Solar tracker, what is it?

January 18, 2024

To outperform earlier and rival models in energy output, manufacturers continuously enhance their solar panels for home. Utilizing solar trackers, which, in contrast to fixed-tilt ground-mount systems, force solar panels to follow the sun’s course throughout the day. Solar trackers are utilized in a significant portion of utility-scale solar installations. More than 50% of utility-scale solar installations in the United States use solar trackers.

A solar tracker is an apparatus that places a solar panel at an angle concerning the sun. The most popular uses of solar trackers are for orienting space observatories to detect the direction of the sun and for placing photovoltaic (PV) panels, or solar panels, to ensure that they stay perpendicular to the sun’s. PV solar trackers change solar panels’ facing orientation based on where the sun is in the sky. When the panels are kept perpendicular to the sun, more sunlight reaches the solar panels for home, less light is reflected, and more energy is absorbed.

Solar panels at sunset.

Source: Endesa

Main Types of Solar Trackers

Solar tracking systems may be classified into two categories: single-axis and dual-axis, according to the movement of the sensors.

  • One axis: the solar panels move in a single direction while rotating on a single axis, typically north-south or moving from east to west in the direction the sun is moving. As their names suggest, single-axis trackers come in:
  1. tilted,
  2. polar-aligned orientations,
  3. vertical orientations,
  4. horizontal orientations.

It is a more simple method, resulting in a lower cost despite the less exact movement.

Single-axis (horizontal and vertical) solar tracker

Source: Sinovoltaics

  • Two axes: because dual-axis trackers can travel in two directions, they always face the sun. There are two types: azimuth-altitude and tip-tilt. Usually, solar panels are oriented, and sunlight is redirected along a fixed axis toward a stationary receiver using dual-axis tracking. These trackers aid in achieving maximum solar energy output since they follow the sun both vertically and horizontally.
Dual-axis solar tracker

Source: Sinovoltaics

Pros and Cons of Solar Trackers

Solar tracking systems are mechanical systems that typically utilize motorized components. Pay attention here to discuss a few of the pros and cons of this system.

Pros of Solar Trackers

Increasing the amount of power produced is the most significant advantage a solar tracking system offers. There is typically a 35% increase in efficiency for a solar panel system fitted with a single-axis solar tracker. A dual-axis tracker improves efficiency by an additional 5 to 10%!

If you live at a high altitude, you will notice that the sun’s position in the sky shifts slightly from summer to winter. A dual-axis solar tracking system may effectively maximize your solar output and gather sufficient electricity for your residence or property. The proper direction and angle for your solar panels are determined by the location in which you are currently residing.

A row of solar panels on the ground.

Source: Treehugger

Cons of Solar Trackers

Tracking systems generally have higher installation and maintenance costs than conventional solar panels for homes. A solar tracker requires a larger initial investment than fixed solar panels because of its complex technology and moving parts. This intricacy also raises the need for maintenance, which increases long-term costs.

For residential installations, the additional expense of solar trackers sometimes exceeds the advantages, making them an unwise purchase. However, in commercial situations where roof space is at a premium but power production needs are greater, the increased efficiency of a solar tracker can make the investment worthwhile.

The weight of solar trackers is a disadvantage that makes them inappropriate for rooftop solar systems. Tracking solar panels usually requires installing an array on the ground.

Below is a table layout highlighting the pros and cons of utilizing a solar tracker.

Pros of using a solar tracker Cons of using a solar tracker
Enhanced electricity production Higher initial costs
Increased efficiency Elevated maintenance costs
Suitable for commercial use Not ideal for residential use
Ground-mounted requirement Limited applicability to rooftop projects

How Much Does a Solar Tracker Cost

Solar trackers can significantly raise the overall cost of a solar system. The cost of a ground-mounted solar system is around $13,000. The cost of a solar tracking system may range anywhere from $500 to over $1,000 per panel, depending on the specific model.

Solar tracker with the sun

Incorporation of a single-axis solar tracking system into the identical array results in a significant price increase. Despite a 25-35% rise in solar output, this represents a cost escalation compared to stationary solar panels for home.

A dual-axis solar tracking system carries a notably higher price, more than twice the cost of fixed ground-installed solar panels.

Do You Need a Solar Tracking System?

When installed in areas where solar energy is sufficiently accessible, a solar tracking system might be very useful. Considering temperature, area, and shade before selecting solar tracking systems would be beneficial. Devices that use a lot of energy and have space constraints may use solar trackers.

