One of the biggest limitations of static solar panels is that they are only at maximum efficiency while the sun is shining directly on them. If panels are able to move and track the sun, they will receive greater amounts of sunlight during the day, making them 30-50% more efficient than unmoving panels.
You can build your own inexpensive solar tracker by following this concept from bwitmer on Instructables. For a class project, he decided to try to build a photovoltaic tracker that was both cheaper and more sturdy than versions available for purchase. The concept he came up with is a panel mounted to a frame attached to two bike wheels, which are mounted to a larger frame. The wheels and panel are moved by a 12 volt linear actuator. The system uses a LED sensor that senses the path of the sun and tells the actuator how to move so the panel stays properly oriented to gain maximum sun exposure.
To build this tracker, you’ll need
- Several treated 2 x 4’s
- Two bicycle wheels – easily obtained for free or cheap from a thrift store or the landfill
- Angle iron with pre-punched holes
- 12 volt linear actuator (approx. $75 on Ebay)
- LED tracking sensor (approx $40)
- Various nuts, bolts, screws, cable, and wire
- Solar panel
The first step of this project is to build the base and attach the wheels, then build a sturdy frame for attaching the panel.
After the frame is built and the panel is attached, the linear actuator and sensor need to be installed for the unit to properly track the movement of the sun.
The final result is a sturdy, inexpensive alternative to the costly solar trackers you can buy. View the full set of step-by-step instructions to this project on Instructables to see where to obtain all the materials and how to build one yourself.