Project Overview

Developing an inexpensive solar tracker for photovoltaics in the developing world

Faculty Sponsor

Beth Parks (


Physics and Astronomy
Environmental Studies


Many developing countries are hampered by a shortage of electricity. For example, in Uganda, 80% of the population has no access to electricity.  Children study by candlelight.  Families typically spend 20% of their income to purchase candles and to charge cell phones.  With abundant equatorial sunshine, solar PV seems like an ideal solution.  Even a small solar cell can provide the electricity needed for lighting, cell phone charging, and a radio.  However, the start-up cost is high.  The energy produced by a photovoltaic cell can be increased by 35 - 40% if it tracks the sun, allowing the family to save money by purchasing a smaller solar cell and battery charger.  However, most solar trackers are impractical, both due to expense and complication.  I have been working to design a gravity-based solar tracker that can be built cost-effectively.  However, the design is difficult to test and modify in Uganda, where there is no machine shop and limited electronic test equipment.  A Colgate student working on this project will further improve and test the design, as well as use computational modeling to determine the design that will produce maximum energy over the course of the year.

Student Qualifications

Physics and physics-astronomy majors are preferred. Machine shop experience is helpful but not required.

Number of Student Researchers

1 student

Project Length

10 weeks

Applications open on 01/15/2017 and close on 02/07/2017

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (