As a solar installer, you want to find a solar solution that performs well, lasts for a long time and, perhaps most importantly, produces a strong return on investment for your clients (and, in turn, your business). To help you make your decision, we've taken a deep dive to compare the ROI of fixed-mount and solar tracker systems.
The ROI of a PV Tracker vs. Fixed PV Systems
When it comes to cost, the difference between fixed solar (whether it be roof- or ground-mount) and solar tracker systems generally comes down to whether you want to spend less money up front, or save considerably more over the life system.
Benefits of fixed PV Systems
Fixed-mount systems typically cost less initially, when using the traditional measure of dollar per watt. However, customers won't be making as much return on these systems over time, as they tend to produce less energy than tracking systems.
Fixed-mount solar may also be a good option due to geographic and siting constraints, such as soil type and system location. If your clients live in the Southwestern U.S., for example, or use very little electricity each month, they may generate enough power from roof- or fixed ground-mount solar panels to justify a fixed solar over a solar tracker. For many other locations, however, this isn't the case, and clients with fixed systems will not be able to maximize their energy production as effectively.
Benefits of PV trackers
For most, a solar tracker is the solution to really boosting return on solar investment, due to theirincreased production capacities. Trackers are available as both single- and dual-axis, though there are some key differences between the two: namely, while single-axis trackers tilt along the y-axis (enabling them to capture a bit more sun that traditional fixed systems), dual-axis trackers move along both the x- and y-axes. Thus, while fixed systems only collect maximum power for a few hours in the middle of the day, trackers can maintain this capacity throughout the entire day. Because they follow the sun from dawn to dusk, dual-axis solar trackers can capture all of the day's solar potential, resulting in up to 45 percent more energy than fixed solar.
Furthermore, if your customer lives within a utility that provides access to net-metering, they can actually make money off their solar tracker by selling excess energy back to the grid in exchange for credits on their monthly electricity bills.
Comparing fixed solar to a solar tracker
The superior production capacity of a tracker is especially evident when you compare its output directly to that of a fixed system. The chart below shows two 3kW PV arrays located on the same property in Vermont. The black line represents an AllEarth dual-axis solar tracker; the red line represents a fixed roof-mount system, south-facing at a 30° tilt. While the fixed system never reaches maximum power, the tracker maintains full power output throughout most of the day, from dawn to dusk—a significant increase in production over the roof-mount system.
This superior production is also important when it comes to return on investment. The more energy per watt a system produces, the more easily the upfront investment can be met and surpassed over time in savings, which is a worthy selling point for customers.
Still curious about how a solar tracker can perform against a fixed-mount system? Check out our fixed vs. tracking case study of two systems on one residential property to see the power curve advantage in action.