Solar trackers functions and designs



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This document highlights the functions and designs of the automatic radiation trackers. It is well known that fossil fuels are not long term sources of energy. This is the reason as to why the alternative sources are being used such as solar energy. To be able to make the alternative source more viable, the solar array efficient system should be utilized to the fullest. The best way to do this is through the use of sun tracking. This essay shows a detailed report of the system that is able to control solar array movement to make it be always aligned on the direct sunlight.

The devices which are involved in converting sunlight to electricity and provide the solution of generating power in dry areas is called Solar modules. Solar trackers which are constructed and designed in this project provide affordable and reliable ways to align the solar module in the sun so as to use the energy output in full (Upton and Melton, 2011).  The so-called Automatic sun tracking system comprises of hybrid hardware and software prototype which offers quality alignment of sun and solar panel to obtain electricity.


The solar tracker can be said to be the device used in converting solar photovoltaic panel to the sun. In these systems, the module system tracks the sun in an automatic manner all day long. The system is able to accelerate the effectiveness of the panel in a considerable manner hence is able to lower the cost of energy output.

The rationale behind this solar tracking system can be obtained from the history of solar energy.  Over the last centuries that have passed, sun has been the main and primary energy source in the whole world. Solar energy is the electromagnetic energy which is transmitted through solar radiation or from the sun. The total energy that reaching earth surface is equivalent to one billionth of the generated solar energy. The energy which reaches the earth surface per day is more than the daily consumption by more than 15,000 times. This means that the solar energy that is intercepted by the earth per minute is more than the total energy that is used in every year in fossil fuels.

On the other hand, when comparing all the available sources of energy that are renewable, solar energy has very little impact on environment(Upton and Melton, 2011). The electricity which is generated by photovoltaic cells does not lead to water or air pollution; it does not endanger the health of human beings or animals and does not destroy the natural resources. Therefore it is the best source of energy. However, even though it has many benefits, there is a need to get the best way of using the energy economically and to the fullest. Over two billion people do not have access to electricity in the whole world. Solar energy could be the cheapest source of energy for most of them(Lasich, 2006).. They however cannot be able to achieve this. The reason behind this is that the price for the solar cell electricity is quite expensive as compared to the fossil fuels such as the oil and coal. This is due to the cost accrued from the conversion of solar energy to the required electrical energy that is useful as well as the solar system low efficiency, which is the solar energy output is not enough for human needs. The challenge is brought about by the fact that the sun is not in a constant position all the time. This affects the solar system output which mainly depends on the intensity of sun combined with the angle of radiation. There is therefore a need to be able to track sun so as to improve the output the whole day. This can only be obtained through the use of a solar tracking system (Mills, 2004).

Functioning of the solar tracker

This is a device which mechanically functions by following the path the sun takes on a day. Two mechanisms are used which are passive trackers and active trackers. The active trackers use the electrical circuit to direct them to the sun in form of light sensing photosensors. Gear and motor trains are later used to be able to propel the tracker following the commands of the photosensor in the direction of the sun. The active trackers have electrical components and therefore make use of very little power. The passive trackers, on the other hand, make use of a hydraulic mechanism which is able to respond to heat from the sun (Niesyn, 2001). A compressed gas with low boiling point is injected on one side or the opposite side by heat from the sun which causes pressure on the gas that moves the mechanism. The passive trackers therefore do not use any power.

However, the active trackers are said to be much accurate as compared with the passive ones. They are therefore used in several occasions especially where more level of accuracy is needed like when using the concentrating solar collectors. When using the solar PVs, passive trackers are used.


Supposing we configure the solar cell to face the sun for a long period of time as sun moves from east to west, it is possible to get most of the electrical energy. This could be done by using hands. However, it is not easy to keep the solar cell for a long time facing the sun by using the hands. It is much easier to go to the solar cell every hour and change it to face the sun though not very efficient method also. This could be made simpler by making use of a photo sensor which is able to control the tracking system of the solar cell. For instance, if there is no alignment of the photosensor with the rays of the sun, it is possible to switch on the motor until it aligns once more(Ismael et al, 2013).. If the frame holding the solar cell is attached to the motor, the solar cell would be made to move and face the sun. So long as photo sensor has aligned with sun, there is nothing to worry about. However, when the sun moves from east to west and is not properly aligned with photo sensor, the motor is able to move the frame up to the time the photo sensor aligns with the sun.  The only effect that could be experienced is that of maintaining the solar cell to face the sun even as it moves from east to west without using the human being. The tracking system is therefore required so that it keeps the solar cell directly facing sun all day long (Lasich, 2006). We therefore need to construct our own automated system while making use of a single motor. The system will have a frame where the solar cell is mounted. The frame should be moving to be able to face the sun so that it travels from east to west throughout the day. An electric motor is used to drive the frame which is able to turn on and off with respect to the sky movement.  It is not necessary for the photo sensor to be separate. For this thesis, the panel will work like a sensor.

Solar Tracking System Analysis.

