Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Increasing Photovoltaic Panel Energy Output by Having the Solar Cells Track the Sun

EPA Grant Number: SU835299
Title: Increasing Photovoltaic Panel Energy Output by Having the Solar Cells Track the Sun
Investigators: Diong, Bill , Tippens, Scott
Current Investigators: Diong, Bill , Chaulagain, Manoj , Daly, Alex , Francis, Teshaun , Guevara, Pedro , Halim, Marco , Hsu, David , Nasseri, Simin , Tippens, Scott , Vanegas, Sonia , Webb, Michael
Institution: Southern Polytechnic State University
EPA Project Officer: Lank, Gregory
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Awards , Sustainability



This project’s objective is to design a fixed-tilt photovoltaic module, enclosing groups of cells that passively track the sun, which can improve upon the amount of energy collected by a similarly-sized fixed-tilt solar panel by at least 25%. This will allow the module to still reap the substantial energy collecting benefits associated with active solar tracking panels, while avoiding their significant investments in materials and equipment, more extensive and complex installation procedures, and additional structural requirements for the mounting surface, and for the roofs (should they be mounted there).


The SPSU Sun Seekers team will take an approach based on these main steps:

  1. Determine the type and design of passive actuators (not motors) that would be most appropriate for rotating lightweight groups of cells in an inexpensive yet reliable and robust photovoltaic module. This will focus on, but is not limited to, methodologies based on the deformation of bimetallic coils due to direct radiational heating by the sun.
  2. Work on the design of shadow plates or gratings, and their placement relative to the bimetallic coils, that will act to ascertain the direction of sunlight and determine the proper amount of rotation required from the actuator.

Expected Results:

The primary expected results of this project are (1) a better understanding of the fundamental issues involved in designing a fixed-tilt passive tracking photovoltaic module that can improve upon the amount of energy collected by a similarly-sized standard fixed-tilt panel, and (2) a proof-of-concept prototype of the proposed module for demonstration purposes. Secondarily, we will begin evaluating the cost, manufacturability and serviceability of the Phase I module design in preparation for Phase II work. However, achieving an energy increase of at least 25% will be the key quantitative target for this phase of research. If this is achieved and the proposed module becomes a commercial product, we expect more widespread adoption of solar energy for electric power production in this country and around the world. Consequently, less electric power produced by coal-fired and gas-fired power plants will result in less pollution from those plants, leading to healthier living conditions for all mankind.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Renewable energy, Solar energy, Photovoltaic technology, Passive tracking, Increasing energy collection

Progress and Final Reports:
Final Report