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Solar tracking

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Last updated: December 16, 2014      

Solar box cookers and solar panel cookers normally do not need to be turned to follow the sun unless you are cooking beans or an especially large amount of food. They may need to be moved once over a three or four hour cooking period. However, parabolic solar cookers require reorientation with the sun much more often. If tracking the sun is necessary, some of the ideas below will serve this purpose. Note that this page emphasized low-tech tracking methods that could be built with materials available in developing countries[1].

Scheffler Community Kitchen clockwork tracking systemEdit

Scheffler tracking mechanicals, 2-9-13

The Scheffler clockwork tracking system mechanicals

Simply Solar provides explanation of their various tracking systems at Scheffler tracking systems. The mechanical system incorporates a clockwork mechanism, and often uses recycled bicycle parts. It is run by a weight and controlled by a pendulum. Resetting the reflector back from the evening position to the morning position is done by hand. They also offer photovoltaic options as well.

See Scheffler Community Kitchen.

Programable tracking systemsEdit

Still in its infancy, programable tracking systems are being developed with software to not only rotate the reflector to maintain maximum exposure to the sun, but to also control cooking time and desired temperatures.  One example of auto tracking and monitoring system is the SolarCue system, another is the Raspberry Pi: Solrmatic, but there are a range of such programmable sun trackers[2].

Photovoltaic tracking systemsEdit

Solar Tracker circuit schematic

A photovoltaic solar tracking circuit schematic provided by Marian Popescu

A clever system has been developed by several designers, which uses two photovoltaic panels configured to maintain an even balance of power to a small electrical turntable motor. The required photovoltaic panels typically are fairly small, and are placed side by side, but at slightly different angles to face the sun. As the sun moves across the sky one panel will begin to receive less direct sunlight.

The resulting electrical imbalance causes the dominant panel to engage the motor. The turntable will rotate until both photovoltaic panels face the sun equally, and the motor disengages. The simple system can be fairly lightweight for rotating a box or panel cooker. However, a larger parabolic solar cooker, which will benefit the most from a good tracking system, will require a stronger motor and larger panels to rotate the cooker.

More information about the system designed by Marian Popescu can be found at DIY solar tracking system

Tracking for the HotPot solar cookerEdit

HotPot tracker

Most are familiar with the HotPot, a fine quality cooker. It does an excellent job of representing a solar cooker as a desirable appliance. However, the original design was created for use in tropical or semi-tropical areas bounded by the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5°). The reflectors have been oriented for a more overhead sun position, which limit the cooking time in temperate locations to a 2 - 4 hour window. Here is an article that talks more about this issue. The author has been working on a tilting base mechanism to allow the reflectors to pick up early and late day sun. However, it may be a better idea to supplement the HotPot reflectors with a windshield shade tipped forward and wrapped behind the cooker to catch the early and late day sun, as the pot and glass enclosure are really not suited for non-level conditions. Details on this tracking design here.

Main article: HotPot

Ideas for low-tech trackingEdit

Revolutionary Solar! Stirling engine mount Liquid piston tracker06:29

Revolutionary Solar! Stirling engine mount Liquid piston tracker

See Tracking Solar Accumulating Barbecue.

800by566Water Based Solar Tracker Diagram

Brian White's diagram of the dripper tracker which is potentially a highly accurate waterclock. Graphic by Mike Murphy.

SimpleSolarTracking's design for a simple system to reposition a solar cooker automatically while unattended.


]Tracking mechanism that uses the hour hand of a clock to control the turning of a solar cooker

Solar Water Clock Drive

A plan for a solar water clock drive submitted by

Solar Oven Repositing Device V1-0

Solar oven repositioning device designed by Jeff Monaco. Tom Sponheim suggested using wax melting instead to remove the need for a magnifying glass.

SolarOvenRepositingDevice V2-0

Tom Sponheim suggested using wax melting instead to remove the need for a magnifying glass


Gimp equa float pistons

Provisionally called liquid piston tracker

Von Oppen tracking diagram

The Von Oppen system uses a half filled bottle to act as a floating piston, which drops when the water is slowly drained from the reservoir.

Audio and videoEdit

  • May 2013:
Solar oven tracker wiring04:56

Solar oven tracker wiring

A very clear short video of a simple photovoltaic tracking mechanism.

  • February 2013:
CATASSOL automatizado 100:44

CATASSOL automatizado 1

Pleno Sol provides a short demonstration of the photovoltaic tracking system they have developed.

  • March 2011:
Solar Oven with Tracker01:49

Solar Oven with Tracker .mpg

Box cooker rotated by PV panels sending power to 12 volt motor. As one PV panel begins to receive less light, it sends less power to the servo, which operates the motor until both panels are a sending balanced power stream.

  • December 2010:
Smart Solar Oven Platform Benchtop Test04:28

Smart Solar Oven Platform Benchtop Test.wmv

  • December 2010:
Cooking a Yam 12-30-1003:42

Cooking a Yam 12-30-10.wmv

Programable system tracks the sun, and turns the reflector away when cooking is completed.

  • October 2010:


  • March 2010:
Revolutionary Solar! Stirling engine mount + Liquid piston tracker06:29

Revolutionary Solar! Stirling engine mount + Liquid piston tracker

Tracking Solar Accumulating Barbecue - Brian White

  • May 2008:
Clock based dripper tracker demo05:33

Clock based dripper tracker demo.

Clock based dripper tracker demo

  • April 2008:
Dripper tracker for parabolic solar accumulator!06:37

Dripper tracker for parabolic solar accumulator!

Dripper tracker for parabolic solar accumulator

  • December 2007:
ME102 UC Berkeley Solar Tracker Project00:23

ME102 UC Berkeley Solar Tracker Project

UC Berkeley student tracking system demonstration

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  2. Prinsloo, Gerro; Dobson Robert. (2015). Solar Tracking: High precision solar position algorithms, programs, software and source-code for computing the solar vector, solar coordinates & sun angles in Microprocessor, PLC, Arduino, PIC and PC-based sun tracking devices or dynamic sun following hardware (3 ed.). South Africa. ISBN 978-0-620-61576-1. Retrieved14 March 2015.

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