The solar tracker is used to orientate the solar photovoltaic panel to the sun (Ismael et al, 2013). In the case of solar tracking system, the module surface tracks the sun throughout the day automatically. The tracking system improves the effectiveness of the system hence reducing the cost incurred per unit of the energy output. The concentrators in the applications of the solar cell need a high level of accuracy to make sure that the sunlight which is very much concentrated is aligned with the powered device that is at the reflector’s focal point or the lens. The energy output is dependent on the zenith angle, azimuth angle and angle of incidence. Some of the solar trackers could operate well when they have seasonal position adjustment and sometimes would need lubrication and inspection yearly.

The Tracking system types

There are active and passive solar trackers which could be dual or single axis. The active trackers make use of the gear trains and motors to control the tracker the way it is commanded by the controller which responds to the direction of solar. For the massive structures to be managed and controlled, the slewing machines are well designed and tested. This technology that is used in directing the tracker continues to evolve and the recent ones make use of the winches and wire ropes which replace the fragile and expensive components. Passive trackers on the other hand make use of low boiling points gas which is driven on one side by solar heat which creates pressure on the gas so that the tracker can move in response to imbalance. The emerging passive trackers are using hologram that is behind the photovoltaic cells. The reason for using this is that when the sun light has way through the part that is transparent on the module, it reflects on the so called hologram. This makes it possible for the module to increase its efficiency.

The single axis trackers make use of the polar mount to produce the maximum efficiency of solar(Rockwell automation, 2009). The single axis ones use the manual elevation or the axis tilt on the second axis which is supposed to be adjusted regularly for the whole year. When comparing the fixed amount, the single axis tracker is able to accelerate the annual output by almost 30% while the dual axis adds 6% on top.  Two types of the dual axis trackers are available namely the polar and the altitude.

The single axis

This solar tracker is able to follow the sun from when it rises to when it sets, that is moving from east to the west in the sky(Ismael et al, 2013). The reason as to why they are referred to as the single axis trackers is because of the mechanism they posses of rotating only in one plane through a single axis.


Single axis tracker-Polar type

The axis may be oriented in a manner to make the cells stand up in a tilt (polar axis) or even lie flat (horizontal axis). The one that is most suitable is the horizontal axis especially for the areas near the equator where there are small latitudes for example in the northern Australia. The polar axis is best suited in areas far from the equator where there are large latitudes such as the southern Australia.

One of the advantages of the single axis tracker is that they are not very complicated and therefore are cheap. They are able to capture a lot of benefit in solar tracking. In areas near the equator where the arc of sun is less variable during the day and in certain seasons, the single axis tracker maybe quite effective (Ismael et al, 2013).

The single axis horizontal trackers are quite stable and rigid and therefore not easily damaged by storms.

Single axis tracker- Horizontal type

On top of the normal single axis, there is a more developed and new solar PV technology which is known as tubular solar where the cell shapes is cylindrical. This makes it possible for the cells to obtain maximum light during the day as the sun completes its cycle.

Single axis-Tubular solar technology

Dual axis

This tracker is able to follow the sun throughout the day. It is also called two axis. It has two axis which allow trackers to keep the solar cells directly with the rays of the sun all the time. This is because they are able to adjust with the height of the sun together with the rotation of the sun from east to west. The trackers fully adjust with the aim of facing the sun even as it sits low during the sun rise and also sunset and when it’s very high in the sky during the day (Ismael et al, 2013).

The dual axis tracker

The tracker is able to capture the sun’s full extent though they are a bit complex making them quite expensive. They make more difference when it comes to greater latitudes like in southern Australia where the seasonal values are evident in the arc and height of the sun.

Tracking system of a Solar panel

            The tracking system is able to boost the output of electricity to about 39% over the fixed versions. This is a good increase in the output. This is true especially when one considers the way it is multiplied in the large solar panels in the installation of the tracking systems. Even if the increase in output is 25%, the income could still be higher for the large solar panels. This gives a better example in the way economies of scale may assist in stemming costs while the returns on investment increase.

Slewing Drives

These make use of the horizontal screw so as to turn a perpendicular gear axis. The combination is able to reduce speed of the member as well as multiplying the power to increase it in a proportional manner when speed decreases. The ratio of speed is dependent on the number of the threads that are present on the screw and the teeth on the gear. The sophisticated drives make use of the hourglass drive which is also known as the warm gear set or warm drive which is able to engage more than ten teeth as compared to others that only engage one. The increase in the engagement of the teeth leads to more efficiency and greater strength. The hourglass drive is very much perfect in the applications that need load holding, survival to the very high winds and rotational torque.  The slewing drives are also made by combining two axes to be rotating in one unit house (Upton and Melton, 2011).

Cost of the solar tracker

The main aim of installing a solar tracker is to reduce energy cost. A tracker is able to produce a lot of power for a long period of time than when having a stationary array using the same modules.  The addition output may be given as the percentage of stationary output array. The gain is determined by the climate, latitude and the tracker used plus the orientation of stationary installation which determines the orientation in the same location.

To be in a position to compare the benefits and cost of the solar tracker, one should be able to design, compare tracking together with stationary systems which are supposed to meet similar design goals. If the solar tracker is installed in a good climate, it is able to add to an output cost of approximately 1$ per watt as compared with the cost of PV Module which is $4 per watt. On the other hand, the cost of the tracker is between $0.75-$1.25 per watt of all the modules it is able to carry. The smaller array could be explained as a smaller, cheap inverter as well as other components.

