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I am designing a system to have solar panels track the sun, but only with one axis of rotation that will tilt the panels from east to west.

I want to connect the panels together so that one motor could rotate multiple panels. I was thinking of a something like a bicycle roller chain and sprockets. Where a long chain goes around, say, 5 sprockets that each rotation a solar panel, and wraps around again forming a loop.

I am not sure if the chain will have enough contact with the sprockets, especially on panels that are in the middle of the chain system. The chain would basically be resting on those sprockets from the weight of gravity.

Is this a good design choice for such a system? Is there more cost effective way to accomplish the same thing? Should I supply tension to system so it has good contact with all the sprockets?

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    $\begingroup$ Use idler sprockets between the middle sprockets to increase the number of teeth in contact $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Jul 20 '18 at 4:05
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You could consider idler sprockets to cause the chain to wrap around the drive sprockets more to increase the number of teeth in contact. the panels may move a bit due to play in the chain - tension and a brake may help...

Or you could have a single long drive shaft with worm gears and gears to each panel. The advantage is that the worm/gear will “self-lock” when stationary ie wind load won’t cause any rotation except due to play between the teeth.

Edit re comments : have a shaft with worm gears that slide on and clamp - easy to position accurately and a method to "disconnect" or provide a "neutral" leaving the others working when you need to move one panel to work on it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like that worm gear idea. Would the long shaft need to be threaded in that case? Or would I buy a shaft and then have hollow worms that wrap around the shaft and set in place with a set screw. $\endgroup$ – Alex K Jul 20 '18 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ I thought of the shaft with worm gears you slide on and clamp - just as you mentioned.. easy to position and a method to "disconnect" when you need to move one panel to work on it. $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Jul 20 '18 at 8:43
  • $\begingroup$ Any ideas if such a product is readily available on the market? We don't have a machine shop around here. $\endgroup$ – Alex K Jul 20 '18 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ worms and gears in brass/steel can be found on ebay - other online shops may have a greater range - shaft should be easy as well. $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Jul 20 '18 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ A worm gear may be much higher in cost than a sproket. Bucycle chain in bulk must be pretty cheap. Given the limited swing needed wirerope cables and yokes may give sufficient rotation at lower cost. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Jul 20 '18 at 21:48
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I might go with a set-up use an offset arm to translate a long beam. Said beam has a link at each solar panel to a pole which push/pulls the panel to the desired angle. Kind of like the strings in a window's Venetian blind.
The drawback here may be in the amount of mechanical parts required at each panel.

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