Picture of Solar PV tracker
For a class project (PV Design, Appalachian State, Dr. Dennis Scanlin) I decided to try making a low cost PV (photovoltaic) tracker. Being able to follow the sun's path through the sky can raise your solar panel system's output considerably (30-50%), but the argon filled ones can be a bit pricey, and seem to be a bit unsteady in wind. I looked at several different designs, looked at what materials I could find, and this is how I did it.

The panel is mounted to a frame, which is attached to two bike wheels. The wheels are mounted to a larger wooden frame, and the wheels and panel are moved by a 12 volt linear actuator. The sensor is an LED model and is purchased from Redrok Energy.

The LED sensor senses the path of the sun and tells the actuator how much to move to keep the panel properly oriented. At the front of the tracker are two legs that can be adjusted to the proper altitude for seasonal changes.

I used bicycle wheels because they are durable, strong enough to handle some weight, and best of all, in my case, free!
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: What do you need?

Picture of What do you need?
Here is what I used to make this tracker, and where obtained:

*Several treated 2x4's (Lowes)
*Two wheels from a free bicycle- free or almost free bikes are pretty easy to find from the local landfill or thrift store
*A piece angle iron with pre-punched holes (Lowes)
*A 12 volt linear actuator-(~$75?)- (Ebay)
*An LED tracking sensor- (~$40)( )
*Various nuts, bolts, screws, cable and wire -(scrounging around my workshop)
1-40 of 111Next »
iko.lola1 month ago

Hello ,

This is really awesome

but if we don't have LED sensor tracker

Can we replace it ?with what ?

Thanks !

I want to add this tracker to my solar array over the next month or two. It seems the largest consideration is going to be which linear actuator to use.

Obviously if you can find a free or cheap one from someone who is junking an old satellite dish that would be great.

But if left to buy one, other than the stroke and finding one of the appropriate voltage, how much force should one be able to exert on say, 2 45W panels and still be able to operate in blowing winds? It seems like you would want to minimize this in order to draw the lowest amount of current from your battery bank so that you gain the maximum power from your tracker and invest as little power as possible into driving the thing. Thoughts?

trackers will make you solar array work better.

hdb1114 years ago
Should two Linear Actuators be used for a larger array? Say Four Panels?
Thanks folks.

yes, it should be

redrok hdb1112 years ago
Hi hdb111;

I think I understand what your asking:
Can one drive multiple independent linear actuators from a single tracker.

The simple answer is no. Due to friction and different weight balance they tend to get out of sync.

A better, and cheaper, method is to link multiple bicycle rims together with a cable. A single actuator moving the cable can drive quite a few panels.

Note! These multiple panels should be separated so there is minimal shadowing.
I have a Excel spreadsheet that deals with shadowing issues. See:

Red Rock Energy

We have produced wifi and tilt inclinometer for 15 years in Shanghai, China.

These inclinometers are used on solar tracking system such as single-axis, dual-axis, 0~360° range. There are more specifications in my computer. Once you are interested, I will send them to you.

Many solar tracking companies, such as Juwi Solar, Scatec Solar, have chosen us as a long-term supplier.

For example, Scatec Solar has built two PV plants in South Africa.

One is in Dreuenberg, which used 535 sets of our inclinometers. The other is in Linde, which used 300 sets of our inclinometers.

Our cost and quality are very competitive.

If you are interested, please let me know. Thanks

SolarE23 months ago

Great work ....Solar energy is becoming best solution for Energy Crisis in the world.

pkalinowski110 months ago

I was looking into solar trackers when I found your project. Very nicely done ! I would also like to point to something I have found on youtube =>

Sometimes simple is better. thanks for the link.

