Call us: 0800 112 3110 Open Menu
people installing solar panel with text that reads, 'What is a solar tracker and how does it work?'


Published on:

What Is a Solar Tracker, and How Does It Work?

Solar trackers are mechanical devices that move solar panels according to the sun’s position.

In the UK, solar trackers are mostly found in commercial or large-scale solar installations. They are less common in residential settings due to their size, weight, and the cost of maintenance.

How do solar trackers work?

Solar trackers work by automatically adjusting the panels throughout the day to ensure continual alignment with the sun. 

The basic principle behind solar trackers is to reduce the angle of incidence (the angle between the incoming sunlight and the surface of the solar panel). 

A smaller angle of incidence leads to greater power production because sunlight hits the solar cells more precisely. When the sun’s rays are perpendicular to the panel, it can generate more power. 

Solar trackers use a range of different technologies to follow the sun’s movement. Some use software that follows a pre-programmed path based on astronomical predictions of the sun’s position. 

Others employ solar sensors that detect the sun’s movement in real-time. However, these sensors may be less reliable during cloudy conditions or at dawn when the sun is less visible. 

What are the different types of solar trackers? 

There are multiple kinds of solar trackers, each with distinct characteristics, advantages and applications. 

1. Manual solar trackers

Manual solar trackers are the simplest form of tracking systems. They require physical adjustment to align the solar panels with the sun’s position. 

This type of tracker does not use motors or sensors; it relies on manual operation. However, this can be labour-intensive and less efficient since it does not automatically follow the sun’s path. 

Manual trackers are generally less expensive to install since they lack complex mechanical or electronic components. Maintenance is also relatively low-tech but requires regular human intervention.

2. Passive solar trackers

Passive solar trackers contain a low boiling point gas fluid that’s compressed within the device. As the fluid is heated, the gas moves the tracker to align with the sun’s position.

The freon-filled chamber expands and contracts based on temperature changes, and while less precise than active trackers (which we’ll come to next), their lack of moving parts could potentially reduce maintenance efforts. 

All in all, passive trackers offer a good balance between efficiency and cost. 

They’re especially suitable for medium-scale solar installations where some level of automatic tracking is beneficial, but the high cost and complexity of active trackers are not justified.

3. Active solar trackers

Active solar trackers are the most developed type of modern tracker. 

They’re often equipped with motors and a control system, using GPS or light sensors to accurately track the sun.

Due to their high level of complexity and moving parts, active solar trackers are more expensive to install and maintain. They’re particularly suited to large-scale solar installations where higher initial costs can be offset by increased energy production.

Active solar trackers are distinct from manual and passive devices because they can be further subdivided into two categories:

4.Single axis trackers

Single-axis trackers move in a single-directional path and rotate on one axis. Their movement is generally aligned North to South, meaning that panels follow the sun’s path from East to West. 

5. Dual-axis trackers

Dual trackers, however, adjust both North-South and East-West. They’re capable of tracking the sun’s position throughout the day and in different seasons, aligning both with the sun’s daily and seasonal movements. 


Where and how are solar trackers used? 

In the UK, solar trackers are used in large commercial environments rather than residential installations. Their high cost and space requirements make them useful for industrial facilities, agricultural applications or research purposes.

1. Utility-scale solar farms 

The UK’s biggest solar farm is located in Flintshire, Wales and covers a massive 250 acres of land. 

Shotwick Solar Park has an impressive solar capacity of 72.7MW and is closely followed by the UK’s second-largest solar farm in Wiltshire, which has a 69.8 MW capacity. 

These large-scale installations feature rows of solar panels mounted on tracking systems, which then follow the sun’s trajectory throughout the day. They then supply energy to the grid, helping to power homes and businesses across the country. 

2. Commercial and industrial facilities

Large businesses and industrial facilities can also invest in extensive rooftop or ground-mounted solar arrays. In these contexts, solar trackers are used to improve a property’s overall energy production.

As well as boosting renewable energy generation, businesses can also keep a close eye on their electricity consumption with high-tech monitoring systems. 

3. Research and experimental installations

Solar trackers are excellent for the research and development of other solar technologies. 

In academic settings, solar trackers can study the performance of different solar devices, panel types, and tracking mechanisms. 

Researchers can then assess the real-world impact of solar trackers on energy generation in the UK’s specific climate and geographic conditions.


Join The Solar Takeover! 

The benefits of solar trackers are manifold: they maximise power generation by creating a narrower range of incidence between the sun’s rays and panels for more direct, consistent energy conversion. 

If you have yet to join the solar takeover and are interested in investing, contact us to learn more. Our state-of-the-art solar panels are the perfect way to go green, whether you’re looking for a residential or commercial installation.