To be in a position to calculate the net savings obtained from a tracker, one should subtract the total tracker cost, reduced PV modules together with appropriate inverter size obtained from the cost of gadgets like inverter, larger array plus stationary rack which is necessary in producing the power required (Niesyn, 2001).

Time based Tracker

The solar panels usually are placed in a fixed orientation of about 150 degrees to the horizontal side facing the south.  If the sun movements are followed using the panel aided by the tracking system, the collected energy will be times three as compared to the normal. Most of the developed solar trackers have light sensors which are able to follow the sun. These trackers experience a problem when there are clouds because they get confused to follow sun which is not there. A time signal based tracker is the best to work in such situations. It works by calculating the sun position in given latitude and does not have problems with false sun.

In this kind of system, the PLC can be programmed so that it provides a start signal at a fixed time lets say 30 minutes. The signal is made in such a way that it starts a certain induction motor which is controlled slowly by a controller. There is also a wheel which has 96 teeth used to sense and detect the position. Whenever the motor starts, it continues to move until it senses the next tooth. After reaching the position of sunset, the motor stops to reset and is able to return to the position of sunrise and wait for the actual sunrise. All activities are done by the PLC. After synchronizing with the sun, the motor is able to run and is not affected by the clouds (Niesyn, 2001).


Merits and demerits of solar Tracker.


The solar tracking systems have been made to always orient the photovoltaic panels to face the sun to assist in investing in the PV system

They have a benefit because the position of the sun in the sky keeps on changing throughout the day and in seasons in the whole year.

The production of energy is in climax and this increases the energy output for the whole year. This is very important especially in the summer season which has long days hence the availability of sunlight making sure that the energy is not lost (Upton and Melton, 2011).

People with little space are able to install a small array, which is an advantage for the sites that are small with a small place for installation of the solar tracker. The graph below shows the comparison of a fixed solar PV system.


The stand-alone PV home kit system is not complicated and is reliable in energy production. They do not need a lot of maintenance. However, when the solar tracking system is added, it has moving parts such as gear which need to be maintained regularly as well as replacing the worn out parts.


Another disadvantage is the problem of investment. When comparing the increment and cost of efficiency, the cost of maintaining the tracking system is very high.  When one uses the solar tracker, the system efficiency increases by about 30% while the cost of maintaining the system increases with about 35%(Upton and Melton, 2011).



The repair and maintenance of the mechanical, as well as the electronic parts in the tracking system, need some manpower together with extra investment.


Solar trackers are said to be racks of the photovoltaic modules which are able to move at the sun for the whole day. They are meant to improve the system efficiency, reduce size as well as the cost in KWH. The paper has discussed two types of trackers that the dual axis trackers which is able to follow the sun throughout the day. It is also called two axis. It has two axis which allow trackers to keep the solar cells directly with the rays of the sun all the time. The other type is the single axis trackers which is able to follow the sun from when it rises to when it sets, that is moving from east to the west in the sky. The trackers have got several advantages. However, the main one is the fact that it reduces the energy cost that should be captured. The trackers are able to produce more power for a long period of time than when having a stationery array using the same modules.  The additional output is affected by climate, latitude as well as the type of tracker used. The main factor that affects the output is the climate. In high latitudes, the output will increase because there is long arc and sun. The output of trackers increases during the summer when there are long days as compared to winter.

The tracking system is able to boost the output of electricity to about 39% over the fixed versions. This is a good increase in the output. Slewing drives utilize the horizontal screw with the aim of turning a perpendicular gear axis. The combination is able to reduce speed of the member plus multiplying the power to increase it in a proportional manner when speed reduces. The ratio of speed depends on the number of teeth on the gear and the threads that are present on the screw.

A time tracker can be used in the developed solar trackers that have light sensors which are able to follow the sun. These trackers have challenges when there are clouds because they get confused to follow “sun”. A time signal based tracker is well known to work in such situations. It works by calculating the sun position in given latitude and does not have problems with false sun.

However, the solar trackers have disadvantages in that once they are installed, they require a lot of attention and maintenance because they have movable parts and gears which need servicing regularly in a year. However, one should be in a position to weigh the cost incurred when one has a solar tracker and when without so as to settle on making use of it or not.























Ismaeel, A. G., Yousif, R. Z., & Abdallh, E. F. (2013). GUI Based Automatic Remote Control of Gas Reduction System using PIC Microcontroller. arXiv preprint arXiv:1305.0668.

Jradi, M., & Riffat, S. (2012). Medium temperature concentrators for solar thermal applications. International Journal of Low-Carbon Technologies.

Lasich, J. B. (2006). Solar tracking system: Google Patents.

Mills, D. (2004). Advances in solar thermal electricity technology. solar Energy, 76(1), 19-31.

Niesyn, J. Z. (2001). Solar-tracking system: Google Patents.

Upton, P., & Melton, G. (2011). Solar Tracking System: US Patent App. 13/642,205.


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