems.
- Solar trackers are slightly more expensive than their stationary counterparts, due to the more complex technology and moving parts necessary for their operation. This is usually around a $0.08 – $0.10/W increase depending on the size and location of the project.
- Even with the advancements in reliability, there is generally more maintenance required than a traditional fixed rack, though the quality of the solar tracker can play a role in how much and how often this maintenance is needed.
- Trackers are a more complex system than fixed racking. This means that typically more site preparation is needed, including additional trenching for wiring and some additional grading.
- Single-axis tracker projects also require an additional focus on company stability and bankability. When it comes to getting projects financed, these systems are more complex and thus are seen as a higher risk from a financier’s viewpoint.
- Solar trackers are generally designed for climates with little to no snow making them a more viable solution in warmer climates. Fixed racking accommodates harsher environmental conditions more easily than tracking systems.
- Fixed tracking systems offer more field adjustability than single-axis tracking systems. Fixed systems can generally accommodate up to 20% slopes in the E/W direction while tracking systems typically offer less of a slope accommodation usually around 10% in the N/S direction.
Overall, solar trackers are highly efficient installations and are a great fit for both large and small project sites given the proper location and site conditions.