Rose-Hulman Undergraduate Research Publications

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 4-20-2019


The purpose of this research is to design a new tracking system for solar panels using the idea of discrete-position tracking. Compared with the traditional fixed solar panel, discrete-position trackers have a higher gain of harvesting solar radiation with smaller misalignment angles. Also, since we are trying to design the a passive tracker with solely mechanical structure to do the kinetics, a discrete-position tracker can decrease the cost of the maintenance to a huge extent in contrast to both one-axis and two-axis continuous tracking systems. The majority of the cost of maintaining a continuous tracker is the motor or hydraulic ram. These devices not only are relatively expensive but also do not adapt robust to different weather condition. Therefore, the major part of this summer research is to develop the algorithm of calculating the gain of discrete-position tracker for solar panels comparing with fixed tracker and continuous tracker.

The report will introduce the background information of current solar trackers and explain the initiative of new design. The majority of work done in this summer was developing a mathematical model that quantifies the energy output with several specific inputs. The report uses a lot of space defining the variables of the model, including the input and output of the system. These variables are strictly and scientifically defined so that they meet the standards of corresponding science institutions, such International Astronomical Union. The final model gives the approximate numbers of energy harvested for fixed and discrete-position trackers compared with the two-axis continuous trackers, noted as the optimum trackers in the code.

Because of the time limitation, the team did not start the optimization for the discrete-position angles. The current model with the given position at latitude of 40 degrees north and longitude of 0 degrees can generate approximately 20 percent more electricity than fixed solar panel with the slope of 10 degrees and orientation of 20 degrees west. However, this configuration of discrete-position tracker only makes up 62.89% electricity compared with continuous trackers based on the calculation. The number could be higher after the optimization for the system, and the optimization will be the next direction of the research.