Solar Power: Fixed Arrays vs. Trackers

Ever since Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect and realized there was free, clean energy to be gathered from sunlight, we have worked to find new, more efficient ways to harness solar power. Although a wide variety of photovoltaic technology exists, the one most people think of, and most widely used is crystalline silicon solar cells. From calculators to massive solar farms, these cells, and the panels they are built into are everywhere.

There are many ways to arrange and align panels to capture the sun – which one is the most efficient? Which one is best for your solar installation? Today we’re looking at two styles of solar systems in use by CED Co-op projects: trackers and fixed arrays.

Fixed Arrays

A fixed array of panels is the easiest type of solar system to build. First, we anchor a support structure to the ground or a building. Then we attach solar panels on top of the structure. These systems are simple to build with very little material, and in any shape or size. Since they have no moving parts, fixed systems are resilient and need little maintenance.

There is a downside. Solar panels work best when the sun’s rays are perpendicular to the panel. As the sun moves across sky during the day and throughout the seasons, the angle between the sun and your panels changes. Your fixed system won’t be optimally aligned. This means it will produce less energy.

All of our rooftop solar projects use fixed arrays of solar panels. Schiedel View Farms is an excellent example of panels mounted flush on a roof. The St Clements Arena shows panels tilted up using a racking structure.

Solar Trackers

The solution to the movement of the sun? Moving solar panels! Arrays of solar panels that attach to a motor or other method of movement are called solar trackers. These arrays follow the sun, increasing their energy production. Solar trackers are either single axis (they move in one direction, following the sun throughout the day), or dual axis (they follow the sun throughout the day, and adjust for the time of year).

This increased complexity means solar trackers have a higher cost to design and build, and require more ongoing maintenance than fixed panels. These added costs mean that trackers become more economically viable when the cost of panels is high, and you need to minimize the number of panels and take advantage of all available light.

CED Co-op invests in a few large scale solar tracking systems. Most notable are Solvation-F, Solvation-V, and Solvation-VF in Blind River, Ontario.

Other Interesting Solar Systems

Around the world people are experimenting with ways to improve on and have fun with solar system design. Here are a few of our favourites:

Solar-Powered Flower

Opens and closes as the sun rises and sets to help protect the panels from damage and storms (and looks like a work of art).

Mickey Mouse Array

Of course the Disney solar system is shaped like our favourite mouse.

Solar Carpet

These flexible solar panels roll out like a carpet. This micro-grid is deployed to meet your needs.


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