How solar trackers boost PV energy production

Over time, solar panels have become increasingly efficient. The very first commercial silicon cells, produced in 1954, maxed out at only 2 percent of sunlight converted, and sold for $25 apiece. Their low efficiency and high price resulted in a staggering $1,785 cost per watt at the time; adjusted for inflation, the total comes to $17,000. Today, per-watt costs in utility-scale solar installations can be under $1, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Why has efficiency improved so much in 60 years' time? There are many explanations, including improvements in materials, design and layouts. Further gains stem from the inclusion of solar tracking systems alongside world-class inverters and industry-leading solar modules within all-in-one solutions such as TrinaPro. The trackers in particular boost photovoltaic cell (PV) production and make panels more practical for year-round operation.


A primer on solar panel trackers – what they are, and how they work in today's projects

Solar tracking systems address a fundamental issue in the capture and conversion of sunlight, namely the rotation of the earth. As the planet moves, the sun's changing position in the sky affects the light's angle of incidence on PV panels below. Plus, the sun is relatively high in the summer and low in the winter, leading to seasonal inconsistencies for solar arrays.

Trackers, like the ones included in TrinaPro, account for both the time of day and the calendar date to ensure optimal positioning of their connected infrastructure. They also make adjustments for the surrounding terrain, but their central functionality is the tracking of the east-to-west movement of the sun. This feature reduces the amount of lost energy from the panel, especially during the extremes of summer and winter and at high latitudes, such as in Alaska.

In terms of numbers, a single-axis solar panel tracker can deliver a 25 to 35 percent jump in performance, according to EnergySage. Additional axes can offer further marginal increases in efficiency. The single-axis design allows panels to move on an east-west axis, while dual-axis permit north-south movement as well.


Where do solar tracking systems make the most sense?

Solar panel trackers are not common in residential projects, many of which are situated on rooftops and lack the scale and/or the geographic location to make tracking worth the time an effort. In commercial and utility-scale solar, tracking is much more important.


Ground-mounted commercial applications are prime candidates for solar tracking systems, which will allow for higher efficiency and quicker return on investment. The ground mounting is better than a rooftop for supporting the weight of the trackers. Moreover, there's the added advantage of superior land utilization: A solar PV array outfitted with a tracker can typically produce as much or more energy than a fixed-tilt alternative over the same surface area. Finally, the precision and adjustability of solar panel trackers enables the necessary production levels to supply extra power to local electrical grids during peak hours. This is only applicable in states with corresponding regulations.


The enormous scale of utility projects make them ideal for the gains of a solar tracking system. In other words, the upfront investment will more than pay for itself through long-term increases in efficiency. If the tracker is included as part of solution like TrinaPro, it's an even better bet since the same provider that helps with initial selection and implementation also assists with ongoing maintenance, repair and replacement.

TrinaPro is your one-stop shop for smart solar services. Contact our team today to learn more about this new product offering and how it can be tailored to your requirements.

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