✔ Solar panel trackers are a brilliant way to make sure you’re getting the best out of your solar panels.
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DISCLAIMER: Our partners no longer take appointments for homeowners looking to benefit from the Feed-in Tariff, which concluded on 31st March 2019
If you think normal solar panels sound great, how about solar panels that follow the sun?
Just like sunflowers move throughout the day so that they are always facing the sun (the fancy word for this is ‘heliotropic’), a clever bit of technology called a solar PV tracking system can make your solar panels behave in the same way.
This ensures that you can get the most out of your solar PV system, increasing its daily output by up to 35%. Solar trackers are currently only available for ground-mounted solar panels, but with solar technology rapidly advancing, it won’t be long before you can have one on your roof.
On this page, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about solar trackers, including the different types and average costs. Alternatively, if you’d like to find out more about standard solar panels, check our our guide to solar panel costs in 2019.
What’s on this page?
What is a solar tracker system?
Let’s be honest – it’s simple and convenient to set your solar panels in a fixed position, then leave them there. If you’re living in the UK, panels should ideally be a) south-facing, b) tilted at about a 30-40° angle, and c) completely unobstructed by shade. If you’ve got this right, you’re already nailing solar power.
However, the Earth doesn’t stop spinning, which means the sun is always moving across the sky. As the sun travels from east to west, the optimum angle for your solar panels continually changes. The solution: put your panels on a tracker, and they’ll gradually turn throughout the day, so that they are always directly facing the sun.
This keeps the angle at which sunlight hits your solar panels (known as ‘the angle of incidence’) as narrow as possible, and pushes the output of your solar panels to the best it could possibly be.
In most cases, a solar tracker can increase the performance of a solar panel by around 30-35%. Typical gains also vary depending on the time of year, with the summer months being the best time because the sun traverses a much bigger portion of the sky.
A solar tracker can function either passively or actively. A passive solar tracker works on simple gas canisters that get heavier as they heat up, while an active solar tracker relies on a motor, gears, and a controller, so it’s a bit more expensive.
Single-axis vs dual-axis trackers
How much freedom do you want your solar panels to have? If you’re thinking of buying a solar tracker, you’ll need to choose between two different types: single-axis or dual-axis.
As the name would suggest, a single-axis solar tracker operates on just one axis of movement, meaning it can follow the sun from east to west, but it cannot do anything else.
On the other hand, a dual-axis solar tracker takes that single axis and doubles it, allowing your solar panels to turn from north to south as well as east to west. This means that, as the seasons change and the sun’s height gradually increases (in the summer) or decreases (in the winter), your panels can respond accordingly. This function is very helpful if you live somewhere with a high line of latitude (e.g. the UK, Canada, New Zealand etc.), but it’s not very useful elsewhere.
A popular compromise is to use a single-axis solar tracker, and then manually alter the angle of your solar panels a couple of times each year. In his magnificent guide to solar panel tilting, Charles Landau explains the optimum summer and winter angles for solar panels, along with the ideal time for changing them. Thanks, Charles!
How much does a solar tracker cost?
The cost of single-axis solar tracking is £0.85 (or $1.08) per watt, according to research by Greentech Media in 2017.
Based on this estimate, here is how much it would cost to mount a typical solar PV system on a single-axis tracker, ranging from a 1 kilowatt-peak (kWp) to a 4kWp system.
Solar PV system size
Cost of single-axis tracker
Price estimates updated in June 2019.
If you were to mount a 3.5kWp solar PV system (costing around £6,500) on a single-axis tracker, it would cost you around £2,980. This means that a single-axis tracker generally costs about 35% of the total cost of your solar panels.
Should you buy a tracker?
Unless you own a large, commercial-scale array of solar panels, it’s probably not worth buying a solar tracker. In real terms, a 35% output gain is hugely significant when it’s applied to a 100kWp system, but not so much when it comes to residential solar panels.
Given that the cost of solar panels has fallen by around 6-8% every year since 2010, the cheapest way to increase your household’s supply of solar power is simply to buy more solar panels. Solar PV systems are easily scalable, so it’s not difficult to add extra panels, and you can always opt for high-efficiency modules.
Fortunately, we can help you with the next step. To find out how much it will cost you to install new solar panels at home, simply answer the question below, fill in the quick form, and our qualified installers will be in touch.