rmasre1 year ago
rmasre1 year ago
u r brilaint
I love the idea of solar or wind energy but dont know too much about them. How much power does this give and how can it be used inside?
metwally1 year ago
cool and nice many thanks for the helping people.
metwally1 year ago
cool and nice many thanks for the helping people.
Wunderbar122 years ago
Hi Team,
Here is Wunderbar 12,
Just an update on my Bike tracker Project.
After building 2 and got them working by hand, I was a happy person, sending a photo to my friend a German Tool Maker, he warned NOT to build my trackers like this, as the roof is not a good environment, and he believes I must redesign the lot to do without the Bike wheels. He said you have 30 years warranty on this solar panels, and the wheels will fall apart after 3 years, when I am also 3 years older!
We started on the redesign, so far so good, when I have a array going, I am happy to post a few photos.
Yes it is NOT easy to build something low priced but high Chocolaty,
Have a good KW day! (KW stands for Kilo Watt)
Wunderbar122 years ago
Hi bwiter,
Thank you very much for your WUNDEREBAR Idea. I love it so much!
I have just copied your tracker, I used my existing Alu frame. I am waiting for some panels to complete my test unit. Then I will give you some Photos.
I will build 108 trackers, as I have 9 arrays of 12 panels on my very large roof all up 30KW. My production is down to 100KW average per day. I need to get 150+KW to repay my $80,000 loan.
I adjust the angel every month, but I find I need to track East - West the panels for more production.
We got winter here in Brisbane and it is nice to work on the roof now. Can anyone help me: I will put the panels 250mm apart and join the trackers with a rod to have 12 trackers working of one linear actuator, with this nice freely movement of the bike wheel, I am sure I will get it working, the shade problem is my worry, right now in winter I find 250mm a bit to small, but I need to save some room, would 500mm be better?
Any comment would be welcome.
Thank you again, you Gays are helping me a lot with all your input.
ensoarts5 years ago
ALL electronics has a linear actuator for 36$ but its also 36volts,  Do you think you could string 3 panels together to power the actuator. Will the redrock run on 36vs?
redrok ensoarts4 years ago
These types of actuators use permanent magnetic DC motors. Just run the 36V, or 24V, actuator on 12V. They will move slower, a good thing, with little loss in force.

Red Rock Energy
wmiles redrok3 years ago
Will the 12v be enough to trip the relays though?
redrok wmiles2 years ago
Hi wmiles:
There are no relays in linear actuators.
Just the motor and asociated limit switches.
Red Rock Energy
Steevvee3 years ago
On the redrok site, the pictures show the LED tracking sensors attached to the moving reflectors. Your picture shows the sensor attached to the fixed frame. Does your arrangement track OK?
Great project but honestly it could be so much more better looking. Please may I suggest that you find a hippy, artist friend to carve some awesome nature scenes into the wood, faries, suns, moons, stars. etc, then stain it, and you're ready for the solar festivals.
Xzav4 years ago
I'm new to the electronic field and sometimes it seems intimidating to me. About the Led tracker, do I need to know how it works in order to use it? I would like to know how it works. Can you explain a little on it. Thanks
Shiftlock4 years ago
"Bicycle wheels, working tirelessly (no pun intended)"

No pun intended? Really? Because it sure looks to me like you absolutely intended to make that pun.
Xzav Shiftlock4 years ago
It was still funny.
Gunkarik4 years ago
Very helpful, thanks for sharing!
kd4uwk4 years ago
Thanks for sharing the photos are good
segarza4 years ago
A nice simple and effective design. Thank you for sharing it. Isn't it funny how the minute you share your project with the public, we instantly began re-analyzing and re-designing it to death and flooding you with a million ways you could have done it better? Oh well, that's just human nature I guess. You did a great job!
You know you could have said that a better way LOL 9-)
Yeah, I know...I had that one coming didn't I? lol
tbone564 years ago
Thanks for making this. It is truly instructable.
I have a question about the movement.
How many degrees do the panels move each day?
kosme4 years ago
great project
jakesnake4 years ago
red rock just keeps your money
Great work.. Now I just got to get a solar panel to put on it hehe Thxz for the post.
jolshefsky4 years ago
I really like the design where you bolted boards to bicycle wheels -- it's an elegant, strong solution that uses (as you mention) free resources. Even bent rims would work fine.

I'll have to give this some thought ... I'm working on a design for an "external Trombe wall" which I can attach to an existing window for the venting.  Of course, making it insulated, situated off an existing wall, and now pivoting, I'm getting away from the simplicity of Trombe's design.
ktkeith4 years ago
Not to denigrate the work you did, but do you really need the photo sensor? The position of the sun can be calculated for any time of day, any day of the year. Why not just program an EPROM to store a lookup table for the correct angle, hour by hour, day by day (about 4,000 data values for the daylight hours of a single year), and use it with a simple microcontroller to adjust the angle incrementally? A bit more complicated at setup, but probably about the same total price, more accurate, and likely more reliable.
Uh... How about because his approach is considerably easier and cheaper? And didn't you read about the brightest part in the sky not necessarily being where the sun is?
bwitmer (author)  ktkeith4 years ago
Sure, there are many ways to do it without using any sensors, this is just how I chose to take a crack at it. The reason I went with the sensor over the EPROM is that I know how to hook up the sensor, but have no idea what an EPROM is.
Is there and equation to calculate the inclination i need to set the panel to for any given place on the world? Or is a matter of guessing towards optimization?
1-40 of 111Next »