Keeping Track: The Pros and Cons of Solar Trackers

Trackers play an important role in any solar power plant, as a PV array that moves with the sun generates power far more efficiently than arrays with a fixed tilt. These trackers generally rotate on one or two axes, and are unsurprisingly referred to as single-axis trackers and dual-axis trackers respectively.

While the increased power generation that they bring to the table make trackers seem like a no-brainer for any PV-generating facility, they have their disadvantages as well. Thus, it’s important to consider both the merits and the pitfalls of including trackers in a solar project.

A Worthy Upgrade

As previously stated, panels with trackers generate more power than fixed ones, a result of their ability to rotate and face solar rays more directly. Depending on the location, trackers may improve generation by as much as 25%—not an insignificant amount. Moreover, trackers (particularly single-axis trackers) do this within the same space constraints as their non-rotating counterparts, so the increased production does not demand an increased area.

While single-axis trackers already bump up production considerably, dual-axis trackers add another layer of increased efficiency. A second axis of movement allows for even more accurate solar tracking, and therefore greater production during peak times, which is especially attractive to plants that benefit from Time of Use (TOU) utility payments.

What’s the Catch?

Though these aspects are nice, they naturally come at a price—literally, in terms of costs. The added parts and technologies associated with trackers drives up the price of any project that utilizes them in favor of fixed arrays.  Moreover, projects that make use of trackers require additional site preparations, with weather being perhaps the greatest factor. Trackers are usually not designed to survive in brutal climates, such as regions that experience significant snowfall. As they perform and endure more reliably in warm regions, their usefulness goes down in colder, snow-prone areas.

Even in warmer environments, trackers require additional maintenance, as more moving parts means more issues to look out for. A buildup of debris, such as dirt, can hinder the rotation of a tracker, preventing it from performing its selling point. Dust buildup should not be underestimated either: dust that covers a tracker’s optics can hurt a panel’s daily yield, reducing a plant’s productivity.

Despite these concerns, trackers nevertheless remain a solid choice for most solar plant owners who are looking to increase their production and revenue. It is, however, important to rationally consider the aforementioned points, as a thorough thought process will reveal whether or not a tracker will work for your plant.

Source: Solar Power World

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