Solar Panel Sun Tracker: Better Solar Panel Angle For Extra Cost? (Full Guide)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Solar Panels | April 1, 2024

Person watching the sun travel across the sky and a solar panel sun tracker change position to match the solar panel angle with a solar panel kit (solar panel system) sun tracking mechanism that provides the best angle for solar panels.

When deciding on solar panels to generate some or all of your home’s electricity, you may be curious about solar panel sun tracker options.

Many people are curious about what they do and if the added expense is really necessary to maximize the energy output you can achieve.

All photovoltaic systems absorb photons from the sun to dislodge electrons, creating electricity.

The stronger the ‘ray’ of photons is, and the longer the face of the solar panel is exposed to the sun’s rays, naturally means more energy will be converted into useful electricity.

As the sun moves across the sky (as Earth rotates), the impact of those direct rays can be reduced based on the angle of the solar panel.

A solar panel sun tracker follows the sun’s path to ensure that the face of the photovoltaic (PV) cells attain the full coverage.

This full guide explains how they work and the benefits you can achieve with their use.

Importance of a Sun Tracker and the Solar Panel Angle

Having a solar panel sun tracker installed will increase the amount of solar energy that the photovoltaic system will be exposed to for the maximum amount of time the sun is traveling across the sky, and that equates to more electricity for your home.

Static solar panels are extremely efficient and experienced installers are experts in calculating the arc of the sun for every geographical location in the United States, as well as fixing the solar panels to attain the optimum tilt of the panels despite the angle of the roof.

Solar panel systems installed in an angled on the roof of one of the buildings in U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

(Image: Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall, U.S. Coast Guard Academy8)

The drawback with static panels is that as soon as the sun moves from directly facing the solar cells, the amount of strong sunlight is reduced gradually throughout the day.

Previously, the only other way to compensate for this reduction in sun exposure was to incorporate more solar panels on the roof or elsewhere to grab whatever solar rays were available within this narrowing window to ensure sufficient electricity was generated for the household.

But how exactly do these solar photovoltaic basics work and, just as importantly, how much do they cost?1

Solar Tracker: Types of Sun Trackers for Solar Panels System

Just as there are different types of solar panels, there are different types of solar panel sun trackers. Not everyone can afford the deluxe model, and not everyone’s situation requires the most expensive.

There are currently 3 options on the market.

Solar Tracker TypeDescriptionPrice Range
ManualThe most basic model allows the panels to be physically adjusted by hand to follow the journey of the sun throughout the day.
Perhaps not very feasible if the solar panels are affixed to an awkward-to-reach rooftop, and someone has to be aware of the position of the sun for most of the day. They can increase production by 5% to 15%.
$500 – $1,000 per bracket
PassiveA special liquid or gas is ingeniously used to follow the sun as it evaporates or expands when exposed to sunlight. Actuators then rotate or tilt the panels to face the shifting sun.
This works throughout the day and stops at a fixed point, and then the whole process starts again the next day
Up to $7,500
ActiveA predetermined program will allow motors and a hydraulic system to move, rotate, turn, and angle the solar panels towards the sun automatically throughout the day without any manual manipulation whatsoever. It has to be connected to a power source, and the moving parts may need maintenance occasionally.Up to $15,000

Regardless of the type, they are either categorized as a single-axis tracker or a dual-axis tracker that supports their functionality and ensures this method of renewable energy is more effective.

Related Reading: Renewable Energy…How Effective Is It Really? (Advantages And Disadvantages)

Solar Panel Sun Tracker: Single-Axis Solar Tracker and Dual-Axis Solar Tracker

With a single-axis solar tracking system, the configuration that is the most common,2 the restriction is that they can only move in 2 directions, either east to west or north to south and back again. This is adequate for some households if that is the predetermined journey of the sun in their location.

Although this may appear limiting, they have been known to increase the production of electricity by up to 35%.