Since the sun moves in annual cycles, these solar tracking systems provide the greatest advantages for installations in high-latitude locales. Below is a list of areas where solar trackers can be useful:

  • Large-scale commercial projects: solar tracking devices benefit companies, industries, or organizations with high energy requirements. By maximizing energy output, they guarantee higher returns on investment.
  • Areas with limited rooftop space: solar trackers may maximize energy output in areas with limited rooftop space by moving solar panels for the best possible sunlight exposure.
  • Areas with little sunlight: solar trackers may be used to optimize energy collection in areas that experience notable seasonal or latitude fluctuations in sunlight locations.
  • Areas with environmental constraints: when there are environmental or shading concerns in an area that make ground-mounted arrays practical, solar trackers may provide a useful alternative.
  • Science areas: the solar tracker system makes research on solar panel efficiency possible under varied situations, which is also beneficial.
  • Agricultural areas: solar trackers are an effective way to maximize energy collection for irrigation and other agricultural demands for farms and different rural settings looking to generate electricity efficiently.
Solar tracking system with mountains in the background.

Source: RawMaterials

What Are Active, Manual, and Passive Solar Trackers?

Typically, solar tracking equipment will be connected to the racking of the solar panels. From there, the solar panels can move along with the sun’s movement. Aside from single-axis and dual-axis solar tracking, solar trackers can be categorized based on the type of system. There are three types of solar tracking systems: active solar tracker, passive solar tracker, and manual solar tracker.

Active Solar Tracker

Active solar trackers use motors and gear trains to accomplish solar tracking systems. They can use sensors and microprocessors, date and time-based algorithms, or a combination of both to determine the sun’s position. Specialized slewing drives are devised and tested extensively to regulate and control the movement of these enormous structures.

It will produce more power if mounted atop a column or pillar than fixed solar panels. Additionally, it will enable optimal solar production in almost every lane or row orientation, including curved and circular ones.

A slewing drive gearbox

Source: Wikipedia

Passive Solar Tracker

Passive solar trackers are mechanisms used in solar energy systems that do not require external power or motors to adjust the orientation of solar panels. These solar trackers use unique design ideas to orient panels toward the sun’s movement, such as thermal expansion or gravitational forces.

A low-boiling-point compressed gas is used in the majority of passive trackers. This gas is forced to one side or the other (by solar heat producing gas pressure) to cause the tracker to move in reaction to an imbalance. Due to the imprecise nature of this orientation, it is not suited for specific kinds of concentrating solar collectors; nonetheless, it is acceptable to use common types of PV panels.

A passive solar tracker

Source: AdamHeisserer

Unlike active trackers, which are powered by motors or actuators, passive trackers are powered by natural elements or processes. It results in a reduction in the amount of energy that is used and the amount of maintenance that is required. The fact that they are so straightforward makes them both cost-effective and efficient. They help maximize the amount of solar energy captured without requiring extra electricity.

Manual Solar Tracker

Manually controlled solar trackers need the solar panels to be physically adjusted many times to monitor the sun throughout the day. It is doubtful that this will ever be completed since you will need someone to constantly check on the sun and alter where the solar panels are placed.

Manual trackers need constant attention and human labor to ensure the panels are oriented properly for optimum energy output, even though they are often less expensive and complicated than their automated equivalents. They’re often used in DIY or smaller-scale solar setups when simplicity and affordability outweigh the need for automated tracking.

A manual solar tracker

Source: MtSolar

Which Is the Best Solar Tracker for You?

The type and pricing of the solar tracker system both have a role in determining how it tracks the sun. Some of the less expensive trackers require manual movements to be made. Solar trackers may also be driven in a variety of ways. Depending on your needs, you can choose three types of solar trackers:

  • There is no engine in passive trackers; rather, they use a liquid that tilts the system to the west as it warms up and then tilts it back to the east when it cools down. Passive trackers can be about 25-30% more expensive than static systems.
  • An active solar tracker uses a motor to position the panels automatically to get the greatest amount of illumination from the sun. Most active trackers get their power from solar panels, which are used to power their motors. Moreover, they may utilize GPS and software to enhance the effectiveness of the panels.
  • Manual solar trackers need frequent human involvement to align the solar panels with the sun’s position, although they are less complicated and more economical than their autonomous equivalents.


A solar tracker should be picked based on the weather, the size of the system, the land limits, and the cost of power. Dual-axis solar panels are often used in smaller home settings. On the other hand, utility-scale and large-scale projects usually use horizontal single-axis solar trackers. Because the angles can be set or changed, vertical-axis sun trackers work well in places with high latitudes.

Putting in a solar tracking system will help you make more power in less space if you need more daily but don’t have room for more solar cells. If there is more room, you should put in solar cells instead of buying a solar tracker. You will be able to gain more power and won’t have to do any upkeep.

Jed Hilton
Jed Hilton

Jed Hilton, our Founder and CEO, has over a decade of experience in the solar industry. His innovative leadership and expertise in solar technologies guide our company's vision and strategy.

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