Associate Professor Beth Sparks, during a Fullbright Scholarship in Uganda, developed an amazingly simple way to significantly improve the efficiency of solar cells in developing countries and other remote areas.

In Uganda, between 20 to 25% of people have no access to electricity. One solar cell supplies enough energy to power lights and charge cell phones and radios giving a huge quality-of-life improvement.

Solar panels are typically mounted on a fixed frame and only optimally oriented toward the sun during specific hours of the day.

Professor Sparks worked with students at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology to design a frame, using cheap metal tubing that a local welder could easily obtain and assemble, that allows the solar panels to track the arc of the sun throughout the day.

The device uses a bucket of rocks is placed on the west side of the frame and a bucket of water is placed on the east side. Using a controlled leak from the water bucket, the weight shifts and the panel slowly rotates from east to west throughout the day.

Tracking solar panel

The solar cell on the movable frame captured 30% more sunlight than the stationary solar cell at the same location.