Rows of solar panels in Shirley, MA with single-axis solar trackers.

(Image: Stephen Coffrin, U.S. Department of Energy7)

A dual-axis solar panel sun tracker has more flexibility by being able to track the sun not only from east to west but north to south to cater to angle changes and can also rotate on its axis.

The extra level of production is impressive with an energy increase of nearly 40%.

Calculate Solar Panel Angle (Best Angle for Solar Panels)

To constantly track the trajectory of the arcing sun during the day, the best angle for solar panels also has to be adjusted even as the panels turn and rotate during an everyday cycle.

Graphics that shows the types of solar panel sun trackers such as the single-axis solar sun tracker and the dual-axis solar sun tracker.

The longitude and latitude of any location can easily be discoverable online simply by entering a zip code. With that information, the perfect angle positioning for solar panels can be accurately calculated.

A professional installer will set that angle based on the time of year, positioned more vertically in winter and more horizontally in summer, with an optimal angle range of between 30°- 45° being the norm (this measurement will also be based on where you live in relation to latitude).

GPS alignment will automatically adjust to find the best angle for solar panels by adding 15° to the latitude in the winter and subtracting 15° from the latitude in the summer as well as incrementally adjusting the angle as the sun follows its path through the sky.

Sun Tracking Solar Kit (Tracking the Pros and Cons)

Understanding solar irradiation basics reveals the importance of fixed panels being aligned accurately when the sun is at its zenith, or it can result in a loss of approximately 20% in energy.3

With a dual-axis solar tracking system, the increase in energy production can be in the range of 40% or more. Impressive.

Solar panels situated on stands with multi-axis solar trackers in Heidel Hollow Farms.

(Image: Lance Cheung, USDAgov9)

The question is – is the extra expenditure worth it to get this innovative bit of kit, or, if space allows, is it more cost effective to simply add a few more panels?

And what are the pros and cons of solar energy trackers?

Pros of Solar TrackersCons of Solar Trackers
Solar panel sun trackers improve daily irradiation absorption.Expensive to install
They can generate more electricity for smaller installations.They add extra weight to roofs.
Extremely beneficial if the angle of the roof is wrong or barely sun-facing when the sun is at its strongest.Require more maintenance.
Trackers help to capture early and late morning sunlight that is generally missed by fixed panels.The movements can be severely restricted with snow in areas that receive heavy snowfalls in winter.

A cheaper option to install an expensive dual-axis solar panel sun tracker is to connect an actuator with remote control to the side of the panel. It will save thousands of dollars and requires just a little bit of studying.

Related Reading: Why Are Solar Panels So Expensive? Solar Panels for Home (Cost vs Install)

DIY Solar Tracker (Solar Panel Sun Tracker: Better Solar Panel Angle for Extra Cost Full Guide)

Doing it yourself doesn’t necessarily mean the job has to be done with your own two hands.

If a single-axis and a dual-axis solar panel sun tracker is beyond the reach of your bank balance, there may be an option that is not often considered.

But even if you’ve weighed up the pros and cons, and concluded that for the extra amount of energy generated, the extra cost of the tracker does not balance the books properly.

For some homeowners with either the ground or roof space, installing extra panels alone will compensate for the additional energy produced by the use of the solar trackers, not cost as much, and deliver a faster payback period.

The cheaper option of using a DIY solar tracker will require an online sun-tracking calculator.4 Your location either by zip code or by longitude and latitude will need to be inputted to determine the angles of the sun at any given time so the panel can be adjusted at the site.

An actuator will need to be attached to the sides of the solar panel to raise and lower it as and when needed.

With the information based on the online form, it would be possible to raise the panels up and down by remote control, and in essence, create a single-axis tracker that is manually operated insofar as the movements are done by remote control.

How accurate the solar absorption is going to be, will depend on whether you intend to stick religiously to the suggestions online about where the sun will be at certain times of the day.

The minimal effort will be required to tilt the solar panels up and down with the remote control, nudging the actuators to tilt in one direction or the other.

For practical purposes, utilizing this system for a rooftop system may not be practical, but for ground-mounted solar panels or ones secured on the roof of a caravan, there are advantages to being able to track the power of the sun with a click of a button.

Learning how to test a solar panel‘s performance will help in the decision to buy or not to buy a solar tracker.

Sometimes the choice can boil down to which state you live in and whether you will need any extra juice to enable you to go off-grid.

Perhaps the solar panels you are about to purchase are more than sufficient with no need to have them angling and rotating on a swiveling base.

Perhaps a tracker is not needed, a static panel structure being more than capable because you are one of the lucky residents who reside in a state that has 300 days of perfect sunshine every year where the future of solar is very bright.5

Is a Solar Tracker Worth Installing?

Technology, pricing, availability, and government as well as state incentives have reduced the costs of solar panels drastically over the last 10 years, making them cheaper and more accessible.

At that time, incorporating a solar panel sun tracker was a wise investment to maximize the potential of expensive solar panels that were not nearly as efficient as they are now.

With prices decreasing steadily at about 8% every year across the country, buying extra solar panels became a cheaper option for homeowners rather than splurging on an expensive piece of equipment.

Even if there is no space left for another roof panel, it would still make economic sense to buy a couple more solar panels to erect in the backyard at an additional cost of only $500.

A high-tech tracking mount for two panels is going to cost between $1,000 – $2,000 and will require more maintenance than fixed panels.

For residential households, most agree that solar sun trackers are not necessary.

For commercial or industrial premises with limited space and the need for extra power, a solar panel sun tracker provides a better result, maximizing the power output your panels can generate.

Frequently Asked Questions About Solar Panel Sun Tracker

Is It Possible To Calculate the Solar Panel Angle by Zip Code?

Absolutely. Entering your zip code into an online calculator will not only reveal the exact angle to install your fixed solar panels but will help to calculate all the angles needed for your solar panel sun tracker.

What Is the Difference Between Active vs Passive Solar Energy?

An active solar system captures and converts energy into useful electricity, whereas any passive system relies solely on the construction of the premises to retain heat through the glass in the windows or provide insulation from the material used between the walls.

How Much Does a Complete Off-Grid Solar System Cost?

The price of a complete off-grid solar system can start as low as $20,000 to an average of $55,000 depending on any additional power requirements from swimming pools, jacuzzis, or electric vehicles, which could add at least another $50,000 to the overall cost.6

What Is the Payback Period for a Solar Kit With Battery?

From 6 to 10 years is the average period required to recoup the amount of money invested into a complete solar panel kit including the inverter and the battery storage system.


1Office Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. (2023). Solar Photovoltaic System Design Basics. Office Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Retrieved April 05, 2023, from <>

2Sandia National Laboratories & U.S. Department of Energy. (2022, December 15). Single Axis Tracking. PV Performance Modeling Collaborative. Retrieved April 05, 2023, from <>

3U.S. Department of Energy. (2023). Solar Radiation Basics. Office of the Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Retrieved April 05, 2023, from <>

4U.S. Department of Commerce. (2023). NOAA Solar Calculator. Global Monitoring Laboratory. Retrieved April 05, 2023, from <>

5Kerr, E. (2019, March 21). The Future of Solar is Bright. Harvard University. Retrieved April 05, 2023, from <>

6Nevada County California. (2023). Off-Grid Solar. Nevada County California | Community Development Agency. Retrieved April 05, 2023, from <>

7Single axis trackers in Shirley, MA Photo by Stephen Coffrin, U.S. Department of Energy / United States Government Work. Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

8Solar Panels in U.S. Coast Guard Academy Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall, U.S. Coast Guard Academy / Public Domain Work. Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

9Solar Panels in Heidel Hollow Farms Photo by Lance Cheung, / Public Domain Work. Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>